Sales Tax Overview Committee chairman voices accountability concerns about Vision Tulsa projects

| | TrackBacks (0)

Most of the projects in Vision Tulsa Prop 3 amount to "Here, have a pile of money." Instead of building a specific facility that will belong to the City of Tulsa or updating existing city-owned facilities, the City will write a check to some other institution to do with as they see fit. It makes accountability a challenge to say the least.

Since the first Third Penny tax was approved in 1980, there has been a City of Tulsa Sales Tax Overview Committee (STOC) to oversee spending of the current Third Penny program. STOC has members from each of the nine council districts and meets monthly determine that the money is only being spent on authorized projects, which are itemized in an ordinance.

For example, here's a project from that 1980 Third Penny, specified in Title 43-A, Tulsa Revised Ordinances:

4-Lane 31st from Memorial to Mingo, with modification of the Intersection of 31st and Memorial: $8,255,000.00

Compare that to this line from Title 43-K, which sets out the spending policy for the newly passed Vision Tulsa tax hike:

Tulsa Fairgrounds: $30,000,000.00

How do you ensure that money is spent as intended when so little intent is indicated?

The good news: There are members of the STOC who want to be sure that our tax dollars are spent in accordance with promises made before the election.

More good news: STOC members have concerns about certain (as yet unnamed) projects.

The bad news: STOC members have no control over the contracting process. Their suggestions of contract terms to require reporting and transparency before receiving funds are just that -- suggestions.

(Also, the STOC doesn't even have oversight on the permanent taxes approved by Props 1 and 2.)

Some more bad news: Rather than raising these concerns in a timely manner, when the information might have influenced voters to reject the package and demand specific terms and conditions be written into the ordinance, they waited until the voters had no leverage to influence how the contracts will be written.

Here is the email that Ashley Webb, chairman of the STOC, sent on Wednesday, April 6, 2016, the day after the Vision Tulsa sales tax election, discussing concerns about oversight and accountability with these projects. (Emphasis added. )

Hello All:

Congratulations on the successful passage of the three Vision extension proposals. Now that the issue is finally ripe, I wanted to reach out and update the Council on the STOC's efforts to date and our concerns going forward regarding, specifically, oversight of the proposals in the Economic Development portion of the package (which are the only ones that will fall under the oversight purview of the STOC).

First, STOC members Karen O'Brien and Brad Colvard met with Mike Kier, Gary Hamer, and myself on February 11, 2016, to address preliminary issues relative to the Economic Development projects. Primarily, the STOC and Mr. Kier addressed/discussed one principal issue at that meeting: mandatory reporting requirements (and contractual language requiring the same) for all non-City of Tulsa controlled entities receiving funds under the Vision 2025 Economic Development package.

To that end, we discussed the insertion of contractual language into the contracts with those entities requiring at least quarterly in-person reporting to the main STOC monthly meetings and monthly written reports to our STOC VISION subcommittee. Additionally, we discussed the necessity of tying those reporting requirements to those entities' ability to receive disbursements; otherwise, there would be no mechanism through which their compliance could be enforced. By far, this is the most important issue that we believe must be addressed up front before these projects move forward.

Secondly, we discussed the logistics of the STOC's oversight and how we might incorporate these new projects into our existing oversight structure, etc. From that, we created an additional STOC VISION subcommittee, our first meeting of which was held last Tuesday on March 29, 2016. Our next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday April 19. 2016 at 4:00 p.m. at the First Baptist Café at 4th and Cincinatti (nice chairs, complementary beverages - thank you to FBT!). I have copied on this communication those STOC members who were in attendance at that meeting last week.

Finally, I know that Mr. Kier and others had an informal meeting last Tuesday evening to discuss, I'm sure, a multitude of issues that might need to be addressed should the VISION proposals pass. Now that we know those proposals have been approved, though, the STOC would like to ensure that the necessary language requiring the mandatory reporting be included in all relevant contracts, and we (the STOC) are willing to provide a liaison for any such meetings in the future to guarantee the oversight requirements needed will not be overlooked. As currently constructed, the STOC has several licensed attorneys and experienced professionals that are willing to be available so that we have boots on the ground, so to speak, making sure the issue is addressed. Obviously, through our STOC VISION subcommittee, the STOC will continue to streamline our approach so that we can accommodate the oversight of this panoply of projects that will soon be coming down the pike.

As I know we still have some time to line all of these issues out, I will not at this time provide a list of the Economic Development projects that we are most concerned about; however, I would expect we will address those issues with the Council following our April 19th subcommittee meeting. In the meantime, if we can be of service to those identifying and addressing, in particular, issues relative to the oversight of these projects, please do not hesitate to let us know. As stated, we will gladly provide an STOC representative to be present at any such meetings, be them formal or not.

Thank you all for your continued investment in Tulsa's future.

Sincerely,

Ashley Webb
Chair, COT STOC

I've observed this over and over again for years, but it's still disheartening to see how easily many Tulsans yield what little political leverage they possess in exchange for empty promises of future influence. They have been brainwashed to think that if they play nice and don't say anything that makes the powers-that-be look bad, at some point in the future the powers-that-be may actually take their concerns seriously. This passivity is especially distressing when the passive Tulsans hold positions that grant them more than the typical share of visibility and political power.

(I heard the same passivity even among voters, many of whom told me that they didn't want to build the dams, but they felt they had to vote yes in order to get their favorite thing funded. They seemed mystified at the thought that they could say no and thus force the Council to rework the package, excluding the dams.)

To the STOCers: I wish you well in your quest for transparency and oversight. It's really rather sweet that you think city officials will care about your opinion, now that they have what they want. Your mistake here is to believe that it matters how the money transferred to non-City entities is spent. That money, typically not enough to do anything useful, has already served its purpose, which was to purchase the support of certain constituencies for the low-water dams. Now that the dams have been funded, the non-City entities could hold a bonfire to burn all their Vision Tulsa cash and the Mayor and City Council would not care.

UPDATE: STOC member Steven Roemerman points out that he raised these concerns via Twitter back in January:

It isn't clear to me how the #Tulsa STOC is supposed to effectively oversee money given to Tulsa County in the new #vision tax #visiontulsa 11:07 AM - 27 Jan 2016

What mechanism will we have to force the County to be transparent? Asking nicely? Harsh language? Wishful thinking? #visiontulsa #vision
11:09 AM - 27 Jan 2016

Will they promise to send representatives to STOC sub committee meetings? How will #Tulsa handle County cost overages and deadline slippage?
11:11 AM - 27 Jan 2016

0 TrackBacks

Listed below are links to blogs that reference this entry: Sales Tax Overview Committee chairman voices accountability concerns about Vision Tulsa projects.

TrackBack URL for this entry: http://www.batesline.com/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.cgi/7734

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on April 6, 2016 2:53 PM.

Cross-country cyclist falls in love with Tulsa was the previous entry in this blog.

Merle Haggard, RIP: His role in the western swing revival is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Contact

Feeds

Subscribe to feed Subscribe to this blog's feed:
Atom
RSS
[What is this?]