Tulsa: December 2004 Archives

"Not a single identified investor"


That's the observation of the Downtown Guy, an Oklahoma City blogger focused on that city's downtown, about the announcement that the backers of "The American" (aka "The Big Indian") have nearly raised enough money to build the monumental statue. Downtown Guy says sculptor Shan Grey's excuse for not naming any of the investors is flimsy and that reporters should have dug deeper.

Tulsa Today has an analysis and excerpts from the Tulsa County grand jury report on the death of Shawn Howard, owner of Deadtown Tavern. The grand jury indicted Terry Badgewell for first degree murder and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. The grand jury also had criticism for District Attorney Tim Harris' handling of the case, particularly the failure to notify the victim's family before the decision not to prosecute was publicly announced.

Pretending to care what you think


Sandra Langenkamp has a guest op-ed in Sunday's Whirled outlining a process for developing a vision for the future of our region. She recommends first gathering the great and the good -- former public officials, Chamber officials, bureaucrats -- to reach a consensus about what needs to be done. When do ordinary citizens have a chance to be heard?

Once a level of consensus is gained through these early conversations a process then would be established to obtain broad citizen participation.

A steering committee would be selected from the four early participating groups, which would select chairmen for the issue areas and assign appropriate staffs. The individual topic group chairman and staff would invite citizen participation. A one-year deadline would be stated for development of a mission statement, recommendations, implementation strategy and assignment to the appropriate group for fulfillment of the goals.

In other words, once all the important decisions have been made, then we'll "obtain broad citizen participation," whatever the heck that means.

She goes on to promote the laughable idea that a committee of ex-chairmen of the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission could be formed to run the whole thing. Oh, and yes, that would include her. A bunch of developers and developers' toadies, who are there to ensure that developers get what they want, regardless of the impact on other property owners, would decide the future of our region with minimal public input. You betcha.

Call me old-fashioned, but I believe that the American way to make those decisions is through the elected representatives of the people. Let those running for Mayor and City Council and County Commission outline their visions of Tulsa's future. Let the voters vote for the candidates whose vision lines up with their hopes and dreams. Then the elected officials can debate, consider, propose, compromise, and make decisions. It's fashionable to say that such important matters should be removed from the realm of dirty old politics. Personally, I prefer politics, specifically representative democracy, to other methods of choosing between oppposing views. I think politics is much better than knives and guns, much better than oligarchy, much better than autocracy. It's much better than a bunch of unaccountable swells pretending to listen to us.

Eating Tulsa


Just came across this fairly new website -- Eating Tulsa. A group of friends meet about once a week to try a locally-owned restaurant and then write a review for the site. You can register and contribute your own comments as well. Cool logo, too.

Dining out: Binh Le, Billy Sims


We recently ventured out to a couple of restaurants we hadn't visited before.

Binh Le is a Vietnamese restaurant at 31st and Joplin (west of Sheridan), in a converted QuikTrip. (You could never tell if you didn't know already.) When Ri Le Restaurant lost its lease at 31st and Yale in 2002, Ri Le's son-in-law Binh Le opened up down the street with the same menu and recipes. We had the hot garlic chicken and hot ginger beef -- both delicious -- and the imperial rolls, which are like egg rolls, but in a rice wrapper, steamed, not fried, and served with peanut sauce. They don't use MSG, the place is smoke-free, and, as a bonus, they proudly display a photo of President Bush along with a certificate of thanks from the National Republican Congressional Committee for a 2003 contribution. Yes, a portion of your meal purchase may go to support keeping the U. S. House in Republican control.

1978 Heisman Trophy winner Billy Sims recently opened a barbecue (pardon me, "Boomer-Q") place in The Farm Shopping Center. It's filled with memorabilia of Billy's years with the Oklahoma Sooners and the Detroit Lions, and, in an inclusive gesture, there are OSU, TU, and ORU pennants on display. Menu items have been given themed names: Ordering "Smoked Jayhawk" will get you a serving of chicken, and you cannot get Texas toast -- you have to ask for "Okie Bread." I had the "Pulled Razorback" (pulled pork -- revenge for the '78 Orange Bowl) which, for my tastes, is the ultimate test for a barbecue place -- few sell it, and of those that do, even fewer do it well. This was moist, tender, and flavorful and the dinner serving was generous. My eight year old was quite pleased with his smoked bologna ("Arkansas Steak") sandwich. Souvenir cups feature a picture of Billy as a Sooner and his college and pro rushing stats. If you need to visit the facilities, you'll be greeted by a red and white commode, with an inverted longhorn head at the bottom of the bowl as a handy target.

I am expecting some extra-special spin from the Whirled this morning about the defeat of the Tulsa library bond issue and property tax rate increase. No doubt they will find some way to blame it on Jim Mautino and Chris Medlock. It'll be something like: The City Council clown band has so devastated confidence in local government that the momentum from Vision 2025 has been water line annexation historic relationship with the Chamber get a rope. (I didn't say they'd be coherent.)

Does this vote mean that Tulsa Countians hate libraries? Do they hate downtown?

If I were to go to my boss and ask for a raise, and say, "You pay me a good salary, plenty to live on, but you aren't paying me the most that you possibly could. If you gave maxed out my salary, I could keep my house, car, and wardrobe fresh, vibrant, and up-to-date," he would probably say, "That's nice. Now get back to work." It wouldn't mean that he hated me, or that he didn't appreciate my work, or didn't think I was worth what he pays me. It means that he doesn't see a compelling reason to spend more for my services.

The Tulsa City-County Library system seems to do a good job with the money they've been given. They provide a valuable service to the community. The vast majority of Tulsans don't begrudge them the funding they currently receive or the bond money they've used to expand and improve their facilities and collections. I haven't heard anyone calling for a reduction in the library's millage rate or for selling off the library buildings.

(The only knock I've heard against the library's actions concerned a month-long pro-gay-rights exhibit on the Central Library's main floor, just across from the children's section -- and I think that happened some years ago.)

Tulsans see that the library system is well-funded and well-maintained. They see that over the last six years, since the last bond issue, every branch has been expanded or given a facelift, and new branches were built. Some of the same branches that were upgraded over the last six years would have been abandoned for newly built facilities if the bond issue had passed -- Broken Arrow's library, for example.

I am hearing rumblings that the defeat of the library tax hikes has city officials in a panic, fearing that this may spell trouble for the City of Tulsa infrastructure bond issue that we are supposed to be voting on sometime early next year. Those officials underestimate their constituents. We will support a bond issue if we believe the money is really needed, not just because it would be "nice."

Tulsa County voters approved the Vision 2025 sales tax increase because they were convinced that it was an emergency and we had to "do something." (True, the solution didn't actually address the problem.)

Tulsa County voters turned down the Health Department's 0.75 mill increase in February 2002, even though it was billed as a measure to fight "bioterrorism" and expand services. Voters read a week earlier that the Health Department's revenues had nearly doubled over a ten-year period. The previous fall, they read about special performance bonuses given to a third of the health department's employees, and you couldn't miss their big new building, at 51st & 129th. Tulsa County voters reasonably concluded that the Health Department had enough resources to protect us against epidemics and food poisoning, which is what a public health department is all about.

No libraries will close, no librarians will be laid off as a result of the vote. The message of the library tax defeat wasn't "we hate taxes," or "we hate libraries," it was, "we love you, but you don't need any more money right now."

FYI, here are the precinct-by-precinct results. I haven't looked at them that closely, but opposition appears to have been very widespread.

The rumor is that Tulsa City Council Chairman Randy Sullivan will push to delay a vote for the city infrastructure bond issue until after a vote is held to recall Councilors Mautino and Medlock. The excuse will be that the political atmosphere is just too poisonous because of the recall -- using the failure of the library vote as Exhibit A -- and passage of the bond issue may be in jeopardy. Isn't that a bit like blaming the dog for the results of having had cabbage, pinto beans, and cauliflower for lunch? The poison in the air has been put there by Chamber Chairman Bob Poe, the Whirled, Randy Sullivan, and the Coalition for Reprehensible Government. The way to clear the air is for Sullivan and his masters to stop pursuing the recall and focus on what really matters to the citizens of Tulsa -- things like smooth residential streets and replacement of aging and inadequate water and sewer lines.

The bond issue is already months overdue, thanks to footdragging by the Mayor's Office. There are reports that Mayor had planned to ask the Council to suspend its rules and authorize the vote on the bond issue on the first reading tonight, so that the bond issue could be on the ballot in early March. Talk about putting things off until the last minute. At the moment, I don't even see the bond issue on the agenda on the council's website. It doesn't seem to have been discussed since a draft was presented to the Council's Public Works committee back at the beginning of October.

The city has a backlog of infrastructure projects that runs into the billions. The city's policy has been to fund these needs with a third-penny sales tax renewal every five years and a general obligation bond issue, also every five years, but roughly halfway between third-penny renewal elections. The last city general obligation bond issue vote was in August 1999. If Randy Sullivan has his way and pushes the bond issue out until April or May of next year -- scarcely a year before time for the next third-penny vote. That would be a very irresponsible move on his part, and it would demonstrate that getting rid of two of his colleagues means more to him than attending to the needs of the city.

UPDATE: Chris Medlock responds to this morning's Whirled story. Bobby Holt and Charles G. Hill tee off on the Whirled's editorial on the failure of the library vote.

The power to tax

| | TrackBacks (1)

If you live in an incorporated area of Tulsa County, you are in the jurisdiction of seven separate entities with the power to levy property taxes, namely:

  1. Your municipality
  2. Your school district
  3. Tulsa County
  4. Tulsa City-County Library
  5. Tulsa City-County Health Department
  6. Tulsa Community College
  7. Tulsa Technology Center

The library system currently receives 5.32 mills. Once you apply the assessment ratio and homestead exemption, the owner of a home worth $100,000 pays $53.20 in taxes every year to support the library. The library's budget gets bigger automatically as property values rise.

The first of two items on today's ballot is a permanent increase in the library's millage of 0.8 mills. For that $100,000 homeowner, that's another $8 a year. For the library, that represents a 15% increase in the tax rate, a 15% increase in the budget even if property values don't increase. The tax increase will not expire but would have to be expressly repealed if the people don't want it anymore.

The second item is a $79.1 million bond issue, which will also increase property tax by an estimated 2 mills over the next fifteen years. That's another $20 a year for the $100,000 homeowner.

So if both propositions pass, the $100,000 homeowner would be paying about $80 a year in taxes for the library system.

The question in my mind is not whether the library system is a good use of tax dollars, the question is whether the library system is the most needy or worthy recipient of the additional money they seek. As I watched a presentation today by a library official about the vote, I came to the conclusion that it is not.

The presentation made it clear that we have a very good system, with nearly every library in the system either new or significantly refurbished and expanded, mostly using funds from the 1998 bond issue. The presentation spoke not of replacing decrepit or dangerous buildings, but instead of keeping facilities "fresh." The current Central Library building is in excellent shape, and the library official confirmed that the building could indeed be expanded upwards by two stories, while pointing out that doing so would mean closing Central Library for a year or more and far from fixing the parking problem, it would create more demand for the library's limited spaces.

The library system is not in jeopardy. They are not short of funds. The facilities are in good shape. The library system is seeking to max out its allowed operating millage in hopes of expanding staff and services, but its current level of service is well funded.

The library system has been largely unscathed by the budget crises of recent years, thanks to its dedicated funding source. I can't justify giving the library system more money when many other more critical government functions are short of funds -- e.g., the jail. We need to reserve that taxing capacity for other parts of local government with greater needs. That's why I'm reluctantly voting no on both propositions today.

MORE: Bobby Holt is also voting no.

Library vote Tuesday

| | TrackBacks (1)

I love books, and I love libraries. The first really impressive library I ever set foot in was the Central Library downtown, and it is an awesome sight for a small fry as he walks down the center aisle of the plaza level to the main staircase.

Some kids are latchkey kids; I was a library kid. When I was in middle school, Central Library was where I went every Wednesday, when school let out early at 2:20. I took the MTTA bus from 26th Street and Birmingham to 5th and Boston, walked down 5th to watch the construction work on Bartlett Square and the Main Mall, got a 7-Up and a fig bar at the sub sandwich shop next to the Christian Science Reading Room on the west side of Boulder between 5th and 6th, then headed to the library, found a desk on the east side of the reference section on the mezzanine level, and spend a couple of hours browsing through maps and newspaper microfilm, before heading to the Cities Service Building to meet Dad at 5 for the ride home.

My wife and kids make heavy use of the library -- so heavy that I sometimes complain that I feel bound to read the library books to the kids first, rather than that books we already own. My wife loves the fact that she can search for and request books online and have them delivered to the local branch, and then renew them over the web. We have a good library system, a true civic asset.

That said, I've got some heartburn with Tuesday's bond issue. When a new Grand Central Library was first proposed, it was going to be an urban building -- something that looked like it belonged downtown -- located in the "East Village" area as a catalyst for development, and tied in with the Centennial Walk, the Tulsa Tablets, and other urban amenities. Now it appears we will be approving a suburban-style spaceship building, complete with useless plaza, designed for easy expressway access -- and that means no likelihood of stimulating nearby redevelopment, as patrons will zip back home on the expressway rather than venture out on foot.

The original proposal for Grand Central Library had it within a few blocks of Tulsa Community College, several churches, the Village at Central Park, and existing commerical development in the Blue Dome district and around Home Depot. In that context, it would have helped to connect several disconnected, but important, islands of activity downtown.

The location chosen by the library commission is 11th and Denver -- decades ago a bustling commercial corner at the crossroads of US 66 and US 64, but decimated by urban renewal. It is near residential areas -- Riverview Neighborhood just across the IDL, Central Park Condominiums, and Renaissance Uptown apartments -- but the nearest commerical development may be the QuikTrip at 15th and Denver. Sitting as it does up against the Inner Dispersal Loop, the edge of downtown, the 11th and Denver location won't be as effective as the East Village area as a connector between centers of activity.

There has been some discussion of the fact that Dan Schusterman, donor of the land on which the new Central Library would sit, also owns (or rather, various companies and LLCs connected with him own) a considerable portion of the land between Denver and Cheyenne, 7th and 11th. He may be hoping that the new arena at 3rd and Denver and the new library at 11th and Denver may enhance the perception of the area enough to allow him to sell his other land at a premium to developers. Paul Wilson, president of Dan Schusterman's Twenty-First Properties, was a member of the Dialog/Visioning Leadership Team.

For what it's worth, I understand the complaint that a new Central Library should be located closer to the population center of Tulsa County. I disagree. It makes sense for the main city-county library branch to be near the seat of government for both city and county, especially in its function as repository of government documents. Tulsa needs one densely developed urban district, and within the inner dispersal loop you have the land, the street grid, and the zoning rules that are most hospitable to that kind of development, and you don't have to worry about offending the neighbors. A well-designed and well-sited library could make a significant contribution to creating that kind of place. Better at 11th and Denver than in the middle of a massive parking lot at, say, 51st and Mingo.

I guess I had hoped for something more like this -- Chicago's Harold Washington Library Center, the Chicago library system's main branch. We don't need that much space, but it is a beautiful building. Built in neo-classical style, it's proof that modern public buildings don't have to look like flying saucers or Dr. Seuss inventions. You can build something stately and dignified if you pick the right architect and give him the right instructions. And you can build something that will last you not 40 years, but hundreds of years, if you do it right.

Something else Chicago is doing right -- free WiFi in the libraries. Instead of waiting on a library computer to open up so you can access research databases, you can BYOL (bring your own laptop), freeing up the library computers for those who don't have their own computer. What I'd really like is a secure way that would allow Tulsa County residents to access research databases, such as Tulsa County land records, for free from home, 24/7, rather than having to get to the library during normal hours.

Two more things that bug me about this bond issue: (1) It could have gone on the November ballot and saved us the cost of an extra county-wide election. (2) The Tulsa City-County Library system has its own property tax revenue stream. That's good for the library system's independence, but it makes it impossible for public officials to balance the desire to expand and improve the library with the need to take care of public safety and deteriorating roads and water lines. The library didn't have to consult with city or county officials before launching their effort to keep their current share of property tax, build more facilities that cost money to maintain and operate, at a time when maintenance and operation money is hard to come by.

Bobby Holt has some thoughts over at Tulsa Topics, and he links to a discussion on TulsaNow's forum.

Here's a PDF of the sample ballot. There are actually two ballot items -- one to increase permanently the library's property tax rate for operating costs, the other to authorize bonds for library construction and capital improvements. So you can pick and choose.

An accountant writes to tell me about an interesting case discussed at a recent tax law seminar. The case is F&M Bancorporation & Subsidiaries v. Oklahoma Tax Commission, No. TC-99331. Here's how the case was summarized in the seminar materials.

An Oklahoma bank holding company established an investment subsidiary which was organized and had its principal office in another state. The subsidiary presumably had substantial equity capitalization. It acquired mortgage notes receivable that had been generated in Oklahoma by a bank subsidiary of the holding company. The investment subsidiary did not report any income to Oklahoma and the holding company did not report any of the investment subsidiary's income or dividends to Oklahoma.

My correspondent adds:

Further information I gathered would indicate that the subsidiary was established in Delaware.

What the above is saying is F&M generated loans in OK then transferred those assets to a Delaware subsidiary. Then F&M did not pay OK income taxes on the income derived from the loans originated in OK.

The state of OK was a double loser here. The people with the loans more than likely deducted the interest expense on their OK income tax returns and F&M did not report the interest income from the loans on their OK tax return.

Being a fiscal conservative I think that is great, because OK would have just wasted the additional revenues on things like oh say, Great Plains Airlines. But, it kind of makes F&M not look like the greatest corporate citizens...

So far F&M has won the case. The OTC has asked the OK Supreme Court to review the case. They have not accepted nor rejected the case as of yet.

Who is the chairman of F&M Bancorporation? According to the F&M Bank's 2001 annual report, it's Robert E. Lorton, who is also chairman of the F&M Bank and Trust Company, and Chairman and Publisher of World Publishing Company, publisher of the Tulsa Whirled.

I don't take offense that a business would seek ways to minimize its tax liability, but it is amusing that this bank would be trying to avoid Oklahoma state tax, while the editorial board of the Tulsa Whirled, headed by the same man, never met a tax it didn't like, and frequently complains about the constitutional protections that make it hard to raise taxes on Oklahoma businesses and residents.

New Tulsa blog: Tulsa Topics


I was excited to discover a new blog about Tulsa. Bobby Holt, who set up the websites and blogs for the Lewis Crest Neighborhood Association and the Homeowners for Fair Zoning, has launched Tulsa Topics. Here's a bit from his introductory entry.

Many hands make light work. The more Tulsans keeping an eye on local politics, the better. Be sure to check the above blogs, as well as Chris Medlock's blog and the TulsaNow forums, to keep up with local news and politics.

UPDATE for searchers looking for Tulsa blogs: Since I first published this, many more Tulsans have started blogging about local news and politics. For a whole collection of Tulsa blogs, visit tulsabloggers.net. (12/13/2005)

About this Archive

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

Tulsa: November 2004 is the previous archive.

Tulsa: January 2005 is the next archive.

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



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