Tulsa: May 2004 Archives

When Mayor Bill LaFortune took office two years ago, Tulsans expected changes, particularly among the heads of city departments. You would expect the mayor in a strong-mayor form of government to be able not only to set policy but to be able to appoint department heads who would effectively and enthusiastically carry out the mayor's policies.

To date there haven't been many changes. It turns out that civil service regulations make it rather complicated for a mayor to control who runs city departments. Unless he wants to go through civil service proceedings, a mayor is pretty much stuck unless the department head retires. This wasn't a problem for Rodger Randle -- as the first mayor under the new form of government, he got to appoint all the department heads. Susan Savage was Randle's deputy and presumably was content with the leadership she inherited, and if not, during her 10 years in office nearly every post became vacant and she had the chance to choose a replacement.

With Bill LaFortune, we have the first real change in administration under the new form of government and for the first time can see how the rules hamstring a new mayor's ability to implement the platform that got him elected. There was some talk about amending the charter to improve the situation, but nothing was done about it during the last charter change evaluation in 2003.

Now Mayor LaFortune has the chance to name a City Attorney. The City Attorney is one of the most powerful and least accountable public officials in the city. The office is defined by charter in Article III, Section IV. Title 19 of Tulsa Revised Ordinances fleshes out the City Attorney's powers and duties. The City Attorney's duties are diverse grouping together in one office anything in city government related to the law -- prosecuting violations of municipal law, providing legal advice to the Mayor and the City Council, representing the City in court, ruling on the legality of ordinances approved by the City Council.

On a number of occasions, these diverse duties have turned into a conflict of interest. For example, when the Mayor and Council are at odds over an issue, the City Attorney must provide legal advice to both sides, which is impossible. If the Council has concerns about the legality of the City Attorney's actions, the City Attorney has the authority to prevent the concerns from being pursued.

The Council sought to have the power to hire its own attorney, answerable only to the Council, but that would require a charter change. Instead, they were assigned an attorney out of the City Attorney's office, nominally working for the Council, but ultimately responsible to the City Attorney. That interferes with the principle of the separation of powers, and the ability of the Council to legislate and exercise oversight of the executive branch.

Given the diverse legal functions involved, it would make sense to amend the charter and establish several independent offices -- a City Prosecutor, a City Council Attorney reporting to the Council, an attorney reporting to the City Auditor, and a City Solicitor reporting to the Mayor and handling lawsuits. Until the charter could be amended, a similar de facto arrangement could be accomplished by appointing a City Attorney who is committed to allowing the City Council attorney to function independently, with as little input and control as possible from the City Attorney.

Oklahoma Boast and Roast

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This coming Friday and Saturday will be the first-ever "Oklahoma Boast and Roast", sponsored by the Tulsa County Republican Party. It's a satirical revue written from a conservative perspective, poking good-natured fun at both Democrats and Republicans (but especially Democrats). It's an answer to the annual Tulsa Press Club Gridiron, which has a decidedly left-wing slant.

The shows are June 4 and 5 at 7 p.m. in the Assembly Hall of the Tulsa Convention Center. Tickets are $15. Proceeds will benefit the Tulsa County Republican Party and the Blue Star Moms, an organization that sends care packages to the troops overseas. You can buy tickets online, in person at Tulsa GOP headquarters (1503 S. Denver, 627-5702), or at Steve's Sundries at 26th & Harvard.

We celebrated a friend's birthday Saturday night at the Spotlight Theatre on Riverside Drive for the weekly performance of "The Drunkard" and Olio. Our party consisted of six grownups and four kids from three to seven. We all had a great time.

Is there anything else in the USA quite like this show, which has been running continuously for over fifty years? Lots of cities have ballets and opera companies, but I don't know of any other place where this sort of Americana is on display on a weekly basis. I'd think foreign visitors would especially enjoy this show. Seeing "The Drunkard" goes on my list of things to do with out-of-town guests.

I don't think you can call yourself a Tulsan if you haven't been to see "The Drunkard" at least once. The audience Saturday night was a diverse bunch -- small kids, teenagers, young adults, and older folks. It's a great evening out for a group of friends, for families. Is it corny and old-fashioned? Yes, but that's what makes it fun and special.

The pre-show fun began at 7:30 with an old fashioned sing-along -- the lyrics are in the program -- songs like "Sidewalks of New York," "Bicycle Built For Two," "K-K-K-Katy," "Shine On Harvest Moon." At 7:45, the curtain went up, and we were instructed in the proper way to cheer and boo in a melodrama.

"The Drunkard" is an old-fashioned temperance melodrama in three acts, based on the 1854 novel Ten Nights in a Bar-Room and What I Saw There, depicting the misery and degradation caused by alcohol. Deadly earnest when originally written and later performed as a play, the Spotlighters play it for laughs, with plenty of slapstick, asides, and opportunities for heartily booing the villain and cheering the hero.

Between acts the sing-along continued. During one scene change, one of the characters, the bumpkin Sample Switchel, came out to tell a few jokes, but his timing was thrown off by a little boy, about five years old, with a big laugh -- something tickled his funny bone and he couldn't stop laughing, and before long everyone was joining in.

Between "The Drunkard" and "The Olio", free coffee and cookies are served, and the cast mingles with the audience. "The Olio" is a variety of acts, changing from week to week. In between acts, out-of-town visitors were recognized -- Australia and the Netherlands were represented this week -- and those with birthdays were invited up on stage, serenaded, and presented with a commemorative coffee mug. This week's olio acts included a solo from "Les Miserables", last year's Miss Tulsa performing a jazz tap dance, and a third-grade boy with a big voice, singing "What a Wonderful World" and "You've Got a Friend in Me". The show closed with the patriotic monologue, "The Old Man and the Flag". Veterans in the audience were recognized and applauded, and we all stood and sang "God Bless America". It was about 10:30 when the evening came to an end.

As I understand it, everyone involved is a volunteer. Receipts and donations go to cover expenses -- including keeping this art-deco building up and running -- and beyond that for scholarships for aspiring performers. The Spotlighters also produce Children's Theatre -- "Ramona Quimby" will be performed the last two weekends in June, and "Treasure Island" is slated for August.

It was a relaxing, fun evening for the whole family. Check it out.

If you're not in northeastern Oklahoma for the entire month of June, you're missing out on a lot:

The International Route 66 festival is in Tulsa this year, June 10-13. Should be a great party, and a great way to learn about this important pathway through 20th century American history.

Bartlesville's annual OK Mozart festival marks its 20th anniversary from June 12-19. The family concert this year features the author of the "Hank the Cowdog" books and a performance of Carnival of the Animals. There are chamber performances, piano concerti, and the outdoor concert at Woolaroc. You could even sneak in a side trip to the wonderful Kiddie Park.

Then there's Light Opera Oklahoma, the annual festival sponsored by the Gilbert and Sullivan Society, this year featuring "HMS Pinafore", "Three-Penny Opera", and "Guys and Dolls". The fun lasts all through June, and includes a couple of road performances of "HMS Pinafore" in Okmulgee and up Route 66 at the beautiful Coleman Theatre Beautiful in Miami.

Why spend June anywhere else?

The budget mess at the Tulsa County Courthouse is just starting to get interesting. County Commission Chairman Randi Miller is asking the State Auditor's office to find out where the projected surplus went. It's being called a transition audit -- rather like counting the money at the end of a cashier's shift so the next cashier starts clean. Wayne Carr had announced on April 29 that he is retiring after 25 years for health reasons. It was Mr. Carr's budget projections that led county officials to believe they would have a lot more money to spend than they actually did. Word is, though, that Commissioner Miller was pushing for an external audit even before Carr announced his retirement.

The County's internal auditor for the last two years, Clarence McClain, quit Thursday and was quoted by county fiscal officer Wayne Carr as saying it was a choice of hitting somebody or leaving.

It's tough to piece all this together, because Tulsa County budget info is not available on the Internet.

Think back to the Vision 2025 campaign last summer, when we were told that we should have confidence in the County's ability to manage a billion dollars because of their sound fiscal performance in the past. We were reminded that Tulsa County was untouched by the County Commission scandal back in the '80s.

Tony Randall, RIP

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Sorry to learn of the passing of Tony Randall. I grew up watching and enjoying his work in "The Odd Couple", knew of his ties to Tulsa, and more recently enjoyed his cameos on Letterman and marveled at his late-in-life virility.

There are some intriguing details in the obituaries. He was married to his first wife for 54 years (although some sources say 50). That's remarkable for anyone, much less for a famous actor. She died in 1992, so if the first number is right, he married at age 18, in 1938. Three years after his first wife's death, he, at age 75, married a 25-year-old and became a father for the first time, siring a boy and a girl.

He was born Arthur Leonard Rosenberg in Tulsa in 1920. The obits say his father was an art dealer. I wonder where they lived. He was growing up in the midst of Tulsa's first boom -- what must that have been like! And what was it like to grow up Jewish in Oklahoma in those days?

I found this brief reminiscence about Tulsa's cultural life.

Tulsa TV Memories has his Central High School yearbook photo.

I found this quote from a 1997 commencement speech he gave at Centenary College:

“You must find-each and every one of you – something in life to do that you love, that you love blindly. And you must work yourself to death at that,” he said to applause.

Here's a link to the Department of Transportation's Office of Inspector General report on the Tulsa Airport Improvement Trust's stewardship of federal funds. You've read the Whirled's summaries, now go read it for yourself.

Thanks to Home, My Home for the link.

A different airport mess

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A caller to KFAQ Tuesday morning mentioned another mess involving the Tulsa Airport Improvement Trust (TAIT), which is documented on the "Home, My Home" website. The "Home Not Quiet Home" section covers the Tulsa Airport's noise abatement program.

The caller to KFAQ alleged that the TAIT received federal funds to pay for noise abatement work south of the airport all the way to 31st Street, but no work has been done south of Admiral, leaving the caller wondering what happened to the rest of the Federal grant money.

The proprietor of "Home My Home" lives in one of the homes that is supposed to be soundproofed as part of the program. He documents the sloppy work that has been done, and says that there is no effective oversight, and no recourse for homeowners if work is not acceptable. The company running the program is the same company hiring the subcontractors.

The program, called Home Quiet Home, is administered by Cinnabar, a company that specializes in handling eminent domain acquisitions for local government. The co-owner and president is Bob Parmele, who is well-connected to Tulsa County government. He is a member of the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority (the Fair Board) and is a former member of the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission. His executive VP is Terry Young, former Mayor, and former managing director of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority.

Credit where due: Three front-page stories in three days in the Whirled about the federal investigation of the Tulsa Airport Authority and the Tulsa Airport Improvements Trust (TAIT). While most of the investigation is complete, it appears they are still looking into the airport's dealings with Great Plains Airlines. In particular, the feds are examining a "convoluted" deal set up to allow the TAIT to provide financial assistance Great Plains, despite the federal ban on airports subsidizing airlines. Tulsa used Air Force Plant No. 3 as collateral for a loan to Great Plains. Great Plains is now bankrupt. The TAA applied to the FAA for authorization to raise passenger fees, and it appears that this increase was intended to pay off the loan when it appeared that Great Plains might default. This would also be a violation of federal regulations.

One of the more interesting tidbits from Friday's story by Jim Myers:

Investigators are also examining what appears to be an attempt to keep the public in the dark about certain discussions.

The source said investigators believe that notice requirements of a public meeting in December 2002 were waived so there would be no advance notice of the session.

They believe that meeting was called to discuss several aspects of the financial backing for Great Plains.

Just another example of the way the Cockroach Caucus prefers to do business.

I appreciate the Whirled running these stories prominently. It's interesting that the coverage is being handled by their Washington reporter, rather than the city reporters that would ordinarily handle it.

It's also interesting to look back at the Whirled's coverage from January and February 2003, when Mayor LaFortune and Senator Inhofe first requested that the Department of Transportation's Inspector General conduct an investigation. The newspaper stories focused on critics of the call for an investigation, and suggestions that it was all about politics and sour grapes. Looks like the call for an investigation was well founded, and credit to the Mayor and the Senator for pushing ahead with it despite the potshots.

In the meantime, Tulsa does have a daily non-stop flight to and from Newark, offered by Continental Airlines, and made possible by the advent of regional jets which make it cost effective to provide service on lower-volume routes. But for frequent flights to the coasts, drive a hundred miles to the east to XNA (Northwest Arkansas Regional), see the famous Highfill Tower, and jet away non-stop to Los Angeles and New York. The difference, sad to say, is that there's heavy demand for non-stop flights from the coasts to Bentonville, thanks to Wal-Mart, but not so much for Tulsa.

About this Archive

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

Tulsa: April 2004 is the previous archive.

Tulsa: June 2004 is the next archive.

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