Tulsa Election 2013: November 2013 Archives

Two elections to fill a city office and three propositions on the City of Tulsa general election ballot for November 12, 2013. Here are my picks:

Mayor: No endorsement. Can't make myself vote for either one. Neither candidate lives up to their expensively self-funded hype. I wish they both could lose. While it won't determine the winner, you can register your disapproval of the finalists in the race by leaving that section blank on your ballot. I wish we had Nevada's None of the Above option.

Auditor: No endorsement. The best choice, Josh Lewis, lost in the primary. Incumbent Clift Richards, originally appointed to his post by Dewey Bartlett Jr, faces Cathy Criswell, risk manager under Kathy Taylor. It would be nice if we could vote for an auditor conditionally. I want Richards to win if Taylor is elected mayor, but I want Criswell to win if Bartlett Jr is re-elected, so that either way the mayor has to deal with an auditor whose career he/she did not advance. Here's an interesting op-ed from business ethicist Chuck Gallagher on the ethics complaint against Clift Richards. Whoever wins will face re-election in November 2014, as city election cycles finally sync up with state and federal elections.

Proposition 1, City Council raise to $24,000 per year: Yes. This amounts to a 6% increase in inflation-adjusted dollars since the council was instituted in 1989. The workman is worthy of his hire.

Proposition 2, 1.1%, seven-year capital improvements sales tax: No. Wish I could support this, but there are too many big vague numbers, along with an unnecessary $10 million donation to another taxing entity. There's time, before the current tax is due to expire at the end of June 2014, to go back to the drawing board and fix what's wrong with this proposition.

Proposition 3, $355 million general obligation bond issue for streets and bridges: Yes. Only 52% of the amount is assigned to specific projects, but the entire amount must be spent on streets and bridges.

Read more in the BatesLine Tulsa Election 2013 archive.

The conventional wisdom, conditioned by a decade or more of self-serving propaganda from certain quarters, is that the Tulsa City Council is just a bunch of bickering complainers, and we'd all be better off to go back to the old commission system where all the decisions were made by five men who lived within a 3 Wood drive of each other.

I beg to differ. The citizens of Tulsa who don't live in the Money Belt deserve representation, too. And most of the city councilors I've known work very hard to ensure that they are listening to their constituents and that their constituents' voices are heard at City Hall. Often that means resisting proposals from the mayor or the Chamber of Commerce or other sources that may not be in the best interests of their constituents or the city as a whole. Good councilors enforce government transparency and accountability.

In addition to attending committee meetings and the regular weekly council meeting on Thursday, a conscientious councilor also attends neighborhood association meetings and city board and commission hearings affecting his district, and spends time researching the issues that come before the council.

It's not a full-time job, but it takes up a lot of time. For councilors who run their own businesses, that often means a loss of income. For all of the councilors, spending more time on council duty usually means more miles driven, more meals eaten out, and home duties farmed out to hired hands, all at the councilors' expense.

When the new city charter was approved in 1989, it set an initial annual salary for City Councilors as $12,000, a minimal sum even then for a council that the powers that be hoped would be nothing but a rubber stamp for mayoral and chamber initiatives.

We can't afford to make city councilors whole for all the work they do above and beyond the official weekly meeting, but we can at least acknowledge their hard work with a stipend that can help them justify the cost of serving to the families who depend on their income.

$24,000 in 2013 dollars is $12,709.86 in 1989 dollars. So we're talking about a 6% raise (adjusted for inflation) for a job that is arguably twice as complex and twice as time-consuming as it was in 1989. That's a bargain. I'll be voting yes.

Our condolences and prayers go out to the Inhofe family. A small private plane registered to Dr. Perry Inhofe, son of Sen. Jim Inhofe, crashed on Sunday, killing the pilot.

The "Improve Our Tulsa" package of capital improvement funding comes to voters as two propositions. We've talked about the 7-year, 1.1% sales tax (Proposition 2). Here's Proposition 3, the general obligation bond issue. Before Mayor Jim Inhofe introduced the "third-penny" sales tax, G. O. bond issues were the way Tulsa paid for capital improvements.

Oklahoma law allows counties and school districts and community colleges and library systems to use property tax ("millage levies") for operating expenses, but cities can use property tax for two purposes only: repaying "general obligation bond issues" for capital improvements and paying off judicial settlements and judgments against the city. The money comes out of a "sinking fund" which is replenished by an increase in property taxes. (For example, the $7.1 million Great Plains Airlines settlement that Kathy Taylor arranged and Dewey Bartlett Jr approved would have been paid in this way, had the Oklahoma Supreme Court not ruled that the repayment was illegal.) So the only way a city in Oklahoma can make use of property tax as a revenue source is to get sued or go into debt. (I leave the perverse incentives thereby created as an exercise for the reader.)

Each year, the city submits its sinking fund needs to the county excise board, which calculates the millage required to cover the need, based on the assessed value of property in the city. Tulsa has the highest property tax rate of any city in Tulsa County: 20.24, which amounts to $202.40 of the property tax bill on a $100,000 house, about $30 more than the tax on the same value house in Broken Arrow. It amounts to about 15% of your total property tax bill.

For as long as I can remember, the City of Tulsa has balanced its capital improvements funding between sales tax and G. O. bonds. New bond issues are usually staggered to keep the property tax rate level; the idea is to issue new bonds as the old bonds are paid off. We would get more for our money if the millage could be "pay as you go," if we didn't have to incur fees for issuing the bonds and debt service, but for now, state law doesn't allow it.

So there's nothing scandalous or novel about issuing G. O. bonds to finance streets and bridges.

70% of the $335 million is designated for rebuilding and maintaining existing streets. By law that 70% must be spent for stated projects. Arguably, only 52% is going to specifically listed projects; another 18% ($63,406,000) is made up of "citywide" funds for unspecified rehabilitation and replacement projects and matching funds. An attorney wanting to derail the bond issue could have some fun with that. The relevant section of state law is 62 O. S. 574.

That leaves 30%, $106.5 million, which could be spent on other street and bridge construction, reconstruction, and repair projects yet to be determined. The bond issue language is limited to those purposes. Debt service would be over and above the $335 million, which constitutes the amount of principal being borrowed.

Despite the lack of specificity on which street projects will be funded with 48% of the money, at least we know the money has to be spent on street projects. My inclination is to vote FOR Proposition 3.

There's a thought-provoking story from last week's local elections in Houston: An elderly, white, conservative man won a non-partisan race for a six-year-term on the board of Houston Community College, defeating a four-term African-American incumbent in a heavily African-American district. The victorious candidate, Dave Wilson, used stock photos of African-Americans on his direct mail pieces and never included a picture of himself. One mail piece noted that he had been endorsed by his cousin, Ron Wilson. The Ron Wilson who endorsed him was his cousin from Iowa, but voters may have assumed he was referring to the former State Representative from that area.

Some are claiming that Dave Wilson pretended to be black, but he never claimed to be African-American; he just avoided creating the impression that he wasn't. As a result, it appears that he was able to get a hearing for the concerns he had about the management of Houston Community College, concerns that apparently were shared by enough voters to get him elected. This link has one of his radio ads in which a woman talks about the incumbent's support for funding HCC's overseas programs over funding for local scholarships.

I'm torn between being heartened that Wilson was able to neutralize race as an issue and being disheartened at the assumption that voters would have rejected him if they'd known his race, and even more disheartened that voters appear to have allowed direct mail pieces to serve as their sole source of input on the election.

Which brings us to Tulsa. Both the Taylor and Bartlett campaigns have spent piles of money pushing their preferred memes -- positive memes about their own candidates and negative memes about the opposition. Because I wish they could both lose on Tuesday, I've spent my limited blogging time during this campaign trying to debunk the nonsense from each side. No, Kathy Taylor did not bring us to the brink of bankruptcy, and Dewey Bartlett Jr didn't rescue us from bankruptcy. Dewey has been as big a spender as Kathy. You can't push all the blame for the trash mess onto Bartlett Jr; Taylor deserves a big share of the blame, too. Neither candidate is visionary or competent or bold. Both backed the Great Plains Airlines bailout. Both have had problems working respectfully with those who disagree with them, particularly their fellow elected officials.

Tulsa voters have made a mess. Maybe if their noses are rubbed in it they won't do it again.

Conversations, face-to-face and on Facebook, indicate that my debunking effort has been a failure. It's shocking to hear intelligent people parrot lines from local political commercials with conviction, as if they'd come to the conclusion independently, with no awareness that they'd been fed those lines from a couple of very expensive propaganda machines. I'm not frightened by what they don't know; I'm frightened by what they "know" that isn't so.

I'm reminded of this:

tKathy_Taylor-That.Is.Crazy.pngI'm conflicted about Tuesday's vote. I would love to see Kathy Taylor's $3 million attempt to buy her way back into the mayor's office rendered futile and her political career ended.

WhatMeDewey.jpgBut just when I'm comfortable with the idea of voting for Dewey Bartlett Jr just to stop Taylor, Bartlett Jr or one of his minions does something obnoxious like refusing to show up for a discussion with the City Council on Tulsa's revenue shortfalls, claiming this year's homicide body count is no big deal, or leaking a police report that ordinarily would have been withheld from the public. And that puts me back in the None of the Above column.

One veteran Oklahoma Republican who has volunteered for the Bartlett campaign observed that if Tulsa had a competent Republican mayor, the outcome would not be in doubt. It's Bartlett Jr's obnoxious incompetence that has made this a close race. The GOP establishment types who pushed Bartlett Jr's candidacy in 2009, despite clear warning signs like Bartlett Jr's endorsement of Taylor and Bartlett Jr's backing of the $7.1 million Great Plains Airlines settlement, owe their fellow Republicans an apology. Bartlett Jr's support for equating sexual confusion with race and religion and for a massive corporate welfare and pork barrel tax have realized the fears of fiscal and social conservatives alike who held their noses and voted for him in 2009.


And if Taylor were truly as moderate and non-partisan as the image she has paid to create, she might be way out in front. But she has shown her true colors in her support for left-wing causes like Michael Bloomberg's coalition of gun-grabbing mayors and anthropogenic-global-warming globaloney, and her support for left-wing candidates like Barack Obama and Harry Reid.

Nor has Taylor has shown any courage on land use and development issues, notwithstanding the wishful thinking of my urbanist friends. When her voice might have helped, she has remained silent. For example, not only did Taylor refuse to speak out against wanton downtown demolition during the recent debate, when she was mayor her administration opposed modest measures to encourage preservation and pursued a downtown assessment and fire-code rules that had the side effect of encouraging demolition.

I understand my friends who are voting for Dewey because they are afraid that Kathy will use her position and wealth as a springboard to higher office. I understand my friends who are voting for Kathy because she seems to be marginally more professional in manner and to have been easier to work with than Dewey has been.

Vote as you please, but there's no reason to feel good about the vote you cast on Tuesday.

MORE: The AP's Justin Juozapavicius covers the collapse of the once friendly relationship between Bartlett Jr and Taylor:

Challenger Kathy Taylor and incumbent Dewey Bartlett, Jr., live roughly a half-mile apart, share a social strata and dozens of mutual friends and, at one point, actually used to like each other.

For much of the past year, they've been at each other's throats, peppering airwaves and mailboxes with brutal ads and accusations -- eroding what had been the equivalent of a political romance. She recruited him while she was mayor in 2007 to help head up a high-profile drive to fix Tulsa's seemingly ancient roadways; he endorsed her re-election bid in 2009, but she decided not to run again.

Those days are long gone. Bartlett's called her a quitter who left office because she couldn't cut it as the recession was gripping Tulsa. She's called him an absentee mayor who bothers to show up to only 8 percent of various city meetings and has no plan to tackle a budget shortfall that totaled $3.16 million at the start of the fiscal year.


Separated at birth? Photo collage from http://kathytaylorvoteno.blogspot.com/

In addition to voting for mayor next Tuesday, Tulsans will also decide whether to re-elect or replace the City Auditor, and will vote on three ballot propositions. Prop. 1 involves raising the city councilor salary to $24,000 per year. Prop. 2 and 3 are collectively called "Improve Our Tulsa" and involve nearly a billion dollars in funding for capital improvements.

Why two propositions? Because there are two different kinds of taxes involved: A sales tax (Prop. 2) and a general obligation bond issue that will be repaid by an increase in property tax rates (Prop. 3).

Prop. 2 is a 1.1% City of Tulsa sales tax capped both by money (tax ends once $563.7 million as been collected) and by time (seven years, from July 1, 2014, to no later than June 30, 2021). Here is the Prop. 2 ballot resolution establishing the parameters for the sales tax. Here is the City of Tulsa "Brown Ordinance," codified as Title 43-H, that sets out specifically how the sales tax revenues are to be spent, sets up a Sales Tax Overview Committee to oversee the completion of the projects, and establishes a complicated procedure to ensure that the public is notified of any proposed changes to the allocation of the sales tax revenues.

For most of its history the City of Tulsa funded capital improvements by general obligation bond issues (repaid by increased property tax rates), enterprise funds (e.g., water revenues paying for new water lines), and special assessments (e.g., property owners adjacent to a road would each pay a share of the cost for repaving it).

In 1966, Tulsa tripled in land area overnight, adding about 120 square miles to the north, east, and south. By 1979, it had become clear that the City could not keep up with both repair of older infrastructure and extension of infrastructure to new areas of growth. Then-Mayor Jim Inhofe proposed the first "Third-Penny" sales tax, adding a 1% tax earmarked for capital improvements to the 2% permanent tax. Voters rejected it, partly because, unlike bond issues, the money wasn't legally bound to be spent on the promised projects, and partly because voters did not want to spend tax dollars on a low-water dam on the Arkansas River.

In 1980, Inhofe tried again, this time without the low-water dam but with additional legal protections to guarantee that the money would be spent as promised. The new provisions were devised by Darven Brown in the city's legal department. Ever since then, the separate ordinance specifying projects to be funded by a Third-Penny tax, establishing an overview committee, and requiring a high-level of public notice before changes can be considered has been known in his honor as the Brown Ordinance. The Brown Ordinances have been codified as Title 43-A through 43-H -- this is the eighth such ordinance.

The current City of Tulsa sales tax rate is currently 3.167% -- a permanent 2% for general operations, and 1.167% for capital improvements approved in 2008 ("Fix Our Streets") and which expires at the end of June 2014. That 0.167% (1/6th of a cent) came into effect after Tulsa County's Four-to-Fix-The-County part 2 expired at the end of September 2011, resulting in more revenue for Tulsa's street rebuilding program without an increase in the overall sales tax rate in Tulsa.

The reason this renewal only involves 1.1% instead of 1.167% is because of an agreement between city officials and county officials to allow the county to put its own sales tax before the voters next year and reclaim the difference (0.067%) for county projects without raising the overall sales tax rate in the City of Tulsa.

Here are some of my thoughts about this measure, some favorable, some unfavorable.

Prop. 2 is set up just like the other seven capital improvement ("third penny") sales tax measures that have been approved by voters since 1980. At a top level, it's no more a blank check than those measures were. The sales tax will be spent as it comes in. None of the funds are reserved for debt service.

What is different this year are many vague line items with big dollar amounts, e.g., $46,235,000 for "Five-Year Capital Equipment Needs." That's a lot of money that can be moved around without triggering the protections of the Brown Ordinance.

I'm pleased to see funding for capital improvements related to implementation of small-area plans in areas like the Pearl District, the Northland area, and the Eugene Field (West Tulsa) area. Residents and business owners have been waiting for years, even decades for improvements that these neighborhoods need to attract new residents and businesses. Elm Creek

And yet the inclusion of funds for "acquisition" (read that as eminent domain / condemnation), and the inclination of our city leaders to ignore plans and promises if someone with enough money wants something different all combine to make me very nervous about the lack of detail setting out exactly will be done with the money.

City councilors were wise to exclude funding for improvements to the BOK Center. Tulsans already fronted the money to build the entertainment venue, and it will never generate enough additional sales tax money to pay us back for the cost of construction. It's not too much to ask those who use the venue to cover ongoing maintenance and operating costs.

At the same time, councilors included a $10,000,000 donation to another governmental entity. I love our library system and want it to continue to thrive, but the City of Tulsa has no business donating $10,000,000 of its scarce sales tax funds and giving it to the Tulsa City-County Library system, which has a dedicated and generous revenue stream, a permanent property tax. If the library board doesn't have enough money for the capital improvements it wants, the library board can ask the voters for more property tax or it can ask Tulsans to contribute toward the project. This big government-to-government donation shouldn't be a part of this sales tax package.

I wonder why wording in this package is so cagey about plans to widen Gilcrease Museum Road between Edison and Apache -- the stretch that runs in front of the museum and behind homes in Gilcrease Hills. The Brown Ordinance refers to it euphemistically as "25 W. Ave."

I'm impressed by the level of detail provided about Gilcrease Museum improvements -- 19 separate line items -- but I wonder why that level of detail wasn't the standard for the entire package. And I wonder why a city-owned museum seeking city funding for improvements presents itself on the web as a wholly owned subsidiary of a private university.

Some of the prettiest views in Tulsa are found by driving Yale between 81st and 91st. It's one of the few places we didn't slavishly follow the section line grid but instead respected the terrain. I see $31 million to widen that section, and I worry the city is going to mess that up.

I was heartened this summer to see the Woodward Park water features that I remember from my childhood running once again. But I see $4.85 million for extensive landscaping and renovating the stream at the pond, and I worry that we'll be giving the city the money and permission they need to mess it all up.

District 6 is home to 11.1% of Tulsa's population, yet the east Tulsa district has only seven specific projects: Three small bridges, three playgrounds, and Savage Park.

I'm sorry I didn't pay closer attention to this package when it was being formulated. After they removed a couple of prominent deal-killers, I thought I'd be able to support the package. Now I'm not sure.

Because the existing sales tax doesn't expire until June 30, 2014, there is time to make some changes and try again, if this effort fails.

Former Tulsa City Councilor John Eagleton, a Republican and a budget hawk during his time on the council, issued a statement today on the fiscal record of incumbent Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr:

As a former City Councilor, I share my opinion that Mayor Dewey Bartlett is not a fiscal conservative. He has allowed the City budget to grow to an irresponsible level.

Mayor Bartlett expanded the budget to extraordinary amounts over the last three years. The three largest budgets in the City of Tulsa's history have been during his administration.

Today, news sources report that the projected budget shortfall is over $6.0 million.

In the six weeks since the City of Tulsa's budget deficit was first disclosed, I've watched with avid interest for leadership from Mayor Dewey Bartlett. Tulsa is still waiting.

Like others who have previously served Tulsa in an elected role, I understand the ramifications of not moving quickly to adjust the budget and curtail an out-of-control deficit.

The head of the Office of Management Review remains unfilled, and we've learned that the City Council must take the lead in implementing the KPMG study cost reductions.

I remain simply an observer in the Mayoral race, and expressly offer no endorsement for either candidate.


BatesLine, May 2013: Kathy & Dewey's budget roller coaster (comparing general fund budgets in both administrations

KRMG, April 29, 2011: Eagleton objects to Bartlett budget for exceeding core rate of inflation

BatesLine, August 28, 2009: A look back at Eagleton's lone vote, grounded in financial concerns, against relocating City Hall to One Technology Center

Urban Tulsa Weekly, October 14, 2009: Prior to the mayoral election, Eagleton calls for core inflation budgeting:

Eagleton said he has been pleading with his fellow councilors for years to adopt a strategy he calls core-inflation budgeting, rather than simply budgeting to the revenue stream. Because Tulsa's municipal budget relies on sales tax revenue, he said, the amount of money city officials have to spend shrinks accordingly when sales tax receipts go into a decline.

In 2006, he said, the economy was good, and sales tax receipts were high.

"And we spent every penny we earned," he said. "We gave raises all around that are now baked into the cake. So, it becomes harder and harder every time, with each budget cycle downturn, to meet our budget."

Eagleton favors a budget process based on the core inflation rate that sets aside revenue for the inevitable downturns of the future. Some smaller sacrifices today can help the city avoid having to make what he calls the "Draconian cuts" required in the current budget.

"If we had done that in 2007 and 2008, yes, we would still have to trim the edges, but we wouldn't have the eight furlough days we did have," he said.

Eagleton said he plans on making the same core-budgeting plea next spring, but the reception that proposal receives depends on the makeup of the council and who occupies the mayor's office.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa Election 2013 category from November 2013.

Tulsa Election 2013: October 2013 is the previous 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?]