Tulsa Election 2017 Category

Published November 9, 2017. Postdated to keep this at the top of the blog until the polls close. If you appreciate the hours of effort behind detailed analysis you can't find anywhere else, Hit the tip jar!

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The City of Tulsa is holding a special election this Tuesday, November 14, 2017. The ballot will consist of seven proposed amendments to the City Charter which were approved by the City Council over the course of the summer.

Polls are open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Early in-person absentee voting for residents of the Tulsa County will be available at the Tulsa County Election Board, 555 N. Denver Ave., just north of downtown Tulsa, from 8 am. to 6 p.m. Thursday, November 9, and Friday, November 10, plus from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, November 11. The Tulsa County Election Board has published an information sheet on the November 14, 2017, election.

In addition to the Tulsa special election, voters in House District 76 (northern part of Broken Arrow) have a special general election between Republican Ross Ford and Democrat Chris Van Landingham to fill the vacancy left by the death of State Rep. David Brumbaugh, and voters in Senate District 37 will choose a successor to Sen. Dan Newberry -- Republican Brian O'Hara, formerly Congressman Jim Bridenstine's Deputy District Director, faces 26-year-old Allison Ikley-Freeman. Bixby voters have a franchise renewal on the ballot, and Sand Springs has a city bond issue.

SAMPLE BALLOTS:

Last Friday morning, Pat Campbell interviewed me about the City of Tulsa, November 14, 2017, ballot propositions. Click the link to listen to the 30 minute podcast.

Here is a summary of the seven City of Tulsa ballot items, with links to details of the charter language to be changed and my analysis.

  1. Summary nuisance abatement: YES
  2. Electronic notice to councilors of Special Meeting: YES
  3. Sloppily written amendment intended to allow emergency clause on resolutions: NO
  4. City general election to be moved to August: NO
  5. Mayor appoints Election District Commission: NO
  6. Permit political activities by civil service employees and sworn public safety officers: NO
  7. Ineffective attempt to constrain funds generated by public safety tax: NO

As a supplement to my commentary on Prop 4, I have written a timeline of the changes Tulsa has made to its election process. Five changes were made in the six-year period between 2006 and 2012.

For your convenience, here is a single-page summary of my recommendations on the 2017 Tulsa City Charter propositions.

For the sixth time since 2006, we will be tinkering with election dates. Two other proposals would have an impact on elections -- the composition of the Election District Commission and allowing city employees under civil service protection to participate in political activity.

An election resolution for the first five of the proposed amendments was approved by the City Council on July 12, 2017, and approved by Mayor G. T. Bynum IV on July 17, 2017. Resolutions sending the sixth and seventh proposed amendments to the voters were approved on August 16, 2017.

The seventh of the seven charter change propositions on the City of Tulsa November 14, 2017, ballot would add language to the City Charter with the intent of preventing the money from the public safety tax approved in April 2016 to be spent on any other purpose.

Here are direct links to the current text of Tulsa City Charter, Article II, Section 7.1, City Council, Budgets and Tulsa City Charter, Article III, Section 1.4, Mayor, Executive and administrative powers and duties.

The mark-up below shows the how the text of Article II, Section 7.1, and Article III, Section 1.4, would change if Proposition No. 7 is approved, with added text underlined. No text would be removed by this proposition.

Section 7.1. - Budgets.

Prior to the expenditure of general funds, or funds from the sale or issuance of an obligation of the city, or from any other source, the Mayor shall submit to the Council a budget for the expenditure of such funds or amendments to previously adopted budgets. The Council shall adopt budgets or amendments and make appropriations by ordinance, provided, that no revenue derived from the 2017 Public Safety Sales Tax, as set forth in detail in Title 43‐I Tulsa Revised Ordinances, shall ever be budgeted, spent or used for any purpose other than public safety as described therein.

Section 1.4. - Executive and administrative powers and duties.

The Mayor shall be the chief executive and administrative officer of the city and shall:

...

C. Prepare and submit to the Council annually, on or before the first day of May, an operating budget, a capital program, and a capital budget; submit recommendations for amending adopted budgets, provided, that no revenue derived from the 2017 Public Safety Sales Tax, as set forth in detail in Title 43‐I Tulsa Revised Ordinances, shall ever be budgeted, spent or used for any purpose other than public safety as described therein;

While I appreciate the intention behind this, it should be obvious that the proposal won't accomplish what is desired. Making the meaning of language in the City Charter (which can only change with a vote of the people) depend on the language in an ordinance (which can be changed without a vote of the people) makes it easy to undermine the intent of the charter provision without getting public approval to remove it. The Council could vote to redefine public safety to include, say, park maintenance. While such a change would require following the Brown Ordinance process with public notice and public hearing, that wouldn't stop a determined council and mayor. The charter amendment wouldn't make it any harder to redirect or misdirect this money than it already is.

This proposed amendment also does not prevent the council and mayor from redirecting general fund money currently paying for police and fire protection to other purposes, effectively nullifying the intended benefit of approving the earmarked public safety tax. While Title 43-I declares that intent, there is no mandatory language that prohibits reducing general fund spending on police and fire from historic levels or penalizes elected officials who do so. They wouldn't even have to go through a Brown Ordinance process to adopt a budget that cuts general fund spending on public safety.

Finally, even if this amendment could accomplish its intended purpose, earmarking funds hinders flexibility to prioritize spending when revenue drops. Different "colors of money" -- funds from specific sources that can only be spent on specific agencies -- mean that some agencies are swimming in money while higher priority public purposes go unfunded. This is a significant contributor to our current state budget crisis, but it isn't getting the attention it should. Earmarked revenues set up a classic conflict between concentrated benefit and diffuse cost: An agency (and its employees, contractors, and clients) that benefits from this arrangement will zealously defend its earmark, but the cost (finding revenue elsewhere for other government purposes) is spread over too many agencies and taxpayers to incite sufficient support to overcome agency resistance. Politicians respond to this imbalance of passion by backing off of earmark reform -- less hassle to impose a little tax hike on everyone or cut a small amount from a wide swath of government than to deal with the sound and fury of taking dedicated funding from a specific program.

I'll be voting no on Proposition No. 7.

The sixth of the seven charter change propositions on the City of Tulsa November 14, 2017, ballot would change the rules regarding the political involvement of city employees protected under civil service and sworn public safety employees. A yes vote on Proposition No. 6 would allow civil service city employees and firefighters to attend and speak at the public meetings of the City Council and any other municipal board and commission. They would also be allowed to campaign while off-duty and out of uniform.

Here are direct links to the current text of Tulsa City Charter, Article X, Section 10.1, Civil Service Commission and Merit System, Political Activities Prohibited and Tulsa City Charter, Article XI, Section 5.1, Fire Department, Political Activities Prohibited.

The mark-up below shows the how the text of Article X, Section 10.1, and Article XI, Section 5.1, would change if Proposition No. 6 is approved, with added text underlined, and deleted text stricken.

ARTICLE X. CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION AND MERIT SYSTEM.

Section 10.1. ‐ Political Activities Prohibited Permitted.

No person in the classified service shall take an active part in any campaign for the election of officers of the city, except to vote and privately state a personal opinion.

Municipal employees in the classified service may attend and express their views at city council meetings, or any other public meetings of municipal entities. Any municipal employee in the classified service may actively participate in partisan and nonpartisan political activities. Provided, the political activity in which the employee participates shall be exercised only during off‐duty hours and while not in uniform. Any federal statutes restricting the political activities of certain municipal employees shall supersede the provisions of this section as to such employees.

ARTICLE XI. FIRE DEPARTMENT

Section 5.1. ‐ Political Activities Prohibited Permitted.

No chief, officer, or sworn member of the Fire Department shall take an active part in any campaign for the election of officers of the city, except to vote and privately state a personal opinion.

Any chief, officer, or sworn members of the Fire Department may attend and express their views at city council meetings, or any other public meetings of municipal entities. Any chief, officer, or sworn member of the Fire Department may actively participate in partisan and nonpartisan political activities. Provided, the political activity in which the employee participates shall be exercised only during off‐duty hours and while not in uniform. Any federal statutes restricting the political activities of certain municipal employees shall supersede the provisions of this section as to such employees.

Prohibitions against soliciting campaign contributions would not be affected.

I can appreciate the proposition that city workers should be able to speak at public meetings, whether it is a situation unrelated to their job (a zoning case in their neighborhood) or an issue where their job knowledge could shed some valuable light.

The civil service bargain is this: The election result won't cost you your government job, but in exchange for that security, you agree not to act publicly to try to influence that result. This is the opposite of old spoils system, where public employees would campaign for incumbents in hopes of keeping their jobs and citizens would campaign for challengers in hopes of getting city jobs.

Even Franklin Roosevelt, that friend of organized labor and expander of government, opposed collective bargaining and strikes by public employee unions, seeing the hazard these practices would pose to the public interest. An unsavory alliance between public-employee unions and state and local elected officials have created political machines reminiscent of the old spoils system, and these political machines have driven local governments into default, unable to keep the promises that were used to buy the votes and volunteering of public-employee unions.

The current ban acts as a protection. A city employee whose political views might differ from the majority of his union can avoid having that dissent exposed in a way that could sour his relationships with union stewards, co-workers, and supervisors. When asked to campaign for a candidate or cause, he has a ready excuse to keep his views to himself. The proposed modification would strip that excuse away.

A more narrowly drafted modification allowing employees to speak on city issues would be worth considering, but a wholesale change to allow employees to campaign for or against the people who will decide their raises is a dangerous step in the direction of bankrupt cities across America. I'm voting no on Proposition No. 6.

MORE: A recent article in National Affairs details the rise of public-employee unions and the unique dangers posed by their participation in politics.

A 2012 Reuters story explains how San Bernardino, California, went from middle-class city to bankrupt basket case:

Yet on close examination, the city's decades-long journey from prosperous, middle-class community to bankrupt, crime-ridden, foreclosure-blighted basket case is straightforward -- and alarmingly similar to the path traveled by many municipalities around America's largest state. San Bernardino succumbed to a vicious circle of self-interests among city workers, local politicians and state pension overseers.

Little by little, over many years, the salaries and retirement benefits of San Bernardino's city workers -- and especially its police and firemen -- grew richer and richer, even as the city lost its major employers and gradually got poorer and poorer.

Unions poured money into city council elections, and the city council poured money into union pay and pensions. The California Public Employees' Retirement System (Calpers), which manages pension plans for San Bernardino and many other cities, encouraged ever-sweeter benefits. Investment bankers sold clever bond deals to pay for them. Meanwhile, state law made it impossible to raise local property taxes and difficult to boost any other kind.

No single deal or decision involving benefits and wages over the years killed the city. But cumulatively, they built a pension-fueled financial time-bomb that finally exploded.

MORE: City Finance Director Mike Kier writes, in his personal capacity, concerned that city employees who want to remain on the political sidelines lose their cover if Prop 6 is approved.

I am concerned that employee participation in political campaigns will undermine the existing merit system, which replaced a patronage system in the 1950s. Will employment decisions be based on merit, or will they be based on the employee's political activity? When political activities are allowed, they can be expected; and when expected they can be required. Employment decisions at all levels could be challenged as retaliation or reward for political activities. How will department heads and managers adjust to the political activities by employees or to expectations for their own activity? How will City Council staff members adjust from prohibited to allowed political activity, a change which most of the Council supports?

The fifth of the seven charter change propositions on the City of Tulsa November 14, 2017, ballot would change the makeup and responsibilities of the Election District Commission, which redraws the City Council district lines after each Federal decennial census. A yes vote on Proposition No. 5 would expand the size of the commission from three members to five, make all of them mayoral appointees, subject to council confirmation, and add contractors and city employees to the category of those ineligible to serve. The five-member commission would include two registered Republicans, two registered Democrats, and one registered independent. The commission's meetings would be subject to the state Open Meetings Act. A sentence added to Article VI, Section 10.2 would direct the commission to follow some specific criteria regarding boundaries, partisan composition, and racial and ethnic demographics.

Here is a direct link to the current text of Tulsa City Charter, Article VI, Section 10.1.

The mark-up below shows the how the text of Article VI, Sections 10.1 and 10.2 would change if Proposition No. 5 is approved, with added text underlined, and deleted text stricken.

SECTION 10.1. - ELECTION DISTRICT COMMISSION.

There is hereby created an Election District Commission which shall consist of five (5) three (3) members. The governing body of the two (2) political parties having the largest number of registered voters within the city as of the date of the preceding general election shall each appoint one (1) member of the Election District Commission. The Mayor shall appoint one (1) member, to be appointed by the Mayor subject to confirmation by a majority vote of the entire membership of the Council. Of the five (5) said members, two (2) shall be affitliated with the political party having the largest number of registered voters within the city as of the date of the preceding general election, two (2) shall be affiliated with the political party having the second largest number of such voters, and one (l) shall be an independent voter. Said members shall not have changed their political party affiliation within the last year. All members shall be registered voters and residents of the City of Tulsa. No two (2) of the members shall be residents of the same Council district at the time of their appointment. The appointments shall be made and the Election District Commission shall be organized no later than the 31st day of January, 1991, and no later than the 31st day of January 1st day of July, 2021, and no later than the 1st day of July of each tenth year thereafter. In the event the members of the Election District Commission are not appointed within the times herein provided, such appointments shall be made by the Presiding Judge of the District Court of Tulsa County. Persons holding an elected office shall be ineligible for appointment to the Election District Commission. No City of Tulsa employee, contractor or elected official shall be appointed to serve on the Election District Commission. If a vacancy shall occur in the Election District Commission, a qualified successor shall be appointed within twenty (20) days after the date the vacancy occurs as provided for original appointments.

SECTION 10.2. - ADJUSTMENT OF ELECTION DISTRICT BOUNDARIES.

The Election District Commission shall adjust the boundaries of Election Districts each ten (10) years after the completion of the Federal Decennial Census. The Election District Commission shall determine the population of the city and each existing election district according to the preceding Federal Decennial Census and shall prepare a proposed Election District Plan. The Election District Commission shall consider natural and neighborhood boundaries, shall disregard partisan considerations, and shall avoid diluting minority votes. Each district shall consist of contiguous, compact territory and be as nearly equal in population as possible. The district boundary lines shall conform with precinct boundary lines. The Election District Plan shall establish the population and boundaries of each election district. The proposed Election District Plan shall include a map and description of the districts. The Election District Commission shall hold at least one (1) public hearing on the proposed Election District Plan. Notice of the hearing shall be published in a newspaper of general circulation in the city at least ten (10) days prior to the date of the hearing. All meetings of the Election District Commission shall be open meetings as regulated by the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act, Title 25, Oklahoma Statutes, Section 301 and following.

If you scroll back through council minutes, you'll find alternative, rejected versions that would have allowed the City Auditor to serve or to nominate a member and that would have required members to reside in different quadrants of the city. Instead, the City Council chose a version that allows the mayor to pick all the members.

I will be voting no on Proposition No. 5. Long-time readers will know that fair redistricting has been a passion of mine for decades. In fact, it was the subject of my first published essay, in May 1991, back when condemnation of gerrymandering wasn't fashionable because Democrats were creating the gerrymanders.

The principle of separation of powers, with separate, co-equal institutions responsible for executive and legislative responsibilities, is a safeguard against corruption and tyranny. Giving the mayor the ability to pick all the members of the commission redrawing district lines gives him too much power over the body that is charged with scrutinizing his performance and keeping him in check.

By that measure, the existing system is already broken. In 2011, Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr not only had his own appointee to the commission under the charter, but a Bartlett Jr partisan was appointed by the GOP county chairman, giving Bartlett Jr and his Cockroach Caucus allies the ability to severely damage the reelection chances of the councilors he had alienated. Councilor John Eagleton, Bartlett Jr's most eloquent critic, was drawn out of his own District 7. Districts 3, 4, and 5 were redrawn to encompass a large number of new voters who would not have a relationship with the incumbent councilors, but would instead have their opinions formed by big-money campaigns painting them as bickering naysayers.

The new proposal doesn't fix the problem, but instead makes it worse. The council would have to confirm the mayor's appointments to the board under Proposition 5, but it is easy to imagine scenarios where a mayor would join with enough cronies on the council to form a majority. This cabal could fill the Election District Commission with minions who would redraw the lines to create safe seats for the mayor's friends and undermine any councilor who offered skepticism or resistance.

The redistricting problem is already well-constrained by the charter and amenable to an automated or semi-automated solution: You have about 180 precincts, and you have to distribute them into 9 contiguous groups of precincts with similar population. Define a few "core areas" encompassing communities of interest which ought to be included in a single district -- e.g., west of the river, the Money Belt, far north Tulsa -- then start the process by adding single precincts to each of these cores until the population is close to the ideal. Another approach would be to start with existing districts and make the minimal number of reassignments to make the numbers work.

If you must include people in the process, there are ways to create a commission that isn't compromised by self-interest. In 1991, I suggested using unsuccessful candidates to draw a rival redistricting plan; the voters would then decide between that plan and the legislature's plan. Constrained sortition is another approach: Let interested citizens apply to serve, lightly screen them with a test of geographical and numerical comprehension, and then draw nine names out of a hat to form the commission.

Like the election calendar, the redistricting process deserves careful and thorough examination and public debate, not a quick patch that seems

To adapt something I wrote in 2011 in advance of the first Republican-majority redistricting process at the State Capitol: Taking a fair approach to redistricting means preserving the right of voters to fire their representatives. It's a matter of accountability and fairness to the voters; fairness to the minority faction is merely a side effect. Lines ought to be drawn with regard to communities of interest, without regard to incumbent political interest.

The fourth of the seven charter change propositions on the City of Tulsa November 14, 2017, ballot would once again scramble our city election process. A yes vote on Proposition No. 4 would modify three separate sections of Article VI (Election and Qualification of Officers), with the effect that the three-stage system we currently have would be reduced to two stages, the June primary would be eliminated, the general election would be moved from November to August (the same date as the state runoff election), and what is now described as the general election in November would be called a runoff.

The mark-up below shows the how the text would change if Proposition No. 4 is approved, with added text underlined, and deleted text stricken.

SECTION 1.3. - GENERAL ELECTIONS.

In November in the year 2011, and in November In August in the year 2018, and in August each year thereafter in which an elected officer's term expires, a general election shall be held on the day specified by the laws of Oklahoma for the election of those officers whose terms expire.

SECTION 2.2. - ELECTION PROCEDURE.

In the calendar year of the adoption of this amendment of the Charter2018, and in each year thereafter in which an elected officer's term expires, a primarygeneral election shall be held in August on the day specified by the laws of Oklahoma, at which time the qualified electors of the city shall nominate candidates forfill the officeoffices of those whose terms expire. Only qualified electors residing in an election district may vote in the primary election for candidates for the office of Councilor for such election district. All qualified electors residing in the city may vote in the primary election for candidates for a city-wide office such as Mayor or City Auditor. If a candidate for office is unopposed at the primary election or becomes unopposed by death, disqualification or withdrawal, such candidate shall be deemed elected. If a candidate for an office receives more than fifty percent (50%) of all votes cast for that office at the primary election, such candidate shall be deemed elected. If only two (2) candidates file for an office, there shall be no primary election, and the names of the two (2) candidates shall be placed on the ballot at the general election. If more than two (2) candidates file for an office and no candidate receives more than fifty percent (50%) of all votes cast at the primary election for that office, the two (2) names of the several candidates for eachthe office receiving the greatest number of votes totaling fifty percent (50%) at such primary elections shall be deemed nominated and placed on the ballot at the generala run-off election, unless the number of votes for such two (2) candidates does not exceed fifty percent (50%) of all votes cast for that office; in that event the several candidates in November, on the day specified by the laws of Oklahoma, and the candidate receiving the greatest number of votes and for whom the votes cast at the primary election total at least fifty percent (50%) of all votes cast for that office shall participate in a run-off primary election in which the two (2) candidates for each office receiving the greatest number of votes at suchsaid run-off primary election shall be deemed nominated and placed onelected. In the ballot atevent of a tied vote among the generalsaid candidates, the election shall be decided by lot.

SECTION 3.4. - TIME OF FILING.

Beginning in the calendar year of the adoption of this amendment of the Charter 2018, Declarations of Candidacy shall be filed with the Secretary of the appropriate Election Board no earlier than 8:00 o'clock a.m. on the second Monday in April June and no later than 5:00 o'clock p.m. on the next succeeding Wednesday of any year in which an elected officer's term expires.

Here is a link to the current text of Tulsa City Charter Article VI.

The ballot title reads:

Shall the City Charter of the City of Tulsa, Article VI, 'Election and Qualification of Officers', be amended to hold elections for City offices in August of an election year, require candidates for City offices to file their candidacy in June, and provide for run-off elections, whenever necessary, in November?

Five times between 2006 and 2012 the City of Tulsa made significant changes to the election process: changed the election calendar, lengthened then shortened terms of office, converted elections from partisan to non-partisan. 2016 was the first mayoral election to be held reflecting all of those changes. This latest proposed change would be the sixth modification in 11 years. This instability reflects a failure by voters and councilors to think carefully about the electoral process as a complex system. The election process is too important to be subjected to ill-considered, whimsical alterations.

I've written what turned out to be a lengthy history of all the changes to Tulsa's city election process since the council-mayor form of government was adopted in 1989. Because it was so long, I've broken it out as a separate entry.

The proposed amendment on next Tuesday's ballot is intended to fix the long lame-duck problem that surfaced after the 2016 election, when challenger Tweedledee IV earned more than 50% of the vote against incumbent Mayor Tweedledum Jr in the June primary. The new mayor-elect had to wait five months before taking office. (I've seen worse: Rogers County Treasurer Jason Carini had to wait an entire year between defeating incumbent Cathy Pinkerton Smith in the June 2014 primary and taking office at the beginning of July 2015.)

The proposed fix will create other problems. The new proposal would have a general election in August on the same date as the state partisan runoff election and a top-two runoff, if no one wins a majority, in November. If a party primary for governor, senator, or congressman has no clear winner (very likely in 2018 with a half-dozen candidates already seeking to replace Mary Fallin), August could be a high-turnout election, with lopsided turnout for one party (Republican, most likely) having a lopsided effect on non-partisan city elections.

There are other methods to fix the problem exposed by the 2016 mayor's race. The process for electing non-partisan at-large district judge in our Judicial District has a primary if there are more than two candidates, and the top two candidates in the primary face each other on the November general election ballot, even if one of the candidates received a majority of the vote in the June primary (26 O. S. 11-112). This is because eight of our district judge positions are nominated by Tulsa County voters, one is nominated by Pawnee County voters, but both Tulsa and Pawnee Counties voters decide the winner in November.

Nevertheless the top-two-regardless process could be justified even if the universe of potential primary voters and the universe of potential general voters were coextensive. Voting history statistics suggest that large numbers of eligible voters sit out the primary and let the primary voters winnow the choices to a number they can get their minds around. I wonder how many City of Tulsa voters sat out last June's primary thinking they'd get to vote for the top two candidates in November. With those expectations at work, you could justify borrowing the judicial election rules so that the June vote only narrows the field and never picks the winner.

But the pros and cons of the proposal on the ballot, the proposal outlined above, the previous short-lived systems ought to be discussed and compared side-by-side before we approve any further changes to our election system. We need to have a thorough city-wide discussion about the kind of system we want. Do we want to separate city elections from federal elections, so that there can be more focus on city issues? Should we require charter amendments, bond issues, and tax increases to be considered only on general election ballots? Do we want a first-past-the-post system, simple and quick, but apt to give us officials without a majority mandate; a multi-tiered runoff system, which takes time, but allows voters to focus on smaller numbers of candidates in later stages; or instant runoff voting, quick, but requires voters to consider and rank all the candidates at the same time?

Until we have a commission on city elections to debate and evaluate the possibilities before making recommendations, I will be voting no on every piecemeal modification to the City of Tulsa election process.

ONE MORE THING: Prop. 4 would effectively convert Tulsa's election system into a Louisiana-style jungle primary. In a 2006 UTW column, I explained that a top-two single-runoff voting system can produce results like the 1991 Louisiana gubernatorial primary, in which the two candidates that advanced to the runoff -- Edwin Edwards aka "the Crook" and David Duke aka "the Klansman" -- were widely despised by the population. Incumbent Gov. Buddy Roemer finished a very close third. Any one of several small contingencies could have produced a different result with a governor acceptable to a majority of the public.

Here is a brief history of all the changes to the City of Tulsa Charter, Article VI, Elections. That link leads to the current text of Article VI and the text of each change, with the ballot language and election results of each.

When Tulsa adopted a mayor-council form of government in 1989, it retained the same election schedule that had been used under the commission form of government, holding elections in the spring of even-numbered years, except that under the new charter the mayor's term was doubled from two to four years. As under the previous charter, elections remained partisan.

1990-1994: The three-day filing period began on the second Monday in January, party primaries were held on the first Tuesday in February, and the general election was held on the first Tuesday in March, except for the initial 1990 general election, which was set for the first Tuesday in April. Terms of office began first Monday in April, except for the initial terms under the new charter, which began on the first Monday in May.

1996-2006: At the 1994 general election, voters approved a charter change moving the general election one week later, to the second Tuesday in March. This schedule remained in place through the 2006 election cycle. The only change to the election process during this period was the addition of a $50 filing fee -- really a deposit, refundable if a candidate won the primary or general or achieved at least 15% of the vote.

It was toward the end of this period that the tinkering with the election process began in earnest.

2008: A 2006 ballot question moved the city primary and general elections, beginning in 2008, to coincide with state election dates in February and April and to reduce the number of times citizens had to go to the polls. Prior to that time, the primary was set for the first Tuesday, with school-board elections following on the second Tuesday, then the city general on the 2nd Tuesday in March, and school-board runoffs (if necessary) on the 1st Tuesday in April. The new charter language did not name a specific Tuesday but referred to whichever Tuesday of that month would be authorized in state statutes for an election; practically speaking, this would be the same dates specified by state statute for school elections.

But the 2008 Tulsa primary wasn't held in Februrary as prescribed by charter. Instead, at the request of the Tulsa County Election Board, it was moved to March, so as not to complicate the process of giving the correct ballots to each voter, with the partisan presidential and non-partisan school primaries occurring at the same election. They wanted to avoid the SNAFU of four years earlier, when the 2004 city primaries were held on the same date as a heavily-contested Democratic presidential primary. (Republican voters in at least one precinct were given Democratic city primary ballots, enough to exceed the margin of victory in the David Patrick vs. Roscoe Turner rematch. The election was declared invalid and the race had to be re-run; Turner won.)

Meanwhile, more radical changes to city government and the election schedule had been under discussion.

After grassroots candidates won a majority of the council seats in 2004, special interest groups (which collectively I referred to as the Cockroach Caucus) sought to undermine the result, first by targeting two councilors, Chris Medlock and Jim Mautino, with a recall election, held on July 12, 2005. Both councilors won the right to retain their seats by a wide margin. Next, many of the same individuals and groups launched a petition drive to add at-large seats to the City Council, diluting geographical representation. When that petition drive stalled, then-Mayor Bill LaFortune established a Citizens' Commission on City Government to study possible amendments to the charter. Chaired by Ken Levit and Hans Helmerich, the commission met over several months, then issued a final report in June 2006.

The commission recommended against a change to the structure of the City Council, but recommended moving to non-partisan elections and to moving the elections to the fall of odd-numbered years. The move to the fall would allow door-to-door campaigning in better weather and longer days, and new officials would have some months to get their bearings before having to produce a budget for the following fiscal year. The spring election calendar left little daylight for door-to-door campaigns, and new officials took office just in time to create next year's budget. The change to election dates was considered in 2007 as part of the standard charter amendment process, put on the April 2008 ballot, and was approved by the voters.

Non-partisan elections were not placed on the ballot by the City Council; in 2009 an initiative petition for non-partisan elections circulated by "Tulsans for Better Government" was ruled invalid in form and to have fallen short of the required number of signatures.

2009: Filing for city offices for three days beginning the second Monday in July, primary election on the state election date (second Tuesday) in September, and general election on the state election date in November (second Tuesday in odd-numbered years). This system, which had been vetted by a commission and subjected to extensive public debate, lasted only one election cycle.

2011: In 2009, some councilors got the idea that three-year staggered terms would be better -- wouldn't have to run as often, wouldn't have as much turnover at each election. In November 2009, at the very first general election held under the new fall, odd-year election schedule, voters foolishly approved the change. All nine seats were up for a vote in 2011, but the terms were one year for districts 1, 4, and 7, two years for 2, 5, 8, three years for 3, 6, 9, with all subsequent terms being three years. One of the awkward things about this plan was that council districts with terms expiring in odd-numbered years would have a September primary and a 2nd Tuesday in November general election, coinciding with the auditor's race and, every four years, the mayor's race, while council districts with terms expiring in even-numbered years would have an August primary coinciding with the state runoff election and a November general coinciding with the statewide or presidential election. A contentious senatorial runoff could completely change the numbers likely to turn out and vote in a council race, boosting the number of voters who hadn't been paying attention to the local races.

2012: In 2011, at the very first election under the system approved in 2009, voters approved yet another change, making elections non-partisan, and moving to a primary, runoff, general system to coincide with statewide and presidential elections. The amendment unwound the previous calendar reforms, setting Districts 1, 4, and 7 to go back to the two-year term beginning in 2012, and the remaining districts to serve truncated terms to start two-year terms beginning in 2014. The next mayor's race would remain in 2013, but the following election would be moved up to 2016 and coincide with presidential elections thereafter.

These changes got on the ballot by means of an initiative petition, backed by the same Cockroach Caucus (this time under the name "Save Our Tulsa") that had been trying for years to make it harder for grassroots candidates on a shoestring budget to win council seats. A councilor who didn't need big money to get elected wouldn't be beholden to the Cockroach Caucus. If they can't get back to the good old days when the City Commissioners all lived within a Par 5 of each other, they can at least make sure the councilors' string-pullers all live in the Money Belt. Statewide and presidential elections bring in a ton of voters who aren't paying attention to city issues and are likely to vote for the council candidate with the most expensive publicity -- at least that's the idea. Without a party label on the ballot, voters would have fewer clues to remind them for whom they intended to vote; this too would make voters more likely to vote for the candidates with the biggest budget.

The non-partisan proposal also created a system of three elections -- a primary in September, a runoff on some unspecified date (if no two candidates received a combined 50% of the vote in the primary), and a general election in November between the top two candidates remaining either from the primary or run-off primary. (I explained the process in detail here, although the method approved in 2011 had already been tweaked by the time the 2013 election rolled around.)

2013-present: A further amendment to Article VI, approved in June 2012, eliminated the language that set September as the primary election date, so that the city primary, runoff, and general election would be held on the same dates as the corresponding state elections, and it moved the city filing period from July to April in an attempt to match the state filing period (a claim made by the ballot title). But the language of the amendment set the filing period as the second Monday to the following Wednesday; meanwhile the state, in 2011, had changed its filing period to the second Wednesday to the following Friday. In most years, the city filing period would come first, with a day's overlap with the state filing period, but in years when April begins on Tuesday or Wednesday, the state filing period would be at the end of the first full week in April and the city filing period would be at the beginning of the following week.

In 2013, Bill Christiansen and two other candidates were eliminated in the June primary, there was no August runoff, and Dewey Bartlett Jr and Kathy Taylor were on the ballot in November. In 2016, there were only two well-financed candidates, and Tweedledum IV managed to defeat incumbent Tweedledee Jr and receive more than 50% of the vote in June, winning the election then and leaving a five month lame-duck period before the Mayor-elect would take office.

Proposition 4 on the November 2017 city special election ballot would revert to a two-tier non-partisan election system, with a general election on the same date as the August statewide/federal partisan runoff, and a runoff election, if necessary, on the same date as the November statewide/federal general election.

The third of the seven charter change propositions on the City of Tulsa November 14, 2017, ballot would permit councilors to approve resolutions with an emergency clause for immediate effect. A yes vote on Proposition No. 3 would modify Article II (City Council), Section 10 (Effective Date of Ordinances and Resolutions). The mark-up below shows the how the text would change if Proposition No. 3 is approved, with added text underlined, and deleted text stricken.

SECTION 10. EFFECTIVE DATE OF ORDINANCES AND RESOLUTIONS.

Ordinances adopting budgets, making appropriations, pertaining to local improvements and assessments, or and any ordinance or resolution adopted as an emergency measure shall take effect at the time stated therein. All other ordinances and resolutions shall take effect at the time stated therein, but not less than thirty (30) days from the date of first publication. Ordinances adopted by vote of the electors shall take effect at the time stated therein or, if no time be stated, thirty (30) days after the election. An ordinance or resolution adopted as an emergency measure to provide for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, welfare, or safety shall describe the emergency in a separate section. The vote of at least two-thirds ( 2/3 ) of the entire membership of the Council shall be required to adopt any ordinance or resolution as an emergency measure.

Here is a link to the current text of Tulsa City Charter Article II, Section 10.

The ballot title reads:

Shall the City Charter of the City of Tulsa, Article II, Section 10, 'Effective Date of Ordinances and Resolutions', be amended to clarify that the City of Tulsa may adopt resolutions as emergency measures, and state the effective time thereof, in the same manner as it does ordinances?

Once again, I would love to link you to video of the debate on this proposition, but there was no discussion at all when the Council voted to put this proposition on the ballot, and video from the June 21, 2017, Urban and Economic Development committee meeting is not available on the TGOVONLINE.com, which provides (or used to provide) on-demand access to recordings of official city meetings. The minutes for that meeting indicate only that Senior Assistant City Attorney Bob Edmiston spoke and that the proposition would move forward.

Whoever drafted this amendment doesn't seem to understand the difference between AND and OR in describing sets. The current language of the section lists four different classes of ordinances which go into effect at the stated time, without a minimum 30-day delay. An ordinance which falls into any of those four classes avoids the waiting period. The new language changes the "or" to an "and": An ordinance would have to adopt a budget AND appropriate funds AND pertain to local improvements and assessments AND contain an emergency clause in order to go into immediate effect. I don't believe this was the intent. Breaking that first sentence into two would have made it easier to express the intended logic clearly. "Ordinances adopting budgets, making appropriations, or pertaining to local improvements and assessments shall take effect at the time stated therein. Any ordinance or resolution adopted as an emergency measure shall take effect at the time stated therein." Or if you must lump it into one sentence: "Ordinances adopting budgets, making appropriations, or pertaining to local improvements and assessments, or any ordinance or resolution adopted as an emergency measure shall take effect at the time stated therein."

This is clearly intended to be a housekeeping amendment, whose intent is already present in the later sentences of the same section, but a housekeeping amendment should not leave a bigger mess than it purports to tidy. I'll vote NO on Proposition 3 and hope that the City Council will check with a homeschooled eighth-grader about Boolean algebra and logical expressions before they try again.

The second of the seven charter change propositions on the City of Tulsa November 14, 2017, ballot would permit City Councilors to be notified of special meetings electronically. A yes vote on Proposition No. 2 would modify Article II (City Council), Section 3.1 (Meetings). The mark-up below shows the how the text would change if Proposition No. 2 is approved, with added text underlined. If this proposition is approved, no text would be deleted.

SECTION 3.1. MEETINGS.

The Council shall meet regularly at such times and places as the Council shall fix by ordinance; provided, that the Council shall hold not less than two (2) regular meetings each month at the City Hall. The Mayor, the Chairman of the Council, or one-third (1/3) of the members of the Council may call special meetings of the Council upon written notice electronically transmitted to each member of the Council or served personally on or left at the usual place of residence of each member of the Council, at least twenty-four (24) hours prior to such meeting and upon such further notice as is required by the laws of Oklahoma. The notice shall state the date, time and place of the meeting and the subjects to be considered. No subjects other than those stated in the notice shall be considered at the special meeting.

Here is a link to the current text of Tulsa City Charter Article I, Section 3.

The ballot title reads:

Shall the City Charter of the City of Tulsa, Article II, Section 3.1, 'Meetings', be amended to allow the required notice of special meetings of the City Council to be delivered to Councilors electronically?

Public notice of special meetings is under the State of Oklahoma's Open Meetings statute.

Once again, I would love to link you to video of the debate on this proposition, but there was no discussion at all when the Council voted to put this proposition on the ballot, and video from the June 21, 2017, Urban and Economic Development committee meeting is not available on the TGOVONLINE.com, which provides (or used to provide) on-demand access to recordings of official city meetings. The minutes for that meeting indicate only that Senior Assistant City Attorney Bob Edmiston spoke and that the proposition would move forward.

I would hope for some more specific language in city ordinance defining what constitutes "electronically transmitted." Text message? Facebook message with "seen" notification. E-mail with delivery acknowledgement? I've seen critical messages I've sent fail to reach some of the recipients or get stuck in a spam trap. I've known of the same thing happening with messages sent to me. But that level of specificity isn't needed in the City Charter. I'm inclined to vote YES on Proposition 2.

The first of the seven charter change propositions on the City of Tulsa November 14, 2017, ballot has to do with abatement of nuisances, specifically with repeat offenders. A yes vote on Proposition No. 1 would modify Article I (Corporate Powers), Section 3 (General Grant of Power), Paragraph O. The mark-up below shows the how the text would change if Proposition No. 1 is approved, with added text underlined. If this proposition is approved, no text would be deleted.

SECTION 3. GENERAL GRANT OF POWER.

Subject only to such limitations imposed by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America, by the Constitution and such laws of Oklahoma binding upon cities adopting charters for their own government under the authority granted by Article XVIII, section 3, of the Constitution of Oklahoma, and by the provisions of this amended Charter, the City of Tulsa shall have the power:

O. To abate nuisances of any kind, and summarily to abate any nuisance re-occurring on the same property under the same ownership, within twenty-four (24) months of previous nuisance abatement on that property, and to assess the expense thereof as a special tax against the land upon which the nuisance is located; and

Here is a link to the current text of Tulsa City Charter Article I, Section 3.

The ballot title reads:

Shall the City Charter of the City of Tulsa, Article I, Section 3, 'General Grant of Power', Paragraph 'O' be amended to clarify that the City of Tulsa may summarily abate a nuisance re-occurring on the same property under the same ownership within twenty-four (24) months of a previous nuisance abatement on that property?

The abatement process is described in Title 24 (Nuisances) of Tulsa Revised Ordinances. A nuisance can involve anything from high weeds to junk vehicles to meth labs to public indecency to illegal gambling to wild animals. City inspectors notify the owner that a nuisance exists, the owner has a set period to correct the problem himself, at which point the city can take care of the problem (e.g., mowing an overgrown lot, bulldozing an abandoned building) and impose the cost of abatement on the property owner as a tax. There is a process of notice, hearing, and appeal, but if there is a second violation within two years of the previous nuisance, the city can clean up the nuisance without notifying the owner, a summary abatement. This also resets the 24-month clock for further summary abatements.

That this on the ballot indicates that there is some question whether the existing ordinance calling for summary abatement for repeat offenses is permitted under the language of the charter, which mentions abatement, but not summary abatement. I would love to link you to video of the debate on this proposition, but there was no discussion at all when the Council voted to put this proposition on the ballot, and video from the June 21, 2017, Urban and Economic Development committee meeting is not available on the TGOVONLINE.com, which provides (or used to provide) on-demand access to recordings of official city meetings. The minutes for that meeting indicate only that Senior Assistant City Attorney Bob Edmiston spoke and that the proposition would move forward.

While I can see the potential for abuse of summary abatement, I can also see the need. Given that this procedure is already in place, and that this proposition clarifies that it is permitted under the City Charter, this appears to be a housekeeping amendment, and I am inclined to vote YES.

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It may come as some surprise to you that the City of Tulsa is holding a special election four weeks from today, Tuesday, November 14, 2017. There won't be any names on the ballot, nor any taxes or general obligation bonds. The ballot will consist of seven proposed amendments to the City Charter which were approved by the City Council over the course of the summer.

While the required public notices have been issued, and the proposals received some attention by news outlets, the official city websites seem to be ignoring the election. As of this writing, the election does not appear in the Calendar of Events on the official City Of Tulsa homepage:

CityOfTulsa-homepage-20171017-1750.png

Nor is there any mention of the election on the Tulsa City Council homepage, current news page, or archived news page (click to view screenshots of each), or on the official
Twitter accounts of the City of Tulsa or the Tulsa City Council.

1. Summary nuisance abatement
2. Electronic notice of Special Meeting
3. City resolutions with Emergency Clause
4. City elections to be moved to August
5. Change in membership of Election District Commission
6. Permit political activities by civil service employees and sworn public safety officers
7. Attempt to constrain funds generated by public safety tax

(UPDATE: As a supplement to my commentary on Prop 4, I have written a timeline of the ridiculous number of changes Tulsa has made to its election process. Five changes were made in the six-year period between 2006 and 2012.)

For the fourth or fifth time in the last 10 years (I've lost count), we will be voting on tinkering with election dates. Two other proposals would have an impact on elections -- the composition of the Election District Commission and allowing city employees under civil service protection to participate in political activity.

An election resolution for the first five of the proposed amendments was approved by the City Council on July 12, 2017, and approved by Mayor G. T. Bynum IV on July 17, 2017. Resolutions sending the sixth and seventh proposed amendments to the voters were approved on August 16, 2017.

Here is the sample ballot for the City of Tulsa November 14, 2017, special election.

Because the City Council chose to put these items on the ballot at a time when no state elections are being held, City of Tulsa taxpayers will bear the cost of opening nearly 200 polling places. According to 26 O. S. 13-311, these expenses include, but are not limited to "compensation for members of each precinct election board, per diem and mileage for the chairman and vice chairman of the county election board, the cost of supplies and ballots and the rental of polling places."

Over the next week or so, I will analyze each proposal in detail -- show precisely what charter language is being changed, report, based on City Council minutes and meeting videos, on who proposed it and their rationale, report on objections raised by councilors, city staffers, and others, and give you my analysis and conclusions about each amendment.

UPDATED to add links to later entries discussing the individual propositions. On 2017/11/09, I changed the description of Proposition No. 7 from "Lockbox for funds generated by public safety tax" to "Attempt to constrain funds generated by public safety tax," which is a more accurate description.

Today, February 14, 2017, is the day that Oklahoma voters choose school board members and vote on school bond issues. Polls are open at the usual locations from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.

Four K-12 school board seats will be on the ballot, two of them in the Tulsa school district and one each in Union and Collinsville. Skiatook, Union, and Jenks districts have school bond issues. Two Tulsa Technology Center board seats are up for election as well. Owasso and Sand Springs each have a City Council seat before the voters.

TPS and TTC board seats are only for voters in the specific election district. In the other school districts, the member comes from a particular part of the district, but all voters in the district are eligible to vote.

I've provided a rough description of each district below, but check the maps for exact information. Where I could find a website or social media profile, I've linked them below. Party ID is based on voter registration data from March 2016, the most recent I have on hand.

Map of Tulsa Public Schools board member districts
Map of Tulsa Technology Center board member districts
Map of school district boundaries in and near Tulsa County

Tulsa Public Schools, Office No. 2: I-244 to Pine, from Detroit to Memorial; plus I-244 to 11th Street, from the IDL to Yale, plus Pine to Apache, from Osage County Line to Lewis. Rogers and Washington high schools fall within this zone.

Incumbent (and former County Commissioner) Wilbert Collins is on the ballot, but he has withdrawn from the race because of illness. Phil Armstrong (D) and Amy Shelton (I) have been actively campaigning for the seat. Vote411 has questionnaire responses from both candidates. Both candidates expressed hostility to school choice.

Tulsa Public Schools, Office No. 3: Everything north of I-244, except for the portion that falls in District 2.

Incumbent Lana Turner is opposed by Jennettie P. Marshall (D). Here is video of Turner speaking at the "Exploring Equity community conversation" last week. Whitney Cole also filed but is not actively campaigning.

The Oklahoma Eagle has endorsed Armstrong for Office 2 and Marshall for Office 3.

Union Public Schools, Office No. 2:

Patrick Coyle (R), the incumbent, is opposed by Lisa Ford (R) and Glenda K. Puett (D). Ford and Coyle both responded to the Vote 411 questionnaire. Coyle expressed hostility to school choice, while Ford seemed to think the question concerned students transferring into Union from other districts.

Tulsa Technology Center: Office No. 1 (seven-year term): City of Tulsa north of 21st and west of Yale, including Gilcrease Hills, plus Turley.

There is no incumbent. This election is for a full term. The candidates are Keenan H. Meadors (D), Melanie Sweeney McIntosh, and Ray A. Owens (D).

Tulsa Technology Center: Office No. 5 (unexpired term): Tulsa County north of 86th St. N., plus all of Owasso; Tulsa County west of the City of Tulsa, plus the sections of the TTC district in Creek, Pawnee, and Osage Counties (except Gilcrease Hills).

Danny Hancock (R) and Roy D. McClain are running for this unexpired term. The Vote411 voter guide has a candidate questionnaire, but Hancock was the only candidate to respond.

Owasso City Council, Ward 3:

Incumbent Bill Bush, who appears to be backed by city government insiders, is opposed by JC Prince and Randy Cowling. Prince has the support of the Owasso Taxpayers Alliance.

Sand Springs City Council, Ward 4:

The candidates are former State Senator Nancy Riley and Christine Hamner. Riley gained notoriety by switching from Republican to Democrat after her unsuccessful 2006 run for Lt. Governor, resulting in the State Senate being evenly split between Republicans and Democrats during the 51st Legislature.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries in the Tulsa Election 2017 category.

Tulsa Election 2016 is the previous category.

Tulsa History is the next category.

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