Tulsa District 5: Karen Gilbert's conflicts

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The Cockroach Caucus consensus candidate in Tulsa City Council District 5 is Karen Gilbert, who has received the endorsement of the council-suer and SOT member who are working with Karl Ahlgren and the funding from TulsaBizPac, and the endorsement of her husband's employer, the Tulsa World. (Tom Gilbert is the paper's chief photographer.)

A friend who attended the Kiwanis club debate for District 5 candidates had this to say:

Karen Alexander Gilbert demonstrated that not only does she not know the answer to the questions, she simply does not understand the questions. If elected, this inability to grasp complicated aspects of her job would leave her vulnerable to persuasion by people motivated by reasons other than the city's best interest.

Gilbert has been an administrative employee of the Tulsa Public School district for more than 10 years, currently working at the Tulsa Learning Academy as an administrative assistant. At the same time, she's an active leader in the PTA, serving currently as president of the Tulsa Council of PTAs. It seems to me that getting a paycheck from the school district and serving as head of an organization created to provide accountability for the school administration would create a conflict of interest and impair the independence of the PTA as a school district watchdog.

It seems to me that a similar problem is looming should Gilbert win election in the September 13, 2011, Republican primary. (There will be no runoff and, because no Democrats filed, no general election.)

The family that owns the paper that employs Karen Gilbert's husband has long been a major player in local politics, mostly through the pages of their paper, but occasionally in a more direct way. During the year-long, nasty, vengeful, and ultimately unsuccessful effort to recall Councilors Chris Medlock and Jim Mautino, World Publishing Company chairman and CEO, Robert E. Lorton, Jr., gave $2,500 to Build PAC Issues (headed by Josh Fowler, head of the Home Builders Association), which in turn gave the money it raised to Coalition for Responsible Government, the committee backing the recall.

One of the contentious issues leading up to the recall effort, which began in 2004, involved the location of a branch of F&M Bank at 71st and Harvard, on land designated as residential on the comprehensive plan. As recently as the bank holding company's 2001 annual report, Robert E. Lorton, Jr. and his son, Robert E. Lorton III, publisher of the Tulsa World, were listed as being on the board of directors of F&M Bancorporation, with the elder Lorton serving as chairman of both F&M Bank and its holding company at that time.

Political contributions for the 2004 elections from F&M Bancorporation board members correlated strongly with Whirled editorial endorsements and votes in favor of the F&M rezoning -- David Patrick, Tom Baker, Art Justis, Randy Sullivan. (Joe Williams, the fifth vote in favor, didn't seek reelection in 2004.) Opponents of the rezoning and, after the 2004 election, those who voted against approval of a plat inconsistent with the approved zoning, were frequent targets of negative coverage and editorials. (Correlation, it should be noted, does not imply causation.)

Let's suppose Gilbert is elected and an issue comes before the City Council which involves the University of Tulsa. The expansion of TU's campus has been greatly facilitated by a city urban renewal plan that designated once-stable neighborhoods bordering the university as blighted. Land for TU, a private institution, was condemned by the city or acquired under the implicit threat of condemnation. (As an example of the absurdity involved, Metro Diner was bought by the Tulsa Development Authority to make way for a new grand entrance for TU; far from being blighted, the diner, with its spectacular neon sign, was a popular stop for locals and travelers on historic Route 66.)

TU recently attempted to acquire now-closed Wilson Middle School. Had they succeeded, it's conceivable the university would have later sought to expand its foothold south of 11th into Renaissance Neighborhood, just as TU has done to Kendall-Whittier Neighborhood. City Council support and approval for changes to zoning, master plan, and urban renewal plan would be needed to make that happen.

World Publishing Company chairman Robert E. Lorton, Jr. and his wife Roxana Lorton, parents of Tulsa World publisher Robert E. Lorton III, are on TU's Board of Trustees and the university's new performance center is named in their honor.

Going back to the supposition: Gilbert is elected and TU seeks to expand its territory once again with the help of the city's power of eminent domain. Do you suppose she would feel some pressure to give TU what it wants? Gilbert wouldn't be forced by the ethics ordinance to recuse herself in this scenario, because she wouldn't have any personal financial interest in the success of TU's request.

The question boils down to this: Would Karen Gilbert, as a councilor, be willing to buck the paper or its owners, given her husband's job? The newspaper's leverage over most politicians involves swaying voter opinion through news stories and editorials, but for Gilbert, the leverage would be much more direct.

In light of my friend's comment above, would Karen Gilbert even have the intellectual curiousity to look beyond the daily's editorial pages for perspective on the issues facing her as a councilor?

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» Tulsa District 5: For Sam Roop from BatesLine

District 5 is a three-way race: Incumbent and first-term Councilor Chris Trail, former District 5 Councilor Sam Roop, and school district employee and PTA leader Karen Gilbert. No Democrats filed, so Tuesday's primary winner takes the seat. Because of ... Read More

I've received a couple of emails regarding Tulsa Public Schools policy 4401, regarding employees running for public office. The policy allows for employees to be granted a leave of absence to run for and serve in elective office. The question posed is ... Read More

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on September 4, 2011 6:17 PM.

Tulsa District 6: For Jim Mautino was the previous entry in this blog.

Tate Brady, the Klan, and the attack on Greenwood is the next entry in this blog.

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