Tulsa: January 2004 Archives

Rumor mill: Bob Dick to resign


This is still at the rumor stage, but it's the sort of rumor that, if true, needs to be passed along so that people can make some preparations, and if it's false, there's no harm done. And the rumor comes to me from very reliable sources who assure me this is really going to happen.

The rumor is that Bob Dick will resign from the County Commission sometime this year, which would trigger a special election. He had already said publicly that he did not plan to run for another term in 2006.

Depending on the effective date of resignation, the special election may be held as part of the normal election cycle. This was the case in 2002, when Commissioner John Selph resigned in March and the process of replacing him involved the usual primary, runoff, and general elections, held along with the scheduled state elections. It would be better from a voter's perspective and a taxpayer's perspective if we could avoid a special election in this year already full of elections.

Continuing with the rumor: State Senator Jerry Smith, who is being forced out of office this year by term limits, has been tapped by Bob Dick to replace him on the commission. Smith already has ties to county government -- his wife, Sally Howe Smith, is an elected official, Tulsa County Court Clerk. Smith has not been seriously challenged for re-election in many years and has a war chest ready for a County Commission race.

I said earlier that it's reasonable to pass along a rumor so that people can make preparations. If Bob Dick is stepping aside, we need to make sure that his replacement is someone who will be responsive to the citizens, someone who will reform county government and scrutinize the cozy network that currently runs the place. How Vision 2025 overages will be spent should be a major campaign issue. Will the new commissioner push to grow county government, or will he seek to return the county to its proper minor role? Will his appointments to the TMAPC, Fair Board, and Board of Adjustment be neighborhood-friendly or servants of special interests? Think about people you know in District 3 who might make a good County Commissioner, and drop me a line at blog at batesline dot com if you come up with some good ideas. The time is now to begin to organize a campaign and raise money.

Got dirt? Don't tell a candidate


The City Council campaign is underway. Last time around I was a candidate. Not so this time -- and while I enjoyed campaigning, I think I will enjoy watching from the sidelines this time.

As a candidate, I got many phone calls from people who wanted to pass along negative information about my opponent. As my opponent was the recently retired Fire Chief, the information came from ranking officers in the department who had worked closely with him. They came to me with examples of favoritism, indecisiveness, ignorance, procrastination, and failure to lead. These were credible charges from credible people, and they raised valid questions about his fitness to serve on the City Council.

What did I do with the information? Nothing. What could I do? The people who brought these concerns to me were not willing to go public, certainly not with Susan Savage still in office. I couldn't make the stories public -- I didn't have first-hand knowledge or documentation, and the media would treat anything I presented as crass mudslinging. I appreciated their willingness to help and their sincere belief that the other candidate was unfit for office, but there were better ways to handle the inside information they had.

My advice to you if you have negative information about a candidate: Do not tell another candidate about it. Take it directly to the media. Call KFAQ, KRMG, the TV stations, the Tulsa Beacon. Provide them with specifics -- names, places, times, and dates. If you have corroborating documents, photographs, or recordings, provide copies of them. If they're ethical reporters, they should protect your anonymity. They may not be able to do anything with your story alone, but if enough witnesses come forward about one specific incident, or if you can provide them with enough information to form the basis for an investigation, or a pattern of behavior emerges, they would be able to move forward with a story.

So if you know firsthand that a City Councilor has misused his public office for private benefit, let a reporter know so that the public can know. If you've been on the receiving end of discourteous treatment from a Councilor, or if he has ignored your concerns, tell a reporter. If you have firsthand knowledge of rank hypocrisy -- to pick a hypothetical example, if the Councilor trying to score political points with strip club regulation is a regular patron of the same establishments -- tell a reporter. Don't torment another candidate by giving him information he can't use.

Getting enough oxygen?


Last week Tulsa again hosted the annual Chili Bowl Midget National races in the Expo Building at Expo Square. (Translation for us old timers: That's the IPE building at the Fairgrounds.) Noisy little "sprint cars" tear around a 1/4-mile track built inside the building. The first race was held in 1987.

As Michael DelGiorno pointed out (during our weekly Monday morning Batesline update on 1170 KFAQ), people commit suicide by going into a garage and starting a car with the doors shut. During cold weather, we're warned by health authorities to open the garage door before starting the car. Going into a building with dozens of running engines is not a recipe for respiratory health, and yet thousands, including the elderly and children file in each night to breathe the fumes.

Thursday night EMSA and the Fire Department came out to investigate elevated CO levels at the event. A spectator brought a Carbon Monoxide (CO) detector into the race. CO levels in the stands reached 370 parts per million (ppm). To put that in perspective, here's what the Consumer Product Safety Commission has to say about high concentrations of CO levels.

The health effects of CO depend on the level of CO and length of exposure, as well as each individual's health condition. The concentration of CO is measured in parts per million (ppm). Health effects from exposure to CO levels of approximately 1 to 70 ppm are uncertain, but most people will not experience any symptoms. Some heart patients might experience an increase in chest pain. As CO levels increase and remain above 70 ppm, symptoms may become more noticeable (headache, fatigue, nausea). As CO levels increase above 150 to 200 ppm, disorientation, unconsciousness, and death are possible.

At about 9 p.m., the hazardous materials (hazmat) team was called to deal with the situation. For some reason, they were turned back. Similarly with the Fire Department. The reason appears to have to do with the fact that Expo Square is not in the city limits, so any health issue would come under the jurisdiction of the Tulsa City-County Health Department. They were called, too. Finally, at about 11 pm, long after the last race and after the doors had been opened to ventilate the building, the authorities arrived and still measured between 70 and 130 ppm.

The County's approach to solving the problem is to open doors and roof panels to ventilate the building. That's fine for the spectators, but it subjects neighbors across the street -- most of whom have lived there since long before the first Chili Bowl race in 1987 -- to dreadful noise and vibration. Noise level in one yard were measured at over 80 db with the Expo Building's doors closed.

Here's a telling quote from Susan Hylton's story in the Whirled:

Expo Square officials met with Chili Bowl promoter Emmett Hahn, County Commissioner Bob Dick, the fire marshal and representatives from the health department and the HAZMAT team Friday morning.

Hahn said he had no idea if the carbon monoxide levels were too high Thursday night and referred questions to Tuttle.

Rouse said the fire department could close down the event, but he thought "everybody was pretty much satisfied with the corrective action that was going to be taken."

Note that no one from the nearby neighborhoods were included in the discussion, despite the impact of the event. If they had included neighbors, I doubt they would have been "pretty much satisfied" with the conclusion. And I doubt most of the spectators are aware of the risk they are taking with their own health. This is just one more example of how the majority of our County Commissioners are more concerned about generating revenue at the Fairgrounds rather than operating it in a responsible way to serve the interests of the public.

By the way, the outdoor races at Fair Meadows by the same promoter were approved by the Fair Board in November 2002, at a time when the surrounding neighborhoods lacked representation on the County Commission. The contract with the promoter required mufflers on the cars and keeping within a specified decibel limit. The limit was exceeded -- sound levels of 82 db were measured nearly 1/2 mile away -- but the County and Expo Square management did nothing to penalize the promoter for breaking his contract.

Expo Square, and the Expo Square building in particular, weren't built for auto racing. They were built for fairs, expositions, and trade shows. Let the Chili Bowl races be held in a facility suited for the purpose, where spectators won't be endangered and neighbors won't be bombarded with noise.

Congrats, Pam Peterson!


The results are in! Congratulations to Pam Peterson for a resounding victory in the Oklahoma House 67 special election -- 69% in a winner-take-all primary in this heavily Republican district. No Democrat filed, so by winning the primary Pam becomes a Representative-elect.

Pam received 69% of the vote. Her nearest opponent, Tommy Thompson, received only 14% despite (or because of?) the Whirled's endorsement and a last minute phone call from Thompson's campaign attacking her.

The factors underlying this big win: a great candidate, first and foremost, and a great match for the district; her many hours going door-to-door and making phone calls to meet the voters; support from grass-roots activists and elected officials; and a great campaign team headed by campaign manager Terri Cleveland.

Best wishes to Pam as she starts her rookie session at the State Capitol.

Pam Peterson for House 67


The choice to replace Hopper Smith in the Oklahoma House is an obvious one. For a legislator, you want someone who shares your values, who can work effectively with other legislators, and who will keep in touch with the district.

I've known Pam Peterson and have worked with her in local Republican activities for many years. She has served the Republican Party as a delegate to the national convention, Vice Chairman for the 1st Congressional District organization and most recently as Chairman of the Tulsa County party. If voters in House District 67 have the good sense to elect her, she won't need to build relationships with other elected officials. Through her involvement in the party and in their campaigns, she already has a great working relationship with the other members of the Tulsa County legislative delegation and with our representatives in Washington and with many other local and state officials. They know her as someone who understands the issues, and someone who is easy to work with.

Pam has solid conservative values, and it is her values that motivate her involvement in politics and in other activities. As one example: She serves as a board member for Mend Crisis Pregnancy Center, an organization that supports women who are facing an unexpected pregnancy, giving them the support they need to choose life for their unborn children. She has two children and has been actively involved in their education; this year her youngest child will graduate high school, while her oldest just finished college. Her husband Paul, a surgeon, shares Pam's values and concerns for our state's future, and encouraged her to pursue the opportunity to run for public office.

Politics can bring out the worst in people. It is hard to be genuinely friendly, to be alert without being paranoid, to be determined without being pushy. It is easy to develop delusions of grandeur, to become paranoid or embittered.

Despite her long involvement in politics, Pam Peterson remains kind-hearted, unpretentious, and friendly. She has a great sense of humor and doesn't take herself too seriously. The reality of her Christian faith is evident in her dealings with others.

I don't know any of the other candidates in the race, but I know Pam Peterson and I can heartily recommend her to the voters of House District 67. On Tuesday, January 13, please vote for Pam Peterson and tell your friends to do the same.

Stites guarding the henhouse


Chad Stites was back in the news (jump page here) this weekend. He's received a $600,000 contract to oversee the appraisal of homes for HUD in a six-state region.

The story reminds us about one of the things Chad Stites did to get himself in trouble:

Stites appraised foreclosed properties for Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz, and records show in six cases Stites had a role in the purchase of properties that he had appraised. Glanz fired Stites as an appraiser after the purchases were revealed.

A state audit found six cases in which Stites, his relatives or his company purchased property at sheriff's auctions that Stites had appraised. The audit concluded that state laws against conspiracy and obtaining property by false pretenses may have been violated.

The story goes on to say that HUD is hiring someone to oversee appraisals is the possibility of an unscrupulous appraiser abusing the system, and that one of Stites' companies was targeted for special scrutiny:

The contracts are not the first work Stites has done for HUD. Another company operated by Stites, Appraisers of Tulsa, appraised more than 3,200 properties for HUD between 1995 and 2000, ranking fourth nationally in the number of appraisals, according to a 2001 audit by the agency.

The audit by HUD warned that "the appraisal process is inherently vulnerable to abuse and should be closely monitored." It states that the agency's single-family appraisal process "had received virtually no HUD oversight."

The audit was prompted by problems with HUD properties in Philadelphia that had no connection to Stites' company but reviewed national data on appraisals of other HUD properties. It found "alarming trends" in the difference between the appraised value and the actual sales price of the property.

The audit highlighted Appraisers of Tulsa as one of the appraisal companies that should be monitored, given the difference between appraised value and purchase price, nearly 15 percent.

"Appraisal monitoring and quality assurance efforts might best be focused on these companies," the audit states.

Robert Pinney rightly refers to the situation as the fox guarding the henhouse, and points out that his complaint about Stites to the Real Estate Appraiser Board, filed 15 months ago, has yet to be acted upon. In response, Stites displays the "even-keel temperament" and sound judgment that prompted the Tulsa Whirled to endorse him in a special state house election in 2002:

Pinney filed his complaint more than 15 months ago alleging that Stites violated numerous ethics codes that appraisers are required to follow. He said he has received no explanation about why the board has not acted on the complaint.

"Their failure to address my complaint filed over 15 months ago certainly proves their value as a regulatory agency. They've failed their primary reason for existence, which is to qualify persons for federal contracts."

Stites described Pinney as "a sore loser."

"Robert Pinney probably needs to get a life."

And this is the person the Tulsa Whirled told us was best qualified to replace John Sullivan in the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

The Tulsa Whirled editorial board has revealed their pick in next Tuesday's winner-take-all Republican primary to fill Hopper Smith's place in the Oklahoma House of Representatives for District 67 in south Tulsa. To no one's surprise, they passed over the best candidate, the candidate with the best working relationship with elected officials and grass roots Republicans -- about her, more later.

The Whirled editorial board, which consists of pro-abortion, pro-corporate-welfare liberals, made their endorsement. I don't know if their chosen candidate shares their views on contentious social and economic issues -- sometimes the Whirled endorses good people, like Steve Largent and John Sullivan, even if they seem to be biting their collective tongue as they do. (In my interview with the board, I was assured that they sometimes endorse "anti-choice" candidates.)

The Whirled editorial cites their candidate's ties to local minor league sports, public schools, and the Chamber of Commerce as the major selling points. It's interesting that he is not described as a conservative.

Should Republican voters trust the Whirled's endorsement?

Let's look at a very similar election nearly two years ago: The race to replace John Sullivan in House District 71. This race also featured a crowded Republican field in a strongly Republican district. Two of the candidates were party activists, well-known to the grassroots. The primary wasn't quite winner-take-all -- a Democrat filed -- but winning the primary in District 71 is tantamount to winning the election.

The Whirled endorsed Chad Stites in their March 8, 2002, edition. If you believe the Whirled carefully investigates the candidates before making an endorsement, read the second paragraph carefully:

Stites, 44, is a native Tulsan, graduated from Claremore High School and attended the University of Tulsa and Southern Nazarene University. He owns Appraisers of Tulsa, a statewide real estate appraisal service. He is a family man, active in church and community.

Like the other candidates in the race, Stites shares the solid conservative values that are so important to Republican voters. In addition, he has the even-keel temperament needed to work with legislators on both sides of the political spectrum.

I love the assurance that Stites is a solid conservative. Keep in mind that Janet Pearson frequently makes the following argument, frequently enough that I call it Pearson's Syllogism: Nixon favored X, Nixon was a conservative, therefore conservatives are inconsistent and hypocritical if they don't favor X, too.

Stites won a narrow victory, getting only 34% in the first-past-the-post primary. In all likelihood, the Whirled's editorial moved enough undecided votes to tip the election his way. A few weeks later, the Whirled went on to endorse Stites against Democrat Roy McClain (April 2, 2002):

Both Stites and McClain are attractive candidates -- bright, articulate and well-versed on issues of interest to voters. Stites' experience, which includes operating a small business and being actively involved in community and church, makes him the best choice. He has all the tools to be an effective legislator.

Not many months later we were treated to an audio clip of Stites' even-keel temperament on display in a career-ending phone call to a city employee. The Whirled was kind enough to post the clip on the free part of their website, although I don't believe they ever apologized for steering Republican voters wrong in the special election.

The Whirled editorial board seems to listen to a very select subset of Republicans, and the people they listen to -- people like former City Councilor John Benjamin -- aren't in touch with the grassroots any more, if they ever were. Despite this, the Whirled's endorsement still pulls weight with some voters -- people who aren't engaged in the political process, but they vote religiously, and when in doubt they will vote the way the Whirled tells them to vote. In a narrow race with many undecided until the last minute, their influence could tip the balance.

So, you conservative Republicans who live in House District 67, do you trust the Tulsa Whirled editorial board to tell you who can best represent you and your views in Oklahoma City?

UPDATE: Chad Stites is back in the news.

Chairman Miller


Congratulations to County Commissioner Randi Miller, who was unanimously elected on Monday as Chairman for 2004, the first person ever to have served as chairman of the Tulsa City Council and the Tulsa County Commission, holding both posts within a 12-month interval. There was some speculation on my part that she might be passed over, given that the other Commissioners seemed to be quite happy to make decisions without her input. But convention was upheld -- it was District 2's turn -- and Miller got the nod.

The question now is whether she will be able to make effective use of this position to work for reform. The dynamics of a three-member commission are much different than those of a nine-member council. It's hard to build alliances and support for new initiatives when you can't legally discuss county business with even one other commissioner outside of announced meetings.

One of the chief powers of the Chairman is to make appointments to county boards and commissions, and it will be interesting to see what Miller does with this power. She will have her first opportunity this month, when Wesley Harmon's term on the TMAPC expires. Miller could appoint a replacement who will represent the concerns of homeowners. There are any number of zoning savvy neighborhood leaders in her district who would do a great job on the Commission. A few that come to mind -- not an exhaustive list: Pam Deatherage of Brookside, Jim Graham of Riverwood, Fran Pace of Renaissance (a former planning commissioner), Maria Barnes of Kendall-Whittier, and this writer. All these people would be fair to developers and homeowners, but would work to address the problems that frustrate everyone involved in the process.

The easy, but wrong, choice would be to appoint yet another member with connections to the development industry. It would be a tempting choice for Miller, who is up for election to a full term this year and will have to raise a pile of money to handle a primary challenge as well as a general election.

Miller should also have opportunity to replace a member of the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority. Besides the three commissioners, there are two other members, Bob Parmele and Jim Orbison, both deeply entrenched in the county crony network. Whoever is up to be replaced should be, preferably with someone who lives within 1/2 mile of Expo Square and will ensure that the pursuit of profit is balanced against the concerns of nearby property owners. In the Bell's roller coaster dispute, neighbors proposed a number of creative alternatives that would have allowed the coaster to be built with less impact on the surrounding neighborhoods, and I'm sure they'd apply the same creativity and fairness to other Expo Square issues. There are dozens of people I know who would do a fine job -- for example, my neighbor and Midtown Coalition treasurer Margaret Perrault, who is an attorney. (And yes, I live within 1/2 mile of Expo Square, too, and would be honored to serve on the board.)

Miller ran for office as a reformer, and her position as Chairman gives her some opportunities, through appointments, to carry out those promises. She could still be overridden by Dick and Collins, but even so, making the effort is crucial. It would not only be the right thing to do, but would encourage her constituents that someone at the County Courthouse is on their side.

Among the achievements praised by County Commissioner Wilbert Collins in his "State of the County Address":

The Election Board has added enhancements to its Web page that allow voters to determine their polling places.

The enhancement: The county election board website has a PDF file that shows the name and address of the polling place for each precinct. There is no map of the precincts, however, so if you don't remember your number, you're out of luck. Better than nothing, but only slightly. Wilbert Collins has probably not looked at the website to see this "enhancement" for himself -- I suspect he is like the vast number of elected officials who are still barely tech savvy enough to send and receive e-mail.

There is a lot of data that could easily be put on the web. If the information were available on the Internet it would save government workers a lot of time answering questions from the public. The election board could put detailed precinct maps and maps that show which precincts are in which districts (legislative, city council, school board, judicial, etc.). INCOG could put current copies of the zoning map and the Comprehensive Plan (along with all the subsidiary area plans) online. (In her recent defense of Tulsa's zoning regime, Whirled editorialist Janet Pearson incorrectly stated that this information was already available online.) Most of these things already exist in electronic format. While a lot of money could be spent creating sophisticated interfaces to the information, simply creating and posting PDF files would be an inexpensive way to serve the public.

The county assessor's office has put some very useful maps on the web, including maps of city and school district boundaries, and a map for each township section in the county, showing subdivisions, lots, and block numbers. Each map is a large PDF file. I believe this was initiated under former Assessor Jack Gordon. In any case, the maps have a lot of useful information. It would be great to click on a lot and get the current valuation, the current zoning, history of zoning cases relating to the property, maybe a title history. Someday, but for today this is a great start.

Commissioners pat selves on back


The Whirled had coverage of outgoing County Commission Chairman Wilbert Collins "State of the County" address on Monday. Collins praised himself and fellow commissioners for "stepping up to the podium" with Vision 2025.

He went on to present some evidence that the County has too much money to play with:

The county's contribution to employee retirement was increased to 10 percent from 8.5 percent, and employees still are required to contribute only $1 a year.

"That's not bad. Very good, very good (benefit) if you ask me," Collins said.

I'm happy for the County's hard working employees, but it seems inappropriate when so many private sector employees in our county are losing jobs and pensions, and when other government entities are cutting back to match declining revenues.

And should the County be in the printing business?

He also noted that Tulsa County is the only county in the state that has an Administrative Services Division authorized to print voting ballots. Many counties look to the private sector for printing services.

This year, the county's print shop earned about $2,500 assisting a Sapulpa company in the bindery work for 190,000 ballots used by the state of California in the most recent gubernatorial race.

Looks like an opportunity for privatization to me.

More about the County Commission meeting in subsequent entries.

County boards back in action


Please forgive my absence from these pages for the past week. It's been unusually busy for a quiet vacation period, a time to catch up on a lot of things around the house. Expect to hear from me more often as the City of Tulsa's campaign season heats up.

Today the Tulsa County Board of Commissioners has their first meeting of the year, as does the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority (aka the Fair Board, which includes the three commissioners). I'd like to tell you what's on the agenda, but the County's website doesn't allow access to the agendas or meeting schedules. I suspect there's some reorganization of the site going on at the moment, and they haven't got all the links working again.

After a bit of poking around, I was able to find my way to the agenda. The meeting is in the usual place, room 119 of the County Administration Building at 500 S. Denver, at the usual time, 9:30 am. Current chairman Wilbert Collins will give a "State of the County" address, and the commissioners will elect a chairman and a chairman pro-tem for 2004. No indication of who will get the nod, but it should be Randi Miller's turn in the normal rotation.

The Fair Board will meet at 2 today in room 119 to consider the Drillers' request for fireworks displays this season. There's also this very vague item:

9. Consider and vote on ratification of Facilities Lease Agreements as listed on attached forms

Of course, the attached forms aren't available on the County's website, so we don't know whether or not they have a lease agreement pending with an air horn tradeshow and convention or plan to host a concert by some band with a name like "Bleeding Ears". The Fair Board has a history of sneaking these things through.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa category from January 2004.

Tulsa: December 2003 is the previous archive.

Tulsa: March 2004 is the next archive.

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