Vote against removing Liz Wright: An open letter to John Smaligo and Fred Perry

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I can't attend Monday morning's Tulsa County Commission meeting, so I sent the following letter to County Commissioners John Smaligo and Fred Perry urging them to vote against removing Liz Wright from the TMAPC. (I didn't figure there was any point in sending it to Commissioner Karen Keith, the lead prosecutor and persecutor.)

EARLIER RELATED ENTRIES:

Karen Keith's ex post facto crusade for unfair zoning
Karen Keith trying to bully neighborhood leader off planning commission


Dear Commissioners Smaligo and Perry,

I regret that, due to business meetings, I won't be able to attend Monday's hearing regarding TMAPC member Elizabeth Wright. In lieu of speaking at the meeting, I'm writing to urge you to vote against Commissioner Keith's attempt to have Wright removed from the TMAPC. Removing any board or commission member before his or her term has expired is a drastic action, only justified in cases of corruption or gross negligence. Whatever Commissioner Keith's motivation -- and her stated reasons keep changing -- her prosecution of Liz Wright is completely unjustified.

The "causes" for removal specified by Commissioner Keith involve violations of ethics code provisions that didn't exist when the "violations" reportedly occurred. Retroactive enforcement of laws is not only unfair, it's specifically banned by the U. S. Constitution in Article I, Section 10, one of the few explicit limits placed by the Federal Constitution on state government. It's unconstitutional to be punished for doing something that wasn't against the rules when you did it.

Here's an illustration: Imagine if your former colleagues in the legislature, in this upcoming 2010 session, cut the maximum campaign contribution from $5000 to $500. Then imagine that the State Ethics Commission started proceedings against you because, back in 2006 or 2007, you each accepted $750 contributions from Kirby Crowe, in excess of the new limit but well within the limit that existed at the time. I think you'll agree that this would be unfair to you, but this is exactly what Commissioner Keith is attempting to do to Liz Wright.

As you can see from the TMAPC minutes, the two ethics code provisions cited by Commissioner Keith in her petition against Commissioner Wright were only added to the code on April 22, 2009. (Click the link to view those minutes.)

The subparagraphs of II. E. which Wright is said to have violated did not exist prior to that date. And yet Keith's petition says that Wright should be removed because her appearance at an August 2008 City Council committee meeting violated this April 2009 ethics rule.

II.B.1.b did not exist at all prior to April 2009. Keith's petition doesn't specify when Wright's alleged violation of II.B.1.b. occurred. There are hints that it has to do with a 2008 zoning case on property bordering the neighborhood association which Wright served as president. Here again, the alleged offense occurred before the specified rule existed.

There is one other charge -- "Conduct which materially and adversely affects the orderly or efficient operation of the TMAPC." Commissioner Keith does not specify what this conduct was or when it occurred. I have reviewed the minutes over Commissioner Wright's tenure, and I see no evidence that she was ever disruptive to the proceedings.

Ordinarily, the accused is presented in advance with specific charges -- on what the offense was committed and what actions constituted the offense -- and has the opportunity to prepare a point-by-point rebuttal. In this case however, Commissioner Wright may not even learn about the specifics of the charges until after the public hearing has ended and the County Commissioners discussion commences, too late to prepare a defense.

Commissioner Keith's petition states that the cause is "includes, but is not limited to," the three points discussed above. This opens the door to more charges that may be sprung at the last minute, depriving Wright and the public of the opportunity to prepare a response to the new charges.

It would have been best if you had refused to approve a public hearing until Commissioner Keith provided a complete and specific indictment. In all fairness, you owe the public and Commissioner Wright the time to study and prepare a response to whatever charges Commissioner Keith presents; you should continue the hearing and delay the vote until a later meeting.

Liz Wright's intelligence and her perspective as a small businesswoman and former neighborhood leader are assets to Tulsa and to the TMAPC. I hope the County Commission will see fit to appoint her to a new term in January 2011. But even if you disagree with my evaluation of her performance, I hope you will emphatically reject Commissioner Keith's imprudent and unjust attempt to end her term prematurely.

When I endorsed each of you in the 2006 elections, I had high hopes that you would bring a new spirit to county government, a spirit of openness and fairness that did not previously exist. There have been positive steps in that regard, but how this public hearing is conducted and the decision you make about Commissioner Wright will put those hopes to the test and will weigh heavily as the public evaluates your first term.

Sincerely,

Michael Bates

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5 Comments

Paul said:

As a resident of Karen Keith's district, I am disappointed with her outrageous behavior.

Paul said:

Michael: I tried with no success to submit the following comment under the "Karen Keith's ex post facto crusade for unfair zoning" topic...

Thanks for this informative post, Michael. I think Liz Wright ought to be allowed to serve the remainder of her term on the planning commission.

Also, thank you for the link to the minutes from the 14th & Utica zoning case. I agree with the remarks made by Commissioners Cantrell and Wright concerning the Comprehensive Plan. Commissioner McArtor's description of the existing Comp Plan as 45 to 50 years old is false -- a misstatement which should have been corrected immediately by INCOG staff. The existing Comp Plan is about 30 years old, with newer amendments.

In my opinion, it was a mistake to propose rezoning the property to OH with the recommendation of a restrictive covenant capping the size of any future development at 250,000 square feet. Amending the Comp Plan FIRST, then recommending rezoning to OMH with a PUD would have been a better course of action.

Bob said:

Michael: Great letter.

Tulsa County Commissioner Karen Keith must think that Tulsa County voters are both dumb and have a short memory.

She would do well to remember the political career of her predecessor, former County Randi Miller.

Ms. Miller too, did the hatchet work on adversaries of her major political benefactors, the Murphy Family.

Ms. Miller was used by her benefactors to boot their competitor Bell's Amusement Park from their 53 year tenure at the Tulsa County Fairgrounds.

And, coincidentally, Ms. Miller never met a tax she didn't like.

GOP voters resoundingly booted her from office by 80% of the vote in the Primary.

Ms. Keith would also do well to observe the demise of developer-backed city councilors in the most recent election. Councilors Gomez, Troyer, and Patrick, despite seemingly overwhelming financial support, were defeated by reform minded city council candidates.

Bob said:

The Commissioners postponed the trial until next Monday.

Another whole week to either manufacture additional charges, or drop the whole thing.

Which will it be??

When they come back on Monday, Liz Wright will see the allegations for the first time. The public will not be allowed to speak because the public hearing was held today.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on November 22, 2009 11:56 PM.

Blast from the past: A truly rude TMAPC commissioner was the previous entry in this blog.

Murphey calls for county government reform is the next entry in this blog.

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