New City Hall and the budget crisis

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Late yesterday afternoon, I received an interesting e-mail from Fox 23 investigative reporter Emily Sinovic:

This youtube clip has been getting passed around quite a bit recently. Do you have anything you'd like to say about what's happened since you raised these concerns about the unnecessary decision to move into the new city hall and its effect on the budget?

The clip was my statement to the City Council on July 12, 2007, prior to their vote to purchase One Technology Center as the new City Hall.

My reply:

It's interesting to know that this is still being discussed.

The new City Hall is a beautiful building, but, as I said in my remarks to the City Council, the decision to move was made without a clear understanding of the impact on the city budget. Like so many other decisions made during the Kathy Taylor administration, the City Hall move was approved without regard to the bottom line for the taxpayers. Taylor was skilled politically at getting a majority on the City Council to follow her lead, but she wasn't leading the city in the right direction.

In addition to the City Hall deal, a decision biased by advice from a consultant with a financial interest in the deal going through, Taylor pushed for budget increases above the rate of inflation in good economic times, causing us to cut deeper now that times are bad. Taylor hurt the city by orchestrating the lawsuit settlement that forced taxpayers to pay $7.1 million that they didn't owe to cover the default of Great Plains Airlines. Taylor's ballpark assessment deal may ultimately be rejected by the courts, which would once again stick city taxpayers with millions of extra dollars to pay for the ballpark. And in the budget process for this fiscal year, Taylor used unreasonably rosy revenue projections to avoid making difficult decisions about pay cuts and layoffs. Those projections have had to be revised downward repeatedly, but Taylor managed to push the hard decisions onto her successor's plate.

Only Councilor John Eagleton was consistently opposed to these fiscally irresponsible moves, joined occasionally by former Councilor Bill Martinson and Councilor Rick Westcott.

Some people believe that Taylor's motives in all these cases were to solve problems for her political allies, regardless of the cost to the taxpayers. Whatever the motivation, Taylor's poor fiscal stewardship has forced today's mayor and council to make harder choices and deeper cuts.

A few minutes later I received a follow-up from Ms. Sinovic:

Thank you for your response. How much money do you think this move ultimately cost the city? Do you think staying in the old city hall building would have prevented, at least to some degree, the serious budget crisis we are now experiencing? Again, thank you for your comments.

My response:

I don't have the numbers handy, but we know that the operating expenses were $1.4 million greater than expected for the first year. There was also a substantial cost involved in relocating employees and in making alterations to the new building to meet the city's requirements.

By itself, the extra expenses for the new City Hall wouldn't make up this year's shortfall, but it has made the job of cutting the budget much harder.

I didn't see Emily Sinovic's televised report, but here's a link to the web version of the story City Warned: OTC May Cause Budget Problems. Attached to the story is an e-mail from the City of Tulsa -- doesn't say who sent it -- defending the decision to buy OTC.

(By the way, if you're wondering why Michael Bates in 2007 had more to say about the city budget than Michael Bates in 2010, it's a simple matter of time. The job that actually pays the bills is demanding more time and energy. At home, I want to be available to my kids while they're awake. There are homework problems to solve, laundry to be sorted, dishes to be put away, stories to be read, baths to be run. When the kids are finally in bed, there's still housework to be done and bills to be paid. That still used to leave me time to write, but I'm finding it harder than it used to be to get by on 5 hours of sleep a night. This past week has been a particular challenge, with two back-to-back trips, both of which involved graveyard-shift hours.)

MORE: Back in August, when news broke of the $1.4 million in unexpected maintenance expenses, I posted this summary of my coverage of the One Technology Center / Tulsa City Hall story from 2007.

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3 Comments

Bob said:

I look forward to the day when you have more time for posting on your weblog.

I advise character building exercises by assigning chores to your offspring. Then you can blog while they are doing the dishes, etc......

Pay them an allowance, of course!

Brooksider Author Profile Page said:

Sometimes it sucks as much to be right as to be wrong. I and many other City employees emailed all the councilors warning them of these very things. I received several very polite replies, but only Eagleton seemed to pay attention.

Now we face this terrible budget crisis. Thanks to Kathy Taylor and the Tulsa City Council. Now I see Kathy Taylor named Tulsa People magazine's Person of the Year. That reveals just who her "base" was.

Paul Tay said:

This is why local TV news pays cute blondes, who drive large air-polluting, parking space hogging monstrosities of glass, metal and rubber to the gym just for the spinning class, the really big bucks, NOT wiseguys in beards.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on January 15, 2010 10:27 PM.

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