Tulsa Election 2014 Category
What an interesting night!
I had been at the watch party for Randy Brogdon, Ken Yazel, David Brumbaugh, and Chuck Strohm. The mood there was generally upbeat: Yazel had survived another establishment attempt to knock him off, winning re-election to another four-year term as County Assessor and Courthouse Gadfly with 64.8% of the vote. Brumbaugh won renomination to represent House District 76 with almost 75% of the vote. Strohm, running for the open House District 69 seat to replace Sydney Fred Jordan Jr, finished second but made the runoff.
Brogdon delivered an upbeat speech before the results began to come in and was as upbeat even after it was clear that no miracle was in the offing. He mentioned that he would be a grandfather for the first time later this year and urged the audience to continue to fight for liberty and for fiscal sanity for the sake of generations to come. He was, as always, a gracious gentleman. I've never seen him otherwise.
It was a pretty good night for the BatesLine ballot card.
Ken Yazel's re-election and sizeable margin was especially heartening.
My friend Jason Carini will be the new Rogers County Treasurer. He got into the race because no one else would run, and he wound up defeating a six-term incumbent. The incumbent DA and District 1 County Commissioner were both tossed out as well.
Republican DA Brian Kuester (Wagoner, Cherokee, Sequoyah, Adair Counties) won re-election by a wide margin. (No Democrat filed in an area that was once part of solid-Democrat Little Dixie.)
In the Tulsa County DA race, Steve Kunzweiler finished first with 46.8% and received a majority of the votes that were cast for the two actively-campaigning candidates, but State Sen. Brian Crain, who dropped out, got 13%. Jordan could gracefully drop out at this point, as Cathy Keating did in the 2001 special Congressional primary, but if he doesn't, it looks like there will have to be a runoff with the question of Jordan's eligibility still looming. (Could the State Election Board revisit eligibility at this point, as they certify the result of this election? Or must the court intervene? Will the court enjoin the State Election Board from certifying Jordan as a candidate for the runoff?)
For the first time in many years, a statewide incumbent official finished last in the primary. State Superintenden Janet Barresi not only finished behind Joy Hofmeister, who won the GOP nomination without a runoff, but she was beat by Brian Kelly, an also-ran four years ago. Some say that the last time something like this happened was 40 years ago, when scandal-tarred Gov. David Hall finished third to David Boren and Clem McSpadden in the 1974 Democrat primary. With 22% of the vote, Barresi wasn't beat quite as badly as Tulsa County Commissioner Randi Miller in 2008, but it was close.
Congratulations to City Councilors Jack Henderson, Jeannie Cue, and Blake Ewing, all of whom won re-election without a runoff. Ewing's principal opponent, Dewey Bartlett Jr's 2013 campaign manager Dan Patten, who raised $15,000 before the deadline, won 15% of the vote, not do much better than political novice Elissa Kay Harvill, who raised so little she didn't have to file paperwork, but won 6%.
In District 7, Republican incumbent Arianna Moore finished second to Democrat Anna America in the non-partisan primary, but there will be a runoff. Jonathan Turley finished a close third. Moore and America will face off in November, when partisan fervor is likely to energize Republicans and demoralize Democrats, at least here in the Sooner State.
It was not a good night for national Tea Party organizations. Mark McDaniel lost narrowly to decrepit incumbent Thad Cochran in the Mississippi Republican runoff for U. S. Senate. An important political difference between Oklahoma and Mississippi is that Oklahoma has party registration while Mississippi doesn't. In Oklahoma, if you're a Democrat or Independent on April 1, you can't become a Republican until September 1. In Mississippi, you may have voted in every Democrat primary for decades, but as long as you didn't take a Democrat ballot in the primary, you can take a Republican ballot in the runoff. Oklahoma's system is more consistent with the idea of a political organization choosing its own standard-bearer.
I've got a lot to say about the Oklahoma Senate race and why the national Tea Party groups failed to get their choice elected, but I'm too tired tonight.
And now, your moment of zen:
After many enjoyable conversations at the Brogdon/Yazel watch party, I drove into town to a coffeehouse to write this report and get a bite to eat. As I sat down, Paul Tay, candidate for Tulsa City Council District 9, who had been outside, walked in and made a determined beeline for my table. Not far behind him was Mike Workman, local Democrat activist and Labor Commissioner nominee. They had been at the Constance Johnson Tulsa watch party.
Tay, resplendent in a cowboy hat with an NRA sticker on the front, explained to me that his November opponent, Councilor G. T. Bynum, was overqualified for the Council, and what Bynum needs to do is leave the City Council, make a hard-right ideological turn, and prepare to run to replace Jim Inhofe in the U. S. Senate in six years. Why? Because Bynum in the Senate is the only way we'll get a federal earmark to pay for new low-water dams in the Arkansas River. The taxpayers won't pay for it, George Kaiser won't pay for it, so that leaves Uncle Sam.
The idea displays some insight, although Oklahoma conservatives wouldn't be likely to approve a candidate who supports earmarks, and Bynum has already burned several bridges with local conservatives. Local government is more often than not the graveyard of political careers. (Inhofe is a rare exception, but he lost re-election to a fourth two-year term as mayor in 1984 before a successful run for an open seat in Congress in 1986.) After a few minutes, Workman thoughtfully pointed out to Tay that I was probably writing on deadline and the two left.
Results should start rolling in soon after 7 p.m. The Oklahoma State Election Board website will update results as they are received from the county election boards. Although results are posted on each precinct door shortly after the polls close, a precinct's results have to be taken to the county election board to be read into the state election computer system. Be aware that the county election boards will not process and transmit the tallies from individual precincts to the State Election Board computers until all absentee ballots (both in-person and by mail) are counted and posted. This was the cause for a significant delay in November 2012. Some media outlets may employ runners to go to the precincts directly in order to post initial results before Election Board numbers are ready.
A few resources as you go to vote:
- Oklahoma State Election Board website
- The OSEB voter tool will find your polling place, will show your sample ballot, your voter registration record, and the status of your absentee ballot. (NOTE: It does not include City of Tulsa races.)
- Tulsa County Election Board
- Tulsa County 2014 Primary sample ballots: If you know your precinct number from the OSEB voter tool, you can see sample ballots, including City of Tulsa races
- County election board locations and phone numbers (PDF)
- The BatesLine ballot card: My choices for the Republican and non-partisan primary.
- The BatesLine archive on Oklahoma Election 2014
- Oklahomans for Life candidate surveys
Happy Election Day! Polls open across Oklahoma at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.
If you run into any difficulty voting or spot any irregularity, contact your county election board. The phone number for the Tulsa County Election Board is 918-596-5780.
Take it away, Leon!
Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys perform "Election Day" by Cindy Walker in the movie Wyoming Hurricane, starring Russell Hayden. Leon McAuliffe on vocals; Cotton Thompson, Bob Wills, and Jesse Ashlock on fiddle, Junior Barnard on guitar, Luke Wills on bass. And from the same movie, here's Cotton Thompson to deliver Cindy Walker's message for many of our candidates:
I hear you talkin', yes, I do,
But your talk-talk-talkin' don't ring true,
I'm listenin' politely, too,
But I don't b'lieve a word you say.
I hear you talkin', tellin' lies,
I can see it in those great big eyes.
I hear you talkin' wise,
But I don't b'lieve a word you say.
You say that I'm your honey-love,
That I'm all you're thinkin' of,
I hear you talkin', dove,
But you ain't been foolin' me.
Posted in the wee hours of Tuesday, June 26, 2010. Postdated to remain at the top of the blog through poll closing time.
MORE: For your amusement, the story of when Mary Fallin's first husband proposed to her -- at the Playboy Mansion.
Here are the candidates I'm recommending and voting for (when I can) in the Oklahoma primary elections on June 24, 2014. (This entry will change as I decide to add more detail or discuss additional races between now and election day. The entry is post-dated to keep it at the top.)
For your convenience, here's a printable one-page "cheat sheet" version to take along to the polls and pass along to friends, but please read the detail and click the links below.
U. S. Senate (unexpired term): Randy Brogdon. He's running a low-key campaign, but he has a consistent record of a conservative approach to government as city councilor, mayor, and state senator. There's a runoff, so there's no need to cast a tactical vote for one of the two front-runners. Vote your conscience. Vote for someone we know we can trust to do the right thing.
U. S. Senate (full term): Jim Inhofe. He annoys the left, particularly with his refusal to kneel to climate deniers (i.e., the anthropogenic global warming cultists who deny the Medieval Warm Period and deny the current stability of global temperatures). Good enough for me.
Governor: Dax Ewbank. While Gov. Mary Fallin eventually did the right thing on Obamacare exchanges and Common Core, her dithering on these clear-cut issues makes me worry about her decision-making in a lame-duck term. Fallin failed to establish a good working relationship with her own party's legislative leadership, culminating in her veto snit-fit, in which she killed several good bills, including some she'd requested, to make some sort of point. Fallin never took a stand against the National Popular Vote compact, a left-wing dream that had been slipped through the Oklahoma Senate early in the session. (More about NPV here.)
I don't believe Fallin deserves another term, but I'm not sure the other candidates have the resources to defeat the lone Democrat candidate, Joe Dorman, in November. I will
likely cast a protest vote for Dax Ewbank, an IT professional and former pastor who calls for abolishing the state income tax. UPDATE: I'm not even sure Fallin is strong enough to win in November. At the very least she needs a wake-up call, and a guy whose name sounds like a Star Trek character seems to be the person to deliver it.
State Superintendent: Joy Hofmeister. Janet Barresi has made enemies across the political spectrum. Conservatives don't like her support for Common Core. Liberal public school administrators don't want to be held accountable by her school grading system. Those same administrators have heavily funded Joy Hofmeister's campaign, and Hofmeister's emails to some of those administrators at their official school email accounts display considerable hostility to school choice programs, including the Lindsay Nicole Henry Scholarship program that allows children with special needs to receive the education they need.
I will likely cast a protest vote for Brian Kelly, the third candidate in the Republican primary. UPDATE: Conservatives I trust, including the ladies who led the fight to kill Common Core in Oklahoma, have convinced me that Barresi is not a friend of conservative, locally-controlled reform of public education and that Hofmeister, thoughtful and principled enough to oppose Common Core despite the alienation of some of her early supporters, is trustworthy. That remains to be seen, but at the moment Hofmeister seems to be the only hope we have.
Insurance Commissioner: John Doak. The incumbent has done a fine job representing Oklahoma's ratepayers in their dealings with insurers.
Corporation Commissioner: Former Speaker Todd Hiett. A good rule of thumb is to vote for the Corporation Commission candidate with the smallest bankroll. As one of my friends put it -- Hiett is a square-dealer, Branan is a wheeler-dealer. Hiett was an honorable and honest Speaker of the House. Hiett has been endorsed by State Auditor Gary Jones, who has worked closely with both candidates over the years. Hiett opposes mandatory smart meters.
The other candidate, State Sen. Cliff Branan, is backed by bajillionaires who might have an interest in regulating certain energy sources out of existence. Branan is one of the doofuses who voted in favor of the National Popular Vote Compact, SB 906 and has never apologized, as far as I am aware. Branan has also been endorsed by Ed Apple, who wanted to replace Bob Anthony, a beacon of courage and integrity at the Corporation Commission, with a Democrat utility company lobbyist. While there are a few good people backing Branan, many more people I trust are endorsing Hiett.
Senate District 12: John Knecht. The incumbent, President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman, voted for the National Popular Vote compact and allowed it to slide through the Senate before the public knew what was happening.
House District 31: Jason Murphey. An IT professional, Murphey has received national recognition for his efforts to modernize and streamline state government's use of computer technology and to make public information more readily available to the public online. He is a principled conservative who doesn't take any gifts from lobbyists.
House District 69: Chuck Strohm This is an open seat that will be decided in the GOP primary. Strohm is a software engineer, a member of the Jenks Planning Commission and school bond oversight committee, and is the grassroots conservative candidate in the race. Strohm authored the county GOP's precinct organization manual. His chief opponent has names on her reports that link her to the Chambercrat wing of the party.
House District 76: David Brumbaugh. Incumbent Rep. Brumbaugh has been a consistent conservative voice for Broken Arrow. He deserves particular praise for putting forward a bill to to require counties to include all funds in their annual budgets. Brumbaugh was one of eight legislators to receive a 100% on the Oklahoma Constitution's annual conservative index.
House District 98: Terri Cleveland. This is an open seat in Wagoner County that includes Broken Arrow and Coweta and will be decided in the GOP primary. I've known Terri through Republican Party politics for over a decade, working together on many campaigns and committees. After working as a campaign and organizational consultant, she went to work for the City of Broken Arrow, representing the concerns of this growing city at the state capitol. Her opponent, Michael Rogers, is heavily funded by special interest PACs, but he has the endorsement of outgoing incumbent John Trebilcock and the Oklahoma Conservative PAC.
Tulsa County District Attorney: Steve Kunzweiler. With 24 years of experience as a prosecutor, Steve Kunzweiler is the Chief of the Criminal Division in the DA's office, mentoring 35 assistant DAs and overseeing the prosecution of thousands of criminal cases every year, over 12,000 in 2013 alone. His opponent is a legislator in search of his next gig and doesn't appear to be eligible to serve.
Tulsa County Assessor: Ken Yazel. In the State Auditor's annual review, Yazel's team has the highest rating of any county assessor office in the state. The only stalwart ally for fiscal conservatives at the county courthouse, Yazel has pushed for full financial transparency, including all county funds in the annual budget (like Oklahoma County does), not just new general fund money. The county officials who back his opponent have resisted that idea, even lobbying against it at the State Capitol.
Tulsa County Commissioner District 1: Brian Pounds. Northern and eastern Tulsa County needs a change in this office. Pounds has county courthouse experience from his work in the assessor's office. The incumbent wasted taxpayer time and money by putting two ill-advised tax packages on the ballot, taxes that were ultimately shot down by the voters. Rather than taking the challenge to fund criminal justice needs without raising taxes, he voted to put a county sales tax hike on the ballot instead. The incumbent is said to have been a ringleader of the resistance to total county budget transparency.
Rogers County Treasurer: Jason Carini. Carini, a successful small-business owner and lifelong conservative Republican, is challenging an incompetent incumbent who hasn't issued tax warrants at any time during her 23 years in office.
District Attorney, Adair, Cherokee, Sequoyah, and Wagoner Counties: Brian Kuester. Kuester is finishing his first term as DA of this district that sprawls from the suburbs of Tulsa to the suburbs of Fort Smith and has achieved a 200% increase in the number of cases tried.
Tulsa City Council District 2: Jeannie Cue. Cue is a voice at City Hall for the neighborhoods of her district, particularly the oft-forgotten west side of the river.
Tulsa City Council District 4: Blake Ewing. Ewing has been a leader on the City Council. He is unafraid to ask the questions that need to be asked of the mayor and department heads. As we approach the adoption of a new zoning code, Tulsa's historic neighborhoods need Blake Ewing at the table. Ewing understands land use and planning issues as a homeowner, as a businessman invested in reviving District 4 neighborhoods, and as a student of what makes a city grow and prosper.
Ewing's chief rival, Dan Patten, was Dewey Bartlett Jr's campaign manager. When the mayor's campaign manager decides to run against the mayor's leading critic, the campaign manager has the burden of proof to show that he's not just running at the behest of his client. At a recent forum, Patten seemed not to have any understanding of the purpose or history of land-use planning.
Ewing's endorsement of Kathy Taylor was disappointing, but the alternative was Bartlett Jr, who had also endorsed Taylor for re-election on the strength of her first-term performance. When Bartlett Jr alienates one set of city councilors, manages to defeat nearly all of them at the polls, and then alienates the new set of city councilors who replaced them, it's apparent where the problem lies. Ewing also points out that it was Bartlett, not Taylor, that pushed for the Vision2 corporate welfare slush fund.
Elissa Harvill, a newcomer to Tulsa politics, displayed admirable enthusiasm and a strong foundation of principle during the TulsaNow forum. What's missing, at this early point in her time in Tulsa, is knowledge of the particulars of Tulsa history and governance. As she gets involved and learns her way around, I expect she'll make many positive contributions to our civic dialogue.
Tulsa City Council District 7: Arianna Moore. Republican incumbent Moore's leading challenger is liberal Democrat Anna America, Kathy Taylor's campaign manager.
District 14 District Judge, Office 14: Kurt Glassco. Despite his background as a Democratic candidate for Congress many years ago, Judge Glassco is well-regarded by conservative Republican attorneys as a fair and skillful arbiter. John Eagleton writes: "Judge Glassco has my respect. I have appeared in his court and observed him handling hundreds of cases. He is a great judge. He follows the law without injecting personalities into the outcome. We need more judges like him."
One of his opponents, Jill Webb, is the "partner" of Unitarian clergyperson Tamara Lebak. Question for the reader: If someone would twist the words of Scripture and disregard the consensus of all civilized societies in order to justify sexual perversion, is it reasonable to expect them to show due regard for our state's laws, constitution, and judicial precedent?
MORE: The ladies who led the fight to repeal Common Core in Oklahoma have posted their personal endorsements. All four like Dax Ewbank for Governor; three of the four support Brogdon for Senate (the fourth supports USAO Professor Kevin Crow); three of the four back Steve Russell in the 5th Congressional District (the fourth supports Harvey Sparks); and all four want Robert Hubbard to unseat incumbent Frank Lucas in the 3rd Congressional District.
The Oklahomans for Life 2014 primary candidate questionnaire is online. There are separate sets of questions for state and federal candidates, and you can read the full text of the questions to which the candidates are responding.
OCPAC head Charlie Meadows has posted his personal picks. He wants to see all three incumbent GOP congressmen who drew challengers -- Mullin, Lucas, and Cole -- replaced by their challengers.
NOTE: Tulsa County Assessor Ken Yazel was on 1170 KFAQ with Pat Campbell and Eddie Huff at 7:35 a.m. Tuesday.
UPDATE 2014/06/25: In an 8-1 decision today (Winchester dissenting), the Oklahoma Supreme Court overturned the Court of Civil Appealsand remanded the property tax appeals to be considered on their merits. The Supreme Court affirmed that the Legislature has given County Assessors the authority to use their general counsel for appeals, rather than being shackled to counsel supplied by the District Attorney's office or the Oklahoma Tax Commission. For Yazel, who won re-election with 65% of the vote, this is icing on the cake.
Tulsa County Assessor Ken Yazel's challenger has made an issue of Yazel's 2012 decision against Montereau's application for a total exemption from ad valorem taxes. The fair market value of the upscale senior residential complex was estimated at $178,990,029. Yazel validated that 40% of the facility was legally qualified for tax exemption as a state-licensed continuum of care facility, based on the proportion of the facility devoted to those 154 licensed beds, but the remainder -- independent living apartments and cottage homes that require an entrance fee ranging from $198,000 to $1.2 million just to get in the door, plus a monthly fee in the thousands -- was taxable under state law, with a tax bill of over $1.5 million.
Montereau protested Yazel's decision, won in district court, and Yazel, as authorized by state law, appealed to the Court of Civil Appeals (COCA).
Yazel's opponent has described Yazel's pursuit of the appeal a "waste of resources." The simple version of his argument as I understand it, is that, because state law specifically grants an exemption for state-licensed continuum of care facilities, the entire property should be exempted from ad valorem taxes. The counterargument is that taxable property shouldn't be exempt because it sits on the same parcel as property that is exempt.
While Montereau and the William K. Warren Medical Research Center (WKWMRC, which owns the land and leases it to Montereau) are both 501(c)(3) non-profits, not every activity of a non-profit is exempt from all taxes under Oklahoma law. Article X, Section 6 of the Oklahoma Constitution exempts "property used exclusively for religious and religious purposes" as well as government-owned property, free museums, and several other specifically enumerated exemptions. State statutes grant other exemptions. As far as I can tell, none of the constitutional or statutory exemptions cover market-rate housing. However much he might want to, the County Assessor can't grant an exemption that isn't authorized by law.
(Yazel's opponent, John Feary, has received a significant amount of his reported campaign funds -- $10,150 out of $36,311 by my count -- from Warren family members, Warren Foundation and Montereau board members, a Montereau executive, and (judging by the addresses) a couple of Montereau residents. Montereau and WKWMRC were created by the William K. Warren Foundation.)
Tulsa County taxpayers have a great deal at stake. If Montereau is right, property owners will have a strong incentive to take otherwise taxable uses off the tax rolls by lumping them in with a relatively minuscule tax-exempt use. That means the burden of paying for property-tax-funded government (schools, libraries, county operations, city and school bond issues, etc.) will fall more heavily on the rest of us.
This is particularly true for the sinking funds that pay back the general obligation bond issues that fund projects like streets and school improvements. The millage rate for sinking funds is calculated by dividing the debt service requirements for the year by the assessed value of property in the jurisdiction. It's basic fractions: If the denominator goes down (by removing property from the tax rolls) while the numerator stays the same, the millage rate goes up on the property still on the tax rolls. This means a tax increase even for seniors who have a valuation freeze. If Montereau gets its exemption, seniors who can afford expensive Montereau accommodations will benefit at the expense of seniors living in their own modest homes and younger property owners decades from retirement.
By fighting this battle, Ken Yazel is fighting to keep our tax rates from going up. With all due appreciation for the Warren Foundation and the institutions spawned by it and affirming their right to pursue their legal remedies vigorously, Oklahoma property taxpayers had better hope that Yazel prevails in this case.
At this point, however, Yazel is blocked from pursuing this fight by COCA's bizarre theory that he can't appeal without using an attorney from the District Attorney's office. Yazel filed his appeal using the general counsel that he is authorized to hire under 19 O.S. 527. The law was passed in 2005, recognizing that certain county offices needed legal expertise in technical areas to carry out their duties, and that such expertise may not reside in the DA's office.
COCA has taken a statute that requires the DA's office to assist the assessor in pursuing an appeal and turned it into an effective veto over the assessor's judgment. Yazel has appealed COCA's ruling to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which has granted certiorari. (Yazel's petition has a copy of COCA's ruling attached.) In an amicus curiae brief in support of Yazel's position, attorneys for the County Assessors Association of Oklahoma and County Officers and Deputies Association of Oklahoma write:
In effect the COCA's decision would allow the district attorney or the Oklahoma Tax Commission to determine the issues of ad valorem tax law to the exclusion of the judicial branch of government. COCA's decision would eviscerate the power invested in the judicial branch to say what the law is, while closing the courthouse doors and leaving no effective remedy for an assessor to fulfill his or responsibilities absent district attorney approval.
The brief goes on to show that COCA's ruling contradicts numerous precedents.
In its published decision, the COCA effectively held that the failure, unwillingness or inability of a district attorney to fulfill its duty to represent an assessor under § 2880.1(D) somehow extinguishes an assessor's right to appeal under § 2880.1(A), thereby preventing the assessor from fulfilling his or her duties in connection with the assessment and collection of ad valorem tax. There simply is not, nor has there ever been, any language in what is now § 2880.1 suggesting that an assessor's right to appeal is conditioned upon the district attorney's review of a tax case and that district attorney's willingness to appear in such appeals on the assessor's behalf. The COCA's decision is plainly contrary to the decisions of this Court holding that courts are "not free to rewrite the statute" and must "vigorously resist reading words or elements into a statute that do not appear on its face.
In footnotes to the above paragraph, the brief lists "four occasions [in which] this Court has decided appeals under § 2880.1 or its predecessor statutes where no district attorney had entered an appearance." The amicus brief also quotes the court's ruling in a "situation strikingly similar to that in this case" (1980 OK 96, 614 P.2d 45, 06/17/1980, State ex rel. Howard v. Oklahoma Corp. Commission):
The foregoing language of Article IX s 20 does not bar Commission's attorneys from appearing for it. It clearly is implicit from the language of 74 O.S.1971 s 18c that the ... Commission may appoint its own in-house counsel.
Likewise, the right to be represented by counsel ordinarily should include the right to make a choice, if timely exercised, of attorneys whose views are consonant with one's own or who at least will present the client's interests....
If then, the Commission may be brought into court . . . , Sections 6 and 7 of Article 2 of our State Constitution, . . . under any concept of affording it any semblance of even-handed justice, must require that it be represented if it so desires, by counsel who can and will ably and conscientiously express its views to the tribunal. . .. Commission may properly be represented in this case by its own in-house counsel (employee-attorneys).
The right to counsel undergirds all our other rights. If someone can force an attorney on me who may work to thwart my aims, I really don't have legal counsel at all. If an elected official is forced to rely on counsel at odds with him, it ultimately thwarts the will of the voters who elected that official.
To me, COCA's ruling looks like the latest example of an attempt to control an elected official's performance of his duties by denying him legal counsel to support the actions he believes he needs to take. This entry is long enough already without delving into the efforts by the Cockroach Caucus to prevent the Tulsa City Council from hiring its own attorney, forcing the Council to rely on the Mayor-appointed City Attorney, even when the Mayor's aims and the Council's aims are at odds.
A candidate runs on a platform and once elected, if he has integrity, he implements that platform. Sometimes he will need legal advice to know how to proceed or to deal with legal challenges from opponents to his policies. This is especially important when the official is a reformer, sent by the voters to change the way government operates; he will encounter resistance from those whose interests are aligned with the status quo.
Just as a besieged army uses trenches, mines, and razor wire as multiple lines of defense against an attacking force, so the defenders of the political status quo have multiple ways to block reform. The first layer is to use campaign money to persuade voters to keep the reformer out of office. If a reformer manages to win an election, they can attempt to co-opt him. If that fails, they can launch a PR campaign attacking the reformer as a petty bickerer or worse. They can attempt to entice and entrap him in wrongdoing. They can exert pressure via friends and family. They can sue him and then deny him access to counsel.
Voters need to realize that the forces denying legal counsel to the elected official are not merely thwarting the elected official but the voters who put him in office.
The precedent set by the Oklahoma Supreme Court, quoted above, is crystal clear. If the Supreme Court is consistent, Yazel will be allowed to pursue his appeal and the original issue -- does a tax exemption rub off on the taxable uses attached to the exempt use? -- will be considered and resolved. If voters are wise today, we'll still have Ken Yazel as Tulsa County Assessor to pursue this fight on behalf of taxpayers and his fellow county officials all across Oklahoma.
MORE: A few more notes regarding the discussion on Monday's Pat Campbell show:
I've looked at all the Budget Board minutes available online, going back to July 2011. Most Budget Board meetings appear to be routine and brief, with votes to approve retroactively a long list of appropriations that have already been made. Ken Yazel has personally attended all Budget Board meetings at which the budget for the upcoming fiscal year's budget was discussed or significant adjustments to the budget were discussed. Like every other Budget Board member has done, Yazel sends his chief deputy to attend when he is unable to be present. Only twice in the last three years, at routine meetings, has no one been present to represent the assessor's office.
According to Yazel, the Tulsa County Assessor's Office headcount is ten below the number recommended for a jurisdiction the size of Tulsa County. While Oklahoma County has more parcels, it has, as the capital city, a much larger number of tax-exempt government-owned parcels, which are not assessed at all. Large swaths of northern and eastern Oklahoma County consist of undeveloped property; bare land requires less effort to assess than real estate with improvements.
Regarding the Vision 2025 surplus funds: The projected grand total revenues, as of September 2013, totaled $730.5 million. That's about $195 million more than the $535 million in projects approved in 2003. This accounting of remaining Vision 2025 obligations, cash on hand, and projected revenue from December 31, 2013, shows a projected surplus of $35.7 million. If you add back in the $45.5 million that was "promised" to the suburbs in exchange for the extra $45.5 million for the BOK Center (a promise whose existence was denied during the 2007 River Tax debate), that's $81.2 million, plenty to have handled our criminal justice needs without a tax hike.
A couple of weeks ago, I discussed Tulsa County's lack of budget transparency -- not illegal, but not in the taxpayers' best interest, and not as good as Oklahoma County. In my endorsement of Yazel, I discussed the different colors of money and how millages and budgets could be adjusted to meet county needs without raising taxes, if the County Commissioners had the political will to do so.
Dear James Lankford, your scaremongering about a runoff to raise money is shameful. Unless the nominee is caught in a Minneapolis airport restroom with a wide stance, there is no way the GOP will lose Tom Coburn's seat. Your November opponent will either be a very liberal pro-abortion state senator who proposed frivolous amendments to a pro-life bill, the perennial candidate who ran against Coburn in 2010 and got only 26% of the vote, or the perennial candidate who listed his occupation as "plasma donor" when he filed for State Senate in 2004. If any of those three potential opponents worries you, you either don't have the guts to represent us in Washington, or you have plans for a Minneapolis restroom rendezvous.
Three of the seven candidates in this race have experience in elective office -- a member of the U. S. House, a former mayor and leader in the State Senate who has run a statewide campaign, and a former Speaker of the State House. It's normal for a primary with three credible candidates to go to a runoff.
P. S. Tom Coburn has not endorsed you to succeed him, although you are trying very hard to give voters that impression. Coburn expressed dismay about the bad things independent groups are saying about you, and Coburn expressed dismay about the bad things your independent-expenditure pals are saying about one of your six opponents.
Dear judicial candidate Jill Webb: A quote from Mary Fallin and a reference to the Constitution on a postcard is not going to fool conservative Tulsa County voters into voting for the female "partner" of a female Unitarian minister, endorsed by the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, to be a District Judge. Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid have all sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution, but their actions show that they redefine the meaning of that commitment in a way that would be unrecognizable to the Framers of the Constitution. Your Clintonesque account of your personal life ("happily married to a minister") seems plainly intended to create a false impression, and it suggests that you have a rather flexible relationship with "telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."
If you want my vote for Tulsa City Council, one of the worst things you can do is tell me that former Mayor Susan Savage wants you to win. Savage was one of the worst mayors we've had when it comes to neighborhood empowerment and sensible zoning. Yes, she encouraged the registering of neighborhood associations, but she and her team worked against neighborhoods trying to build effective influence at City Hall over zoning issues that affected their property value and quality of life. Ask residents of Maple Ridge Central about how the Savage administration thwarted their efforts to protect their historic neighborhood. Her 1997 "Tulsa Project" plan would have sacrificed the area we now call the East End or Hodge's Bend to become a parking lot of a soccer stadium. That proposed tax increase failed, as did her tax hike proposal in 2000. While she brought speakers to Tulsa to talk about urban design, she didn't expend the political capital to move any ideas forward, not if it risked alienating her Chambercrat and developer backers. Ultimately, it took the neighborhood-friendly Gang of Five City Councilors to fund a new comprehensive plan. The most Savage would do was to fund three pilot small-area plans; fifteen years later we're still fighting resistance to implementing the recommendations of those plans.
Another thing you can do to make me regret my endorsement is to send a letter that refers to the "constant petty bickering" of the 2009-2011 City Council. The reality is that the nine councilors got along very well with one another and worked together across partisan lines. The problem, from Dewey Jr's point of view, is that they were united in their distress with Dewey Jr's actions and his refusal to build a cooperative working relationship. So Dewey Jr and his Chamber and developer buddies promoted the "petty bickering" meme and redrew the district lines to separate these councilors from the citizens who knew and appreciated them. The same people who wanted them gone want you gone, too, and for the same reasons.
There is a repeating pattern: A new reformer comes to the Council and arrogantly thinks, "The reason my bozo predecessors got tossed is they refused to be intelligent and polite in their approach. I'm going to be intelligent and polite and everyone will love me and accept my ideas." Guess what? Your "bozo" predecessors thought the same thing about their predecessors. No, the problem is that their ideas and your ideas are threatening to certain special interests, and they will paint you as a troublemaker and a petty bickerer so that low-information voters can't wait to toss you out of office.
To repeat what I wrote five years ago:
Lakin's critique of some current councilors reminds me of what I've heard from other councilors in the past about their predecessors. The gist of it: "If they'd just be nicer, people would pay more attention to the substance of what they're saying." Many of the councilors who have said that in the past have later learned the hard way that as soon as you challenge the power or the budget of some entrenched interest, everyone will think you aren't nice, no matter how nicely you make your case. The newspaper will run pictures that make you look angry. The mayor will accuse you of bickering. And then some council candidate will come along and tell you that if you'd just be nicer, people would pay more attention to the substance of what you're saying.
Have some respect for the councilors who blazed this trail before you. Because of their willingness to take risks and endure ridicule and defamation, the Overton Window is open a little wider for you.
And finally: If your bulk-mail house doesn't know how to remove duplicates from your address list, you need to get a better bulk-mail house, one who won't waste your mailing and printing budget.
Here is a playlist of videos from TulsaNow's June 4, 2014, Tulsa City Council District 4 candidate forum. Incumbent Blake Ewing and challengers Danny Patten and Elissa Kay Harvill participated in the forum.
Former Tulsa County Republican Party Chairman J. B. Alexander has announced his endorsement of Brian Pounds, Republican candidate for Tulsa County Commissioner District 1. Pounds is challenging two-term incumbent John Smaligo. The district covers northern and eastern Tulsa County, including Owasso, Skiatook, Sperry, Collinsville, north and east Tulsa.
In his endorsement, Alexander points out that Brian Pounds has been endorsed by the Tulsa County Deputy Sheriff FOP and the Owasso FOP. Alexander reviews Smaligo's record and explains why Smaligo needs replacing and why Pounds should be the one to take his place. I agree.
The state of Oklahoma has the lowest taxes of any of the surrounding states. Yet Tulsa County has the second highest taxes of any county in the surrounding states. That's just not right.
Over the past 7 years John Smaligo has a proven track record of wanting to keep our taxes high. In 2012 he led the county commissioner's support of the failed Vision 2 tax increase.
If you will remember Vision 2 was a thirteen year, $748 million tax package (the amount was based on a zero percent growth. Using the past ten year growth rate the amount would have been close to $1 billion).
This tax package included borrowing money FOUR years before the revenues would be coming in. Since we would have been borrowing the money yearly payments would be required. So this package also included borrowing the yearly payments for those four years until the revenues started coming in. That's like charging something on your credit card knowing you couldn't make the monthly payments until next year so you take out a loan to make the monthly payments...paying interest on all of this. Sounds like Washington, DC, tactics.
John Smaligo also is claiming credit for getting 1,000 new jobs with the Macy's warehouse development west of Owasso. What he is not telling you are most of those jobs are part-time, no benefit positions. And taxpayers are paying Macy's to move here at the upfront cost of $2 million.
If Tulsa County is going to work to attract new businesses who are looking for lower taxes we need someone who is not a career politician and understands working class folks.
Brian Pounds is just that person. Brian has worked in the Tulsa County Assessor's office for the past thirteen years and is a reserve deputy for the Tulsa County Sheriff's office. He is married to Judy Pounds who is an 18 year veteran of the Tulsa County Sheriff's office. Brian and Judy live in Owasso and have two daughters, Tabitha Wood and Ashley Pounds. Tabitha is a five year veteran of the Tulsa County Sheriff's office and a Senior Airman with the 138th Fighter Wing of the Oklahoma Air National Guard. Brian is also a veteran of the US Army.
Brian has received the endorsements of the Tulsa County Deputy Sheriffs Fraternal Order of Police and the Owasso Fraternal Order of Police.
Brian is a person who has spent his life serving those in need and will continue that dedication once elected as a Tulsa County Commissioner. He believes that tax dollars should be spent on Public Safety and Infrastructure needs first and would work hard to lower our high tax rate.
If we are going to get Tulsa County recognized as a low tax county that will attract small and large businesses then we need Brian Pounds as our District 1 county commissioner.
Next Tuesday vote for Brian Pounds for County Commissioner.
Terry Simonson was on 1170 KFAQ with Pat Campbell this morning, arguing the case for State Rep. Fred Jordan's eligibility to be elected District Attorney. Simonson's LinkedIn profile indicates that he is the Director of Governmental Affairs for the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office and the President/Owner of Pathways Consulting & Government Relations, LLC.
(MORE: Assistant DA Steve Kunzweiler, who filed the petition to resolve the eligibility issue, called into KFAQ later Tuesday morning. Listen online at the link.)
Simonson assumed, incorrectly, that I looked only at statutory and constitutional language and not at case law in researching my article on the ineligibility of Fred Jordan to be District Attorney. In fact, every page of statute and constitution and court opinion on OSCN has links at the bottom of the page to cases and Attorney General opinions in which the provision is cited, so it's easy to see how courts have interpreted the law over the years. I've also had conversations with attorneys who have brought relevant cases and AG opinions to my attention.
There's no dispute about when Jordan's term expires. It's clearly set out in 14 O.S. 137 as November 19, 2014. The question is when the new DA would be considered elected.
Addressing Simonson's specific points:
1. Had Simonson read Steve Kunzweiler's petition before calling in, he would have seen that it was being brought to the District Court for Oklahoma County. The first paragraph states that venue is proper in Oklahoma County under 12 O.S. 133 and 12 O. S. 1653, as the case involves an official action of the Oklahoma State Election Board, which is situated in Oklahoma County. The State Supreme Court is not involved at this point.
2. This issue couldn't have been settled four weeks ago, because it only became an issue two weeks ago, on June 3, when Gov. Fallin signed HJR 1096, causing the emoluments of the District Attorney to increase. It was only at that point that Jordan and Crain officially became ineligible under Article V, Section 23. (When the measure passed the Senate on May 23, having already passed the House, Crain saw the handwriting on the wall and stepped aside.)
3. This issue doesn't affect State Rep. Joe Dorman, a candidate for Governor, because the bill in question did not increase the Governor's salary. In fact, HJR 1096 Section 3 amends 74 O. S. 250.4 subparagraph 1 to exclude the Governor's salary from increasing as a result of the increase in judicial salaries (the underlined language was added to the law by HJR 1096):
1. The Governor shall receive a salary equal to the salary received by the Chief Justice of the Oklahoma Supreme Court; provided however, the Governor shall not receive any increase in salary as a result of the provisions of Section 1 of this resolution;
The same section of the measure also explicitly excludes all other statewide elected officials from receiving a pay raise. The same sort of language could have been added to exclude District Attorneys from the pay raise, but it was not.
4. Simonson claims that the DA is not elected until the canvassing of votes by the Legislature after the organization of the House in January, after Jordan's term as a State Representative expires. He cited Gragg v. Dudley (1930 OK 280), which cites Article VI, Section 5. Article VI covers the state's executive officers, which are enumerated in
A. The Executive authority of the state shall be vested in a Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, State Auditor and Inspector, Attorney General, State Treasurer, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Commissioner of Labor, Commissioner of Insurance and other officers provided by law and this Constitution, each of whom shall keep his office and public records, books and papers at the seat of government, and shall perform such duties as may be designated in this Constitution or prescribed by law.
Nothing in Article VI deals with District Attorneys. Gragg v. Dudley involved a legislator seeking the office of Lieutenant Governor, which is listed by name in the above section as one of the state's executive officers.
Note that each of these officers, both explicitly listed and named by implication, is required by the State Constitution to "keep his office and public records, books and papers at the seat of government." The seat of government is specified in Article V, Section 26, as the place the Legislature is required to meet in regular session. In fact, the Gragg v. Dudley ruling cites that very provision. 73 O.S. 1 declares that "The seat of government and capitol of the State of Oklahoma shall be and is hereby established at Oklahoma City, in the county of Oklahoma, in the said state...."
Clearly, the District Attorney for District 14 (Tulsa County) does not keep his office, public records, books, or papers in Oklahoma City. At the time Gragg v. Dudley was decided, the office of District Attorney did not exist. There were County Attorneys in Oklahoma until 1967, when the district system came into effect, under which most DAs serve multiple counties. Despite that change, District Attorneys still have a significant connection to county government, as the office is created under Title 19 (Counties and County Officers), and the DA must provide legal advice and defense to county officers and employees in the conduct of their duties, while the counties provide the DA's office space, including utilities and maintenance.
The DA's offices are, therefore, in the county courthouses for the counties in his district. In District 14, there is one county, Tulsa, and one DA's office, in the Tulsa County Courthouse, not in Oklahoma City. District Attorney is, therefore, not an office covered by Article VI, and the requirements of Article VI, Section 5, cited in Gragg v. Dudley would not apply.
Note also that on our ballots, the District Attorney's race appears under "Legislative, District, and County Officers," along with the race for County Assessor and County Commissioner, and not under "State Officers."
Also, 26 O.S. 5-102 lists those offices for which candidates are required to file with the State Election Board, and district attorney is listed separately from state officers:
Candidates for United States Senator, United States Representative, state officer, State Senator, State Representative, district judge, associate district judge and district attorney shall file Declarations of Candidacy with the Secretary of the State Election Board.
While "state officer" is sometimes defined differently for the purposes of a specific section of the law, here, in the context of election, it must mean only the statewide elective offices, as legislators, judges, and district attorneys are listed separately.
The Legislature shall also meet in regular session at the seat of government on the First Tuesday after the First Monday in January of each odd numbered year, beginning at twelve o'clock noon for the purposes only of performing the duties as required by Section 5 of Article VI of the Constitution and organizing pursuant to the provisions of this Article and shall recess not later than five o'clock p.m. of that same day until the following first Monday in February of the same year, beginning at twelve o'clock noon.
If a District Attorney is not elected until January 6, 2015, as Simonson claims, his term of office could not begin until January 4, 2016.
6. So when is a District Attorney elected? For every office other than those listed in Article VI, a candidate is given a certificate of election by the appropriate election board -- state election board for legislative and district officers, county election board for county and municipal officers.
26 O.S. 8-103 says:
The county election board shall certify a list of successful candidates for county offices and shall provide Certificates of Election to the same following the General Election, except that Certificates of Election may be issued to unopposed candidates after 5 p.m. on the second day following the close of the filing period. The State Election Board shall certify a list of successful candidates for offices for which the Board accepts filings of Declarations of Candidacy and shall provide Certificates of Election to the same following the General Election, except that Certificates of Election may be issued to unopposed candidates after 5 p.m. on the second day following the close of the filing period.
According to 26 O.S. 8-108, those certificates would be issued at 5 p.m. Friday after the general election, barring any contest that would affect the DA's race. Since the last possible vote in the DA's race will happen on August 26, any recounts and contests will have been resolved long before November 7 at 5:00 pm, when the State Election Board will issue a certificate of election, 12 days before the end of Jordan's term as a member of the State House.
Steve Kunzweiler, the Assistant DA seeking the open Tulsa County District Attorney's seat, has filed a petition in Oklahoma County District Court seeking a ruling on the eligibility of his two opponents in the June 24, 2014, GOP primary. A legislative action taken after the April filing period made the two legislators in the race constitutionally ineligible to be elected or appointed to the job, under Article V, Section 23, of the Oklahoma Constitution. One of the two, State Sen. Brian Crain, has withdrawn from the race, but the other, State Rep. Fred Jordan, refuses to withdraw.
The heart of the question is when the legislative term ends and when the DA is considered elected. Jordan's term does not end until November 19, 2014, but the new DA will be elected prior to that date.
Kunzweiler is asking the court to rule that Crain and Jordan are both ineligible and that neither can be certified as elected. Kunzweiler notes, "The office of District Attorney is too important to public safety to risk a period of disruption and confusion. The election of a constitutionally prohibited candidate to the office could call into question and subject to legal challenge every official act taken by the newly-elected Tulsa County District Attorney."
Here is a press release from the Kunzweiler campaign:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
DA candidate Steve Kunzweiler asks court to declare opponents Fred Jordan and Brian Crain ineligible to be elected DA
TULSA, Okla., June 16, 2014 - Republican Candidate for District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler today filed a petition in Oklahoma County District Court asking the court to declare candidates Fred Jordan and Brian Crain ineligible to be elected Tulsa County District Attorney.
The action claims Kunzweiler is entitled to a declaratory judgment finding:
a. That Crain and Jordan are constitutionally prohibited from being elected to the Office of Tulsa County District Attorney pursuant to Article V, Section 23 of the Oklahoma Constitution; and
b. That the state Board of Election is constitutionally prohibited from certifying either Crain or Jordan as elected to the Office of District Attorney.
Kunzweiler's petition cites the Oklahoma State Constitution's prohibition against Legislators increasing pay of an elected official and then seeking election to that office while they are legislators.
State Representative Fred Jordan and State Sen. Brian Crain are candidates for DA along with Kunzweiler. On May 23, 2014, the Legislature voted to increase the pay of state judges and district attorneys. Sen. Crain then publicly acknowledged that the action prohibits him from seeking the DA office and suspended his campaign, although his name remains on the ballot. Jordan claims that the prohibition does not apply to him and has continued campaigning for the office.
On June 3, 2014 Governor Mary Fallin signed HJR 1096 into law, rendering both Jordan and Crain ineligible for election. The Oklahoma Constitution Article V, Section 23 provides:No member of the Legislature shall, during the term for which he was elected, be appointed or elected to any office or commission in the State, which shall have been created, or the emoluments of which shall have been increased, during his term of office . . .
According to Kunzweiler's petition, the election of a constitutionally prohibited candidate would call into question every official act of the Office of Tulsa County District Attorney.
Kunzweiler, an Assistant District Attorney in Tulsa County and a 24-year prosecutor, said, "I did not ask to be put in this position. Since the governor signed this into law, I have asked many different attorneys to research the law to determine whether Jordan could be considered eligible for election. After consultation with them, it is clear to me that Jordan's candidacy violates both the spirit and the letter of the law. The Oklahoma Constitution clearly states this," Kunzweiler said.
"The actions of the Oklahoma Legislature - of which Jordan is a Majority leader - put me in this position. I took an oath of office to uphold the Oklahoma and US Constitutions. It is my duty and my obligation under the Constitution of Oklahoma to raise this issue and to resolve it," Kunzweiler said.
"The office of District Attorney is too important to public safety to risk a period of disruption and confusion. The election of a constitutionally prohibited candidate to the office could call into question and subject to legal challenge every official act taken by the newly-elected Tulsa County District Attorney beginning January 1, 2015. Our citizens need to be protected without interruption. Based upon Oklahoma's Constitution, it is apparent that neither Jordan nor Crain can be elected or appointed to the Office of Tulsa County District Attorney come January 1, 2015.
"I honor and respect State Senator Brian Crain, who recognized that he could no longer run for this office based upon the pay increase. He announced that he was withdrawing from the election. That was the correct thing to do because it was required by Oklahoma's Constitution," Kunzweiler said. "Jordan is also subject to the same Constitutional prohibition that Senator Crain faced."
"As I said at the outset - I am a prosecutor - not a politician. As a prosecutor I am obligated to follow the rule of law. I am sworn to uphold our Constitution. I am doing what the law requires me to do."
MORE: Steve Kunzweiler's petition to the Oklahoma County District Court regarding eligibility of candidates for Tulsa County District Attorney.
After 16 years in office, Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris is stepping down. Three Republican candidates filed to replace him, but one candidate quit the race because of a constitutional impediment to his election, and a second candidate should stand down for the same reason, but he refuses to do so, risking a protracted legal battle should he win. Our next district attorney will be chosen by voters in the June 24, 2014, Republican primary.
Happily for Tulsa County citizens, the one candidate in the race who is unquestionably eligible to serve is Assistant District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler, who is the most qualified, by experience and temperament, to serve as District Attorney.
There are three aspects to the District Attorney's job: Prosecuting criminals, mentoring and managing a team of prosecutors, and partnering with public officials and community leaders to advance the cause of justice. Steve Kunzweiler is the only candidate with extensive and current experience in every aspect of the DA's job.
With 24 years of experience as a prosecutor, Steve Kunzweiler is the Chief of the Criminal Division in the DA's office, mentoring 35 assistant DAs and overseeing the prosecution of thousands of criminal cases every year, over 12,000 in 2013 alone. Beyond the courtroom, Kunzweiler works with legislators, police departments, victims, and community leaders to provide training and improve the process so that bad guys receive their just punishment and Tulsa County residents are safer.
One example of Kunzweiler's innovative approach to his job is his advocacy for the use of therapy dogs to accompany child abuse victims when they testify in court. A courtroom can be a frightening place to a child, particularly when arguments get heated and voices are raised. In the past, an adult counselor has sometimes been allowed to sit with a child witness, but that raises concerns that the adult might prompt the child's testimony. That could open the door to exclusion of the child's testimony and the acquittal of an abuser or to the conviction of a wrongly accused defendant.
Steve Kunzweiler's solution is to have a therapy dog accompany the child in the witness box. The dog can't offer any prompts. These dogs are selected for a calm temperament and trained to remain calm in the midst of commotion. They reassure the child that all is well, even in this strange environment. Kunzweiler writes on his website:
When a child witness is accompanied to court by a dog that he or she has bonded with in pretrial preparations, the effects are immediate and profound. The trust, acceptance, and tactile comfort of a friendly dog changes the physiology of the nervous child. Human heart rate decreases and blood pressure falls in the presence of therapy dogs. The child may simply feel safer to recall past events, even with an audience of strange adults in the courtroom.
During the just-ended legislative session, Steve Kunzweiler worked with State Rep. Pam Peterson to pass a law authorizing the use of therapy dogs statewide. Kunzweiler has also successfully worked with legislators to add many other reforms to criminal law: expanding the statute of limitations for the reporting of child abuse, increasing the range of punishment for drunk driving offenders who seriously injure their victims, allowing the introduction of hearsay evidence for developmentally delayed children, allowing repeat child abusers to be impeached with their prior crimes.
While Kunzweiler works effectively with the legislative process, he is new to electoral politics. He is a Republican and a conservative, but his focus has been his calling as a prosecutor and a leader of prosecutors, rather than partisan politics. Some politicians have sought the DA's office as a platform for running for governor or congress, but Kunzweiler has no ambitions beyond being able to continue to pursue his vocation as a prosecutor. Steve Kunzweiler sees himself as the next DA in a long line of non-politician DAs, like Buddy Fallis, David L. Moss, and Tim Harris.
Steve Kunzweiler's family life underscores his conservative temperament. He has been married for 25 years to Dr. Christine Kunzweiler, a veterinarian. Steve, Christine, and their three daughters are active members of Christ the King Catholic Parish. Steve earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Missouri then came to Tulsa to earn his law degree at the University of Tulsa Law School in 1988. He's been here ever since.
A recent article about Kunzweiler gives you a sense of his heart for his vocation:
He has an old, ragged file in a desk drawer, labeled "This is Why I Do It!" The folder is bursting with pictures of people he's fought for in court - a 10-year-old girl in her cheerleader uniform. An 18-year-old in a baseball uniform with a bat on his shoulder. A proud tuxedo-clad papa walking his daughter down the aisle in a wedding gown.
The photos depict happy, smiling people enjoying life, often on some of the most important days of their lives - graduation, weddings, family celebrations. The photos
are reminders to Kunzweiler that the victims had dreams and goals and active lives that were stolen from them and from their families.
"Too many times, the criminal justice system is all about the defendant. We don't hear much about the victim. I am the victim's voice in court, and I want to know as much as I can about who they were and what was happening in their life," Kunzweiler said.
Steve Kunzweiler has been endorsed by outgoing DA Tim Harris, the Tulsa Area Republican Assembly, and FOP chapters in Owasso and Glenpool.
It's necessary to say a few words about Kunzweiler's opponent. The same constitutional prohibition that caused State Sen. Brian Crain to withdraw applies equally to State Rep. Fred Jordan, but Jordan has invented a rationale to dodge the clear language of the Oklahoma Constitution. It is worrisome that the man who wants to be our county's chief legal officer isn't willing to abide by the plain meaning and spirit of a constitutional provision that has been in place since statehood. Setting that issue aside, there is still the matter of Jordan's lack of preparation for the job he seeks. Jordan's brief experience as a prosecutor is over a decade old, in a very different legal context than Tulsa County.
But I'd rather focus on Steve Kunzweiler, the highly-qualified man of character who has served the people of Oklahoma as a prosecutor for nearly a quarter-century and has the servant's heart and preparation to step up one level from his current job to serve as our District Attorney. I urge you to elect Steve Kunzweiler for Tulsa County District Attorney on June 24 and to encourage your friends to do the same.
Several important elections will be settled in the June 24, 2014, Republican primary. Between now and then, I will be posting endorsements, starting with an enthusiastic recommendation that I can make without hesitation.
Tulsa County Assessor Ken Yazel is one of those rare elected officials who has remained true to the principles on which he was elected and to the voters who elected him, despite heavy pressure from special interests and their media mouthpieces. At the same time, Yazel has fulfilled his assigned duties diligently, leading the top-rated assessor's office in Oklahoma. Tulsa County taxpayers are blessed to have Ken Yazel in office. Republicans need to vote on June 24 to keep Ken Yazel as our assessor for another four years.
Detractors call Yazel a contrarian, but to Tulsa County taxpayers, Yazel is a trusted ally, friendly, accessible and ready to help. We need more elected officials like him.
When there's a bandwagon pushing toward higher taxes and more difficult access to public information, when the other elected officials take an "us vs. them" attitude, in which their fellow officials are "us" and the taxpayers are "them," we need at least one contrarian at the county courthouse who is pushing in the opposite direction, toward fiscal sense and government transparency. Ken Yazel has been there for Tulsa County taxpayers, standing firm and taking flak on our behalf.
Yazel has done an outstanding job with public access to information and keeping properties fairly and consistently valued, and he's often been the lone voice at the Tulsa County Courthouse speaking on behalf of the taxpayers.
In Oklahoma, a county assessor's primary job is to ensure that properties are fairly valued and that every property is reviewed at least once every four years. The State Auditor's office has given Ken Yazel's office the highest rating of any county assessor's office in Oklahoma -- 265 points out of a maximum score of 275. That means that under Yazel's leadership, the office carefully and consistently follows the rules to ensure a fair valuation for every property -- even if means stepping on the toes of some powerful people.
As one of the eight members of the County Budget Board, Yazel has been pushing to have Tulsa County follow Oklahoma County's good example and account for every penny under county control in the annual budget. Tulsa County's practice has been to budget only new funds that have to be appropriated, but to exclude earmarked money or carryover funds. Sadly, the other county elected officials have opposed him on this point and have even lobbied against legislation that would require full county budget transparency.
Notwithstanding a dubious "transparency" award, most Tulsa County departments make it hard to find the info you want online. I spent some time looking for the 2014-2015 budget that was approved this week. I don't give up easily, and I tried several different approaches, but ultimately did not find what I was looking for. I found plenty of notices, agendas, and minutes, but not even a draft of the new budget book.
Another example of Tulsa County's typical approach to web access: If you want to look at filed deeds, plats, and other land-related records, you have to go to the County Clerk's office during their office hours and go through a metal detector. Just to look at metadata for those records requires you to go to a library during the library's regular hours.
Under Ken Yazel's leadership, Tulsa County assessor records are easily accessible from home any time day or night. You can search by name, by legal description, or by clicking on Google Maps. From your own property's record, a click of a button lets you see recent sales in your subdivision and comparable properties that influence the assessed value of your home. Beyond property information, Yazel's county assessor website has a wealth of detail on ad valorem taxes and how they are calculated and all the information you need to file for exemptions and valuation freezes to which you may be entitled.
Yazel's outreach to the public isn't limited to the web. He speaks to neighborhood associations, civic groups, and other gatherings all over the county to help people understand ad valorem taxes, and he brings his team along to help property owners get their specific questions answered. During the period for filing homestead exemptions and valuation freezes, Yazel sets up "sub-offices," taking the process to where people live all across the county, rather than make taxpayers come down to the courthouse and go through the metal detector. Yazel sets up the assessor's office booth at the Tulsa State Fair, home shows, and local festivals where taxpayers can ask questions and get information on exemptions.
Yazel is a voice, too often the only voice, for the taxpayers at the Tulsa County Courthouse. When other county officials pushed the poorly conceived river tax and Vision2 tax plans, Yazel was the only county official with the courage to speak out in opposition. By doing so, he gave a big boost to the underfunded but ultimately successful campaigns to defeat those corporate welfare and pork barrel boondoggles. Those who benefit from county tax programs and revenue bonds no doubt would like to see Yazel gone, because they want all county elected officials singing the praises of the Vision 2025 replacement tax when it comes to the voters in 2016.
When other county officials proposed increasing taxes to fund criminal justice facilities, Yazel proposed alternatives to pay for the facilities without raising taxes.
You may have noticed, as I have, that certain property taxing entities which receive a fixed millage always have an abundance of funds, some to the point of being able to build a new building without blinking an eye. While it would not be a simple matter, if the political will existed at the county courthouse, a vote could be scheduled to reduce millages for overfunded entities to make room, say, for a bond issue for more critical capital improvements, at no net increase in property taxes or sales taxes. That is the sort of process that Yazel has been advocating and that his detractors have mischaracterized. No one is saying that you could simply take funds from one entity and give it to another.
Other county offices derive a considerable amount of revenue from statutory fees, but these fees are not included in the county budget, although Yazel believes that they should be. Even the carryover funds from the previous year are not included in the county budget, even though they are available for the elected official to spend. In his plan to fund criminal justice needs without raising taxes, Yazel suggested that, because of their considerable cash reserves, the County Clerk and Treasurer's offices could receive less money from the general fund and that the money saved could be used to fund competitive salaries and technology upgrades for the Sheriff's office.
Likewise, if county commissioners were willing to pledge Vision2 funds four years before they would be collected, it was surely possible to allocate funds from the remaining Vision 2025 collections to have paid for the juvenile justice facility and jail expansion. It would not have been a simple matter, and it would have required some combination of public votes to authorize the change in use, but it could have been done if the political will had existed.
Given the choice between (1) a rearrangement of public funding that required some effort and coordination but kept tax levels the same and (2) proposing a tax increase, county commissioners opted for the tax increase, while turning Yazel's plan for public improvements without a tax increase into a straw man and mischaracterizing it as impossible. Even if there had been minor flaws in his proposal, his fellow elected officials could have proposed adjustments and alternatives in keeping with the spirit of the idea. Instead, the other Tulsa County officials refused to cooperate with Yazel's taxpayer-friendly proposal.
Yazel is committed to ensuring that no one pays more property tax than is legally required, but he is also committed to ensuring that everyone is assessed in accordance with state law. State law makes the assessor the gatekeeper for property owners claiming that their property is tax exempt. That includes the responsibility to ensure that a previously granted exemption is still valid under the law. Like many assessors across the US (here's one example), Ken Yazel is finding some properties with exemptions don't meet the strict requirements of the Oklahoma Constitution and statutes. On occasion, a property owner disagrees with the assessor's interpretation of the law, and the matter goes to court.
When a property is undervalued or receives an exemption to which it is not entitled, every other taxpayer has to pay higher property taxes to make up the difference. Much of your property tax burden is used to repay general obligation bonds or court settlements. Each year, the excise board determines how much money each taxing authority (cities, schools, the library system, etc.) needs to cover its obligations. That amount is divided by the assessed value of all properties in the jurisdiction, and the result is the millage rate applied to every property. Your property tax rate is a fraction, and when a large, expensive property is undervalued or unjustly exempted, the denominator shrinks significantly and the millage goes up, raising everyone else's taxes.
It would be easy to give in to the erroneous tax exemption claims of the rich and powerful, just because they have the money to make trouble for you in the next election, but to do so means raising taxes on everyone who can't raise as big a stink. Ken Yazel is doing his duty on behalf of the taxpayers by strictly applying the law and, when necessary, pursuing questions of interpretation through the state court system. (UPDATE: More about a specific case here.)
As they have in previous elections, interests that don't appreciate Ken Yazel's advocacy for the taxpayer are backing an opponent. The race will be decided in the Republican primary.
The daily paper's editorial board endorsed Yazel's opponent, as it has done over the last several elections. The Whirled editorial writers' biggest beef with Yazel seems to be that he wanted to fund new facilities without raising taxes. A commenter on the Whirled editorial noted: "Also notice that the TW makes no mention whatsoever of actual professional qualifications, certifications, etc. [of Yazel's opponent]. The main selling point of [Yazel's opponent] seems to be that he will shut up and do what he is told. Not good qualifications for my vote."
I appreciate Ken Yazel, because he will speak out when taxpayers need a friend at the County Courthouse. I appreciate the high professional standards to which Yazel holds himself and his staff at the assessor's office. I appreciate an elected official who sets the standard for transparency and public access to public records.
I urge you to join me in voting to re-elect Ken Yazel as Tulsa County Assessor on June 24, 2014.
MORE: Former State Rep. John Wright gives ten reasons why Ken Yazel should be re-elected. Prominent in his reasons is that Yazel has built a well-educated professional staff, with very little turnover. Every member of Yazel's staff, even those not engaged in assessment, have gone through certain professional classes on assessment to ensure that anyone speaking to the public has a proper understanding of the property tax system and the role of the assessor's office.
UPDATE: Detailed analysis of some of the criticisms leveled against Ken Yazel
Tulsa County Clerk Pat Key says she is tired of Tulsa County Assessor Ken Yazel's annual push for budget transparency.
Yazel has repeatedly voted against the county's budget, saying it does not provide a complete accounting of all county revenues and expenditures. He made the same argument Monday, and again, other Budget Board members were not buying it.
"I, for one, am tired of revisiting this same issue over and over again," County Clerk Pat Key said. "I don't know how many more opinions or court cases that we have to give before we don't discuss this same thing over and over again."
While state law only requires the county budget to cover money that must be appropriated (principally property tax revenues that go into the county's general fund), Assessor Ken Yazel believes that taxpayers deserve a full accounting of every penny under the control of county officials, and he points to Oklahoma County as the example to follow.
Oklahoma County's total budget for Fiscal Year 2013-2014 covers $180.7 million: $132,019,665 in revenues, $48,712,216 in beginning fund balance, $149,331,246 in expenditures, and $31,400,635. Tulsa County's budget for the same year was $83.6 million. Why is Oklahoma County's budget twice as big as Tulsa County's budget? Because Oklahoma County budgets all funds, all sources of revenue, and all expenditures, even if they involve earmarked revenue sources.
Tulsa County's budget includes only the bare minimum required by law. Previous year surpluses in non-appropriated funds, some of them under the sole control of an elected official, can be kept off-budget and out of the budget book. (I would link to the newly adopted budget, but I can't find it online.)
State Rep. David Brumbaugh (R-Broken Arrow) filed a bill (HB1986) in the first session of this Legislature to raise the budget transparency standards for county governments. It's my understanding that Tulsa County elected officials (other than Yazel) successfully lobbied the legislature to keep the bill from coming to a vote.
One of the lovely features of Oklahoma County's budget book is that you can see when an elected official spends an unusually big pile of money from a designated fund under her control. Maybe it was for an important upgrade that will benefit taxpayers and other citizens. Or maybe the big expenditure was the result of poor judgment. If taxpayers can easily see all of the county's financial information where they expect to find it -- in the budget -- they can ask questions about these sorts of expenditures. Maybe that's why the non-Yazel elected officials at the Tulsa County Courthouse are fighting this idea.
Maybe it's because they've shown such poor judgment in other respects -- like appointing to the juvenile justice authority a woman who plotted to frame her ex-husband as a child porn collector and molester and then hiring that same person as the County Clerk's chief deputy -- there's some poor financial judgment that they'd like to make as inaccessible to the public as they are legally able.
Counties are required by law (19 O.S. 444) to publish an annual payroll report. Oklahoma County posts its report, as well as a monthly payroll report, on the county clerk's website, and the files are in Excel format -- easy to search and process.
I'm sure Tulsa County complies with the letter of the law, but I have been unable to find the required annual payroll report on any county website. In fact, when I used a search engine to look for it, I find Oklahoma County's report instead. Perhaps I need to go downtown to the courthouse and go through the metal detector to be able to look at the report.
Tulsa County Clerk Pat Key has done an impressive job of hindering public access to public records. If you want to look at a plat of your subdivision -- a drawing that shows the streets and lot lines and easements and sometimes also lists applicable covenants -- you have to drive downtown to the County Courthouse during office hours, pay for parking, and go through a metal detector. If you want to look at a title deed or a lien or some other legal document that has been filed with the County Clerk, it's the same routine -- office hours only, pay for parking, get magnetometered and have your wallet x-rayed. Just to see the metadata for deeds and other documents -- buyer, seller, date, parcel, document number, etc. -- you have to go to a public library during library hours and use a special computer. That's just so you can plan your trip to pay for parking and go through a metal detector to see a digital image of the actual document.
The Oklahoma County Clerk's office makes land records and UCC filings -- including images -- available online, any time day or night, from anywhere on the internet. It's my understanding that the Tulsa County Clerk's system is capable of that, from which I infer that Pat Key chooses not to make these public records available for convenient public review.
So no one should be surprised that Tulsa County Clerk Pat Key would oppose Assessor Ken Yazel's efforts to make complete county revenue and expenditure information readily available to the public in the budget.
By contrast to Pat Key's limited public website, Assessor Ken Yazel's website is well-organized and provides easy access to information on every parcel in Tulsa County, any time day or night, from anywhere on the Internet. You can search by name and address, and if you don't know the address you can click on a Google map.
Ms. Key, if you want to stop revisiting the issue of full budget transparency over and over again, do the right thing. Go above and beyond the letter of the law to provide the public with the information it ought to have. Instead of fighting with the one county elected official who has demonstrated a commitment to governmental transparency and fiscal conservatism, work with him. Follow Ken Yazel's excellent example instead of sniping at him.
There is a way to get internet access, of a sort, to County Clerk records. It costs $30 a month, and the Board of County Commissioners has to vote in one of its regular meetings to approve your application for access. So to review: Oklahoma County offers free, anonymous access from anywhere to public land records. Tulsa County, under Pat Key's leadership, offers $30 a month, subscriber-only access and only to those subscribers approved by the County Commissioners.
One more thing: It seems like there was a time when you could access Tulsa County land records metadata at home and could see the images if you went to the library. Anyone else remember when that changed?
MORE on HB1986:
Here is the language that Rep. Brumbaugh's bill would have added to the County Budget Act, 19 O.S. 1408, 1411, 1412, 1414. This is the level of disclosure that Oklahoma County provides and that Assessor Yazel had hoped his fellow Tulsa County elected officials would support, even if the law doesn't require it. Strikethrough is deleted text, underline is added text:
Section 1408. The county budget board shall prepare for each budget year a budget for each fund
whose activities require funding through appropriation from the budget boardfor which there is a reasonably anticipated fund balance or revenues. The county budget shall include each fund for which any department head or elected official has spending authority, irrespective of the fund type or whether or not the fund is, either by law or accredited budgeting standards, subject to appropriation.
Section 1411. A. On or before a date set by the county budget board, the county excise board shall provide a tentative estimate of anticipated revenues from all sources, classified by funds, for the succeeding fiscal year. For the purposes of this section, "all sources" means any reasonably anticipated revenue for any fund of any department or elected office within the county. For the purposes of the County Budget Act, fund balances shall be treated as revenue. The county excise board shall arrive at the tentative estimates independently. In furtherance of this requirement and the other requirements of the county excise board, the county excise board is authorized to hire appropriate staffing on either a permanent, full-time, part-time, temporary, or contract basis. The county budget board shall include in its annual budget sufficient funds for these purposes.
Section 1412. The county budget board shall hold a public hearing on the proposed budget no later than fifteen (15) days prior to the beginning of the budget year. Notice of the date, time and place of the hearing, together with the proposed budget summaries, shall be published in a newspaper of general circulation in the county not less than five (5) days before the date of the hearing.... Budget summaries shall be grouped by department or elected office and shall include beginning fund balances for each department or elected office and for the county as a whole.
Section 1414. A. In addition to any other powers and duties granted to the county excise board in this act, the board shall act in an oversight capacity with respect to the county budget. The county excise board shall examine the county budgets.
TulsaNow is hosting a forum for the candidates for Tulsa City Council District 4. The candidates will face off in the June 24, 2014, primary election. The forum will be held on Wednesday, June 4, 2014, beginning at 6 p.m., at Foolish Things Coffee, 10th and Main in downtown Tulsa.
Blake Ewing, restaurateur and urban planning enthusiast, is the incumbent, first elected in 2011. He is being challenged by Danny Patten (Dewey Bartlett Jr.'s campaign manager in 2013), Elissa Kay Harvill, and Julian Morgan.
Depending on the distribution of the primary vote, there will either be a three-way runoff in August, followed by a two-way general election in November, or else there will be a two-way general in November (if the top two candidates have more than 50% of the vote), or no further elections (if one candidate has more than 50% of the vote).
DIstrict 4 stretches from Gilcrease Museum Road and the Arkansas River east to Yale Ave and from I-244 south to 31st Street (except for the triangle between Harvard, the Broken Arrow Expressway and 31st). The district includes downtown and is home to a tremendous amount of adaptive reuse of historic properties as well as a number of contentious zoning and land-use-planning conflicts.
Candidates will each give a five-minute opening speech, followed by questions and answers.
The filing period has ended for the 2014 Tulsa city elections. All races this year are for two-year terms.
City Auditor Cathy Criswell, District 5 City Councilor Karen Gilbert, and District 8 City Councilor Phil Lakin were re-elected with out opposition.
Five districts which drew three or more candidates will have a primary in June, with the possibility of a candidate winning outright with more than 50% of the vote. If no candidate reaches that threshold, the top two will be on the November general election ballot.
Jack Ross Henderson, 63, 2014 N. Rosedale, 74127, incumbent.
Denis Palmer, 61, 707 E. Mohawk Blvd., 74106
Vanessa Hall-Harper, 42, 2020 W. Newton St., 74127
Jeannie Cue, 60, 5313 S. 32nd West Ave., 74107
Aaron L. Bisogno, 27, 7722 S. St. Louis Ave.
Lydia D'Ross, 50, 7742 S. Victor Ave., 74136
Blake Ewing, 35, 1323 S. Frisco Ave., 74119
Dan Patten, 29, 107 N. Detroit Ave., Suite 300, 74120
Julian Morgan, 28, 418 S. Peoria Ave., 74120
Elissa K. Harvill, 1722 S. Carson Ave., Apt 1806
Skip Steele, 64, 13380 E. 33rd St., 74134
Arnie Murillo, 38, 13029 E. 27th Pl., 74134
Connie Dodson, 46, 13302 E. 28th St.
Eric Turley, 44, 9215 E. 59th Pl., 74145
Anna America, 50, 6849 E. 56th St., 74145
Arianna Moore, 27, 3801 S. 93rd East Ave., 74145
Two districts which drew two candidates each will be on the November ballot only.
David Patrick, 5712 E. Tecumseh St., 74115
Virgil Lee Wallace Sr., 1564 N. New Haven Ave., 74115
G. T. Bynum, 3607 S. Florence Ave., 74105
Paul Tay, 4004 S. Toledo Ave., 74135
Today is the final day of the filing period for the 2014 City of Tulsa elections. For the first time since 2011, all nine council seats are on the ballot at the same time, along with the City Auditor's seat.
You may find this news puzzling. Yes, there was a filing period last week. That was for state and county offices. No, I don't know why Tulsa had to be different. The language adopted by Tulsa (second Monday in April) will sometimes result in a filing period the same week as the state filing period (overlapping on Wednesday) and sometimes result in a filing period the following week.
This election marks the end of over five years of thrashing about with terms and election dates. In 2008, Tulsans voted to approve a charter change to move elections from the spring of even-numbered years to the fall of odd-numbered years. This was a wise move. It allowed campaigning candidates to take advantage of warmer weather and longer days, and put the elections at a normal time of year for voting, while maintaining separation from national and state elections, so that voters could focus on local issues.
A couple of years later, Tulsans voted to change the council terms of office to a three-year term, staggered so that no more than three seats would expire in any given year. 2011 was to be the last all-council election. Seats 1, 4, and 7 were up in 2012, seats 2, 5, and 8 in 2013, and seats 3, 6, and 9 in 2014. There were conflicts with state-authorized election dates in the even-numbered years.
In 2011, the same year that staggered terms were set to begin,
Tulsans for Badder Government Same Old Tulsans Save Our Tulsa successfully pushed initiatives to move the council back to a two-year term and to move city elections to the even-numbered years, and to make council elections non-partisan. (Their at-large councilor proposition failed.) The three-year terms for the councilors elected in 2012 and 2013 and the city auditor elected in 2013 were truncated so that all seats would be up for election in 2014. The Mayor's office will next be on the ballot in 2016, along with the auditor and all nine councilors -- barring another charter change.
I opposed the Save Our Tulsa charter changes for a number of reasons, including the sense that non-partisan city elections sharing a lengthy federal and state ballot would be ignored by voters, volunteers, media, and candidates. The dearth of filers for this fall's election seems to bear out my predictions.
As of the end of the second day of filing, there are only three contested seats. It looks like three councilors who have shown a degree of independence from the city establishment are being targeted for defeat: Jack Henderson in District 1, Blake Ewing in District 4, and Arianna Moore in District 7.
Two of the challengers are the campaign managers from last year's mayoral race: Danny Patten, Dewey Bartlett Jr's campaign manager, is challenging Ewing, and Anna America, Kathy Taylor's campaign manager and a former Tulsa School Board member, is challenging Moore. It may well be that these two folks made independent decisions to run, but I suspect both will have substantial establishment backing.
The other six councilors and the new city auditor are as yet unchallenged, but all have filed for re-election. They are:
City Auditor Cathy Criswell: In 2013, she defeated incumbent Clift Richards.
District 2 Councilor Jeannie Cue
District 3 Councilor David Patrick
District 5 Councilor Karen Gilbert
District 6 Councilor Skip Steele
District 8 Councilor Phil Lakin
District 9 Councilor G. T. Bynum
It would be a particular shame if David Patrick draws a bye in the first election following the death of former District 3 Councilor Roscoe Turner. Turner and Patrick faced each other in every election since 1996 (except the 1998 special, when Patrick's sister took his place), either in the Democratic primary or, when Patrick changed his registration to independent, in the general election.
District 3 includes most of the area north and east of I-244 and US 75, plus the area north of 11th Street between Sheridan Road and I-44.
We need a council full of Roscoe Turners (and a mayor of that caliber as well) if we want city boards and commissions to be responsive to the concerns of citizens in all of Tulsa. That process starts today, by making sure that each of our city elected officials are held accountable to the voters in a competitive election campaign.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: Filing for City of Tulsa offices is at the Tulsa County Election Board, 555 N. Denver Ave., in the former "Mission style" Safeway supermarket with the arched roof. You'll need a notarized declaration of candidacy and a $50 cashier's check.
Here is a current map of City of Tulsa council district and precinct boundaries.
Today is the birthday of Tulsa County Assessor Ken Yazel, and it seems as good a time as any to salute him for his hard work on behalf of Tulsa's taxpayers these past 12 years. Ken is running for re-election to a fourth four-year term, and I encourage you to give him your full support. You can "like" his Facebook page and get updates on opportunities to volunteer for his campaign
A couple of weeks ago, at the Oklahoma Growth and Opportunity Summit, Steve Anderson, the former budget director for the State of Kansas, explained how the state went from a prospective $500 million shortfall to a $500 million surplus under the leadership of Gov. Sam Brownback, while still cutting income tax rates. One of the keys was to bring all money under the control of state agencies through the budgeting and appropriation process, including leftover money from previous years. Another important step was to eliminate many of the earmarks that siphoned off state revenue before it ever reached the budget process.
Ken Yazel, who, as County Assessor, is a member of the County Budget Board, has been fighting for those same reforms in Tulsa County. Rather than ask the citizens for more tax dollars to pay for needed projects, Yazel wants to fund those projects from money the county already receives. He wants all county money come through the budget process to be prioritized, rather than allowing each elected official to have his own pot of money outside the scrutiny of the budget system. Yazel has called for the people to decide whether to allocate surplus Vision 2025 funds (the tax will be collected through 2016) for jail and juvenile justice facilities, rather than allowing it to be spent on lower-priority projects.
What I wrote about Ken Yazel during his last run in 2010 still holds true today:
Yazel has at times been the lone voice at the County Courthouse raising concern about wasteful spending and deceptive budget numbers. He has been one of the few elected officials to speak publicly against tax hike initiatives like the River Tax.
Yazel has also defended taxpayer interests by insisting on fair property assessments for everyone, even the very wealthy. If someone builds a $25 million house, they ought to pay property taxes on the full amount; otherwise, property taxes go up for the rest of us to make up the difference. Because Ken Yazel stands up for all taxpayers, the very wealthy have made him a target. We need to stand up for him.
Ken Yazel has also been a great friend to public access to public records. Public means online, and Ken Yazel added to the county assessor website the ability to search the Tulsa County assessor property database online. You no longer have to go to the library to find out who owns a piece of property or how much it's worth. You no longer have to ask the County Commissioners permission and pay a monthly fee to access this public information. My story on where the named members of Save Our Tulsa live and the median value of their homes would not have been possible without this valuable research tool. Oklahoma County has had this sort of tool for many years, while most Tulsa County officials resisted. Yazel's leadership on this issue alone is enough to earn my heartiest endorsement.
The County Assessor's website now includes an interactive map to find information about parcels of interest. You don't have to know the address -- you just navigate through the map and click. It puts a great deal of power in the hands of ordinary homeowners or home buyers trying to figure out what a piece of property is worth, and it's available anywhere, any time, day or night.
(By contrast, you can't search the County Clerk's land transaction records without going to a library, and you can't see the image of the transaction without going to the clerk's office during working hours.)
I encourage you to get involved in Ken Yazel's re-election campaign. Your next opportunity is a volunteer day tomorrow, February 28, 2014, 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 pm, at the campaign HQ at 909 B South Lynn Lane in Broken Arrow.
TulsaNow is hosting a forum for candidates for the upcoming Tulsa School Board election. The forum will be at Foolish Things Coffee, 1001 S Main Street in downtown Tulsa, at 5:30 pm on Wednesday, February 5, 2014.
The League of Women Voters has posted its 2014 Tulsa area school board candidate questionnaire with responses for candidates for Tulsa offices 4 and 7, Bixby office 4, and Tulsa Technology Center Office 6. The voter guide also includes the ballot titles for bond issues in Jenks and Union districts.
As usual, most school board positions in Tulsa County drew only a single candidate during the December filing period. Filing was held the first week in December, when most people are focused on the end of the school semester and the upcoming Christmas holiday.
Bixby Office 4: Helen Bolton, Lisa Owens
Tulsa Office 4: Bobbie Gray-Elliott (incumbent), Shawna Keller, William D. Bickerstaff
Tulsa Office 7: Gene Beach, Suzanne Schreiber
Tulsa Technology Center Offce 6: Sharon A. Whelpley, Paul J. Kroutter
The primary and bond issue election will be held on Tuesday, February 11, 2014. In races with three or more candidates in which no candidate receives a majority of the primary vote, a runoff will be held on the April 1, 2014.
MORE: Here is the Tulsa County Election Board election calendar for 2014. Note that the first half of next week, February 3-5, 2014, is the filing period for city elections in Bixby, Collinsville, and Owasso. Those cities have a primary on March 4 and a runoff on April 1. April 9-11, 2014, is the filing period for state and county posts; April 13-15 is the filing period for City of Tulsa council (all nine) and auditor positions. 2014 will be the first year for City of Tulsa elections to coincide with state elections.
STILL MORE: The Oklahoma Republican Party will be holding a day-long campaign training school for candidates and volunteers in Tulsa on February 22, 2014. Contact the state party HQ for details and registration.