Jim Mautino vs. passive-aggressive bureaucrats

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I watched the entirety of the agenda item on Tulsa City Councilor Jim Mautino's proposed revision to the animal control ordinance, from the Tuesday, July 19, 2011, Public Works Committee meeting. I'm guessing that's more than the editorial board of the daily paper or their caricaturist bothered to do before portraying Mautino as a baby throwing a "hissy fit."

Here's the video of the committee meeting on the TGOVonline website. It's also embedded below, (after the jump if you're reading this on the home page).

The entire discussion lasted 50 minutes. Of that 50 minutes, there's about 30 seconds where Mautino raises his voice, and that came after mayoral aide Dwain Midget raised his voice, three times interrupting Mautino when Mautino had the floor. Twice Councilor Roscoe Turner gavelled down Midget's interruptions, the second time saying, "Mr Midget, I'm asking you one more time; I don't intend to ask again." After Midget's third interruption, Turner told someone in the room to "call Security."

The discussion went on peacefully and productively for another 30 minutes, at which point a meeting of all concerned parties was set for Friday. That aspect of the meeting didn't get much attention.

You'd think that Midget, whose outbursts interrupted the councilor who had the floor, ought to have been the subject of the editorial and cartoon, but it seems our entrenched city bureaucrats can do no wrong in the eyes of the daily paper, particularly when they can turn the story to further the inaccurate "bickering council" meme.

Since his return to the City Council in 2009, Mautino has been pursuing a revision to Tulsa's animal control ordinance, so that outrageously abusive situations can be effectively dealt with by city animal control officials and the city prosecutor. Mautino has met repeatedly with city officials involved in monitoring, licensing, and prosecuting cases of animal abuse.

After a year and a half of talk, Mautino is pushing forward with a revised ordinance that distinguishes between licenses for hobbyists and for rescuers and which requires someone seeking a license to engage the support of neighbors. The intent is to make the ordinance somewhat self-enforcing, important because of the city animal welfare department's inability (or perhaps unwillingness) to enforce the current ordinance.

In Tulsa, you can have up to three dogs and up to five total cats and dogs without any special exemption. To have more, you must have a hobbyist exemption from the city. You must also have a hobbyist exemption if you don't wish to spay or neuter your pets -- for example, if you show your dogs and are required to keep them intact for that purpose.

What I've heard is that the terms of the exemption are practically unenforceable, particularly in this time of budget shortfalls.

In addition, it's my understanding that animal control calls must now go through 911, rather than to a separate animal control dispatch number, and because of that, Tulsa police must respond first to any animal control issues, even though the police department is not equipped to deal with animal control incidents. The result is an added burden on an already overloaded 911 system and police department.

Jim Mautino's eastside District 6 is more vulnerable to animal control issues than many parts of town. Large undeveloped areas provide habitat for feral dogs and cats and are tempting spots for irresponsible owners to dump unwanted pets. The east side is home to many newcomers to Tulsa, who come from places, like rural Oklahoma or foreign lands, where animal control laws are non-existent or unenforced.

But rather than help find a solution to meet the concerns of Mautino's constituents, the city bureaucrats responsible for animal control are working to undermine his efforts. Mautino read from emails, obtained via an Open Records Act request, from Jean Letcher, manager of the city's animal welfare department, rallying citizens against Mautino's efforts.

Instead of berating Mautino, Mayor Bartlett Jr should have been calling some of his own employees on the carpet for their uncooperative attitude.

What I saw in that Tuesday meeting fit a pattern that I've seen often during 20 years of involvement in local politics. A city bureaucrat looks at the certificates on the wall and his years of service and assumes he is the authority not merely about how things are done but the authority on what ought to be done.

So a new city councilor or a new member of an authority, board, or commission comes into office with a concern that isn't being effectively addressed by city government. The first answer from the bureaucracy is rarely, "Gee, why didn't we think of that?" It's almost always, "Nothing can be done," or, "We've never done it that way." And that answer is supposed to be the end of it.

If the councilor (or commissioner) persists, the bureaucracy attempts to re-educate the councilor, in the most condescending manner possible, to understand that his ideas are impossible to implement. Rather than saying, "Let's see how we can meet your concerns," the bureaucracy delivers the message, "Your concerns are ignorant and illegitimate."

What happens next depends on how the councilor deals with the initial rebuff. Some simply back off and tackle another issue. Some, like Tom Tuttle from Tacoma, become fully assimilated to the point where they'll defend the status quo and attack any other councilor who challenges it.

Then you have the councilors who do their own research, who dig into ordinances and budgets and case law and what other cities are doing, and they persist in asking "why not?" and presenting alternatives. From a bureaucrat's point of view, such a councilor is a pain in the posterior, a threat to their comfortable, stable existence, and must be taken down. If you can use your lack of cooperation to provoke the councilor, passive-aggressively, to the point of expressing his irritation, you win.

Since this sort of inquisitive, pro-active councilor also poses a threat to other entrenched interests, the aggrieved bureaucrat can usually find a helping hand from the various organs of the Cockroach Caucus, who miss the days when all one had to do was pull on their strings to get the councilors to do their bidding. The obligatory unflattering photo, misleading headline, twisted caricature, and tut-tutting editorial follow in due course.

It's a misunderstanding of the nature of bureaucracy to think that bureaucrats will be supportive and encouraging of a councilor's ideas for new ways to solve a problem, if only the councilor will be polite and patient. (People seeking public office really should read Jim Boren's books first.) It's not that bureaucrats are bad people, but it's a profession that tends to attract the risk-averse. You don't climb in a bureaucracy by taking risks. The exceptions to the rule are there, and they're real treasures because they're rare. Too often, bureaucrats will try to wait the councilor out -- keep holding meetings, keep delaying a final plan, until the councilor gets interested in another project or gets voted out of office.

It's a pretty good indication that a city councilor is doing what he ought to be doing if he's getting shot at by the bureaucracy and the daily paper. Jim Mautino is a good councilor, and if District 6 voters want an advocate for their interests who won't be deterred by bureaucratic foot-dragging, they'll return Jim Mautino to office this fall.

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2 Comments

TD said:

Looks like Pat Campbell is on the bandwagon with the paper and everyone else trying to throw blame on Mautino. He just won't give it a rest. I miss the days where KFAQ wasn't a sounding board for the very beaurocrats you write about in this post.

As usual, well done in laying it out.

Jay Casey Author Profile Page said:

What is the humane society's position on this matter? I trust them more than I trust the city officials and representatives.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on July 24, 2011 11:39 PM.

Maurice Kanbar mystery; downtown Tulsa's private clubs; Pearl District progress was the previous entry in this blog.

Nancy Rothman: Where did all the money go? is the next entry in this blog.

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