Whirled blurs Kathy Taylor responsibility for Great Plains settlement

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I had hoped for some changes with the change of ownership. Today's Tulsa World story on the mayoral election and Kathy Taylor's Great Plains airlines settlement has undermined that hope.

One positive change -- the pictures make all of the candidates look bad, not just the disfavored candidate. One commenter wrote, "Good lord. Is it my monitor or is the TW going out of their way to make people look bad picture-wise this morning? I feel like I ought to send get well cards."

Now the following paragraph by reporter Zack Stoycoff is at best lazy; at worst it's a sign that the Tulsa Whirled will continue to be Kathy Taylor's waterboy.

In 2008, while Taylor was mayor, the city of Tulsa paid the Bank of Oklahoma $7.1 million to settle a lawsuit against the Tulsa Airports Improvement Trust over a defaulted loan to the defunct Great Plains Airlines. The Oklahoma Supreme Court later ordered the bank to repay the city.

So, Mr. Stoycoff, does the City of Tulsa, a municipal corporation, have a will and a mind of its own that it, as a legal entity, can decide to pay $7.1 million to a bank? Or are there officials that make decisions on behalf of the city?

If you were to do some research in your paper's own archives, you would learn that the Mayor of Tulsa has the authority to agree to a settlement on behalf of the City of Tulsa.
That power was unlimited at the time of the Great Plains settlement in June 2008, but the Great Plains settlement inspired a charter amendment requiring the City Council's concurrence on settlements exceeding $1 million. That provision didn't go into effect until January 2010, a fact that allowed Dewey Bartlett Jr's $3 million settlement of a police lawsuit on October 29, 2009, to move forward without council approval.

So let's rewrite that paragraph in a way that retains a neutral, objective tone, but gives the readers the information they need to evaluate the claims of the various candidates.

In 2008, then-Mayor Kathy Taylor approved the payment of $7.1 million to the Bank of Oklahoma to settle a lawsuit against the Tulsa Airports Improvement Trust over a defaulted loan to the defunct Great Plains Airlines. In 2011, in response to a taxpayer lawsuit, the Oklahoma Supreme Court declared the payment to be illegal and ordered the bank to repay the city.

Maybe Mr. Stoycoff wanted to avoid taking sides on this issue. Maybe he didn't feel he had command of the facts and was worried that Kathy Taylor would sue him too.

But the facts in this case are inconvenient for Kathy Taylor. Kathy Taylor was praised at the time for making the deal that led to the City being added to the lawsuit, followed by Taylor's decision within a day to settle and pay BOK. Dewey Bartlett Jr, as a member of the TAIT board, approved the settlement and praised Kathy Taylor for making it happen:

It's something we need to do and I applaud the mayor and the Bank of Oklahoma for working out a deal... a lot of work went into this thing. It was a waste of energy. It's a new day and that's good news.

A June 27, 2008, story in the Tulsa World quotes outside attorney Robert Sartin, speaking to the Tulsa City Council and telling them that the mayor (that would be Kathy Taylor) accepted the settlement; the council could only decide how to pay the bill. (Emphasis added.)

Before the council votes, Sartin explained that the council was not deciding to accept or reject a settlement.

The settlement had been entered into and accepted earlier Thursday by the bank, the mayor and the Tulsa Airport Improvements Trust, then filed in Tulsa County District Court.

"The issue is whether to appropriate the money from the sinking fund," Sartin told the councilors.

He told them that if they didn't take action, the bank could ask a court to force the payment.

The sinking fund is derived from property taxes and is used to pay legal judgments against the city.

The $7.1 million would be taken from the fund and then recouped with a three-year levy in property taxes, which Finance Director Mike Kier said would start at 1.1 mills and decrease slightly over the three years.

I haven't heard the robocall that prompted Kathy Taylor's complaints, but if it said that Kathy Taylor was responsible for the illegal payment of $7.1 million by the City of Tulsa to the Bank of Oklahoma, it was accurate and in accord with published facts and court findings.

Tuesday's news story quotes Taylor's claim that this is mudslinging; her call to "focus on the issues" is another example of her refusal to accept responsibility for her actions. Kathy Taylor wants credit for being a mayor who got things done, but she doesn't want the rightful blame attached to the damage caused by the way she got things done.

Kathy Taylor's record as a leader is a central issue in this campaign. The voters should consider whether Kathy Taylor failed to act with integrity and whether she served special interests over the interests of ordinary Tulsans. The idea that she would escape any accountability for her first term as mayor -- well, to quote Kathy Taylor on another occasion when she attempted to deflect accountability for her actions:

Kathy Taylor says, That. Is. Crazy

MORE: An Oklahoman article from 2002 notes that the then-Tulsa Mayor, Bill LaFortune, was the one with the authority to accept or reject a proposed settlement of the lawsuit brought against the city by the Black Officers Coalition.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on April 16, 2013 11:23 PM.

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