Clueless SOTs and their enablers

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It appears that the rich old SOTs, who seek to take Tulsa back from, well, Tulsans, are attempting to marshal the resources for gathering the necessary signatures to put their aristocratic propositions on the ballot. Word is that they aren't getting the kind of support and traction they may have expected, not even from their usual allies in Tulsa's Money Belt. But behind-the-scenes disapproval is not enough. Those who are informed enough to know that the Save Our Tulsa charter change proposal is bad for Tulsa need to speak out publicly and now, so that this mess can be quickly nipped in the bud.

Nick-Nolte-Mugshot.jpgTuesday was the first reported sighting of a petition circulator for the three Tulsa City Charter amendments proposed by Save Our Tulsa, Dahlink. The sighting occurred at Central Library, and according to my correspondent, the circulator bore a striking resemblance to Nick Nolte's infamous 2002 DUI mugshot, including the Hawaiian shirt.

On Wednesday, my wife spotted one in the supermarket parking lot. As the circulator approached a prospective signer, my wife intervened, giving a brief explanation of the key problem with the proposals -- you'd need to be a millionaire, or beloved by millionaires, to win a seat on the City Council. The circulator didn't get the voter's signature.

I would predict that a horde of circulators will be illegally roaming the parking lots of Tulsa polling places on November 2 in search of signatures. It would be wonderful if every petition-taker was shadowed by someone who could make the case against the SOT proposal. That might get ugly -- they usually get paid by the signature -- so the better course will be to call the sheriff's office if you spot a petition circulator near a polling place. I seem to recall that in November 2004 the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office shooed paid circulators away from polling places. The petition was for a gas tax increase, a proposal that was defeated 7-1 in a 2005 special election. Back during the 2004 election, at one northside polling place, a display promoting the tax was set up in the lobby of the school that hosted the precinct.

SOT leader John Brock has made a few public appearances to speak on behalf of at-large councilors (with the mayor serving as council chairman) and non-partisan city elections on the same day as statewide general elections, a set of propositions that would make the general election ballot longer and more confusing for voters and would make it more difficult to win a seat on the council with grassroots support. From his interviews with KOTV's Emory Bryan and KWGS's Rich Fisher, it seems that Brock has no idea that Tulsans from outside his social circle would find his proposals offensive. He certainly didn't take the time to run his idea past those who opposed his 2005 council-packing scheme.

I've heard from multiple sources that Tulsa Metro Chamber leadership thinks the push for the proposed charter amendments is bad for Tulsa. I've heard that those concerns are shared by other prominent Tulsans, every bit as wealthy and connected as the public members of the SOT steering committee. A few polite but firm denunciations of the proposals from the right people could quickly kill the petition effort, deter a divisive election, and allow Tulsa's leaders to focus on, e.g., applying KPMG's recommendations to the city's difficult budget situation.

So why haven't we heard anything negative about the SOT proposals out of, say, Chamber CEO Mike Neal? It's as if there's an unwritten code of silence among Tulsa's wealthiest and the individuals and organizations who depend upon their patronage. Mustn't quarrel in front of the help. Mustn't humiliate the folks who could make a few calls and get you fired from your cushy gig as head of the non-profit.

In my years of civic involvement in Tulsa, I've seen it time and time again: Those who belong to the Money Belt culture are unwilling to say publicly what they say privately about a bad idea supported by their peers. They leave it to outsiders to make the case against the bad idea, and then they stand aside when those who speak out are marginalized.

Way back in 2003, I wrote a long email, later published on this blog, to a number of people, some of whom had privately qualms about Vision 2025 privately -- the process that developed the final product, the structuring of the ballot, the lack of strategic thinking -- but were unwilling to express those reservations publicly.

To use the terms of the Pogo cartoon I sent earlier, let's speak our criticisms openly and plainly, not into a bag and disguised as praise. We don't live in the old USSR. We shouldn't be afraid to utter mild criticisms of Tulsa's politburo and nomenklatura. And yet fear is precisely what I detect beneath the surface: Fear of ostracism, fear of exclusion, fear of economic consequences.

This may be a bit impolite to say, but it's there beneath the surface and ought to be dealt with openly. Some of our group work for organizations which are funded by supporters of this package. Others aren't personally dependent, but are involved with organizations that need the funds that the package supporters can offer. Others need the goodwill of city government to conduct business and make a living. Some of us have even been paid to facilitate and promote the vision process and to work for the "vote yes" campaign. Beyond the financial considerations, many members of our group move within a narrow circle of social and organizational connections -- a virtual "small town" within the city, focused on the arts and other non-profit organizations, centered around Utica Square and chronicled by Tulsa People and Danna Sue Walker. As in any small town, some opinions are acceptable and some are not, and speaking your mind risks ostracism.

It's time for the big shots who think the SOT proposals are a bad idea -- unnecessarily divisive, a "solution" that fixes nothing -- to speak out. Nip the SOT plan in the bud, before yet another underfunded opposition group has to beat it -- and the hundreds of thousands of dollars that will back it -- at the polls.

FOOTNOTE: Not all who live in the Money Belt are part of the Money Belt culture. One such courageous dissident is attorney Greg Bledsoe, a leader of Tulsans Defending Democracy, which opposes diluting geographical representation with at-large councilors. The group formed in 2005 to oppose an earlier charter amendment petition seeking at-large councilors. Bledsoe was on the Thursday, October 21, 2010, edition of KWGS Studio Tulsa.

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Ted D said:

I have seen a petition circulator at the north entrance to the county courthouse 3 days this past week. I haven't thought about doing an intervention like your wife did. Maybe I'll make a lunch date out of that tactic until they leave.

The A Team said:

There needs a website where the opposition can get their message out, get connected, grow our ranks, stay updated, report on the efforts of Slave Our Tulsa and raise money to stop the Social Oligarchy Tyrants.

I don't have the tech savvy to build a website, but I would gladly donate to cover any costs associated with getting it online and keeping it running.

The A Team said:

If a circulator is on private property at a private like a shopping center, notify the manager. Circulators must have permission to collect signatures on private property and rarely do have permission.

Businesses seldom want people harassing their customers while they are attempting to spend money in their establishments. 9 times out of 10, the circulators will be asked to leave and get escorted off the property by security. If they show back up they can be charged with tresspassing.

These per signature, paid circulators like to park themselves at festivals, sports and entertainment events. Be on the lookout for circulators at these events. The same rules I mentioned above apply. Report them to security or a manager and shut them down for good at these locations.

One more thing, it is illegal for signature gatherers who are not residents and qualified electors of the state of Oklahoma to collect signatures. Many of these mercenary signature gatherers travel state to state working the ballot proposition circuit. If you encounter a circulator, ask them to produce a state I.D. to verify they are collecting signatures lawfully.

Poopers said:

Dang it. I was caught by one of these people before I read your SOT articles. At the time, it sounded like a good idea. This is because I didn't give it the amount of thought you did, and I ended up signing the three petitions.

Sorry guys.

However, I'll tell you that this was at the old Price Mart building, which is now a Bingo hall near 73rd and Admiral (near the Jubilee Liquor Store).

My fear is that these people will take advantage of dupes like me, and this crap will pass through somehow.

Dang it. I feel like I was tricked into voting for Obama or something.


Trait said:

I encountered the petitioners outside the entrance to the Tulsa Zoo last Sunday. I briefly engaged them on the on folly of the proposals and then went on my way. At the time, I wondered whether it was legal for them to collect signatures on city property. Haven't had a chance to do any follow up research.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on October 22, 2010 9:48 PM.

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