Tulsa City Hall Category

The Oklahoma Supreme Court voted unanimously today to allow Tulsa residents to move forward with a lawsuit against the City of Tulsa and the Tulsa Public Facilities Authority over the proposed sale of part of Helmerich Park to a private developer. Here is a statement from Save Helmerich Park, the citizen group opposing the sale of park land:

The Oklahoma Supreme Court today denied the City of Tulsa's and the Tulsa Public Facility Authority's request for the Court to assume original jurisdiction in the pending lawsuit to stop the sale of land in Helmerich Park to a private developer.

The Court's decision was unanimous. The City of Tulsa and the Tulsa Public Facilities Authority (TPFA) had escalated their efforts to bar Tulsa citizens' access to the Courthouse contrary to Article II, § 6 of the Oklahoma Constitution which provides: "The courts of justice of the State shall be open to every person, and speedy and certain remedy afforded for every wrong and for every injury to person, property, or reputation; and right and justice shall be administered without sale, denial, delay, or prejudice."

By filing a Writ of Prohibition with the Oklahoma State Supreme Court, the City and the TPFA directly challenged Tulsa District Court Judge Jefferson D. Sellers' decision to deny a motion to dismiss the suit filed by Tulsan Craig Immel on August 11, 2015, which was amended and joined by four other Tulsans in January 2016.

For a year and a half, attorneys for the City and the TPFA agreed that Tulsa County District Court was the proper place to hear this controversy and agreed the plaintiffs were proper parties to bring the lawsuit to prevent the sale of land in Helmerich Park. But at the eleventh hour - apparently anticipating a loss in District Court - the Mayor and the TPFA directed their attorneys to reverse course and sought to prevent Tulsa citizens and taxpayers from having a say in the proposed sale of publicly-owned parkland and the potential misappropriation of city tax dollars.

The plaintiffs are resolute in their position, presented a vigorous written and oral response to the City's attempt to deny citizens and taxpayers access to the court system.

The lawsuit now returns to the jurisdiction of District Court Judge Jefferson Sellers for trial.
Speaking on behalf of the plaintiffs, former Tulsa Mayor Terry Young expressed pleasure with the decision.

"We're prepared to fight this in District Court and we believe we have the winning arguments," Young said.

Young added, "It's time for the Dallas-based developer - UCR - to withdraw from the sale contract and go home."

There are those who worry about the influence of the wealthy on federal politics but are quite blasé about the influence of the wealthy on local politics.

That slobbery, smooching sound you heard Saturday was Wayne Greene's column in the Saturday, December 31, 2016, Tulsa World, telling all of us we should accept with thanks and praise every perfect gift that comes from Our Kaiser Above.

The specific occasion is the news that a north Tulsa property owner has refused to sell his dream home and the acreage it sits on to the George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF), land that GKFF wants for an industrial park.

The triangle of land between 36th Street North, Mohawk Blvd, Peoria and Lewis Avenues is largely undeveloped. Dirty Butter Creek and its tributaries converge here, making it susceptible to flooding, which may explain why it was passed over by developers during Tulsa's period of northward suburban expansion in the 1950s.

This inexpensive land afforded some families the possibility of building their dream home, surrounded by woods, but close to the conveniences of the city. Along the north side of Mohawk Blvd, far from the creeks, several attractive, large homes were built on small acreages. All but one of these have now been acquired and removed; one remains, owned by Charles and Rebecca Williams, and they have refused to take an offer that is twice the assessor's estimate of their property's value.

The Tulsa World published a story about the Williamses early last week. A few mildly negative comments about Kaiser on that article prompted Greene's column.

It's ironic that whoever headlined Greene's column used the term "local hero" to refer to George Kaiser. There's a movie called Local Hero, one of my all-time favorites, set in a little seaside village in Scotland. The hero of the title is the one property owner who refuses to sell to an American billionaire for a massive industrial project.

Let's examine a few of the things Greene says in his column:

The city's $10 million infrastructure participation in the project was thoroughly debated during the Vision tax extension process. It had the support of the municipal political leadership for the area at the time and was approved by the City Council. Subsequently, voters signed off on the Vision package, including the industrial park.

I suspect the only topic of debate was "will this project get more votes for the dams?" As I wrote back before the vote, the suspiciously round numbers allocated for many of the projects suggest that no serious effort was made to estimate the actual cost for the proposed projects. "If I were a cynic, I might believe that the City Council had no interest in whether these projects were feasible or appropriately budgeted. I might believe, were I a cynic, that these items were included just to get a few more hundred voters to the polls in the mood to vote yes on everything." What exactly was $10 million supposed to cover? It looks like a payola project -- not a serious effort to fund a well-defined project.

The "municipal political leadership for the area at the time" appears to refer to City Councilor Jack Henderson. Northside community leaders complained that the priorities expressed by residents were ignored by Henderson and the council in favor of their own pet projects. Projects associated with a long-term neighborhood planning effort for the 36th Street North corridor were left on the cutting-room floor. Henderson lost his bid for re-election this November to one of the leading critics of his choice of projects.

As to how thoroughly it was debated: Going back through news coverage prior to the election, I find nothing that specified where the proposed industrial park would be located, nothing more specific than "North Peoria." It appears that it was only after the vote took place that the specific location, which isn't even adjacent to Peoria Ave., was identified.

In hindsight, it appears that the reason the 36th Street North small area plan was ignored in Vision Tulsa is because it conflicted with GKFF's intentions and two years of behind-the-scenes land acquisition. Neighborhood stakeholders, working with city planners, identified the undeveloped land between Dirty Butter Creek, Mohawk, and 36th Street North as ripe for new single-family residential development, not as the site for a major industrial facility. Was there anyone on the City Council or in the Mayor's office who would champion the wishes of local residents over the plans of a billionaire's foundation? There used to be. Now we have a mayor who used to be a lobbyist for the billionaire's foundation.

Greene mistakenly believes the new Macy's distribution center will be in Owasso:

Eventually, the project is envisioned to be the home to 1,000 quality jobs, which could be the beginning of the economic turnaround north Tulsa has wanted for years. Want to know why the Macy's distribution center ended up in Owasso and not Tulsa? Owasso had a site that was ready to go. Tulsa didn't.

While it's true that the Macy's center site is near Owasso, and the land used to be owned by an entity called the Owasso Land Trust (despite the name, a commercial entity, not governmental), the site is actually within the City of Tulsa's municipal fence line -- unincorporated land that Tulsa could annex but which is protected against annexation by Owasso or any other city or town. (Presumably Tulsa does not annex this property or other nearby facilities in the Cherokee Industrial Park because it's more attractive to businesses if they don't have to pay city sales tax, use tax, or property tax and if they don't have to put up with city regulations.)

A bit further on in the column, Greene praises the many donations GKFF has made to keep local non-profits running. He continues:

Of course, that hardly scratches the surface of the efforts of the Kaiser foundation to improve Tulsa. From the city's national model early childhood education program to the game-changing A Gathering Place for Tulsa under construction along Riverside Drive, almost all of the good things going on in our community have the leadership (and funding) of the Kaiser foundation.

Whatever you may think of the two specific items mentioned in this paragraph, that last line goes way over the top in its praise of GKFF, or else it reveals Greene's tunnel vision, limiting civic life to a handful of big, highly publicized projects. I could list dozens of job-creating companies, innovative entrepreneurs, charitable and educational initiatives, none of which have anything to do with Kaiser or his foundation.

As to those two examples: Research has failed to show a positive impact on learning outcomes for all the massive public and private investment in putting what we used to call preschool-aged children into classrooms. Making it more affordable for one parent to stay home, parents being married and staying married, connection with a faith community all do more to help children learn and grow. The Gathering Place looks like it will be a lovely park, but hardly "game-changing." GKFF is putting another park in walking distance of a number of other lovely parks and some of Tulsa's wealthiest neighborhoods, while working-class neighborhoods often lack parks, shopping, or any other outdoor space where neighbors might gather. North Tulsa has been particularly hard hit with the removal of recreation centers and swimming pools in recent years.

Greene confesses to having a small flowering plant related to the pea and legume families with GKFF:

You can complain about whatever your particular vetch is with the Kaiser foundation. Personally, I wish the Gathering Place project would get done faster. I miss running along the river and when I drive south the Peoria Avenue detour taunts me with the memories of Riverside Drive.

But that doesn't prevent me from recognizing that my relatively minor inconveniences and the hundreds of millions of dollars marshaled by the Kaiser foundation are going to one day give Tulsa one of the most magnificent community parks in the world, the sort of thing that could help propel Tulsa socially and economically.

I think he means "kvetch," a Yiddish word that can either be a verb (to complain) or a noun (a persistent complainer). One dictionary says it can be used to mean "complaint," but I've never come across that.

The notion that a park, however magnificent, could "propel Tulsa socially and economically" again reveals that Greene's view of civic life is far too narrow.

Greene's little complaint ought to stir a doubt in his mind: How is it that a private organization is granted permission to shut down major public thoroughfares for two years? Even public construction projects are rarely permitted to shutdown a road completely. Ordinarily, public need and convenience would be balanced against the presumed cost and schedule savings of a total shutdown.

That GKFF was able to get a two-year total shutdown of Riverside Drive and the Midland Valley Trail without a murmur of protest from city officials ought to frighten Greene. We can be appreciative of a billionaire's generosity, but we need city officials and the media to remain on guard, to scrutinize his plans and his actions, particularly as they interact with public infrastructure and public policy.

There are strong incentives for city officials and columnists to be good yacht guests, fending off criticisms and keeping their own qualms to themselves. They might want GKFF's support for their own pet projects. They might hope someday to work for a GKFF-funded organization or might have a relative who works for one. The elected officials don't want Kaiser and affiliated donors and PACs to fund an opponent in the next election.

Wouldn't it be lovely if Tulsa had leaders willing to defend plans developed by their fellow citizens against changes pushed by billionaires? We did, about 10 years ago, but they've all been run off and replaced with rubber stamps. I won't hold my breath waiting for things to change.

MORE: There's an interesting pattern in the sales records for the parcels that are proposed to become an industrial park. Nearly all of the parcels I checked were first acquired by Mapleview Acquisitions I LLC, whose registered agent is former Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission chairman Joseph M. Westervelt. Many of the properties were then conveyed to NP36 LLC (registered agent Frederic Dorwart) in a multi-parcel transaction on December 8, 2016, although some parcels appear to be owned still by Mapleview Acquisitions I LLC, according to records on the county assessor's website. Westervelt is notable for his efforts to frustrate and undermine implementation of the Pearl District small-area plan; makes sense that he'd be involved in a development that undermines the 36th Street North small-area plan.

Newly sworn-in Tulsa Mayor G. T. Bynum IV has appointed outgoing mayor Dewey F. Bartlett Jr. to the City of Tulsa-Rogers County Port Authority.

The Tulsa World published a list of 52 appointments by Bynum IV to authorities, boards, and commissions. By my quick count, 23 are reappointments to the same position on the same board. The "new" appointments include the familiar names of frequent appointees to boards and commissions and City Hall insiders. A few examples: Longtime trash board member Cheryl Cohenour to the Greater Tulsa Indian Affairs Commission, former Metropolitan Environmental Trust chief Michael Patton to the trash board, Bama Pie chairman Paula Marshall to the Port Authority, school board member Lana Turner-Addison to the Sales Tax Overview Committee, former State Rep. Darrell Gilbert to the Ethics Advisory Commission.

Some reappointments hint at the likely direction of the Bynum administration -- namely no change in direction. Bynum has reappointed Toby Jenkins, head of Oklahomans for Forcing Other Oklahomans to Pretend There's No Difference Between Natural Marriage and Gay "Marriage," to the Human Rights Commission. Both appointments to the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission are reappointments, so if you bet that Bynum would take a fresh approach to development and land use, you just lost your bet. Ditto for the two reappointments to the Tulsa Development [Urban Renewal] Authority.

I see no reason to stop referring to the new mayor and the old mayor as Tweedledee IV and Tweedledum Jr. Politicians used to promise a chicken in every pot. Under Mayor Bynum IV, we'll have water in the river and a perverted man in every ladies' locker room. Prosperity is just around the corner!

The City Council and the Mayor didn't need to put Vision Tulsa on a special April ballot. The Vision 2025 tax doesn't expire until December 31. They had plenty of time to perform due diligence, get solid estimates, consider consequences and hidden costs, but they wanted it on a low-turnout election date, and it was all about getting approval for the dams.

Now we're learning about some of those hidden costs and our dear sweet city councilors are expressing regrets. Jarrel Wade reports in the Tulsa World:

City officials gave city councilors details Thursday on millions of dollars the city eventually will need to support the hiring of additional police officers and firefighters with Vision Tulsa money.

Adding more than 160 police officers and 65 firefighters to the public-safety ranks will require direct support from other city departments, including information technology, human resources, asset management and medical.

IT Department costs alone for the technology involved in policing will run about $645,000 per year, city officials estimated.

All told, the estimated cost of supporting the additional staff eventually will reach almost $2 million per year that wasn't specifically added to Vision Tulsa's public safety permanent tax.

But it's OK, because we won't hire all those officers overnight, so it'll be a while before those support costs will be realized.

Paying for it out of the tax proceeds would mean less money to hire police officers and firefighters. But finding the money in the city's general fund would mean more burden on already restricted funding for other departments -- a burden that the public-safety tax was designed to alleviate.

But it's OK because the councilors are really, really sorry they rushed this to a ballot before analyzing the costs.

[Councilor Phil] Lakin and Councilor Anna America said they regret that the support costs of the public-safety tax weren't specifically built into the package.

"We should have thought through better, earlier, and said, 'Hey, let's make sure we accommodate this,' " America said, saying Thursday's report is a lesson for future packages.

"No funding package should go through without this kind of analysis happening first and making sure that we accommodate that in the funding package."

I believe I said something like that, very early in the process:

Not only is the proposed package far from a cohesive vision, but the Basis of Estimate (BoE) -- the details that justify the amount budgeted -- for each item is dreadfully inadequate. There's reason to believe that the estimates are way off, which means that some ideas that could be funded won't be, and other ideas will be promised (like the low-water dams in Vision 2025, or the juvenile justice facililty in Four to Fix the County) and attract votes, but won't have any possibility of being built without going back to the voters for more money....

The better path would be for the Council to whittle down the list and propose a shorter-term (five years, max), pay-as-you-go (no "advanced funding" line item for interest and bond fees) sales tax that funded only those items that were of general public benefit and had been thoroughly vetted for feasibility and an accurate estimate of cost.

Dear Councilors Lakin and America: Be grown-ups, take responsibility for your failure to do your job, and resign.

Save Helmerich Park posted the following comment from R. Dobie Langenkamp, former Director of the National Energy Law and Policy Institute and Chapman Distinguished Professor of Energy Law at the University of Tulsa Law School, about the business flaws of the Tulsa Public Facilities Authority effort (with Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr's enthusiastic approval) to sell 9 acres of Helmerich Park for a commercial development, reciting some of the history of the property and analyzing the price against the market value of land near major intersections. Even if you don't have a problem with selling off riverfront parkland, you ought to have a problem with the city selling a valuable piece of property at a major intersection without competitive bidding.

Dear Friends of Helmerich Park.

Craig Immel, Terry Young, Herb Beattie, and Greg Bledsoe have spelled out the legal and policy flaws regarding the Helmerich Park decision. Let's look at the deal from a business standpoint. Do so and you will agree with me that it is absurd if not suspect.

The entire 60-plus acres was mortgaged over 30 years ago to the First National Bank for $12.5 million. Surely its appraisal at that time substantially exceeded that amount. The Bank foreclosed on it and Walt Helmerich arranged for the purchase for the City from the bank (he was a member of the board) for $4.5 million. He raised $2.5 million from public spirited friends (Who attended a breakfast at the Tulsa Club for $800 each) and Roger Randle as Mayor came up with the remaining $2.5 million announcing that the land would be used for a park to be exceeded in size only by Mohawk.

The developer - possibly using REI as a bait and switch - has proposed to buy the key nine (9) acres - the "cream" as it were - for $895,000 ($1.465 million less a $570,000 credit to the developer in return for on-site infrastructure improvements). This amounts to less than $2.50 per square foot. Ask any of your realty friends what a corner on two major thoroughfares is worth these days. The numbers I get are from $10 and up. The entire 60-acre parcel was worth about $5.00 a foot when the First National Bank took the $12.5 million mortgage on it 30 years ago. This corner lot should be appraised before further action. such an appraisal would indicate a value of 5 million or more (400,000 sq ft x $10).

This option to the developer was given for virtually nothing ($5,000, refundable consideration) and has just been extended until August for exercise without additional consideration.

Initially, Tulsa was told the parcel sought would be for REI alone - after Clay Bird has finished his no competition sweetheart deal - it was for a full 9 acres for an entire shopping center not specifically requiring the involvement of REI.

Why are Dewey and Clay Bird giving this park parcel away without an appraisal or a public bidding procedure?

Why is Dewey hell bent on seeing that this particular Dallas developer gets this park property for a song?

Grand Juries have been impaneled for less.

R. Dobie Langenkamp

Save Helmerich Park adds this note: "The former Luby's parcel diagonally across the intersection from this corner of Helmerich Park - 2.48 acres/108,217 square feet - has a 2016 value of $3.695 million. If my math is correct, that is over $34.00 per square foot."

Remember, Mayor Bartlett Jr supports this deal, and not one member of the City Council opposed changing the comprehensive plan to facilitate the deal. (G. T. Bynum IV recused himself.) If this bugs you, as it should, you have until 5 p.m. Wednesday to file to run against these mis-representatives.

If you take time to read the Vision Tulsa ballot resolutions and ordinances that define the new city sales tax rate and control how the new city sales taxes will be spent, the barrage of changing tax rates and effective dates may make your head swim. That's why I put together an infographic to help me visualize those changes. This infographic revealed a trap, a hidden tax hike that Dewey Bartlett Jr., G. T. Bynum IV, and the rest of the City Council hope you overlook.

Proponents claim that Vision Tulsa won't increase the overall sales tax rate, but there's a hidden trap in Proposition 3 that will force voters in 2021 to accept a hike in the overall tax rate in order to continue the longstanding "Third Penny" for streets and other basic infrastructure.

This chart shows the current allocation of City of Tulsa and Tulsa County sales taxes, with the proposed changes on the April 5, 2016, ballot highlighted with a heavy black boundary. Blue regions are permanent taxes for operations, orange regions are temporary taxes primarily for basic infrastructure capital improvements like streets and sewers, purple regions are "vision" taxes primarily for amenities and "economic development." City taxes are shown with darker shades, county taxes with lighter shades.

Tulsa_Sales_Tax-Rate_Shifts-Timeline.png

Tulsa County's "Vision 2025" 0.6% sales tax expires at the end of 2016. The City of Tulsa is proposing a combination of temporary and permanent taxes that begins at 0.55% for 4½ years, climbs to 1.15% for 4 years, shrinks back to 0.65% for 6½ years, and then leaves a permanent increase of 0.345%. Tulsa County is proposing a 0.05% increase for 15 years.

Starting in 1980, Tulsa citizens have approved a series of temporary sales taxes, earmarked for streets, reservoirs, sewers, stormwater system, and other fundamental city infrastructure. Because the original tax was an additional 1% levied on top of the 2% sales tax for the city's general fund, it became known as the "Third Penny."

The current "Third Penny" is 1.1% and it expires on June 30, 2021. If Vision Tulsa passes, it will grab a half-penny from that expiring "Third Penny" and put it toward Proposition 3, which includes building two new low-water dams in the Arkansas River. Another 0.1% from the expiring tax will go to increasing the permanent tax for public safety operational costs. That leaves only a ½ penny for a new streets package.

That four-year bulge in the Vision Tulsa tax amounts to $160 million that won't be going to rebuild our crumbling streets. Instead, that's just about what it will cost to build two new dams in the river.

If we VOTE NO on APRIL 5, the Council can eliminate the dams and a couple of other wasteful projects, and thus eliminate that four-year, ½-penny bulge in the Vision Tulsa tax, before sending it back to us for another vote. That would leave room for our traditional "Third Penny" for streets and basic infrastructure to be extended as usual in 2021 without an overall tax increase. To make that happen, we have to VOTE NO ON APRIL 5.

MORE:

Here is a PRINTABLE VERSION of the Tulsa sales tax timeline that you can download and hand out to your friends.

Infographic and text Copyright 2016 by Michael D. Bates. Limited license granted to opponents of Vision Tulsa to copy and distribute without alteration prior to April 6, 2016.

Tulsa County Republicans will meet in precinct caucuses tonight, Thursday, February 4, 2016, at 6:30 p.m. the first step in the quadrennial process to elect delegates to the Republican National Convention and members of the Republican National Committee, and to determine the party platform.

Groups of Tulsa County precincts will meet at 19 central locations spread around the county. The gathered precincts will go through the preliminaries as a group, then break up into individual precinct caucuses to elect delegates to the March 5, 2016, County Convention (who will in turn choose delegates to Congressional District Convention in April and the May 14, 2016, State Convention) and to vote on resolutions to be forwarded to the county and state conventions for inclusion in the platform. A presidential preference straw poll will be taken -- exactly like the Iowa caucus, non-binding, but a chance to gauge the sentiments of Republican activists less than a month before we make our binding choice in the March 1 primary. The tulsagop.org website has the list of caucus locations and answers to frequently-asked questions about the process.

These central meeting locations were developed as a convenience for precinct officials and delegates. Some precinct chairmen may prefer not to host strangers in their home, and some delegates may feel more at ease in meeting people they don't know in a public place rather than someone's home. Some precincts have no officials currently, and a central meeting place gives interested newcomers a place to go and get things restarted. The central locations also provide an opportunity to meet fellow activists from nearby neighborhoods in a less crowded environment than the county convention.

Over the last couple of years central locations were organized by State House district, but this year, they were grouped more geographically and precinct chairmen were given a choice of locations. At least one precinct has opted out of the central-meeting approach and will meet within the boundaries of their precinct. Whatever the case, your precinct location should be posted on the door of your regular voting location by Thursday evening.

The precinct meeting is the launch pad of the platform process, and the timing couldn't be better for speaking out on some big current local issues. While many platform resolutions passed by the precincts deal with national issues and may percolate to the Republican National Platform, our Tulsa County platform also covers city and county resolutions. I'm hoping that every precinct passes a resolution expressing opposition to the new river sales tax proposal, which will be on the ballot in April.

With a school board election next week and a special primary for sheriff on March 1, I expect candidates will be making the rounds of the meetings. (Please be aware that, in the only contested school board seat in the county, Stan Minor is a Republican and appointed incumbent Cindy Decker is a Democrat.)

I especially want to encourage my skeptical young millennial friends to come to a precinct meeting -- preferably as a delegate, but at least as an observer. It's an often overlooked aspect of our election process, and I think that seeing it may alleviate some of your cynicism.

Back in September 2010, BatesLine first looked at Tulsa City Councilor G. T. Bynum's lobbying practice and the obvious concerns that arise when a local official is acting as a paid agent for an organization actively engaged in local political issues. I mentioned Bynum's lobbying for the George Kaiser Family Foundation again in 2011, when he appeared to be cruising toward re-election without opposition. Shortly before that year's primary, an ethics complaint was filed against Bynum mainly regarding his votes to waive competitive bidding on bond issues, resulting on bond contracts being awarded to the Bank of Oklahoma. Bynum's grandfather, former Mayor Robert J. LaFortune, served at the time on the board of BOK Financial Corporation and owned shares of stock in the corporation worth over $2 million.

Now four years later, journalist Theodore King has a story on the Okie Blaze taking a look at Bynum's current roster of lobbying clients and noting Bynum's work in 2010 lobbying in Washington on behalf of the George Kaiser Family Foundation for federal funding for low-water dams in the Arkansas River and his current advocacy on the Council for a plan to fund the dams.

King notes the silence in local media (BatesLine excepted) about Bynum's work as a lobbyist, specifically his work in the past for GKFF. While news stories occasionally identify Bynum as "managing partner at Capitol Ventures, a government relations firm" (for example, this June 17, 2015, Tulsa World story), I was only able to find one story, from September 4, 2011, in which the word lobbyist was used in reference to Bynum:

[Robert] Pinney also is critical of Bynum's lobbying work for the city of Miami, Okla.

However, the City Charter does not prohibit councilors from working as lobbyists.

Last week TRIP, a national transportation research organization, released its annual urban roads report, ranking U. S. cities by percentage of major roads and highways in poor condition and on the cost to drivers resulting from the bad roads. Tulsa and Oklahoma City ranked 17th and 16th respectively on the first measure -- in each city, 45% of the streets are in poor condition. Tulsa's cost per driver for bad roads was 4th in the nation at $928, slightly worse than OKC, in 5th at $917.

TRIP describes the basis for this additional cost measure: "Driving on roads in disrepair increases consumer costs by accelerating vehicle deterioration and depreciation, and increasing needed maintenance, fuel consumption and tire wear." The numbers come from TRIP's analysis of 2013 Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) statistics.

Only 7% of Tulsa's major road and highway miles are considered to be in good condition, 8% in fair condition, 40% mediocre, and 45% poor. The classifications correspond to ranges of numeric ratings: The International Roughness Index (IRI) and the Present Serviceability Rating (PSR). Poor means an IRI above 170 or a PSR of 2.5 or less.

Compare Tulsa's numbers to the national breakdown:

An analysis of 2013 pavement data found that 28 percent of the nation's major urban roads - Interstates, freeways and other major routes - had pavements that were in substandard (poor) condition. These are roads and highways that provide an unacceptable ride and are in need of resurfacing or more significant repairs. TRIP's analysis of federal highway data from 2013 also found that 41 percent of these major urban routes provided an acceptable ride quality and were in either mediocre or fair condition. The remaining 31 percent of major urban highways and roads were found to provide good ride quality.

Here are links to TRIP's full urban roads report and appendices.

In that report, TRIP has recommendations for improving the longevity of roads, beginning with foundations, better construction materials, and early preventive maintenance (crack sealing, overlays). It's the sort of thing Tulsa's former streets commissioner Jim Hewgley has been saying for years.

It would be interesting to trace back to the locally collected data that informed the FHWA's numbers and ultimately TRIP's analysis. I suspect that much of the mileage covered by the numbers in the Tulsa metro area is the responsibility of ODOT, rather than municipal or county authorities. ODOT seems rather fond of new construction (e.g., the Oklahoma CIty I-40 relocation, the upcoming I-35/I-240 rebuild) and not so fond of maintenance.

It has been the City of Tulsa's policy for at least 15 years to build sidewalks when rebuilding arterial streets. During the recent reconstruction of Yale Avenue between 21st and 31st Streets, utilities were moved and sidewalks were built on both sides of the street, allowing safe passage for pedestrians and those in motorized wheelchairs. Even the historic brick columns that once marked the entrance to the Lortondale farm and the Meadowbrook Country Club were demolished to make room for the sidewalks, which were built within the city's right-of-way.

Even the east side of Peoria between 21st and 31st, through the well-to-do Terwilliger Heights neighborhood near Philbrook Museum, has a sidewalk, although it twists and turns around utility poles.

My very first column for Urban Tulsa Weekly, back in September 2005, was about the value of a walkable environment to people with disabilities, as well as other Tulsans who don't drive:

For tens of thousands of our fellow Tulsans, walkability isn't about rows of trendy cafes and quirky consignment shops, or about sidewalks to nowhere; it's about independence. For them, driving simply isn't an option. I'm not talking just about those who can't afford to operate a car.

There are those who are physically unable to drive. Many senior citizens, troubled by glare at night or uncertain of their reflexes, prefer to drive only during daylight or not at all. Teenagers are old enough to get around on their own, but either can't drive yet or shouldn't. For those who can't drive, urban design makes the difference between freedom and frustrating dependence.

Danny, a friend from church, has cerebral palsy and suffers from seizures. He can't drive, and he can only walk short distances with a cane, but he can get around with his electric scooter. Unfortunately, he lives on South Lewis, and he's been pulled over by the police more than once trying to go to the supermarket on his scooter. There aren't any sidewalks, and the only way to get to the store is on the street. Using Tulsa Transit's LIFT paratransit service requires booking a day in advance, waiting outside up to an hour for a ride, and leaving early enough to pick up and drop off other passengers on the way to his destination. LIFT isn't available on Sundays. If the next errand isn't reachable from the first by foot or scooter, it means another bus ride and another long wait. Because of the shape of our city, Danny doesn't have the freedom to go where he wants to go when he wants to go, and it makes Tulsa a frustrating place to live.

So sidewalks matter to Tulsans, and it's right and smart for the city to build them in the city's right-of-way, along with rebuilding the water and sewer lines when rebuilding the streets.

Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr evidently doesn't agree with the wisdom of this long-standing policy, because he has asked the Public Works Department to delete the sidewalk along the east side of Riverside Drive from plans for rebuilding that road around The Gathering Place. Dewey Jr seems to think it would be safer for pedestrians from nearby neighborhoods to cross four lanes of high-speed traffic on Riverside Drive, walk along the River Parks trail, and then cross Riverside again.

I wish I could say I was disappointed, but I can't say that I'm surprised. At least the neighborhood will be safe from muggers on Hoverounds.

MORE: No, they can't use the Midland Valley Trail to get to the Gathering Place; it's closed for three years.

STILL MORE: Good for Public Works director Paul Zachary for refusing to remove the sidewalk from the plans. Boo to Bartlett Jr. for forcing the removal, apparently at the behest of a campaign donor who is also his oil company's landlord.

Tomorrow morning (Friday, September 19, 2014) at 8:05 am, I'll be on 1170 KFAQ with Pat Campbell to discuss "improvements" to the Arkansas River, the broad prairie stream that flows through the western and southwestern parts of the city of Tulsa. The "improvements" would involve renovating the Zink Lake dam, built in 1980, and building three new dams to fill the river to its banks, for a total cost estimated at $240 million. (UPDATE: Here's the audio of my KFAQ interview with Pat Campbell.)

Earlier this month, friends and fans paid their final respects to comedian Joan Rivers. She was a groundbreaker for women in stand-up comedy, Johnny Carson's long-time backup host on the Tonight Show and then his competitor, a survivor of personal and financial tragedy who made an impressive comeback, and a staunch supporter of Israel's right to exist.

But Joan Rivers may be best known, particularly among the younger generation, for her frequent trips to the plastic surgeon. Rivers demolished her natural beauty in pursuit of an elusive ideal and spent a fortune only to end up looking harsh, alien, and artificial.

What drives an attractive woman to undergo one expensive and risky elective surgery after another? The obvious cause is insecurity, low self-esteem. She must have been convinced that she could only be attractive if she drastically altered her appearance, and evidently no one could convince her otherwise.

JoanRivers-before-after.jpg

You could ask the same question about cities. Why would a beautiful city pursue risky and expensive plastic surgery in pursuit of artificial enhancements that ultimately fail to increase the city's charm and appeal?

Whether Hollywood star or Midwestern city, the drive for extreme surgical makeovers betrays a lack of self-confidence and a break with reality. Many a city tore down charming Victorian or Craftsman homes for brutalist public housing towers. After World War II, owners of Art Deco and Romanesque Revival commercial buildings were persuaded to cover their facades with metal cladding, in order to look "modern" and "up-to-date." Decades later, building owners are tearing off the cladding to put the unique elements of each building on view once again.

Our consumption-driven economy thrives on insecurity and discontent. An unscrupulous plastic surgeon could boost his bottom line by persuading potential patients that they're hideous without his help. Heavy construction companies, civil engineering firms, and bond advisors and attorneys can benefit financially by persuading voters that their city is too ugly to attract residents and visitors, but paying them hundreds of millions of dollars will make the city presentable -- at least until it's time for the next nine-figure tax package.

Conventional wisdom is conventional, and the conventional wisdom about the Arkansas River is that it's ugly and no one wants to be around it because it isn't filled with water from bank to bank. If we want to have development along the river, the conventional wisdom goes, we need to ensure that there's water in the river by building new low-water dams and fixing the one we already have. And we have to have development along the river if we want to attract the kinds of young hipsters that pick where they want to live and then look for a job.

We have water in the river. What seems to annoy people is that we also have sandbars and shelves of shale that are visible when the water level is low. If only we would spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build dams, we could raise the water level by a few feet and spare visitors the hideous sight of our sandbars. They they will like us and spend money here -- or so the deluded, insecure thinking goes.

But some of Tulsa's visitors really like our sandbars.

Wildlife in the river bed more interesting than a river full of water

On a frosty morning twenty-five years ago this January 21, I took my girlfriend to the Audubon Society's bald eagle watch. (Later that day I proposed to her.) At the time, we were amazed to realize that just 20 miles from downtown Tulsa you could watch our once-endangered national symbol in the wild. Earlier this year, in commemoration of that auspicious day, I took my family to the Audubon Society's bald eagle watch.

In 1989, the Audubon Society set up their eagle watch just below Keystone Dam. The eagles seemed to prefer the shallow waters below the dam to the deep and broad expanse of the lake above the dam.

In 2014, the Audubon Society set up their eagle watch in Helmerich Park, on the east bank of the river south of the 71st Street bridge. Over the years the eagles had extended their range downriver and into the City of Tulsa itself. We watched bald eagles come and go from a nest across the river on the west bank, notwithstanding the proximity of Jones Riverside Airport.

Click on the photos to enlarge.

Bald eagle nest on the west bank of the Arkansas River near 81st Street in Tulsa, January 2014

We saw bald eagles, both white-headed adults and black-headed juveniles, soar above the river and dive down in search of a meal. And we saw hundreds of white pelicans.

White pelicans on a sandbar in the Arkansas River at Tulsa, January 2014

As you can see from the photos, the pelicans preferred to roost in the shallows where the sandbars met the river or in shallow places where the sandbars were barely submerged.

Hundreds of white pelicans on a sandbar in the Arkansas River at Tulsa, January 2014

The bald eagles liked the sandbars as well. We watched one mature bald eagle eating a fish on a sandbar, not far from a rivulet that crossed the sandbar to connect two branches of the main stream.

A bald eagle perches on a sandbar, eating a fish he grabbed from the Arkansas River at Tulsa, January 2014

A bald eagle perches on a sandbar, eating a fish he grabbed from the Arkansas River at Tulsa, January 2014

A gull tried to snatch the eagle's catch.

A gull approaches a bald eagle perched on a sandbar, eating a fish he grabbed from the Arkansas River at Tulsa, January 2014

But the eagle waved him away.

Wings flapping, a bald eagle perched on a sandbar defends his catch from a gull, in the Arkansas River at Tulsa, January 2014

A little while later, the adult was replaced by a juvenile, working on the same fish on the same sandbar.

Immature bald eagle perches on a sandbar in the Arkansas River at Tulsa, with a fish caught by an adult eagle, January 2014

This was the view of the Arkansas River from Helmerich Park on January 25, 2014, looking northwest toward the 71st Street bridge and Turkey Mountain. This is boring? This is ugly?

Immature bald eagle and hundreds of white pelicans perch on a sandbar and in the shallows of the Arkansas River at Tulsa, January 2014. Looking northwest from Helmerich Park toward the 71st Street Bridge and Turkey Mountain.

But instead of the shifting patterns of water and sand and the variety of wildlife, some Tulsans are adamant that we need a flat, monotonous expanse of water from shore to shore so that we can feel pretty.

What do we think "water in the river" will do for us?

When Tulsans enthuse about the impact of water in the river on tourism and economic development, they inevitably mention San Antonio's River Walk. The San Antonio River, as it bends through downtown, is about 40 feet wide -- about the width of a two-lane street. You can easily cross from one side to the other. You can easily spot someone you know on the other side and call out and wave. The Arkansas River through Tulsa ranges about 1000 to 1600 feet wide -- twenty-five to forty times wider.

In 2006, Canadian architect Bing Thom, hired by Tulsa's Warren family, proposed a way to create the River Walk feel: Excavate much of the west bank between 11th and 21st Streets, build an island with shopping and high-rise housing near to the east bank, with a little channel about the width of the San Antonio River separating it from the east bank. Price tag to the taxpayers would have been at least $600 million. Building housing in the river's floodway was unlikely to get Corps of Engineers approval. Excavating the west bank, once the site of oil refineries, might mean dredging up toxic materials now buried and settled.

If you want a street's-width River Walk, a better bet might be to follow OKC's lead and actually replace a street with a canal. Or tame one of our larger creeks and put development alongside. Combining the two ideas, the Elm Creek Master Drainage Plan includes a canal running down the middle of 6th Street east of Peoria. Many years ago, an architect proposed exposing the lower reach of buried Elm Creek, near 18th and Boston, for a creekside promenade.

Perhaps the water-in-the-river fanatics are thinking about the pleasures of watching the sun drop into the Pacific at nightfall. You really need at least 20 miles of open water to get that effect. That would mean excavating a lot more than the River West Festival Park. We'd have to flood Red Fork and turn Lookout Mountain into an island.

Maybe it's a reflecting pool that they want, so that motorists crossing the river on I-44 can spend some of their 15 seconds on the bridge looking north to see the skyline reflected in the river, just like that Ken Johnston painting. But even in that painting the water is rippled by the wind, as tends to happen with a broad, open expanse of water.

Do they think more dams on the river will bring about more recreation on the river? It's doubtful. Zink Lake has been around for over 30 years. The ferry boats and sailboats in mid-'70s "artist's conceptions" never materialized. Silt and sand don't let the water get too deep. We haven't even seen paddle boats on Zink Lake. Some number, probably not more than 100, participate in rowing on the river. I suspect more Tulsans had been on the river during the 1970s heyday of the Great Raft Race, prior to the completion of Zink Dam, than in the years since.

For a few years, Steve Smith ran airboat tours and then occasional guided canoe trips on the Arkansas River between Zink Dam and Keystone Dam. If I recall correctly, he tended to attract more out-of-town visitors who saw his brochure in the rack in the hotel lobby than locals. His descriptions of his tours, which you can find various places around the web, emphasize the variety you can see from the river -- wildlife, shoreline, little islands. But as far as I can find, he's no longer in that business.

Oklahoma City, Austin, and Wichita all have dammed, brimful rivers, but none of them have attracted vibrant riverfront development. The excitement in those cities is to be found in walkable neighborhoods of historic buildings away from the river.

We have a beautiful river. It needs some cleanup in places. The levees may need repair -- but that's a public safety and stormwater control matter, and we shouldn't let city leaders logroll elective cosmetic surgery in the same tax issue as a necessity. Let's stop listening to the hack plastic surgeons who want us to feel insecure enough to pay them hundreds of millions of dollars to "make us pretty." Let's appreciate the God-given beauty we already possess and the wildlife that enjoys it, in its changing variety.

MORE:

The BatesLine archive of stories about the Arkansas River.

David Schuttler has some beautiful wintertime video of pelicans and herons from the stretch of the river west of Sand Springs:

John Eagleton writes to inform me that, after my appearance on KFAQ, all the "tax-and-spend hooligans" are angry with me. Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saeculi saeculorum. Amen.

Charles Hardt, former City of Tulsa Director of Public Works, opposes building dams and encouraging development along the river. He says the 100-year-flood standard isn't stringent enough when it comes to the damage a river flood can do. Hardt's training is as a hydrologist, and he led the city's massive stormwater mitigation efforts following major floods in 1984 and 1986.

"We are talking about adding more things to the river banks — and potentially in the river — that could make the flooding worse and create the potential for a lot more loss of life and more property damages," he said.

Hardt said development in and along the river can act as a "plug" that impedes the natural flow of the river —-- a flow that in times of heavy rainfall scours the river's bottom and banks to increase the river's capacity.

"You're encouraging development that is not compatible with the river's function, and that is to carry the water from upstream to downstream," he said....

Hardt's not just worried about the dams that might be built in the river. He's concerned about one that already exists --— Keystone Dam, and he would like to see a major push to study and repair Corps infrastructure projects.

"Its effectiveness and the maintenance of it and what its capabilities are needs to be well understood before we put other things downstream from it —-- other things meaning low-water dams, development along the river," Hardt said.

TW-19220515-12-TSR-LinesHeadways.png

Many of my hipster urbanist friends are very fond of food trucks. Food trucks today offer a wide variety of cuisines and a wide range of sophistication and price. The mobility of the kitchen allows the restaurant to go where the customer is. Better food can be offered for a lower price because the truck avoids some of the costs that attend a brick-and-mortar eatery. There are no restrooms to clean and stock, no dining room to manage, no tables to clear, no dishes to wash. Cashier and sous-chef duties can be handled by family members; no need to deal with the complexities of being an employer.

The owner/chef can take his skills to where the customers are, and when the customers aren't there, he can park the truck at home and pursue other work. When demand is high, he can run his truck seven days a week. When it's slow, he can shut down for a while without the ticking of the rent clock. Food-truck fans are rightly concerned to protect this innovative approach to food delivery from regulations that seek to eliminate the food truck's competitive advantages under the guise of protecting the public health.

Many of these hipster urbanists are also very concerned about funding cuts for Tulsa Transit, the regional bus service. The system is almost unusable. Every year or so, I take a trip by bus. I'm always frustrated by the long headways (period between buses on a route), long layover times, and limited hours. Only those who have more time than money choose to ride Tulsa Transit. For many, the only alternative is to pay for an expensive taxi ride on the occasions when time matters and friends aren't available to provide a ride.

The solution most frequently proposed is to implement a tax to provide the bus system with a consistent stream of revenue which can pay for more buses, more drivers, and more frequent service. The problem with that approach is that you're going to wind up with excess capacity most of the time, just to ensure that someone can catch a bus on short notice.

What's the most efficient mechanism for allocating supply to demand? The free market, as long as barriers to entry and the allocation of supply are kept to a minimum. Which reminds me of this joke from the Unix fortunes file:

On his first day as a bus driver, Maxey Eckstein handed in receipts of $65. The next day his take was $67. The third day's income was $62. But on the fourth day, Eckstein emptied no less than $283 on the desk before the cashier.

"Eckstein!" exclaimed the cashier. "This is fantastic. That route never brought in money like this! What happened?"

"Well, after three days on that cockamamie route, I figured business would never improve, so I drove over to Fourteenth Street and worked there. I tell you, that street is a gold mine!"

The absurd element that makes this funny is that everyone knows buses are supposed to follow a fixed route, even though, unlike streetcars, they could be moved to meet demand, even though they never are.

The debate over the regulation of food trucks reminds me of a similar debate 100 years ago. Streetcar companies had been granted franchises by cities to lay track and hang wire on certain streets. The companies made massive capital investments, but they were hamstrung by city regulations and, sometimes, union contracts setting maximum fares and minimum staff levels.

To give you a sense of the struggle between streetcar company and city government, in 1922, the Oklahoma Union Traction company decided to stop running its St. Louis Ave. line to Orcutt Park. The popular amusement park had given way to private development around what we now call Swan Lake. Demand along the line had dropped. OUT wanted to stop running the line but didn't want their competitor, Tulsa Street Railway, to take it over. Presumably the rails and wire had reuse or scrap value as well, so OUT began pulling its infrastructure out of St. Louis Ave., over the objections of the City of Tulsa. The state Corporation Commission, regulator of intrastate rail, was drawn into the dispute.

Early adopters of the private automobile figured out that they could make money toward gas and car payments by driving along streetcar routes ahead of the next trolley and picking up passengers for a nickel (or "jit") each. Passengers liked jitneys because they got where they were going faster and more comfortably than if they waited for the next streetcar. Streetcar companies hated jitneys, because they stole the fares the companies needed to cover their capital investment and fixed costs.

Streetcar companies fought back with political muscle, persuading city councils to pass restrictions and bans on jitneys, bans that persist to this day. The Institute for Justice, which provides pro-bono support for economic liberty cases, worked to overturn Houston's anti-jitney law in 1994:

Santos v. City of Houston. Like Ego Brown, Houston entrepreneur Alfredo Santos discovered an untapped market. A cab driver, Santos discerned a need for a third transportation alternative beyond expensive taxicabs and highly subsidized public buses. He discovered the solution in Mexico City: the "pesero," or in English, the "jitney."

Jitneys are a transportation mainstay in large cities around the globe. They run fixed routes and charge a flat fee, like buses. But they pick up and discharge passengers anywhere along the route, like taxis. They are smaller and more efficient than buses and less-expensive than taxis. They also are ideally suited to low-capital entrepreneurship.

Santos began using his cab during off-duty hours as a jitney, operating in low-income Houston neighborhoods. The business was successful, quickly attracting other jitney operators. But the city quickly shut the industry down, invoking its "Anti-Jitney Law of 1924."

In the 1920s, jitneys were the main source of competition to subsidized streetcars. The streetcar companies lobbied in city halls across the country, all but exterminating jitneys. Seventy years later the streetcars are nearly all gone, but the anti-jitney laws remain. Today they are supported by the public transportation monopolies that replaced the streetcars.

Santos challenged the law in federal court, which struck it down as a violation of equal protection and federal antitrust laws. The city did not appeal the ruling, thereby allowing another favorable economic liberty precedent to stand.

(You can read the Santos v. City of Houston jitneydecision online. And here's an article from half a year later about Santos's vision for jitneys, the taxi industry's push for regulation, and support from Houston's transit authority.)

Santos argues that entrepreneurs and the marketplace, not the government, should decide whether there is a demand for jitneys. Santos, 41, has spent more than ten years fighting for jitneys. A cab driver for ten years, Santos had seen jitneys working in Mexico City, where they are called peseros. Wearing a cowboy hat so potential passengers could easily spot him, he would drive East End streets holding out fingers for the number of places available in his cab. Yellow Cab found out about the practice and threatened him with the loss of his cabby's lease if he didn't go back to running his meter as required by law....

Santos says jitneys will attract poor people and immigrants who don't own automobiles and are reluctant to call cabs because of the high cost and poor service. Chernow, however, says that about a third of Yellow Cab's trips originate in low-income, minority neighborhoods.

The secret to operating a jitney, Santos says, is to run the route religiously, make lots of quick trips, and develop new customers. Perhaps a driver will occasionally deviate to take a passenger home in a pouring rain, he concedes, or help someone get their groceries to the doorstep. But the driver will need to return quickly to the route to maintain the quality of the service.

Fast-forward 13 years, and a Houston blogger calling himself The Mighty Wizard wonders why jitneys, now legal in Houston, aren't effective in meeting the transit needs of the subject of a news story whose six-mile commute takes 83 minutes by bus.

So why aren't jitneys more widely used in Houston? Well, whenever something is legal but rarely used, the Wizard immediately starts suspecting government interference and sure enough, if one decides to pay a visit to the City of Houston ordinances governing the operation of jitneys (Chapter 46, Article VI), one immediately notices some very serious regulatory barriers to entry that would be jitney operators face in entering the competitive field for transportation.

He spots three barriers to entry and to meeting the needs of customers: The vehicle can't be more than five years old (a standard never used for public transit vehicles or cabs), the driver can't deviate from the route or negotiate price with potential customers (reducing fares might make sense when demand is slack), and a jitney owner must maintain bonding and insurance from which a government operator is exempt.

There are more, but no doubt that the usual rationale would be offered as to why these regulations are in place and that is that we need to protect the public. It should be equally obvious to everyone that this ordinance doesn't protect the public from anything, but was instead written to protect Yellow Cab and Metro from market competition, not to help the citizens of Houston get around more quickly or conveniently.

Jitneys also present another problem, this one in the political marketplace. Jitneys don't allow politicians to spend billions of dollars in cost overruns on big transportation make work projects, they don't allow for photo opportunities or to put their names into the history books, nor do they help politicians obtain millions in campaign contributions. They also would drive lovers of government transit berserk. However by lifting lifting the regulatory barriers to entry to jitney operations, the City just might allow a solution to come forward which could allow Mrs. Jenkins to get to her job in 10 minutes and to succeed where taxpayer funded public transit fails.

Way back in 2002, when Tulsa County's "Dialog" process was underway, they sought public input for projects to improve Tulsa County. I offered two proposals: Deregulate jitneys and enable neighborhood conservation districts. Neither idea involved massive construction contracts or revenue bonds, so neither idea went anywhere in the process, which was all about finding popular local projects that could be wrapped around a new arena to get it past the voters.

Before we plow more money into Tulsa Transit and a route model ill-suited to Tulsa's urban layout, why not give private operators a chance to meet the need? They might choose to run a fixed-route without deviation. They may choose a starting point, but the destination and route would be determined by the needs of the current batch of passengers. They might take reservations, like Super Shuttle does with hotels, picking up a series of passengers to deliver them to a common destination.

You may object that the free market may not provide the quality of service needed at an affordable cost. I could imagine churches using their buses and vans as jitneys during the week, with fares reduced to whatever was necessary to cover fuel, if that. Merchants in a shopping center might pool funds to ferry shoppers from home to the store and back. There may be some benefit in a publicly funded "backbone" service -- frequent service along a small number of corridors, to which jitneys would connect.

Transit regulations, like food regulations, should protect the public's health and safety, but otherwise leave the market free for innovation. My hipster friends are excited about taxi alternatives like Uber and don't want to see them entangled in government regulations designed to protect the taxi monopoly. They should be just as excited to unleash a lower-tech, lower-cost means of transportation for the benefit of their less affluent fellow Tulsans.

MORE: An article from the January 2000 issue of The Freeman explains how illegal-but-tolerated jitneys operate in Detroit.

Dan Keating, a conservative Republican, recently appointed by Gov. Mary Fallin to the State Board of Education, has written a scathing column in the Tulsa Beacon denouncing Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr's campaign for pushing party affiliation over his performance as mayor and saying that it's time for Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr to return to the private sector.

Keating says that Bartlett Jr "has made little effort in cultivating former Councilor Bill Christiansen supporters, who are pivotal to winning re-election." Keating agrees with former Mayor Kathy Taylor's argument that the primary results show that 2/3rds of Tulsa voters are dissatisfied with Bartlett Jr's record. Calling Bartlett Jr an "absentee mayor with practically no vision for the future or plan for today," Keating concludes, "We've given the mayor every opportunity to produce. He doesn't own the job. It's time for Dewey to return to Keener Oil."

Keating notes the lack of cranes in the air and the lack of serious economic development. Bartlett Jr's claim of 7,000 jobs created in the metro area over the last four years doesn't impress Keating:

That makes it 146 jobs per month. This column reported the state of Utah gaining 18,000 California jobs in just one month. Why? Because they worked on it and called in California. As the Utah governor's office reported they had "boots on the ground."

Keating is also upset with Bartlett Jr's absence from meetings of key public authorities on which Tulsa's mayor serves as an ex officio member, noting two authorities in particular, the Emergency Medical Services Authority (EMSA) and the Tulsa Authority for the Recovery of Energy (TARE), which oversees Tulsa's trash system. An audit of EMSA by State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones turned up extravagant spending by the CEO and criticized the board for a lack of oversight.

Another out of control authority that Mayor Bartlett sits on is Tulsa's TARE Board. Tare is short for Tulsa Authority for the Recovery of Energy. TARE as you may recall had worked itself out of a job, but since no bureaucracy ever lets itself simply vanish, the authority reworked Tulsa's trash collection system, borrowed millions of dollars and charged ahead. Competent trash haulers were fired and new pricing policies implemented. Most service billings doubled. Green waste required special tags and clear trash bags.

But, it was worth it. Right? Wrong.

The green waste recovery equipment never worked. So for a year, Mayor Bartlett's people postured, burned all the trash together and kept the money. The mayor's excuse was that he missed most of those board meetings.

Republicans who pay more attention to state and national politics than City Hall may be surprised, if not shocked, that a solid Republican like Dan Keating would endorse against the re-election of a Republican mayor. They may be tempted to dismiss Keating as a RINO. (Oddly, the same people seem unwilling to dismiss Bartlett Jr as a RINO for his 2009 endorsement of Taylor's re-election.)

It's an indication of Bartlett Jr's skill at burning bridges that many Republicans who pay close attention to what's happening at City Hall are unwilling to endorse him for re-election. Lawsuits against councilors, support for Vision2, gerrymandering, an apparent lack of interest and leadership in the important decisions made by the City's authorities, boards, and commissions have all served to alienate local GOP activists. Many of these Republicans would be willing to forgive him for being bumbling or naive, if those were the only problems, but there's a layer of nasty and vengeful on top of the bumbling and naivete that makes reconciliation impossible. When someone has put you in the position of having to hire an attorney and has never bothered to apologize, you're not going to lend your support to his reelection campaign.

As far as I am aware, no city councilor who has served during Bartlett Jr's term as mayor -- none of the nine that he mostly chased out of office, none of the nine who replaced them -- has endorsed him. The Fraternal Order of Police, which has endorsed Republicans and Democrats in the past, voted unanimously to endorse Taylor. Had Bartlett Jr and his team not burned so many bridges with his fellow Republicans, he would be a shoo-in for re-election.

Oklahomans for Life, an organization that works for pro-life legislation at the State Capitol and publishes candidate questionnaires on abortion, euthanasia, and related issues, has noted Tulsa mayoral candidate Kathy Taylor's financial support for Emily's List, a political action committee that requires a radical pro-abortion litmus test of any candidates seeking its support. The OfL press release:

Radical Abortion Group Supporter Kathy Taylor
Opposing Pro-Life Mayor Dewey Bartlett in
November 12 Tulsa Mayor's Race

Kathy Taylor, a big financial supporter of the radical pro-abortion organization Emily's List, is running against pro-life incumbent Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett in a tight race in the November 12 city of Tulsa election.

Kathy Taylor made her most recent contribution to the radical pro-abortion group in April of this year, after she was already running for mayor of Tulsa.

Emily's List is a single-issue pro-abortion political action committee which supports only hard-core pro-abortion candidates who hold the most extreme pro-abortion positions on public policy issues. They require that their endorsed candidates support such radical pro-abortion measures as partial-birth abortion and taxpayer-funded abortion on demand.

Dewey Bartlett, the incumbent Tulsa Mayor, is a strong supporter of the right to life. He is an outspoken defender of the lives of unborn children.

Dewey Bartlett is the son of the late Dewey F. Bartlett, Sr., Governor of Oklahoma in the 1960's and United States Senator from Oklahoma in the 1970's. The late Senator Bartlett was one of the leading pro-life champions in Congress during his years in the U.S. Senate.

Using the federal campaign contribution database at OpenSecrets.org, I find one contribution by Taylor to Emily's List, $250 on April 9, 2013. I looked through all Taylor and Lobeck contributions in Oklahoma and Florida to be sure I didn't miss anything, as Taylor has sometimes been listed with her husband's name, her maiden name, with and without her middle initial, and with home addresses in Tulsa and Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

Taylor's contributions are overwhelmingly directed to Democrat candidates and party organizations, including Barack Obama, Harry Reid, Chris Coons, Elizabeth Warren, the DNC Services Corp, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and the Democratic Party of Oklahoma. She has been generous in support of pro-abortion, left-wing control of the federal government.

Taylor has made a handful of federal contributions to Republicans over the years: Marc Nuttle, Slade Gorton, Michael Flanagan, Bill McCollum, and, famously, George W. Bush.

Here's how Kathy Taylor explained her contributions to Bush and other Republicans to La Semana Del Sur, during her 2006 Democratic primary:

"There are times, both in business and in politics, when you need a seat at the table," describing her contributions to members of the opposing party as a method of facilitating dialogue rather than an indication of ideological support.

Bartlett Jr's federal contributions since 1990 have been exclusively to Republican candidates, with one exception: A $250 contribution to 2nd District Congressman Dan Boren in 2008. Bartlett Jr also was the poster boy for Republicans for Kathy Taylor in 2009, before Taylor dropped out of her bid for re-election.

As I noted in 2006, even though abortion isn't often an issue at City Hall, it does come up from time to time. In 1996 and 1997, the City of Tulsa, under Democrat mayor Susan Savage, steered some of its federal block grant to Planned Parenthood of Eastern Oklahoma, the local affiliate of America's leading abortion provider. In 1998, there were enough pro-life councilors to stop the grants to Planned Parenthood, which have never resumed.

In the same article, I offered three reasons, not directly related to a mayor's duties, why pro-life issues matter in local elections:

  1. A candidate's views on the sanctity of human life tell you something fundamental about his worldview and values.
  2. A local office can be a stepping stone to higher office where life issues arise more often. By electing a pro-abortion-rights candidate to local office, you are giving her a line on her resumé that may help her defeat a pro-life candidate in a race for state or federal office.
  3. In particular, a pro-abortion-rights mayor can use that position to raise money for pro-abortion-rights candidates for state and federal office. If you do business with city government, and the Mayor sends you an invitation to a fundraiser for her friend the candidate for State Senate, you'll send a check in order to stay on her good side, even if the candidate's ideology is antithetical to your own.

While these remain considerations, in Kathy Taylor's case the latter two concerns haven't yet played out. After her term as mayor, she did not run for higher office and, however much money she gave and raised for Oklahoma Democratic candidates and organizations, it has had no impact on Republican majorities in the legislature and GOP dominance of our federal delegation and all statewide offices.

CORRECTION: I am informed that my inference concerning Cheryl Cohenour's service on the TARE board, based on frequent news reports mentioning her as a board member prior to 2011, was incorrect. Taylor campaign research director Joey Wignarajah contacted me (directly this time) and provided me with TARE board minutes documenting Cheryl Cohenour's 2008 departure and 2011 return.

In 2008, Cohenour was replaced on the TARE board by Taylor's appointment of Michael Pierce. The City Council confirmed Pierce's appointment on October 30, 2008. Cohenour was brought back to the board by Bartlett Jr to replace Stephen Schuller and was confirmed by the Council on March 3, 2011.

The TARE minutes, as far as I can tell, are not available online, and the City Council agenda archives continue to be unsearchable (but I'm working to change that). I found no news reports of Cohenour's departure or her return. Wignarajah said he had to file an open records request to get copies of the TARE minutes.

The reason for Cohenour's departure in 2008 would affect the way we interpret her return in 2011. Did she step aside on her own initiative? Did Taylor decide not to reappoint Cohenour because Taylor disagreed with her views on the new trash service? Or did Taylor not reappoint Cohenour because she was unlikely to win confirmation from a City Council unhappy with the proposed new approach to trash service?

I have revised this article in light of this new information. Notwithstanding the interruption in Cohenour's service, it still appears to be the case that four of the seven TARE members (Anderson, Berlin, Bowles, Pierce) who approved the bid documents -- the requirements for the new trash service, the basis upon which proposals were evaluated and a winner selected -- were holdovers from the Taylor administration. Between the time the bid documents were approved and the contract was awarded, Bartlett Jr appointed Councilor David Patrick to replace one of the four, Beverly Anderson, the fallout of a series of disputes involving board members and contractors. There is no question that the essential features of the new trash service were defined and in use for the pilot program that was conducted while Taylor was mayor and an ex officio board member.

A few weeks ago, word reached me that the Kathy Taylor camp was displeased with a blog entry in which I opined that the former Tulsa mayor deserved an equal share of the blame with current mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr for our transition from a trash system that Tulsans overwhelmingly liked to one that has had numerous problems.

Here's what I wrote:

Whoever wins, we'll still be stuck with the complicated and messy trash system imposed upon us by board members that Kathy appointed and Dewey re-appointed (or didn't bother to replace).

The counterclaim from the Taylor camp came in the form of an anonymous Word document that bore (in the document's properties) the name of Joey Wignarajah, research director for the Taylor campaign. The document claimed that my assertion about who appointed the board members was incorrect.

There are seven TARE board members: The mayor (or his proxy) and six appointees. They are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council to serve a three-year term.

An appointee continues to serve until a replacement is appointed, even if his term has expired. The mayor can keep a member in office without the council's confirmation by simply refusing to reappoint the current member or to appoint a replacement. While we passed a charter amendment a few years ago to allow the council to make an appointment if the mayor delays for more than two months, the City Attorney opined that that provision didn't apply to authorities like TARE which were created by state law. Bartlett Jr chose not to make new appointments to replace three of Taylor's appointees on the board (Bowles, Powell, Schuller) until the major decisions about the new trash service were made.

Bartlett maintains that he wants to keep the three members because of their experience and the major service decisions that are looming for the trash board as its long-term hauling contracts expire.

In July 2010, the City Council had rejected Bartlett Jr's reappointment of Bowles, Powell, and Schuller, all of whom were Taylor holdovers. The Councilors wanted new board members who would be responsive to citizen desires to keep what they liked about our trash service.

The document from the Taylor campaign acknowledges that Steve Berlin, William Bowles, and Michael Pierce were her appointees, but it cites Cheryl Cohenour as originally a Bartlett Jr appointee with a starting date of service of 3/4/11.

I recalled that Cohenour had served on the TARE board at least as early as 1998. She was Anna Falling's leading antagonist during the controversy over trash rates and Falling's attempt at a free recycling pilot program. Based on Cohenour's departure at the expiration of her term in 2013, her $500 contribution to Taylor's 2006 campaign, her frequent appearance as a key TARE board member in news stories during the Taylor administration, and no news reports of her departure or return, I assumed that Cohenour's service on the board was continuous, and that Taylor must have either reappointed her or allowed her to continue without reappointment. That turned out not to be the case. Taylor did not reappoint Cohenour in 2008 and instead appointed Michael Pierce.

So it's true that, when the new contract was awarded, only three of the seven members of the TARE board had been appointed by Taylor.

More significant, however, is the date when the request for proposals (RFP) was issued. At that point the shape of the new system -- defined by the requirements that the winning bidder would have to meet -- was set in stone. At that point four of the seven board members (Anderson, Berlin, Bowles, Pierce), a majority, had been appointed or retained by Taylor. Randy Sullivan and Cheryl Cohenour were the only new Bartlett appointees (plus City Manager Jim Twombly as the mayor's ex officio designee).

It could be argued that the groundwork for the bid documents was laid while there were even more Taylor appointees still on board. Sullivan had been confirmed only six weeks before the bid documents were issued, replacing Taylor appointee Steve Powell, and Sullivan and the rest of the board declined to change the bid documents in response to a request by the City Council to have bidders also include a price for continuing traditional trash service (twice-a-week, customer-supplied bins). The implication is that the process of preparing the bid documents began much earlier in the year, and Sullivan's arrival didn't herald any major changes in TARE policy.

Going back even further, the fundamental features of the new trash system were well-formed over three years earlier, during the Taylor administration. The pilot program for the new system was launched by the TARE board while Taylor was mayor and an ex officio member of the board (either in person or through her designee). A November 5, 2007, story shows that all the basic elements were in place -- mechanically lifted, standard city-issued carts, and half the service for nearly the same cost.

Eventually, a plan to change all twice-a-week service routes to the new once-a-week service by 2011 is expected to be presented to the council.

"I really think this is the future of Tulsa's trash collection," said Joe Moran, chairman of the Tulsa Authority for the Recovery of Energy....

Each residence was provided with one 96-gallon, wheeled trash cart and an 18-gallon recycling bin. Smaller sizes of carts also were available.

The monthly curbside service fee for the program is $12.52, which includes recycling pickup regardless of whether the customer chooses to recycle....

Cheryl Cohenour, who heads up the authority's long-range planning committee, said it has been the panel's goal to adopt a uniform service across the city.

"We're going to have to do a lot of education to get people prepared," she said. "Change can be difficult. But these survey results show it's possible."

A February 1, 2008, story shows that the Council was expressing concern that the pilot program was not producing enough savings to the ratepayer to justify the added inconvenience, and that the trash board understood that there were political issues surrounding the changes:

Some councilors have argued that the program, which has converted five routes to once-a-week, cart-based service that includes recycling, should provide a better savings.

The program's monthly curbside rate is $12.37, compared with the normal $13.44 rate for the twice-a-week service without recycling....

The trash board is looking to hire a management and engineering consulting firm, R.W. Beck, to help explore its options for a uniform trash service across the city and to look at the long-term savings that could be realized by switching Tulsa's standard service....

Board members hope to have some information in hand before the end of May to help persuade councilors to continue the pilot program.

"That's going to be a major political hurdle for us to overcome," said Joe Moran, the trash board's chairman.

A May 7, 2008, story has Cohenour urging the council to extend the pilot program another six months, with the council dubious about cutting service in half while only cutting $1.07 a month off of the rates.

In September 2009, Taylor appointed the Mayor's Task Force on Refuse and Recycling. A year later, the task force Taylor appointed recommended a trash service with substantially the same features that were ultimately included in the new system.

Throughout Kathy Taylor's term of office from April 2006 through November 2009, questions and concerns about the new system were being raised, and Taylor could have used her power of appointment and her seat on the board to shift it to a more customer-oriented direction. But she didn't.

Dewey Bartlett Jr had enough time to replace a majority of the TARE board prior to the finalization of the bid documents and to take advantage of his ex officio position on the board to revise the board's plans. Instead, Bartlett Jr expressly chose to keep Taylor appointees on the board while all the important decisions were being made, despite the objections of city councilors.

If you don't like paying twice the price for the service you used to have (or almost the same price for half the service), if you don't like the automated trucks leaving every cart on your block in the middle of the street on trash pickup day, if you don't like mandatory carts with loose lids that let vermin in and odors out, both Kathy Taylor and Dewey Bartlett Jr deserve the blame. Either one of them could have exerted leadership to ensure that the new system retained the features Tulsans liked about the old trash service, but neither did. Both Taylor and Bartlett Jr stood by while an unelected board radically transformed a basic service of local government, over the objections of the citizens.

MORE from the Taylor mayoralty:

Tulsa World (OK) - Wednesday, July 9, 2008: With trash plan canned, carts now in contention:

At a May trash board meeting, member Cheryl Cohenour talked about participants getting to keep the carts and the board reimbursing the independent haulers for the cost.

But since that time, it apparently was decided that the haulers would instead pick up the carts.

The City Council last month signaled the end of the yearlong program, which converted the routes to a once-a-week, cart-based service that included recycling, by allowing it to expire.

The routes this week reverted to the city's standard twice-a-week service.

Councilors expressed frustration about the meager savings experienced by participants and were reluctant to change a service that most residents enjoy.

Curbside collection rates for the pilot program were $12.37 per month compared with the $13.44 per month for the twice-a-week service.

Because the Tulsa City Council's website throws a roadblock in the path
of search engines indexing past agendas and minutes, I'm posting direct,
static links to each meeting agenda. Here is the fourth entry in the
series, covering 2010.



Because the Tulsa City Council's website throws a roadblock in the path of search engines indexing past agendas and minutes, I'm posting direct, static links to each meeting agenda. I obtained these by searching manually for agendas from each month in sequence, then copying and pasting the results. I'm hopeful that this will enable full search engine indexing of the TulsaCouncil.org archives, including backup material. Here is the third entry in a series. Each entry will cover one year.

Because the Tulsa City Council's website throws a roadblock in the path of search engines indexing past agendas and minutes, I'm posting direct, static links to each meeting agenda. I obtained these by searching manually for agendas from each month in sequence, then copying and pasting the results. I'm hopeful that this will enable full search engine indexing of the TulsaCouncil.org archives, including backup material. Here is the second entry in a series. Each entry will cover one year.

Because the Tulsa City Council's website throws a roadblock in the path of search engines indexing past agendas and minutes, I'm posting direct, static links to each meeting agenda. I obtained these by searching manually for agendas from each month in sequence, then copying and pasting the results. I'm hopeful that this will enable full search engine indexing of the TulsaCouncil.org archives, including backup material. Here is the first entry in a series. Each entry will cover one year.

Here is the monthly sales tax news release from Mayor Dewey F. Bartlett Jr's office, dated February 5, 2010. This is two months after Bartlett Jr was sworn in, just shy of three months after he was elected mayor in 2009.

Please especially note the final paragraph, which I've highlighted in bold. It's very interesting in light of recent ads claiming that his predecessor (whom he endorsed for re-election) drove Tulsa to the brink of bankruptcy.

MONTHLY SALES TAX, USE TAX COLLECTIONS
FROM MID-DECEMBER TO MID-JANUARY

The preliminary report from the Oklahoma Tax Commission regarding sales tax collections for the City of Tulsa have now declined 11 consecutive months including the last eight months of declines averaging 11 percent.

According to the preliminary report, sales tax collections from mid-December to mid-January totaled $17,771,635, a 9.8 percent drop from $19,696,317 for the same month last year. Use taxes, which businesses and others pay on purchases of equipment from out-of-state vendors, were above budget estimate at $1,598,877. From the same period a year ago, use taxes have declined by 7.8 percent or $135,619.

"As expected, we are continuing to see sharp declines in our sales tax revenues. Our combined receipts for both sales and use tax are slightly lower than our revised budget expectations,"Mayor Dewey Bartlett said. ''With the $10 million reduction to our general fund, we will continue to monitor expenses closely until the end of the year."

The General Fund portion of sales and use tax totaled $1.34 million for the month, a little less than $100,000 lower than our revised budget expectations.

Mayor Bartlett added, "It should be clear that the economic problems that we are experiencing are the result of declining revenues due to the national recession, not any express actions by the current or previous administrations. Both the Bartlett and Taylor administrations have collectively reduced our annual expenses by $25 million."

Maybe it just took Bartlett Jr another year or so to realize how badly his predecessor (whom he endorsed for re-election) mismanaged the city's finances.

After all, it wasn't until inauguration day that Bartlett Jr figured out that there was a budget crisis at all, even though the woman he endorsed for re-election decided not to run in order to devote her full attention to it, and even though she invited him as Mayor-elect to shadow her at any meetings on her schedule, offered to provide him briefings on critical issues, including the budget crisis, and provided office for him and space for his staff at City Hall during the month-long transition.

Bartlett will be installed as Mayor on Dec. 7. In the meantime, Bartlett and his transition team will begin to deal with the most pressing issues, with the City's budget problems at the top of the list.

"There is a lot of hard work ahead - this current budget crisis is unprecedented. The finance team and I are ready to get started," said Mayor Taylor. Mayor Taylor plans to brief Bartlett on the current state of this year's budget, and the issues which will need to be considered regarding next year's budget.

"We have an office set up for Mayor-elect Bartlett. He can occupy the office as soon as he would like and we will provide space for other staff as well," said Mayor Taylor.

Each department has drafted a summary of its staff and budget as well as issues to be addressed.

"I will be personally briefing the new mayor, as soon as he is available, on all the issues I am handling that need to be transitioned to the Mayor-elect," Mayor Taylor said.

The Mayor-elect will be invited to attend all management meetings, as well as attend any meeting on Mayor Taylor's schedule. Her staff has prepared a list of events and dates for which the Mayor's presence has been requested after her term ends.

(Both Taylor and Bartlett Jr deserve blame for financial mismanagement, specifically for running up the budget during flush times, forcing painful cuts when revenues shrank. Taylor also refused to deal seriously with concerns raised by then-Councilor Bill Martinson, seeming to treat him as an adversary who needed to be crushed like a bug, rather than an ally in the cause of fiscal sanity.)

Just got an email from the Tulsa County Republican Party announcing volunteer door-knocking days on behalf of Dewey Bartlett Jr, running for re-election as Mayor of Tulsa. Although this is officially a non-partisan race, both candidates are closely identified with their respective parties, and both were elected to their first terms on a partisan ballot.

Several things about the email were surprising. Five dates were listed, and of those five, only three were going to be staffed by the Tulsa County Republican Party. One date was for the Rogers County Republican Party and another for the Washington County Republican Party. The City of Tulsa has no territory in Washington County, and only a narrow fenceline in Rogers County. Occasionally you have as many as two Rogers County voters who show up to vote in a city election. The email address for the point of contact for the effort is that of the Oklahoma Republican Party's northeastern field rep.

I can understand why the state GOP would be concerned. Kathy Taylor has the means to self-fund a campaign for higher office, threatening solid GOP control of the State Capitol and Oklahoma's congressional delegation. A defeat in November, one presumes, would put an end to any ambitions for higher office.

On the other hand, consider that Democrat Susan Savage was mayor for 10 years, left office without ever being defeated, and was considered a potential candidate for higher office, but she has never even made the attempt. Her only post-mayoral position has been her appointment as Secretary of State by a fellow Democrat, Gov. Brad Henry. If she ran to be a senator or congressman or governor, Kathy Taylor would have to run for office as a Democrat, and her views on national and ideological issues would come to the fore. Republicans who might be comfortable with her as mayor would block her from election to a legislature where the numbers of Ds and Rs determines overall control.

Taylor herself seems to have had a couple of ripe opportunities to move up into state or national elective politics, but she hasn't. Presumably her pollsters tell her she can't win statewide or even CD1-wide right now.

It's sad that Bartlett Jr can't muster enough enthusiasm among Republicans in the City of Tulsa to get them to knock doors for him. I imagine that many Republican activists were turned off by Bartlett Jr's endorsement of Taylor's re-election, his hostility toward the Republican-majority council that served during the first half of the term, and by what appears to be at best a chilly relationship with the councilors who replaced them (most of them with the support of Bartlett Jr's allies). Not to mention his support for gay-rights legislation and the Vision2 pork-barrel and corporate welfare county tax. (Not that Taylor is any better on those issues.) I still have yet to hear of a current councilor who endorses Bartlett Jr's re-election.

I imagine that the Democratic Party is as anxious to get Taylor elected as the Republicans are to prevent it, and that they too are importing out-of-town Democratic activists to support her campaign.

So our first-ever non-partisan mayoral election has become a proxy battle between the two major national parties. The motivating issue for politicos outside our city limits (and for some inside) is whether the Democrats' best hope for breaking the Republican monopoly in Oklahoma will have or will be deprived of Tulsa City Hall as a platform from which to run for higher office.

But the question on the minds of many Tulsans: What difference will November's result make to the way city government is run? Whether it's Taylor or Bartlett Jr, the same "leading Tulsa citizens" -- the usual suspects -- will be appointed to authorities, boards, and commissions. Whether it's Bartlett Jr or Taylor, the same guy who has been around since the Randle Administration will oversee urban planning and serve as the Mayor's proxy on the Planning Commission.* Whoever wins, we'll still be stuck with the complicated and messy trash system imposed upon us by board members that Kathy appointed and Dewey re-appointed (or didn't bother to replace). Whoever wins will fall all over himself or herself to back the Tulsa Regional Chamber's latest wheeze.

*NOTE: Dwain Midget appears in news reports as early as February 7, 1991, as the Mayor's representative on the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission. The description in the linked article is incorrect: the Mayor does have a vote on the TMAPC, a vote which which has been exercised by Mr. Midget on the Mayor's behalf for over 22 years under five different mayors from both major parties. Many neighborhood association leaders have long seen Midget as a consistent vote for the development lobby and hostile to neighborhood concerns. If there really were any significant differences in policy between the last five mayors, wouldn't a new mayor have bothered to replace someone in such a key role with someone closer to the new mayor's perspective?

Oklahoman urban reporter Steve Lackmeyer may have unintentionally sparked another street-naming controversy up the turnpike in Tulsa.

Lackmeyer recounted the 1961 renaming of Oklahoma City's Grand Avenue to Sheridan Avenue. The name Sheridan, to honor Civil War general, Ft. Sill founder, and "Indian fighter" Philip Sheridan, was a compromise after merchants requested a renaming to erase the bad reputation of Grand Ave and honor a new Sheraton Hotel. Lackmeyer looked into the background of the street's namesake:

And here's where it gets really politically incorrect: Sheridan liked to kill American Indians. His biographer quoted him as saying "the only good Indians I saw were dead" in response to a Comanche chief who introduced himself to the general as a "good Injun." He made this lovely comment while at Fort Sill - the same command that oversaw the opening of the unassigned lands in Oklahoma, including what is now Oklahoma City.

Sheridan's assault on American Indians was more than just a military guy taking his job too seriously.

During the winter of 1868, he attacked Cheyennes, Kiowas and Comanches in their winter quarters, taking the livestock, killing those who fought back, and driving the survivors back onto reservations.

Gen. Sheridan didn't like buffalo either:

Historians noted that when the Texas legislature considered outlawing bison poaching on tribal lands, Sheridan personally testified against it, suggesting lawmakers instead give each of the hunters a medal, engraved with a dead buffalo on one side and a discouraged-looking Indian on the other.

There are a lot of places named Sheridan in the US, and the ones I've checked all seemed to be named to honor this murderous racist.

While Sheridan Avenue in Oklahoma City is a relatively short and minor street, Sheridan Road in Tulsa is a major thoroughfare, a section-line road stretching from Mohawk Park and the Tulsa Zoo in the north, along the west boundary of Tulsa International Airport, and all the way to the Arkansas River near Bixby in the south. There are Sheridan Road exits on the Gilcrease Expressway, the Broken Arrow Expressway, and Skelly Drive. There must be many hundreds of businesses with a Sheridan Road address, including Sheridan Lanes, a bowling alley with a beautifully animated neon sign.

City Council, the ball is in your court.

FINAL UPDATE! Council votes 7-to-Patrick to change the name within the IDL to M. B. Brady Street in honor of the Civil War era photographer, thus preserving the street name while clarifying that we don't wish to honor W. Tate Brady. Not sure if I should applaud the finesse of this move or hoot derision at a too-clever-by-half decision that is likely to make no one happy. Maybe the most eloquent reaction is a comment by JR Seifried on KRMG's story: "lolwut"

UPDATED AND BUMPED 2013/08/15: Yesterday, Councilor Phil Lakin, who was missing from last week's debate and tie vote and won't tell how he would have voted had he been there, announced that tonight's up-or-down vote may not happen:

"Together, we are reorienting ourselves -- and our votes -- toward a constructive solution rather than simply engaging in an up-and-down vote on changing the name of Brady to Burlington," Lakin said in a prepared statement.

I humbly suggest that, notwithstanding the tongue-in-cheek aspects of what follows below, the core idea is a constructive solution: Appoint a commission to look at the history behind all of Tulsa's names, decide on criteria that make a name unacceptable, propose substitutes for unacceptable names (preserving, I hope, Tulsa's orderly street-naming and numbering system), and propose a means for covering the cost of renaming. The public would adopt or reject the renaming and its attendant costs by an up-or-down vote.

Originally published on August 12, 2013.

rename_all_the_things.pngThe problem with the proposal to eradicate the name Brady from Tulsa's map is that it doesn't go far enough. Tate Brady was a founder of the City of Tulsa and a booster of its early growth, but he was also involved in some evil and despicable acts and organizations.

On Thursday, the City Council will vote again on whether to rename a street that honors a Klansman to honor instead a family that grew wealthy on the human misery of the slave trade.

The renaming of Brady Street and Brady Place to Burlington Street and Burlington Place respectively would be one of several Tulsa street renamings in recent years. These are true renamings, not mere double-signing. (An example of double-signing: 41st Street between Peoria and Riverside is called "Nancy Apgar Avenue" to honor the late Brookside Neighborhood Association leader, but 41st Street remains the address of homes and businesses along that stretch of road.)

In 1997, Tulsa renamed the former Osage Expressway to honor the late Baptist pastor and civil rights leader L. L. Tisdale. The former Crosstown Expressway, which bears I-244 and US 412 from the Inner Dispersal Loop to the eastern city limits, was renamed the Martin Luther King Junior Memorial Expressway in 1984 at the direction of then-Gov. George Nigh. A segment of Haskell Street was renamed John Hope Franklin Boulevard in honor of the historian. Last year, N. Cincinnati Avenue from Archer Street to the northern city limits was renamed Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard -- an idea that had been brewing since the late 1980s.

But Tate Brady was hardly alone in his evil deeds and attitudes. His case has attracted the most attention because of Lee Roy Chapman's research in This Land Press, but there are others who are honored in the name of a street, a school, a library, or a theater who contributed to some atrocity of the past or held attitudes that we now consider repugnant.

Overlook for the moment any positive contributions to the community, and let's look at the worst that can be said about many of the people whose names are reflected in city streets and city-owned property.

For example, the city's Richard Lloyd Jones Jr. Airport honors the late Tulsa Tribune executive and long-time airport authority member. But he was named to honor Richard Lloyd Jones Sr., his father and predecessor at the Tribune who is believed to have published an inflammatory editorial that sparked the 1921 attack on Tulsa's African-American community.

Not to ignore another former Tulsa newspaper family, Eugene Lorton was publisher of the Tulsa World in November 1917 when its editorial page called for the lynching of members of the International Workers of the World. A day later, a group called the Knights of Liberty kidnapped and tortured 17 members of the I. W. W.; Tate Brady was named as a ringleader in what became known as the "Tulsa Outrage."

Tate Brady chaired the committee for the 1918 reunion of the United Confederate Veterans, but many of the other names on the committee are honored with Tulsa parks and streets. S. R. Lewis is the namesake of Lewis Avenue. Charles Page has a boulevard. The names Owen, Howard, and Turner can be found on city parks. Eugene Lorton's name is on this list, as are famous Tulsa oilmen McBirney and McFarlin. C. N. Haskell, Oklahoma's first governor, is on the list, too -- he signed the state's Jim Crow laws and is the namesake of Haskell St.

That's just early-day Tulsa. We haven't touched the places named to honor the architects of the second destruction of the Greenwood district via urban renewal and the Model Cities program in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Mayors, commissioners, city attorneys, members of committees -- all should be investigated for culpability in demolishing what Tulsa's African-American community painstakingly rebuilt after the 1921 riot.

Greenwood itself is named after Greenwood, Mississippi, which is named for Choctaw chief Greenwood LeFlore, who owned slaves, betrayed his own people by signing the treaty for the tribe's removal to Oklahoma, and urged the Five Tribes to support the Confederacy.

We could rename Greenwood to Garrison, to match the name the sixth block east of Main has in far-north Tulsa, but Garrison got its name for racist reasons. The blue-collar white people to whom Tulsa's far-north subdivisions were first marketed wouldn't have wanted to live on a street whose name was associated with Tulsa's African-American community.

We can't do anything about George Kaiser Family Foundation naming its private property after Woody Guthrie, who was a vocal advocate for a murderous ideology responsible for the deaths of tens of millions and the enslavement of billions in Russia, China, Cuba, southeast Asia, and around the globe. But Tulsa could dis-honor the old Red by giving Guthrie Avenue a different name.

One block further west, Sam Houston was involved in the theft of Texas from Latino rule to Anglo rule. Indian and Jackson Avenues are, ironically, next to each other. President Andrew Jackson, the founder of the modern Democrat Party, was a racist demagogue responsible for the deaths of thousands of Native Americans on the Trail of Tears.

Waco Avenue may have had a neutral meaning when it was named, but nowadays it's associated with the burning of the Branch Davidian compound, which inspired the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, according to the perpetrator of that atrocity.

Rather than handle these renamings piecemeal, with the potential of a new renaming (and a four-hour long public hearing) at every week's City Council meeting, the City Council should appoint a diverse commission of historically minded citizens to research the histories of all names under the control of the City of Tulsa and its boards and commissions.

This commission -- perhaps to be called the Commission for the Sanitation of Politically Incorrect Names (C-SPIN) -- would report back with a comprehensive recommendation to rename certain streets, an estimate of the cost to rename, and a revenue proposal (sales tax or general obligation bond issue) for funding the recommended renamings, including city expenses like street signage and grants to affected businesses and residents to cover signage, business cards, letterhead, and other street renaming expenses.

The commission would have to consider whether a person's misdeeds rises to the level of deserving the removal of his or her name from a public place. They might wish to set criteria that would be applied consistently to decide thumbs up or down. Not everyone will agree with my worst-case assessments

Just like the Federal Base Re-Alignment and Closure Commission (BRAC), the recommendation could not be amended, but would be submitted to City of Tulsa voters for an up-or-down vote on the renaming and the tax to fund it.

One-by-one renaming will be inefficient and unquestionably inconsistent. A comprehensive review of all names at once will allow the mayor and council to focus on other crises, will tend toward a consistent application of criteria, and will put the matter to rest for, we hope, many years. I hope the City Council will consider this possibility on Thursday.

A proposed hotel/office/retail development in the Bob Wills District that was stymied in 2008 by Mayor Kathy Taylor and the Tulsa Development Authority now looks to move forward, five years later and after a lawsuit and settlement.

The half-block west of Elgin between Archer and Brady is owned by the Tulsa Development Authority. Currently a parking lot, it was previously home to a Fuelman unattended gas station. Developers Will Wilkins and Cecilia Wilkins (Will's mother) plan to build a four- to five-story building with retail on the ground floor, office space on the second floor, and hotel rooms on the upper floors. They have a tentative agreement with the TDA; final agreement is expected at the TDA's August 1 meeting.

In December 2007, a TDA staffer suggested to the Wilkinses, who had worked with the TDA on a number of previous infill projects, that they consider developing the site, across the street from the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce's planned mixed-use development.

Planning and negotiations were moving along smoothly for several months, until then-Mayor Kathy Taylor set out to get the Tulsa Drillers in a new ballpark downtown. Long story short, in August 2008, the TDA cancelled the Wilkinses' exclusive negotiating rights to the site -- part of an effort to control all the land around the ballpark -- the Wilkinses sued, and the suit was finally settled a few days before going to trial in June 2012.

You can read a detailed account of how Taylor and the TDA treated the Wilkinses in the BatesLine archives:

The Control Freaks' Squeeze Play: The history of the proposed development, who made it unravel, and the damage done to Tulsa as a place for creative entrepreneurs.

TDA chairman's letter announcing intent to terminate Wilkinses' exclusive negotiating period, and Kathy Taylor's response

Novus Homes sues City of Tulsa for interference: In 2009, The Wilkinses added the City of Tulsa and Kathy Taylor to their lawsuit against TDA. This entry explains
what they learned in discovery that led them to add the City and Taylor to the suit.

That last link also has links to other BatesLine articles covering the dispute.

My dilemma in this November's mayoral election is that both candidates have, as mayor, badly mistreated good people trying to do good things for Tulsa and have hurt the City's reputation and progress in the process. I'm not talking about oversights or mistakes, but deliberate actions. There are plenty of examples in Dewey Bartlett's column, but this is one of many in Kathy Taylor's column -- a positive downtown development had to wait five years longer than necessary because of her bulldozer approach to the ballpark deal. If either Bartlett or Taylor were truly repentant for their bad actions -- publicly acknowledged what he or she did wrong, why it was wrong, and how he or she plans to ensure that he or she acts with integrity in the future -- it would go a long way toward winning my support.

WhatMeDewey.jpgOne of Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr's principal attacks against his rival, former City Councilor Bill Christiansen, is that Christiansen agreed to then-Mayor Kathy Taylor's plan to borrow $67 million in revenue bonds to buy the One Technology Center building to serve as a new City Hall, with the bonds to be repaid by the sale of the old City Hall and other buildings and by rent from tenants in the new building.

Bartlett Jr has numerous radio ads attacking Christiansen on this point and a mailer with a picture of Christiansen looking like a vampire and the text, "He [Christiansen] put taxpayers $67-million in debt to move City Hall into new office space.... Paying off the debt created by Christiansen will leave Tulsans strugging for operating cash for many years. The lavish spending cost Tulsa critical dollars for needs like police and fire protection."

But three years ago, Bartlett Jr was praising and defending the purchase of One Technology Center.

In January 2010, video of my 2007 speech to the city council opposing the One Technology Center deal went somewhat viral, circulating by email and on social media. At the time, there was a battle over falling revenues and budget cuts, with Bartlett Jr's administration talking about a layoff over 100 police officers. (On January 22, 2010, Bartlett Jr laid off 124 police officers.)

What grabbed people's attention about the video, I think, was how close my calculation of the extra annual operating expenses had been to the actual City Hall overrun that had been announced in August 2009. The video was used to make the point: City officials were told that the deal would cost more money, they plunged ahead anyway, and now they were paying for their shiny new toy by laying off cops and making Tulsans more vulnerable to crime.

Emily Sinovic, then a reporter for Fox 23, called to ask for my comment on the ongoing interest in the speech. She also contacted the office of Mayor Bartlett Jr. Here's a link to the January 15, 2010, Fox 23 story about the cost of operating Tulsa's new City Hall

Dewey Bartlett Jr could have taken the opportunity to denounce the City Hall purchase as a bad deal and to cast some blame at Kathy Taylor and several city councilors for adding to the city's budget woes by supporting it.

But Dewey didn't do that. Instead the Bartlett Jr's spokesperson defended the City Hall purchase using arguments similar to those Taylor used three years earlier in support of the One Technology Center deal. According to the Fox 23 story, "A spokesperson in the Mayor Bartlett's office issued an emailed statement in response to the youtube video."

Here's the statement from Bartlett Jr's office to Fox 23.

No additional taxes on citizens were required to purchase OTC. The purchase of the building was financed through the sale of $67 million in tax-exempt revenue bonds to fund the purchase, moving and modification costs. To protect Tulsa taxpayers from risk, the City negotiated a 10-year lease with Bank of Oklahoma, which guarantees $28.7 million in rent revenue over 10 years. The guarantee covers leases with Level 3 Communications and Deloitte-Touche, which continues to lease space. The leasing of vacant office space has been impacted by a downturn in the economy and less demand for Class A office space, but we are aggressively marketing and have recently shown office space to potential tenants.

By vacating the five other City buildings (old City Hall, 707 S. Houston, TFD Headquarters, Francis Campbell Council Room, Hartford Building) that were consolidated into One Technology Center, the City avoided millions of dollars in maintenance costs and capital expenditures required for those buildings.

There also are many other benefits to having the consolidated office space: improved efficiencies, reduced travel between remote sites and better energy-efficiency with lighting, healing and cooling than the former City Hall and other buildings. City offices occupy 30 percent less total space than before.

The City of Tulsa purchased the building, along with the garage and furnishings and fixtures and technological features, for $52.25 million, or about 23 percent of the building's original cost to build.

It's true: The new City Hall has been a drag on city finances. Kathy Taylor was wrong to push for it, and Bill Christiansen was wrong to vote for it. But Dewey Bartlett Jr was wrong not to stand up and object at the time of the vote and wrong to defend the idea three years later. Bartlett Jr's ads denouncing Christiansen on this issue are hypocritical, cynical politics.

MORE: Here's what I said to the City Council about the proposed purchase of One Technology Center:

auditor_lewis_yardsign.PNGOvershadowed by expensive campaigns for Tulsa mayor and county commissioner, the other race on next Tuesday's ballot is for the crucial office of Tulsa City Auditor.

The city auditor was envisioned by the drafters of Tulsa's 1989 city charter as a counter-balance to the power concentrated in the mayor's office. The auditor has full organizational independence to build a team of auditors and to pursue investigations into the operations and spending of city departments, authorities, boards, and commissions.

But all that power does no good if the auditor refuses to use it or can't manage his own team effectively. While good things can be said about each of three men who have served as auditor under the '89 charter, it can't be said that any of them made full use of the job's authority to save the taxpayers money. Phil Wood, who served for over 20 years, was a pioneer in putting city government information on the web, using his own personal website until the city's official web presence caught up. Wood assembled a well-regarded team of internal auditors. But Wood was reluctant to call public attention to his team's findings for fear of seeming too political.

Preston Doerflinger defeated Wood in 2009 with a promise to do better, and he was slated to head the effort to implement the KPMG efficiency study, but he only stuck around for two years before being called up to serve as State Finance Director.

The current auditor, Clift Richards, was appointed by Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr in 2011 to fill Doerflinger's unexpired term. A Wednesday, June 5, 2013, story in the Tulsa World paints a statistical picture of poor performance under Clift Richards's leadership. The number of improvement recommendations produced by the auditor's office have plummeted from 43 in fiscal year 2008-2009, Wood's last full year in office, to 7 in FY 2011-2022. Under Richards, the office's budget is 25% higher than the average for offices of 6 to 10 auditors, and only 49% of the auditors time is spent on actual audits, compared to a national average of 72%.

Richards's analysis of his department's shortcomings doesn't exactly inspire confidence in his leadership:

He attributed productivity shortfalls mainly to high employee turnover, saying the office often serves as a stepping-stone for better-paying private auditing jobs. He said that forces the office to spend more time training workers while losing progress on audits being conducted by outgoing employees.

An effective city auditor has to be able to counter the lure of the private sector with a sense of mission and cameraderie. If salary is a stumbling block, he has to be willing to go to the City Council and argue for the budget to build and keep a good team together -- not as much money as the private sector, but enough to keep good people on board. Wood managed that much; Richards, by his own testimony, has not.

Meanwhile down the turnpike, State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones and his team have cleared a massive backlog of required audits and have uncovered misdeeds and shoddy financial practices at every level of state, county, and municipal government. Jones is what Oklahoma has always needed in our State Auditor -- he's persistent, he's efficient, he takes the initiative to protect the taxpayers, and he's unafraid to step on toes, even if those toes belong to a member of the same party.

One of the Jones team's blockbuster audits uncovered extravagant and questionable spending at the Emergency Medical Services Authority (EMSA) which serves Tulsa, Oklahoma City, and a number of other municipalities. A leading member of the EMSA audit team is now seeking to bring that same spirit to the Tulsa City Auditor's office.

Josh Lewis, CPA, graduated summa cum laude in accounting from the College of the Ozarks, worked five years in private sector accounting, and for the last two years has worked as the most senior member of the State Auditor's Tulsa office. According to his campaign bio, Lewis has audited "county governments, federal grants, emergency medical services, and perform[ed] multiple investigative/fraud engagements."

Josh Lewis points out that he is the only candidate without close ties to a mayoral candidate. Clift Richards was appointed by Bartlett; Kathy Taylor appointed Cathy Criswell as Chief Risk Officer in the Mayor's Office and has given $1,000 to Criswell's campaign. We need a City Auditor who is not beholden to the mayor or anyone else whose work his team will be scrutinizing.

Tulsa taxpayers need an energetic, assertive team leader to protect our interests at City Hall. His record, his experience, and his vision for the role indicate that Josh Lewis is the best choice to be Tulsa's City Auditor.

MORE: The State Auditor's audit of EMSA and a News on 6 story about the EMSA audit. From the report:

During the period examined, Mr. Williamson was reimbursed for a number of expenditures that the general public would consider unwarranted and extravagant such as spa goods and services, an American Airlines Admirals' Club membership, and multiple lifetime subscriptions to Sirius Satellite Radio. However, these expenditures are merely indicative of more serious Board inadequacies that allow abusive expenditure patterns and negatively impact public confidence in EMSA's performance, such as a disregard for the organization's fiduciary responsibilities, deficient financial oversight, and insufficient performance assessments.

It is incumbent on the Board of Trustees to aptly govern EMSA. Policies in support of the Authority's mission must be implemented and consistently followed to ensure effective oversight and accountability. Without proper policies involving purchasing, expense reimbursement, and conflict-of-interest disclosure, the Board has unintentionally fostered a culture of acquiescence in which officers and employees are permitted to establish inappropriate patterns of expenditure behavior and fail to disclose potential conflicts of interest, unbeknownst to members of the Board.

American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 1180, which represents non-sworn employees of the City of Tulsa, has filed a petition for declaratory judgment against the City of Tulsa for the City's failure to comply with the union's request for public financial information in a timely fashion, as required by Oklahoma's Open Records law.

The petition was filed in Tulsa County District Court on June 5, 2013, case number CV-2013-00690. It has been assigned to District Judge Linda G. Morrissey.

Here are the allegations in the petition:

5. On or about February 5, 2013, Plaintiff requested written records from Defendant pursuant to the Oklahoma Open Records Act 51 OKLA STAT. § 24A.1 et seq. See Exhibit "A" attached hereto and made part hereof.

6. To date, Plaintiff has not received the documents requested on February 5, 2013 from Defendant.

7. On or about April 23, 2013, Defendant requested a copy of an audio recording of a telephone call from Defendant pursuant to the Oklahoma Open Records Act 51 OKLA STAT. § 24A.1 et seq. See Exhibit "B" attached hereto and made part hereof.

8. On or about April 26, 2013, Defendant responded to Plaintiffs request of April 23, 2013, stating that Defendant is not required to produce the requested audio recording in response to an Open Records Request.

9. On or about May 28, 2013, Plaintiff requested time sheets, overtime forms, leave reports, lists of employees, and emails containing certain words from Defendant. See Exhibit "C", attached hereto and made part hereof.

10. To date, Plaintiff has not received the documents requested on May 28, 2013, from Defendant.

11. As to the remaining records, Defendant has not produced them to date and despite the length of time that has passed since they have been requested has not provided a date certain that they will be produced in a reasonable amount of time.

12. Plaintiff seeks these records to be fully informed about their government, to obtain documents to adequately seek justice, to plan for future contract and benefit negotiations, and to efficiently and intelligently exercise their inherent political power and rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

The union local is asking the court to find that they are "entitled to the requested records pursuant to the Oklahoma Open Records Act," to award them attorney's fees and costs, and "such other and further relief as the Court deems just and proper."

Among the documents being sought are financial documents that have, in the past, routinely been published to the city website, but which have been available only sporadically in recent years. The online archive of City of Tulsa monthly financial reports goes back to February 2002, but the most recent three posted to the site are from February 2013, September 2012, and May 2012. The Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012, was delivered to the mayor on November 29, 2012, but (based on the Internet Archive's holdings) it doesn't appear to have been posted to the website until Februrary 1, 2013. (See the City of Tulsa's archive of Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports here, going back to 2003.)

AFSCME has scheduled a 10:00 a.m. Thursday press conference to discuss the petition.

tulsaNow-logo.pngGrassroots civic group TulsaNow sent a questionnaire to the candidates for Mayor of Tulsa; Bill Christiansen and Kathy Taylor responded. There were multiple attempts to contact incumbent Dewey Bartlett Jr, but he did not respond.

Question topics include delays in PLANiTULSA implementation, police department scandals and rising costs, park demolitions, downtown surface parking, mass transit and bike lanes, and economic development.

Two comments for now:

It was encouraging to see that the idea of a downtown surface parking moratorium has become to conventional wisdom in 2013. It was a way-out idea back in 1998, when, as a city council candidate, I proposed a downtown parking summit among TCC, churches, and office building owners to address demolition for parking. As recently as 2006, the CORE Tulsa report, a collection of very modest measures to encourage preservation and discourage demolition downtown, was spiked by the Tulsa Preservation Commission at the urging of Kathy Taylor's administration. Taylor showed no leadership on the issue when she had the opportunity, as mayor, to do so, and you have to assume that her aide Susan Neal was working on Taylor's behalf.

It was discouraging to realize that all three major candidates are social and fiscal liberals. According to Kathy Taylor's response, extending benefits to same-sex partners of city employees "is one area where all three major candidates expressed agreement at the FOP forum." Bill Christiansen's response failed to answer the question: "Bill Christiansen does not discriminate against anyone and is for inclusivity. Bill practices marriage from the biblical meaning and supports the legal meaning of marriage as it is." No one addressed the problem of cost -- would employees bear the full marginal cost of adding coverage, or would we have to squeeze the city budget to pay part or all of it? -- or the question of verification -- how does the city know that this person is really your "domestic partner" and not just an uninsured acquaintance? And no one hit upon the idea of letting an employee add any adult to insurance, without regard to the existence of a "partnership," which would avoid forcing the taxpayers to bless all kinds of immoral relationships as pseudo-marriage for the purpose of benefits.

City of Tulsa general fund budget by fiscal year and mayor, 2003-2014

Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr has released his proposed budget for the upcoming 2013-2014 fiscal year, which begins July 1. (That's an 8 GB PDF.) The budget is slightly lower than last year, reflecting the drop in revenues that caught Bartlett Jr and his administration by surprise, leading to a hiring freeze for the last quarter of the 2012-2013 fiscal year.

The above chart shows the general fund budget over the last 10 years. The complete city budget includes many other funds, but the general fund is a good apples-to-apples comparison, as it doesn't include fee-for-service funds like trash and water. This is the part of the budget where the mayor has the most control.

What you'll notice is a steep climb in the general fund budget under Taylor and again under Bartlett Jr, with a drop in the middle under both mayors when the 2008 recession hit Tulsa and sales tax revenues plummeted.

Here's the thing to remember about government budgeting in Oklahoma. The Oklahoma State Constitution and state statutes require a balanced budget for the state and all of its political subdivisions. While you can issue bonds for capital improvements, you can't simply get out the credit card to pay for operations when you want to spend more than available revenues. A mayor has to cut spending. There is no other option when revenues are down.

But when times are fat and revenues are flowing, a mayor does have a choice: He or she could show restraint and hold spending increases to the rate of inflation. A few voices -- former City Councilor John Eagleton was the most prominent -- called for restraining the growth of government to the rate of inflation, but those voices were ignored.

The other option: The mayor could expand existing programs, create new programs, and allow spending to increase to consume all available revenues, making cuts all the more painful when revenues contract, as they eventually will.

Kathy_Taylor-That.Is.Crazy.png

Kathy Taylor opted for the latter course. Taylor boosted the general fund budget by 18.5% over three years, half again faster than the rate of inflation over the same period (June 2005, when Bill LaFortune's last budget was approved, to June 2008, when Taylor's peak budget was approved). Had Taylor kept her spending increases to the rate of inflation, no cuts would have been necessary -- the 2008-2009 budget would have been $242.3 million instead of the actual amount of $255.3 million, and the actual 2009-2010 budget of $244.5 million would have represented an increase.

WhatMeDewey.jpg

Dewey Bartlett Jr was an even bigger spendthrift than Kathy Taylor. He cut when he had to in FY 2010-2011, to stay within available revenues, but then Bartlett Jr's general fund budgets rose 17% in just two years, over a period (June 2010 to June 2012) when the CPI rose only 5%. Once again, had Bartlett Jr held his spending to the rate of inflation, the 2012-2013 budget would have been only $245.2 million.

Had spending been held to the rate of inflation through both the Taylor and Bartlett Jr administrations, the City of Tulsa would have avoided painful budget cuts and would have a fatter rainy day fund.

It's time Tulsa got off of the budget roller coaster and took a more cautious, conservative, and steady approach to city budgeting.

MORE: Download the FY13-14 City of Tulsa Proposed Budget.

Here's a table showing the Consumer Price Index month-by-month going all the way back to 1913.

Citizens for a Better Vision was the grassroots group that led the successful opposition to Vision2, using a minuscule budget compared to the millions at the "vote yes" side's proposal. Now they're trying to influence the development of proposals to re-up city sales and property taxes for a new funding package for city infrastructure, a combined package that may top $800 million, with hopes that the ultimate proposal is one worthy of the voters' support.

Tonight, Wednesday, March 27, 2013, at 6 p.m., at the Martin East Regional Library, 2601 S. Garnett in Tulsa, Citizens for a Better Vision will host a meeting to allow the public to express their concerns and air their comments on the developing proposal to extend the City of Tulsa sales taxes (1 1/6 cent) and general obligation bond issue that have been devoted for the last few years to street repair. All mayoral candidates and all members of the City Council have been invited to attend the meeting.

There have been City Hall sponsored meetings ("City Hall in Your Neighborhood"), but, according to the Citizens for a Better Vision flyer, "all questions [at the official City Hall-sponsored meetings] are filtered through notecards and some citizen concerns are altogether ignored." In contrast, the flyer for tonight's meeting promises that "Everyone's Voice Will Be Heard!"

FixOurStreets-500.png

This meeting is a great opportunity to express your "must haves" and "dealbreakers" to the mayor and council, who must approve any package that goes before the voters. Here are a few of my requirements that have to be met before I'd support a funding package.

1. Streets only: No corporate welfare, no unfulfilled wishes from Vision2, only the construction and maintenance of streets. Anything else would have to be on a separate ballot item, preferably not even on the same ballot or the same day.

2. No permanent taxes: No more than a five year term before the tax sunsets.

3. A "Brown ordinance" with teeth: A clear and complete list of projects to be funded, with an estimated cost for each, and a basis for estimate for the cost of each. (The Brown ordinance was a key element in the passage of the first 3rd Penny sales tax in 1980, after a blank check tax was defeated by voters the previous year.)

4. Pay-as-you-go: No borrowing money against future sales tax revenues to fund current projects. By keeping it pay-as-you-go, all the money goes to projects, instead of bond fees and interest.

What are your dealbreakers for a new streets package? List some in the comments below.

Just in case you don't read the insert in your city water bill:

There will be a household pollutant collection event on Saturday, April 13th, 2013, and Sunday, April 14th, 2013, on the north side of Expo Square, Gate 7, off of 15th Street, from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. both days. Accepted items include

  • household cleaners and toxins,
  • yard-care products,
  • pesticides,
  • acids,
  • caustics,
  • thinners,
  • household flammable liquids,
  • all fluorescent light bulbs,
  • firearms ammunition (.50 caliber or smaller),
  • smoke alarms,
  • thermostats, oil,
  • antifreeze,
  • oil-based, aerosol, and hobby paints,
  • prescription medications.

Not accepted: Latex paint, commercial waste, radioactive waste, pressurized gas cylinders, water reactive chemicals, explosives and dioxins. (You can dispose of latex paint by opening the can and letting it dry completely, then disposing with other trash.)

(Does anyone else remember approving a permanent, year-round hazardous waste collection facility as part of a "Third Penny" sales tax package? We'll explore what happened to that idea in a later entry.)

100px-Seal_of_Tulsa,_OK.pngThe following weekend, April 20-21, 2013, are free landfill days for City of Tulsa residents, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day at the Quarry Waste Management Inc. Landfill on 46th Street north, 1.5 miles east of US 169. You must show a utility bill or driver's license with an address within Tulsa's city limits. Tires are accepted with the state mandated fee -- $1 for motorcycle and bicycle tires, $3.50 for tires to 19.5" inside diameter, $2.50 for agricultural tires not more than 14" wide and 44" in diameter.

Finally, free mulch is available at the City of Tulsa's mulch-processing site, 10101 East 56th Street north (just east of Mingo Road), open seven days a week, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., except City holidays. (Strictly speaking, there ain't no such thing as a free mulch. Your trash fees pay for this.) You can also drop off yard waste, as an alternative to disposing of green waste with normal trash pick-up.

(Note to the person who edits the water-bill insert: Rather than print a 103-character URL that someone will have to type in, work with the IT department to set up a short, memorable URL -- something like "http://cityoftulsa.org/yardwaste" -- to redirect to the page.)

GETTING THERE: Click this link for a Google map showing the three City of Tulsa waste disposal locations mentioned above.

Last year the City of Tulsa changed the secondary disinfectant used in our drinking water from chlorine to chloramine, a derivative of ammonia. The change was to meet EPA regulations intended to eliminate a carcinogenic by-product of chlorine disinfection (trihalomethanes), but the replacement method has its own unpleasant side effects: Chloramine-treated water can't be used in fish ponds or for dialysis, it can cause rubber plumbing parts to deteriorate, may leach lead from old pipes, and there are concerns that it hasn't thoroughly been tested for health effects on humans.

A group called Tulsans Against Chloramine attempted unsuccessfully to persuade the Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority to stop the conversion to chloramine and opt for a safer method of disinfection. Since the conversion, TAC has been continuing to work to educate the public about their concerns and building pressure to reverse the decision.

Tulsans Against Chloramine have invited candidates for Tulsa mayor to attend their meeting this Tuesday night, March 12, 2013, at 6:30 at Hardesty Regional Library, 8316 E 93rd St, Tulsa. The speaker will be Robert Bowcock, an expert on the use of chloramines in public water supplies.

Join Tulsans Against Chloramine for a meeting to discuss the CHLORAMINE in our water supply and what WE can do to reverse the decision. The Tulsa Mayoral candidates have been invited to attend this meeting. We feel it is important for them to know our concerns and to have the most up to date information regarding Chloramine.

Let's make Tulsa a city that does the right thing for the health and property of its people as well as our environment.

Our guest speaker is Mr. Robert Bowcock, who is a national water specialist and an American Water Works Association member for over 30 years. He conducts environmental investigations with Erin Brockovich. Mr. Bowcock is working with TAC to stop the use of Chloramine and move towards a safer alternative for the Tulsa area.

Please join us to make a difference in our community.

Dewey Bartlett JuniorMy guess is that Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr has a friend at the libertarian Reason Foundation or has a friend who is a major donor to the organization, because they've posted another story -- with video this time -- hailing him as a budgetary genius. Clearly, the only Tulsans they've been asking about Bartlett's record are Bartlett himself and his publicist. Earlier this year, an article appeared on the Reason Foundation's website under Bartlett's byline.

The article, posted on December 10, 2012, began:

When Mayor Dewey Bartlett took office on December 7, 2009, Tulsa, Oklahoma was in its worst budget crisis since the Great Depression.

"We would have probably had to file for bankruptcy," Bartlett tells Reason TV. "It certainly got us focused on how to run a government better."

With a $10 million budget shortfall and employee compensation spiraling out of control, thinkng about layoffs was just the beginning. Bartlett schooled himself about the budget and decided to focus "on things a government really should do and also make a decision on what a government really doesn't need to do." He reformed pay for police and firemen, sold unused vehicles and property, and privatized some city services, including the city's zoo.

Worst budget crisis since the depression? Tulsa had a deeper crisis in 2002, when Susan Savage was leaving office. Officials projected a $11.3 million shortfall. Incoming Mayor Bill LaFortune and the City Council approved an FY03 budget that was $13 million lower than its FY02 budget. They didn't raise taxes, either.

Bankruptcy? Mayor Junior doesn't know the meaning of the word. There was no chance that Tulsa would default on its general obligation debt, funded by property tax, or its revenue bonds, funded by sales taxes. You don't declare bankruptcy just because you don't have as much money to spend as you expected. You declare bankruptcy when you can't even make the payments on your debt. The City of Tulsa had to tighten its belt, like nearly every Tulsan has had to do. Unlike cities in some other states, Oklahoma's cities and towns are required by state law to balance their budgets every year.

It's nice that Bartlett Jr bothered to "school[] himself on the budget" after he was sworn in. Many candidates for public office feel an obligation to study the issues before running, but clearly that was unnecessary for a candidate with a famous name and a pile of daddy's money.

Terry SimonsonIn the video, there's a cameo (likely unintentional) by Bartlett's former chief of staff Terry Simonson, who is seen pushing through a door marked Office of the Mayor at 14 seconds into the video.

At 2:22, Bartlett begins to talk about the Management Review Office, and a pull-quote appears from a May 2011 Tulsa World web story, headlined "Management Review Office tackles 18 projects."

The city's Management Review Office - created to vet and help implement the KPMG study's efficiency recommendations - is working on projects that are expected to save Tulsa a minimum of $2.6 million annually.

$2.6 million is certainly worth saving, but it's not all that impressive as a percentage of the city's more than half-billion-dollar annual budget.

The graph at 2:30, comparing City of Tulsa spending to the rate of inflation, was produced by City Council researcher Jack Blair at the request of Councilor John Eagleton. Eagleton was at times the lone voice for fiscal restraint during the Kathy Taylor administration, calling for limiting budget growth to the rate of inflation. Because Eagleton's counsel was rejected in 2006, 2007, and 2008, the cuts were far more painful when the revenue shortfalls hit in late 2009.

Apparently ignorant of the fiscal warnings from Eagleton and colleagues Bill Martinson and Rick Westcott, Bartlett Jr endorsed Kathy Taylor for reelection until she opted to quit the race. By his own statement, Bartlett Jr didn't seem to get hip to the budget crisis until the day he was sworn in, when Finance Director Mike Kier came into his office "with a very concerned look on his face." Bartlett Jr's 2009 mayoral campaign didn't address fiscal issues at all; rather it was focused on his Democratic opponent's support for Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign.

I applaud Bartlett Jr's initiative to apply the penny test to detect unused and unneeded vehicles and his efforts to sell off surplus capital equipment and real estate. It's good to see managed competition, an idea that emerged about 20 years ago from Indianapolis in the administration of Mayor Stephen Goldsmith, at work in Tulsa, but I seem to recall some of that began under Bill LaFortune. (In managed competition, when a city function is considered for privatization, city employees are able to bid against private companies and have an incentive to find savings.)

It's notable that the City Council gets no mention from Bartlett Jr in this exercise in self-backpatting. The Council spends weeks examining, amending, and ultimately approving the city's budget. Their effort to restore key services without raising fees was thwarted by Bartlett Jr's veto, according to then-Councilor Rick Westcott, in a November 24, 2010, UTW news story by Mike Easterling.

From Westcott's perspective, other factors have contributed to the falling out between the mayor and the council, particularly the list of fee increases Bartlett proposed in the spring to help restore the city services that had been cut. When the council shot down those increases and countered with budget amendments of its own that restored those services without raising any fees, it appeared to make the mayor angry, Westcott said.

"He vetoed our budget, specifically our amendments, and that's not the way a fiscal conservative should approach the budget," he said.

Westcott also maintains the day-to-day operations of the new administration leave a lot to be desired.

"He's missed several deadlines of several different issues," Westcott said. "It does not appear there is anyone on the staff paying attention to those things ... There have been several examples over the course of the year where he's missed deadlines. I find that very disappointing. That's basic stuff."

As I noted in the same story, Bartlett Jr was the first mayor in my recollection who had managed to alienate all nine city councilors. You might expect a budget-cutting mayor to face the ire of councilors supported by public employee unions, but he managed to tick off the most devout fiscal conservatives on the council as well. There are indications that his relationship with the new crop of councilors isn't much better.

Bartlett Jr's mishandling of police layoffs should have caught Reason's attention. A federal grant could have been used to avoid layoffs and the significant costs of processing the layoffs and recall -- possibly exceeding $1 million, not to mention the bad publicity for the city.

The next time Reason decides to lionize a local public official, I hope they'll do some independent research first. Maybe talk to other elected officials, talk radio hosts, city hall reporters, local bloggers. I'm sure the city officials of Bell, California, would have told Reason all sorts of good things about themselves, too.

MORE: Reason surely wouldn't approve of Vision2, the corporate welfare and pork barrel plan that Bartlett Jr spent months promoting as campaign co-chairman. Vision2 would have borrowed money today against revenues that wouldn't be collected for four years in order to fund specialized equipment for the benefit of a bankrupt airline and in order to accumulate a "deal-closing" fund that would be doled out to benefit politically favored companies.

In a recent issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly, Terry Simonson, who left his position as Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr's chief of staff under an ethical cloud, makes a very weak case for de-annexing the Tulsa County Fairgrounds (aka Expo Square) from the City of Tulsa.

Over the history of the Fairgrounds' existence at their current location, various portions have been inside and outside the city limits. In 2007, the City Council voted to annex all 230-some acres of it, to be effective in January 2009. The delay was the result of a deal between then-Mayor Kathy Taylor and the county commission. County commissioners, who double as members of the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority (TCPFA, aka the Fair Board), warned of dire consequences to the prosperity of Expo Square and the city if the annexation went through. Because the City surrounded the unincorporated territory on all four sides, it did not need the consent of the owner -- Tulsa County -- to complete the annexation.

(Note that Simonson neglects to inform the readers that three of the TCPFA trustees are the county commissioners, and the other two members are appointed by the county commissioners.)

As Simonson himself acknowledges, the years since annexation have been good years for Expo Square. The Tulsa State Fair has "come out ahead" the last three years -- all three years the fairgrounds have been completely within the city limits. The Arabian Horse Show renewed its contract through 2017. Gun shows continue to draw big crowds.

Having to collect city sales tax and comply with city regulations hasn't hurt Expo Square's ability to attract trade shows, horse shows, and other special events, and it hasn't hurt the Tulsa State Fair.

Despite the success Expo Square has enjoyed during its time within the city limits, Simonson calls for its deannexation:

Because Expo Square tries to operate free of intrusive government regulations and politics, it's time to turn back the clock and for the city council to de annex the fairgrounds. Some will remember that in an ill-fated and short-sighted attempt to shore up its own failing financial picture, the city believed in 2009 that if it imposed the city's sales tax on sales at the fairgrounds, and charge the fairgrounds city utility rates, it would be a tremendous financial windfall. It was never going to be, and it hasn't proven to be. Instead, Expo now spends over $148,000 on utility charges it didn't have to pay, has to deal with the inspection, permitting, and other city government red tape regulations.

I don't like intrusive regulations and politics either, but if a city regulation is unjustified, Simonson should work for its repeal citywide, not try to get a special exemption for the Fairgrounds. If a city regulation is reasonable, it should apply to everyone.

What Simonson wants, really, is what any landlord would love to have: The ability to lure tenants away from other landlords with the promise of tax and regulatory exemptions. That's hardly fair to landlords who can't offer the exemption, especially when everyone depends on the same public services.

Whether or not collecting city sales taxes at the Fairgrounds has been a windfall, Fairgrounds retail sales now contribute their fair share towards the upkeep of the city streets that allow people to reach the Fairgrounds, the upkeep of the city storm sewers that carry stormwater away from the Fairgrounds (a considerable amount since so much of the 230+ acres is impermeable), and the cost of city police and fire protection for the Fairgrounds and environs.

One of the most important benefits of having the Fairgrounds within the city limits is that the planning of its future development will be done in conjunction with planning for the adjoining neighborhoods, guided by the City of Tulsa's comprehensive plan, with the involvement of City of Tulsa planning staff, and with the final say of the Tulsa City Council. I suspect that eliminating this independent oversight of Fairgrounds development is the real aim of Simonson's push for deannexation.

When the Fairgrounds was outside the city limits, there were no checks and balances over land use changes. The TCPFA, made up of the three county commissioners and two people they appoint, would propose a special exception or variance, and the County Board of Adjustment (appointed by the county commissioners) would approve it. Or the TCPFA (three county commissioners plus two people they appoint) would propose a zoning change or comprehensive plan amendment, the TMAPC would make a recommendation, and the county commissioners could vote for the TCPFA's proposal regardless of the TMAPC's recommendation. There was no one looking at proposed changes to land use at the Fairgrounds to mitigate any impact on the surrounding neighborhoods.

This is the heart of the issue: With Drillers Stadium and the old Tulsa City-County Health Department likely to be redeveloped, just across 15th Street from a residential area, City of Tulsa planning staff and City of Tulsa councilors should evaluate any of the TCPFA's redevelopment plans in accordance with the comprehensive plan and the zoning code. Terry Simonson and his former county bosses don't want that, it would seem.

Simonson makes a very misleading statement near the end of his essay:

The state and local economies have improved enough that the city council should do the right thing by giving Expo Square back to the TCPFA.

The city never took Expo Square away from the TCPFA. The Fairgrounds are owned, as they have been for decades, by Tulsa County. Just like the County Courthouse, the David L. Moss Correctional Center, County Election Board, LaFortune Park, the county road barn at 56th and Garnett -- all owned by Tulsa County, but within the Tulsa city limits and governed by the City of Tulsa's ordinances. Other county properties are within the limits of other Tulsa County municipalities -- Haikey Creek Park, for example. Simonson isn't calling for deannexation of those county properties; why should Expo Square be any different?

MORE: Some past BatesLine articles and Urban Tulsa Weekly op-eds about annexation:

November 2006: Annexing the Fairgrounds

Again, it has to be emphasized that annexation wouldn't change ownership. The fairgrounds would still be owned by Tulsa County and run by the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority (TCPFA, aka the fair board), which consists of the three county commissioners and two other members.... Annexation wouldn't affect the fair board's ability to enter into long-term, non-competitive sweetheart contracts.

But annexation would eliminate the anomalies in law enforcement and tax rates. The fairgrounds and the surrounding land would be subject to the same zoning ordinances and zoning process. The same sales tax rate would apply to businesses on and off the fairgrounds. The same hotel/motel tax rate would apply to the fairgrounds motel and to nearby motels. The same noise ordinances would apply on and off the fairgrounds.

When the fair board considers a lease, they'd have to consider whether the proposed activity complies with city ordinances. I'm sure existing uses would be grandfathered in, but any zoning relief needed for whatever replaces Bell's would have to pass muster with the City of Tulsa's Board of Adjustment (which applies the law as it is; one of Bill LaFortune's positive legacies) or the Tulsa City Council. Currently, anything the fair board (made up mostly of the county commissioners) wants to allow only needs approval by the County Board of Adjustment (appointed by the county commissioners) or the county commissioners themselves. There's no independent check on fairgrounds development.

UTW, March 7, 2007: Annexation Fixation

Typically, unincorporated areas are places with very little development and much open space. When your nearest neighbor lives a quarter-mile away, what he does on his property isn't likely to affect your enjoyment of your property. In such a sparsely settled area, you don't need many rules to maintain peace, safety, and quality of life.

But in a densely developed area, those rules are essential. As Robert Frost wrote, "Good fences make good neighbors." I spent several years of my childhood in a subdivision in an unincorporated area, and I can attest to the problems created by noise, dogs allowed to run free, lots allowed to grow wild.

To maintain quality of life where homes and businesses are packed closely together, the city regulates land use, noise, lighting, and other potential sources of annoyance that may spill over onto a neighbor's property.

But here in the heart of our city is a huge chunk of land that isn't subject to any of those rules, and without those rules in place, the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority has not been a considerate neighbor....

The TCPFA has allowed outdoor auto racing (in violation of a 1984 promise) and the annual Chili Bowl indoor races, both of which create noise in excess of city standards. During the 2004 Chili Bowl race, even with the Expo Building's doors closed, noise was measured at 85 dB nearly a half-mile away. You can imagine the impact on homes right across the street.

If Expo Square were within the city limits, the TCPFA would have to provide better noise insulation for the building or require Chili Bowl participants to muffle their cars. Given the economic impact of the Chili Bowl, I'm sure that the city would make reasonable accommodation on that issue, as well as on the issue of city building permits (another concern cited by annexation opponents). What matters is that the city would be in the loop, not helplessly enduring whatever nuisances the county chooses to harbor at the Fairgrounds.

The Chili Bowl continues to thrive and grow, by the way, notwithstanding the jurisdiction of the City of Tulsa.

Bill_Christiansen_Tulsa.jpgIn a Thursday press release, former Tulsa City Councilor Bill Christiansen, the only announced candidate for next year's mayoral election, announced his opposition to the Vision2 Tulsa County sales tax scheme on the November 6, 2012, ballot.

In his statement, Christiansen, who served on the Dialog/Visioning Task Force Steering Committee that assembled the Vision 2025 plan in 2003, contrasts the lengthy process that led to Vision 2025's list of projects to the hastily and haphazardly assembled Vision2 grab-bag.

Christiansen rightly characterizes the public meetings on Vision2: "The five Vision2 meetings consisted of people who wanted money for their project or people who were against the proposals all together." He calls for a focus on meeting our essential needs first and then talking about how to prioritize the "nice to have" items.

Christiansen's statement in full:

The citizens of Tulsa have before them a new $748.8 million Vision2 Plan that contains two propositions for the voters to consider on November 6th. The Vision2 Plan has an "Economic Development" portion and a "Quality of Life" portion, with each part approximately the same size. The sponsors of the proposal have had an input period of roughly two months to hear one-way public comment on the "Quality of Life" issues only.

I attended all the public Vision2 meetings and was amazed to see the process moving forward so quickly, especially considering the staggering financial size of the issues and the far reaching ramifications of the projects themselves. As a member of the Vision 2025 leadership team, we spent over a year taking public input and having public discussion with complete transparency and openness of what that vision entailed. On election day, all citizens of Tulsa County knew exactly what they were voting for. Vision2 is considerably larger and is being pushed through the process without open discussion and one-on-one dialog with their elected officials. The five Vision2 meetings consisted of people who wanted money for their project or people who were against the proposals all together. Many of the projects are worthy, but when you get into the details, many are things that would be nice to have rather than the essential needs of our citizens.

I am not against exploring the needs of the city. I am not against these proposed projects. I am for focusing on our immediate needs. Once those needs are met, let's prioritize our "wants". We need to focus on repairing and widening our streets and making certain public safety is funded properly so all Tulsans can feel safe in their city.

This process deserves the same level of analysis we did with Vision 2025. There is no need to rush these Vision2 projects. I believe we need to hold on this Vision2 proposal and believe we can accomplish a better vision for our future.

We have the time to do it right, we won't have the chance to do it over.

Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr is holding the first in a series of Vision2 public forums tonight (August 27, 2012, Webster High School, 5:30 to 7:30 pm) to ask what projects should be funded with the money the county would <sarcasm>graciously</sarcasm> allow the city to have. Never mind that no public forums were held before the Tulsa County Commission decided to put the three-quarters-of-a-billion-dollars sales tax extension on the November ballot.

Tulsa voters should ask the mayor why any Tulsan should support a Tulsa County scheme that shorts our city $153 million in funds for roads, parks, and other capital projects, a scheme that gives another government body a say in city-owned airport properties, a scheme that gives the Tulsa County Commission veto power over the City of Tulsa's list of projects.

I've put together a simple chart (PDF format) comparing the Tulsa County Commission's Vision2 tax scheme with a plan that spends the City of Tulsa's money to implement the City of Tulsa's vision. You may find it helpful to print out and share with His Honor and His Honor's staffers this evening as you ask him why he's backing a plan that puts the City of Tulsa at such a significant disadvantage. (More here on the math behind the numbers on the chart -- why the City of Tulsa would be better off going it alone and taking over the Vision 2025 0.6 cent tax as a city tax when the Vision 2025 tax expires at the end of 2016.)

BetterVisionForTulsa.png

A possible response to my earlier entry, Vision2 share vs. Tulsa County municipality population, is that it doesn't count the money in Proposition 1 to improve city-owned facilities and to provide "equipment and fixtures and other capital improvements" for businesses in the "Airport Industrial Complex" as part of Tulsa's share.

Even if that were a wise way to spend $254 million -- and it's not -- the City of Tulsa and its citizens would be far better off financially if the City opposed the Vision2 county tax and raised the city sales tax by the same amount.

There's precedent for the idea: Way back in 2008, when we were debating different approaches to fixing our streets, Councilor Bill Martinson proposed that the city take over county sales tax streams as they expired -- adding two-twelfths of a cent when the County's "4 to Fix the County, Part II" tax expired in 2011, and adding 0.6% when the County's Vision 2025 tax expired at the end of 2016. The overall sales tax would remain the same at 8.517%, but most of the county's share would be shifted to pay for city capital improvements that directly affect our quality of life. The plan ultimately adopted by the City Council and the voters captured the "4 to Fix" 2/12ths, but left the Vision 2025 tax untouched.

Over the last 12 months, the City of Tulsa has collected about $71 million per penny of sales tax revenue. Over 13 years at that level of sales tax collection, the 0.6% sales tax under discussion would generate $553.8 million in revenue for the City of Tulsa. Deduct the $254 million AA bailout from that number, and there'd still be almost $300 million that the City of Tulsa could spend on the priorities in its capital improvements process. Better still, that money would be spent under the tighter competitive bidding laws that apply to the city and the city's more transparent approach to picking projects for capital improvements sales tax packages, a process that has its roots in the Inhofe mayoralty and the original 3rd Penny.

So under the Vision2 plan adopted by the Tulsa County Board of Commissioners, the City of Tulsa would get a $400 million share -- if you count the American Airlines bailout in that amount. If instead the City of Tulsa adopted its own 0.6%, 13 year sales tax, the City of Tulsa would get $553.8 million. For the same overall sales tax level, City of Tulsa would be better off by $153.8 million, a nearly 40% increase in money available for capital improvements.

I can't imagine any rational, honest reason for any City of Tulsa official to go along with Tulsa County's sales tax scheme.

AND ANOTHER THING: Under the Tulsa County Vision2 scheme, the City of Tulsa has to get the County Commission's approval on how the city spends it's share of the Proposition 2 municipal pork barrel bribery fund.

Projects shall be identified by the governing body of each Political Subdivision following public hearing and input of public comment, in such form and process as determined by such governing body, and shall be submitted to the Board of County Commissioners of Tulsa County, Oklahoma to determine whether the sales tax collected pursuant to this Resolution may be properly expended for such Project.

This past week, Talk Radio 1170 KFAQ's Pat Campbell spoke to a Tulsa County commissioner, the Tulsa County assessor, the mayor, the chairman of the City Council, a former city councilor, and a Tulsa Metro Chamber official this last week about the proposed Tulsa County tax increase to fund airport improvements and to create a $75 million "Close the Deal" fund.

It was interesting to hear County Commissioner Fred Perry respond to County Assessor Ken Yazel's assertions about surplus county funds and Campbell's well-taken point that many of those funds are under the control of boards that have no direct accountability to the voters. Under firm questioning by Campbell, Perry ultimately acknowledged that these officials are mostly beyond the voters' reach.

The members of the Tulsa City-County Library Commission and the Tulsa City-County Board of Health are appointed by the Mayor of Tulsa (confirmed by the City Council) and the Tulsa County Board of Commissioners. The Tulsa Community College Board of Regents are appointed by the Governor of Oklahoma. The seven members of Tulsa Technology Center Board of Education are elected by the voters, but at the low-turnout February school elections, and with seven-year rotating terms, it would take four years to change a bare majority of the board.

Each of these four bodies has a dedicated millage -- a share of the property taxes you pay. The millage appears to be ample to meet each entity's operating needs and then some, even when sales-tax dependent city governments are hurting from economic downturns.

The good news is that each body is insulated from having their funds reallocated for other governmental purposes. When elected officials try to balance priorities across all the different ways government could be spending our tax dollars, the funds controlled by the libraries, the health department, the community college, and the vo-tech school are off limits.

The bad news is that each body is insulated from having their funds reallocated for other governmental purposes. So even if there's a crying need for more police detectives or funds to open the city swimming pools, the surplus for these entities can't be touched to help. Instead, the surplus might be used for facility expansion -- say, a new building.

When these entities run a perennial surplus, when they take in more than they can reasonably spend, it's worth asking the question: How would we go about adjusting the permanent millage for these entities, to make space in the total property tax burden for more pressing needs? Is the governing board (unelected in three of four cases) the only body that can put a millage rate reduction on the ballot? Can the County Commissioners do it? Can it be done by initiative petition?

Or maybe there's a way that these entities could donate surplus monies on a year-by-year basis into a rainy day fund available to level out the dips in revenue for sales-tax dependent cities and towns. Of course, that would likely just give the protected-millage entities the incentive to spend every mill to keep it from going into the fund.

Perry made an interesting point about the way the Vision 2025 ballot was split up, and that some of any Vision 2025 sales tax surplus might not be usable for the airport projects being discussed. But the ballot title categories for each of the three taxes that went into effect are broad enough that I imagine they can fit each proposed expenditure into one or another -- "TO FUND CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS FOR THE PURPOSE OF PROMOTING ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT", "TO FUND EDUCATIONAL, HEALTH CARE AND EVENTS FACILITIES FOR THE PURPOSE OF PROMOTING ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT", "FOR THE PURPOSE OF CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS FOR COMMUNITY ENRICHMENT".

Perry used his last minute decrying a statement by Ken Yazel as "outrageous," "despicable," "irresponsible." According to Perry, Yazel "basically said that commissioners bring these kind of proposals forward -- first of all, we didn't bring this proposal forward, but -- commissioners have these bond issues and bond refinancing and put tax issues out there to benefit their friends, to benefit people that get the fees, that get the fees from the issuing." Perry said people ought to challenge Yazel to prove his allegation.

Here's what Yazel said the day before in a call to KFAQ:

What is driving this is how big can we make the bond issues so we get the bond fees generated so that people who really want to make money can make money, and it has nothing to do with the benefit of the taxpayers; it has more to do with generating these bonds. And by the way, follow the money, but follow the fees. If they go into an authority, they're one step removed from the taxpayers authority, and it's even worse once they do a contract for non-competitive bond fees. Do you know where they're going and who's benefitting? No. It can't be audited, and it's a shame, and they ought to get out of that business.These people, in my opinion, don't care about the project, they care about generating fees.

I raised similar concerns last week.

The Tulsa County Commissioners, as the board members of the Tulsa County Industrial Authority, could easily dispel the concerns Yazel expresses by publishing on the internet a full accounting of the money handled by TCIA, including the funds raised by the Vision 2025 and Four to Fix the County sales taxes, as well as conduit loans that aren't tied to tax revenue. Contracts between the TCIA and their vendors and advisers, etc., should also be disclosed online.

Every dollar has a destination. Some dollars went directly to program costs, for example, the annual payment to the Oklahoma Aquarium. Some dollars are repaying bondholders -- those can be further divided into principal, interest, and fees. The money received from the sale of bonds should likewise Some dollars may have been used to pay support contractors -- perhaps program managers, bond attorneys, bond advisers, bond underwriters. Some dollars may be sitting in an account in reserve -- those can be divided into reserves for specific projects or for future debt service. All of that should be spelled out, online, broken out by payee. And if a payee is an LLC, as taxpayers we deserve to have a list of owners of more than, say, a 5% share. Then let the taxpayers weigh that information for themselves.

MORE: I appreciate Pat Campbell's pursuit of this issue and his willingness to ask pointed questions of these elected officials. You can find all of Pat Campbell's interviews here; here are direct links to the specific interviews:

UPDATE 2012/05/04: The answer is no, by a 5-4 vote to approve the PUD "amendment" and close the street. Thanks to Councilors Blake Ewing, Karen Gilbert, Skip Steele, and G. T. Bynum for upholding the plan and the notion of public infrastructure for public use over the demands of a private business. I'm not surprised that David Patrick and Tom Mansur voted with the developer. I'm disappointed that Jack Henderson, who used to be a reliable supporter of neighborhood interests, and Jeannie Cue, whom I perceived to appreciate the concerns of homeowners, voted in favor of the street closing.

Phil Lakin's vote reinforced the golden rule in Tulsa politics -- he who has the gold makes the rules. For years, developers and INCOG staffers excused deviations to the comprehensive plan because the plan was so old and out of date. Now we have a plan adopted within the last two years and a specific small area plan adopted just seven years ago, and yet Lakin is willing to vote to set it aside. Why would any Tulsan want to take the time to participate in small-area planning without the confidence that the TMAPC and the City Council will follow the plans that they've already approved?

Several items on tonight's City Council agenda involve a proposal to expand the QuikTrip at 11th and Utica by closing 10th Street west of Utica. (Here (PDF format) is a link to the backup information for the QuikTrip street closing agenda item.)

QuikTrip is asking the City Council to surrender to them -- the technical term is "vacate" -- a section of 10th Street west of Utica, so they can build a store and gas station with a bigger footprint, to include what is now 10th Street and the lots to the north.

The City Council should deny the request and encourage QuikTrip to find a creative solution to build within the existing site, rather than surrender a public through street for private use. This issue is a test of whether this City Council is committed to protect public infrastructure and to ensure that its development decisions are consistent with the City's long-range transportation and development plans.

I am a frequent customer of QuikTrip, and I admire the way they've transformed the convenience store industry that they pioneered over 50 years ago. You can expect that a QT store will be clean, well-stocked with high-quality, reasonably priced items, with procedures in place to keep customers and employees safe, even late at night. It's always nice to find a bit of Tulsa in other regions, like St. Louis, Wichita, and Dallas/Ft. Worth, where QT operates. I'd love to see them expand into the Oklahoma City metro area and offer ethanol-free gasoline.

For all of QT's positive aspects, it's not right for city government to turn a through street into a dead end simply to satisfy the aims of a private enterprise. There ought to be a compelling public interest in closing the street before the City Council consents to vacating a through street.

Once upon a time, QuikTrip knew how to adapt itself to a variety of urban and suburban settings. In the '70s and '80s there was a QuikTrip on the Main Mall in downtown Tulsa -- no gas pumps, no vehicular access at all. Some QuikTrip stores were standalone, some anchored strip shopping centers.

Now it appears that QuikTrip is big enough they seem to think they should be able to install their cookie-cutter store plan everywhere, without regard to the impact on public infrastructure.

The advantages of a grid street pattern are well established. Traffic can distribute itself across multiple paths through the grid. If one path is blocked, say, by construction, an accident, or emergency vehicles, traffic can reroute to another path. Through access to the surrounding arterials means it's usually possible to avoid taking a difficult left turn across arterial traffic.

In suburbia, a single residential collector street becomes a choke point for traffic in and out of a neighborhood and a speedway for those who live along it, but in an urban neighborhood with a street grid, traffic in and out is distributed across a dozen or more intersections and no one street bears the brunt of "cut-through" traffic.

10th Street is one of only three streets connecting the neighborhood to Utica Avenue. Those three streets are through all the way to Peoria -- for now.

But the City's stormwater master drainage plan for the Elm Creek basin calls for a major detention pond in the neighborhood that will necessarily interrupt the street grid, interrupting 8th Street and possibly 7th Street as well, leaving 10th Street the only through east-west neighborhood street -- unless QuikTrip gets its way and 10th is closed as well.

In his letter objecting to the proposal, developer Jamie Jamieson points out that the 6th Street Plan, part of the City's Comprehensive Plan, calls for higher density redevelopment in the area northwest of this site, making it imperative to maintain as many access points as possible to the neighborhood. In her letter, neighborhood resident Teddi Allen explains the importance of 10th Street to neighborhood ingress and egress:

According to [INCOG] staff, closure of 10th street would have minimal effect and would not be detrimental to the neighborhood. They argue that residents could either use 11th Street, or weave down Troost to exit the neighborhood via 7th or 8th Streets. Both of these concepts completely disregard the safety of the driving public.

11th Street rises in elevation between Utica and Troost, making any effort to turn out left onto 11th from Troost or Trenton problematic at best, and outright dangerous at worst due to the lack of visibility of oncoming traffic. The situation is compounded by traffic entering and exiting 11th street from the Hillcrest parking garage during peak periods and shift changes. In addition there is a great deal of pedestrian traffic crossing from the south side to the north side of 11th which compounds the problem.

Diverting traffic onto Troost Avenue as well as 7th and 8th Streets is not a viable solution either. 7th and 8th Streets are short residential streets, each a block long and filled with rental properties whose tenants often park on both sides of the street. This makes safe implementation of two way traffic virtually impossible to guarantee. Moreover, Troost Avenue as well as 7th and 8th Streets are at the lowest elevations in the neighborhood, subject to street flooding during periods of heavy rain. The staff analysis appears to ignore the fact that areas of the Pearl District, including these particular streets, lie within the Elm Creek flood basin. In an effort to resolve flooding issues in the Elm Creek Basin, the city has already built one flood detention pond in Centennial park, and there are 3 more ponds planned. Preliminary plans approved by the City (and available on its website) show that one of those ponds will detain water at the level of lowest elevation, i.e., in the area of Troost between 7th and 8th. These streets will not be available long term to provide the access the planners allude to in the application.

As Teddi Allen notes, any proper analysis of the impact of this development on traffic flow must also include the impact of the street closings required for the City's planned detention pond. If city officials surrender 10th Street now and only later realize the negative interaction with the detention pond, they won't be able to get 10th Street reopened without condemnation and compensation to QuikTrip, which would be cost-prohibitive.

And speaking of stormwater, it appears that the new store with its expanded gas canopy and parking area will require converting a large currently vacant grassy area into an impermeable surface. And yet I see nothing in the proposal explaining how additional stormwater runoff will be contained. The store is in the Elm Creek watershed, which is one of the few stormwater basins in the city for which the mitigation plan has not been fully implemented.

In fact, this question was asked at the TMAPC Technical Advisory Committee meeting: "Please address the Environmental, Stormwater Quality, Issues involved with the
Stormwater Runoff flowing into the Stormwater Drainage System from the Vehicle Fueling Areas, and the Tank Excavation Area." Apparently no answer was given: Nothing in the proposal or the INCOG staff analysis addresses additional stormwater runoff at all, much less stormwater than may be carrying toxic, flammable liquids into Elm Creek, into Centennial Park Lake, and ultimately into Zink Lake and the Arkansas River at 21st Street.

As Pearl District Association president Dave Strader pointed out in his letter to the TMAPC, the existing footprint is adequate for QT to construct a Gen 3 (QT Kitchens) store. They have nearly as much space in their existing lot (68,092 sq. ft.) as the lot at 15th and Denver (70,008) where a Gen 3 store was recently built.

In the same letter (pp. 78-85 of the PDF), Strader details the long history of area plans for the neighborhood adopted by the City, the result of years of volunteer effort. The wrong decision here will deter residents and businesspeople from getting involved in developing small area plans for other neighborhoods.

Many of you may be aware that Patrick Fox with The City of Tulsa just announced three new Small Area Plans. Once completed they will be standing in front of you asking you for your support with their plans. Will you support them or will you only support them on the condition that no one complains? What happens when QuikTrip or some other business doesn't want to play by the rules in their neighborhood? Will you tell them that their plan doesn't matter?

You can't roll over every time someone asks you to.

The point is that there are much broader implications to your decisions concerning the 6Th Street Infill Plan and The QT PUD.

Why should people like us volunteer thousands of hours making plans if you aren't going to support us? Why should we make plans at all?

The QuikTrip PUD is contrary to our plan, contrary to the comprehensive plan and increases the risk of our public safety.

Strader goes on to point out that, in 2005, the City declined to vacate a street in another part of the Pearl District (west of the Indian Health Center), citing the clear language in the Pearl District Plan that calls for maintaining the street grid.3

Dear Councilors, please do the right thing tonight and deny QuikTrip's request to vacate 10th Street.

MORE:

My earlier entry, Keeping the Promise to the Pearl District, on why the City must honor the promises it has made over a 20-year period to this neighborhood.

It is possible to build a convenience store that fits into an urban context. Here are just a few examples:

7-11 in Stockholm

Photo of an urban 7-Eleven in Stockholm by meiburgin, Flickr attribution license

Random 7-11

Photo of an urban 7-Eleven in Singapore by Cimexus, Flickr attribution license

stunned at 7-11

Photo of an urban 7-Eleven in Hong Kong by kenyee, Flickr attribution license

The TEA Party folks say they're Taxed Enough Already, but several of them who might have run against a Democrat Tulsa County Commissioner (with plans to raise our county sales taxes once again) opted instead to run against Republican legislative incumbents who are working to reduce our state income tax burden. Oh, well.

The announcement waited until Commissioner Karen Keith was safely re-elected without opposition: The Tulsa Metro Chamber's "enVision Summit," to be held at Expo Square Central Park Hall, on April 27, 2012, 8:30 to noon, when normal people are at work.

power-grab.jpgThey say they have no preset agenda, but prominent mention of visits to Indianapolis and Louisville, the announcement of a former Nashville mayor as speaker, and a quote from one of the organizers saying "we are much stronger and can have greater impact if we operate as a region versus our independent cities and towns" suggests they plan to push for regional government and the end to the self-determination of those independent cities and towns.

Indianapolis, Louisville, and Nashville don't just have "cooperation" between local governments -- all three have merged city and county governments into a single entity.

And of course, they are already looking for a list of boondoggles they can use to justify a new Vision 2025 county sales tax, to keep the money flowing through the Tulsa County Industrial Authority (TCIA) and to its favored vendors.

Keith and Frank also said it is time to begin the discussion of life after Vision 2025, a county sales tax that ends in 2017 and has funded $530 million in area projects. What does an extension of a Vision initiative look like?

In 2003, they told us we had to "do something." Although the economy recovered long before the Vision 2025 projects were complete, we're to believe that Vision 2025 caused the recovery, which coincidentally happened everywhere else in the US at the same time. And of course, we're supposed to believe that the arena (voted for in 2003, opened in 2008) caused the Blue Dome District to start revitalizing in 2000.

We spent a half-billion dollars to "revitalize our region" and now they say we need to start planning to spend even more to "invigorate" our region. If you need to keep shocking a body back to life, at some point you have to acknowledge that it's actually dead, and "it wouldn't voom if you put 4000 volts through it."

In 2000 they told us they needed money to "fix" the county. In 2006 they needed even more money to "fix" the county. Either the county is fixed, and they don't need any more money, or they money we gave them didn't really fix anything, and the fix is in.

If city officials around the region really care about the good of the municipalities they're elected to represent, they need to show up on April 27 and tell the county to back off. Every penny the county takes for its pork barrel projects is a penny unavailable for each city and town to set its own priorities. This initiative is a threat to cities and towns having the means to fund basic services and infrastructure.

I would guess that Broken Arrow residents like spending their own sales tax dollars to fix their own streets and fund their own police department. I would further guess they'd be upset if Tulsa Money Belt types had the political means to redirect public funding from Broken Arrow's "parochial concerns" (driveable streets, low crime rate, pools open and parks mowed) to the Tulsa Money Belt's preferred projects.

If BA's council and other municipal officials ignore the real threat this initiative poses to local self-determination now, before it gets off the ground, they may find themselves in a year or two trying in vain to stop the idea once it gets buy-in from everyone who can make money or accrue power from consolidation. The only way to stop this foolishness is to follow Barney Fife's advice: Nip it in the bud.

Tulsa's city officials should take this seriously, too: City of Tulsa tax dollars are funding the Tulsa Metro Chamber, and the Chamber is turning around and spending money to promote a plan that would undermine the City of Tulsa's ability to fund local government and infrastructure. Money, don't forget, is fungible.

Maybe the TEA Partiers will stop searching the skies for black helicopters long enough to notice this local grab for taxes and power. I love what you say you stand for -- limited government, free enterprise, individual responsibility, local autonomy. The question is whether you'll stand up for those ideals when and where it really matters.

And wouldn't it be nice if Tulsa County Commissioners would content themselves to paving county roads, managing the finances of basic county government, and keeping their doggone hands out of our pockets?

(POWER GRAB parody image found here.)

Filing for November's Tulsa City Council elections ended at 5 Wednesday. Tulsa District 4 City Councilor Blake Ewing (a Republican) has been re-elected, having failed to draw an opponent. Long-time District 1 Democrat incumbent Jack Henderson is being challenged by fellow Democrat Twan T. Jones, while Republican District 7 freshman Tom Mansur faces a challenge from 25 year old Republican Arianna Rachelle Moore. Because only two candidates filed in Districts 1 and 7, those contests will appear on the November general election ballot.

Meanwhile, three Tulsa County incumbents -- Republican Sheriff Stanley Glanz, Democrat District 2 County Commissioner Karen Keith, Republican County Court Clerk Sally Howe Smith -- have filed for re-election, while deputy County Clerk Pat Key, a Republican, has filed to replace her longtime boss, incumbent Earlene Wilson. No opponents have yet to file.

It's time for a regime change at the County Clerk's office; it remains to be seen whether Key will offer the voters a significant change of direction from Wilson's policies, but we won't find out without a competitive election.

We need a Tulsa County Clerk who believes in the value of online access to public records. Because of Wilson's footdragging and unwillingness to work with fellow officials, we have a "stovepiped" county clerk database that doesn't mesh well with the assessor's and treasurer's databases, and doesn't seem to be accessible through the clerk's website. For many years, Wilson resisted even the current, minimal amount of online information, supporting instead a system that required a monthly fee and the county commission's permission for access. Meanwhile, Oklahoma County has had an integrated system, cross-linking assessor, treasurer, and clerk records, since 2004.

We also need a change in County Commission District 2 We need someone on the Commission who will shutdown efforts to raise or renew expiring special county sales taxes. We need a District 2 commissioner who will put someone sympathetic to homeowner's concerns back on the TMAPC, rather than trying to get rid of a neighborhood-friendly planning commissioner, as Keith did.

For both County Clerk and Commission District 2, we need officials who will work alongside County Assessor Ken Yazel in his often-lonely battle to increase accountability and scrutiny for county government spending. Notwithstanding publicized awards, There's still a problem with transparency at the County Courthouse.

One problem area is the Tulsa County Industrial Authority. While many county contracts are now online, you will look in vain for the TCIA's contracts with bond attorneys, bond advisers, and bond brokers. You won't be able to find out to whom the TCIA is lending money. Google turned up some TCIA audit documents, but these too are short on specifics, long on generalities.

Also not on the county website (as far as I can find): The county fair board's contract with Murphy Brothers for the Tulsa State Fair midway and the Big Splash contract.

County Commission District 2 includes Sand Springs, Berryhill, Jenks, west Tulsa, downtown Tulsa, and parts of midtown, east, and north Tulsa: Everything southwest of the river and north of 121st Street; everything north of the river and west of downtown; 31st to 81st, Riverside to Lewis; I-244 to Pine, Utica to US 169; I-244 to 31st, the River to US-169 & I-44. (Click here for a map of the new Tulsa County Commission boundaries, or click the image below to blow up the District 2 map.)

The voters deserve some competition. Will you run? Do you know someone who would?

TulsaCoCommissionerD2-2012.png

Today, April 11, 2012, is the final day of candidate filing for City of Tulsa elections and the first day for state and county filing.

Last year, councilors in Districts 1, 4, and 7 were elected to a one-year term and should have been up for a three-year term this year. But then Tulsans voted for the third change in election calendar in five years and switched the council to two-year terms in even years. That means Districts 1, 4, and 7 are up for two-year terms instead.

So far only the incumbents -- Democrat Jack Henderson, Republican Blake Ewing, and Republican Tom Mansur -- have filed. The filing period comes only five months after the last election, far too early to be thinking about yet another election.

And despite all of Tulsa's to-ing and fro-ing over election dates, we still couldn't manage to line up the filing periods.

The State of Oklahoma has backed up its filing period from June to April in order to put a full two months each between filing, primary, runoff, and general election, so as to accommodate overseas voters. For some reason, they chose the last half of the week instead of the traditional Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.

This year each of Oklahoma's 77 counties will elect a sheriff, county clerk, court clerk, and District 2 commissioner. All five U. S. representatives, all 101 state representatives, and the 24 state senators with odd-numbered districts will be up for re-election as well. Two statewide offices, seats on the Corporation Commission, will be on the ballot: Bob Anthony is running for a fifth full six-year term in Seat 2; Patrice Douglas, appointed last year to replace Jeff Cloud, who resigned, will seek to remain on the commission for the remainder of the Seat 3 term that expires in 2014. Neither of our U. S. Senators face re-election this year; Inhofe's seat is next up 2014, Coburn's replacement (he says this term is his last) will be elected in 2016.

Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz, County Commissioner Karen Keith, County Clerk Earlene Wilson, and Court Clerk Sally Howe Smith are all up for re-election. As far as I am aware none have drawn an announced opponent, but you have until Friday at 5 to change that.

ThisLand-20120301.jpgThe March 1, 2012, issue of This Land includes my first foray into print in nearly two years. The story is about Government 2.0 and the Oklahomans who are using web and mobile technologies to work for more responsive and accountable state and local government.

It's a big topic and at one point my working draft was twice as long as what I ultimately submitted. There are so many interesting angles and individual stories, and I just managed to squeeze these into the space available:

  • The free mobile app used by Shawnee and Enid to make public info easily available to their citizens, and the former Haskell city councilor who's an evangelist for connecting small cities and towns with inexpensive web technology like this app.
  • The volunteer work a local group of web developers are doing to make it easier for Tulsans to get around, whether in their own vehicles or by Tulsa Transit bus.
  • The former BBS sysop turned legislative committee chairman trying to modernize state government's use of data and its availability to the public, and the think tank that provides an easy way for the public to search and analyze this newly public state government data.
  • The former big city newspaper app developer who used his data journalism skills to learn about the small Texas city to which he was moving.

At the moment the story is only available in print. You can find the latest issue of This Land available for $2 at coffeehouses, restaurants, specialty retailers, and other locations around Tulsa, or you can subscribe -- $40 a year.

eric_gomez_mugshot_20120219.jpg

From KJRH News, former Tulsa District 4 City Councilor Eric Gomez was arrested early Sunday morning, February 19, 2012:

Tulsa police arrested a former city councilor over the weekend for domestic abuse.

Forty-six-year-old Jason Eric Gomez was arrested at 1:05 a.m. Sunday.

According to the arrest report, Gomez was arrested for domestic assault and battery in the presence of a minor, interrupting or interfering with an emergency call and resisting arrest.

According to the county jail inmate record for Eric Gomez, he was released on $6,000 bond at 2:27 p.m. Sunday.

MORE: KRMG is also reporting the Eric Gomez arrest story. The News on 6 has more details about Eric Gomez's arrest:

Jail records show Gomez's wife told Tulsa Police that her husband had assaulted her and she showed officers her injuries.

She told police that when she tried to call 911, Gomez took the phone away from her. She said he then ran out of the house to a next door neighbor's home.

Tulsa Police say when they located Gomez, he resisted arrest and smelled of alcohol.

Gomez was booked into the Tulsa County jail on complaints of domestic assault and battery, resisting arrest and interfering with an emergency call.

He is set for a court appearance on February 28, 2012.


Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr is pushing for a policy change to Tulsa's local government cable channel that would hinder public transparency and accountability in city government.

Today, Monday, January 23, 2012, at 2 p.m., in City Hall room 411, the TGOV Coordinating Committee will meet to discuss:

Whether or not to continue broadcasting meetings of Authorities, Boards, and Committees, including recommending entities, such as Tulsa Metropolitan Planning Commission, Transportation Advisory Board, HUD grant committees. etc. 11.451-14

tgov_header.png

From KTUL's story, "TGOV Content Up For Debate":

The mayor's administration told News Channel 8, they're all for transparency but that concern arose when the Transportation Advisory Committee suddenly appeared on TGOV without going through the process of appearing before the TGOV committee, and that the administration wants to make sure everybody follows the same process.

I asked Council Administrator Drew Rees, via email, who and what prompted this agenda item. His response:

The issue arose when the Mayor's office requested that TGOV not broadcast the Transportation Advisory Board meetings, because they did not believe TGOV should broadcast committees which were purely "recommending bodies." (Other such recommending bodies are the TMAPC, and various CDBG committees.)

To answer your next question, it is my understanding the Mayor does not want these meetings filmed or broadcast in any manner by TGOV. And finally, the TGOV Coordinating Committee approves all policies and all major operating decisions. The Chairman of the TGOV Coordinating Committee makes all day-to-day operating decisions. (see Title 12, Chapter 7, section 703.)

I hope this helps. Monday is a public meeting and you are welcome to attend. If you cannot, you are welcome to send me an email and I will distribute it to the other Committee members at the meeting.

In reply, I wrote:

Much of the substantial discussion about a city decision takes place in the recommending body, with the decision maker (City Council or Mayor or both) often deferring to the recommending body's judgment without comment or discussion. For this reason, video recordings of Tulsa's authorities, boards, and commissions are central to the public understanding of the official actions of city government. TGOV should work to its maximum capacity to record these hearings, should make all of them available online, unedited in the original format, and should broadcast as many of them as the schedule allows. Not to record, post, and broadcast these meetings is a violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of Oklahoma's Open Meetings and Open Records laws.

If there is a shortage of budget or personnel to record these meetings, I feel certain that many civic-minded Tulsans with video experience would volunteer to man the cameras.

TGOV exists for the same reason that C-SPAN does -- to let the sunlight of public awareness, which Justice Brandeis called the best disinfectant, illuminate city government's inner workings so that the citizens of Tulsa can intelligently exercise their rights to free speech, to petition the government, and to vote.

There are four members of the coordinating committee: Council Administrator Drew Rees, City Council Communications Director Matt Martin, Mayor Bartlett Jr's designee Lloyd Wright, and Information Technology director Tom Golliver (or his designee). Rees, as committee chairman, makes day-to-day decisions on TGOV content.

TGOV began its life as a dedicated cable channel for city government in 2004, but the local cable company (Tulsa Cable Television, now Cox Cable) had been broadcasting City Commission or City Council meetings for decades before that. Here's the 2004 resolution establishing the rules for TGOV.

A dedicated TGOV channel allows for broadcast of other meetings and events important to the citizens of Tulsa. TGOV regularly broadcasts the City Council's committee meetings, the meetings of the City of Tulsa Board of Adjustment (which handles zoning variances and special exceptions), the meetings of the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (which hears changes to the zoning map and the zoning code and approves subdivisions), and occasionally other boards like the Tulsa Authority for the Recovery of Energy (TARE, aka the trash board, which isn't in the energy recovery business any more).

TGOV isn't just a cable channel any more. In late 2009, TGOV began offering online streaming at tgovonline.org of the same content that Cox Cable customers see on channel 24 and on-demand access to previous meetings. This development means you don't have to wait for the replay to roll around on TGOV; you can watch when you want, and you can easily point others to key moments in meetings.

That's why it's silly for anyone to be concerned about eating up broadcast time with committee meetings. With the ability to serve video from its website, TGOV isn't limited to 168 hours of content a week.

In July of 2010, the City Council passed an ordinance (22305) codifying the policy for TGOV (now Title 12 Chapter 7 of Tulsa Revised Ordinances); Bartlett Jr vetoed the ordinance, and the Council overrode his veto.

Bartlett Jr wanted to use TGOV as an economic development tool, according to this KOTV story from 2010. Who does he think watches TGOV? You can't get it in Atlanta or Sacramento or Dallas. It's there to give Tulsans insight into the what is being done in their name by city government.

I can't shake the feeling that the mindset from the Mayor's Office is: "If we keep meetings off of TGOV, then people won't know hear about issues that would disturb them, and everyone will think everything is just fine."

If you can't attend the meeting at 2 today, send your comments by email to drees@tulsacouncil.org

Once in a while I come across a phrase that captures in 20 words what I've tried and failed to say in 2,000. It's an aphorism by cartoonist Hugh McLeod (@gapingvoid on Twitter), tweeted by former Louisiana Governor and dark-horse presidential candidate Buddy Roemer:

"Real success comes not from being invited into the yacht, but from being able to paddle one's own canoe." -- Hugh McLeod

I replied to Roemer: "Tulsa has an entire subculture devoted to getting on the yacht and staying there. Boat-rockers aren't welcome."

The members of this subculture would utterly disagree with McLeod's definition of success. Riding on the yacht is far more comfortable than paddling your own canoe, and all you have to do is to stay in the good graces of the yacht's owners.

Tatoosh Yacht

Paul Allen's yacht at Venice, by Anton Porsche, on Flickr (Creative Commons attribution)

McLeod's metaphor of the yacht guest fills a gap in my description of Tulsa's power structures. I've written extensively about Tulsa's "Money Belt" -- a geographic pattern in voting that correlates strongly with wealth as measured by home value. I've written about the Cockroach Caucus, a coalition of various interests with a great deal of control over Tulsa, a group that has been working particularly hard to recapture lost power and hang on to it. But the very wealthy can't control Tulsa's city government and civic institutions on their own.

That's where the Yacht Guests come in. They staff the non-profits and the quangos, they run small service-oriented businesses that cater to the yacht owners, they're professionals who have the yacht owners as clients, they work as managers for the yacht owners' businesses. They may not be wealthy, but they're comfortable, and they have access to opportunities and perks that are out of financial reach for the folks who aren't on the yacht. Their main job is not to rock the boat, but from time to time, they're called upon to defend the yacht and its owners against perceived threats.

Imagine you're the executive director of a small non-profit. You have a big office with windows, an administrative assistant, and you oversee a staff of a dozen or so. A couple of times a year you represent your organization at a national conference in Las Vegas or New York or Orlando -- all expenses paid by your organization. The organization has season tickets for the Drillers and club seats at the BOK Center, purchased in the name of entertaining clients, donors, and business partners, but most of the time, you can use them for yourself. During the work day, you come and go as you please, taking long lunches, playing golf, and volunteering and serving on the boards of other non-profits, all of which you can justify as building goodwill for your organization. When 5 p.m. rolls around you're done for the day. You're not paying private school tuition -- your kids got into their first-choice public magnet school. You're invited to great parties and outings and get some great freebies.

Occasionally, like the undertaker in The Godfather, you will be asked to do a service -- serve as chairman of a charter change or recall committee, sign a petition, attack anyone seen as a threat to the yacht and its owners. Your job is to be a proxy when the yacht owners don't want their fingerprints on something. You may even have to be the scapegoat, but never fear -- you will be provided for; if you're sacked from one job, they'll find you another. You can even go through a training program to learn how to behave yourself politely on board the yacht.

Back in September, I was invited to the grand opening of Tulsa's Fab Lab. It's a very neat idea and has its origins at MIT. It's a place where anyone with an idea can come and use computerized design and fabrication equipment to make a prototype, rather than paying a fabricator or buying the equipment for yourself. The hope is to facilitate the efforts of Tulsa entrepreneurs and to inspire young people to pursue engineering, design, and manufacturing. It's a great place for the guy who's trying to paddle his own canoe to turn a dream into something tangible.

The grand opening was at 3 in the afternoon on a weekday. For me, that meant notifying my boss that I'd be out and using up a few hours from my accrued paid leave. When I got there, I saw many familiar faces -- each of whom could reasonably justify his or her presence at this event during the work day, drinking wine, eating hors d'oeuvres, and schmoozing, as a part of his or her job description. Nice work if you can get it, and if you get it, you're going to do all you can to hold onto it.

(I should add that only two or three of the guests that afternoon showed any interest in the fascinating machines available for use at the Fab Lab.)

It might have been that day that the friend who had invited me to the Fab Lab opening mentioned the organization needed to hire an executive director. Perhaps it was a hint that I should apply, but a glance at the list of major donors told me all I needed to know about my chances of being hired.

And if by some fluke I were hired? The thought had some appeal -- working out in the community, interacting with a variety of people every day, promoting a great new institution, being the boss, having my own office, and enjoying some of the other perks I mentioned above. But then it hit me: My livelihood, my family's daily bread, would be dependent on me maintaining the goodwill of the board of directors. The organization's well being would be dependent on me maintaining the goodwill of all current and potential donors. If I took such a job, for the sake of my family and the sake of the organization, I'd have to shut up completely about local politics.

I periodically hear from friends who are guests aboard the yacht. They complain, strictly off-the-record, about the bad decisions being made by the yacht owners, but they wouldn't dare speak publicly. I wrote about the phenomenon back in 2003, in a note to fellow TulsaNow board members about our stance on Vision 2025:

This may be a bit impolite to say, but it's there beneath the surface and ought to be dealt with openly. Some of our group work for organizations which are funded by supporters of this package. Others aren't personally dependent, but are involved with organizations that need the funds that the package supporters can offer. Others need the goodwill of city government to conduct business and make a living. Some of us have even been paid to facilitate and promote the vision process and to work for the "vote yes" campaign. Beyond the financial considerations, many members of our group move within a narrow circle of social and organizational connections -- a virtual "small town" within the city, focused on the arts and other non-profit organizations, centered around Utica Square and chronicled by Tulsa People and Danna Sue Walker. As in any small town, some opinions are acceptable and some are not, and speaking your mind risks ostracism.

Walt Kelly wrote about it back in 1955:

pogogummint-420x638.gif

I can think of a few other occasions when I may have been subtly invited to come aboard the yacht. I think I've made it abundantly clear that I wouldn't be interested. One of my friends, a founder of several successful small businesses, was recently given a very explicit invitation aboard: If he would lend his name in support of the Save Our Tulsa at-large council proposal, he would never have to worry about financing for his businesses. My friend declined the offer. He prefers to paddle his own canoe.

It's possible to be tossed off the yacht even if you never realized you were aboard. Another friend found himself unexpectedly out of a engineering job, some time after he led a successful effort to stop a sales tax increase. Turns out that the company's owner had some real estate interests that stood to benefit if the tax had passed.

The guests aboard the yacht are not bad people. For many, being on the yacht gives them a chance to spend their days working for causes about which they are passionate. Surrendering their personal political opinions is a small price to pay for that opportunity. As the saying goes, don't hate the player, hate the game.

And the game should be hated. Yacht-guest culture rewards sycophancy and penalizes innovation. It drives creative people away. It hurts our economy.

I write all this not to heap scorn on those who are sailing happily aboard the yacht, but rather to alert you to the reality of this subculture, so you understand the forces at work in Tulsa politics. The apparent unity of the great and the good on a certain issue may be nothing more than the yacht guests keeping their hosts happy.

KRMG ran a story recently contrasting the approach that outgoing and incoming members of the Tulsa City Council take to their jobs. The story features outgoing councilor Jim Mautino and incoming councilor Karen Gilbert.

When asked about controversy over the trash contract, Gilbert demurred:

"I'm not going to talk trash," Karen Gilbert quipped when KRMG began to ask her about ongoing issues.

"That's kind of a touchy subject right now," she added, and she says until the trash board finalizes its presentation to the council, she's not ready to state an opinion.

As for the water issue, Gilbert says she and the council will address that question when the trash question has been put to bed.

So despite the fact that the trash service issue has been under discussion for more than a year, during which time she was a candidate for office and presumably asked about the issue once or twice, despite the fact that radical changes are proposed to a system with which most Tulsans are quite pleased, Gilbert hasn't formed an opinion, at least not one she's willing to share, and won't until, apparently, the untouchable TARE board tells her what to think about the plan they devised.

Meanwhile Jim Mautino was proactively researching issues of concern to his constituents right up until the end of his term:

On the trash issue, he said it's a "done deal" and that the city will award a contract that will force residents to go to once-a-week service, which he says is less efficient and more expensive than the twice-a-week service which 80 percent of the city currently receives.

The other 20 percent of the city in the northwest part of town currently gets service only once a week and that service is provided by the city, Mautino says, not a private company.

And in that area, the city is losing money, he maintains, because the bins get overfilled, the trucks have to make more trips back and forth rather than staying on their routes because they get full so much faster and the workers tire more quickly.

Despite the evidence available right at hand, he maintains the city plans to award its contract to a company that will institute once-a-week service.

As for water treatment, Mautino is among several Tulsans who fear the city's plans to go to a chloramine-based treatment system is also a done deal, despite the fact that the Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority has a meeting set for December 14th to hear arguments on the issue.

One of the things that seemed to annoy City Hall bureaucrats about the old council was their habit of raising new issues to be discussed, explored, and acted upon. From the bureaucrats' perspective, this meant more work and their own priorities displaced by the councilors' pet issues.

Nearly all of the outgoing councilors had certain priorities that were inconvenient or outright obnoxious to the administration, the authorities, and special interests. Jim Mautino was concerned about animal control, food truck sanitation, chloramines in water, and encouraging new, high quality development in east Tulsa. John Eagleton pushed for computerization of municipal citations and court records, limiting the growth of the city budget, and integrity in the Mayor's and City Attorney's office. Maria Barnes was particularly interested in protection of midtown neighborhoods from commercial encroachment and inappropriate redevelopment. Roscoe Turner's key issues included the impact of airport noise on nearby neighborhoods and possible pollutants from a burn facility at a cement plant. Fiscal matters, such as the rapid growth of the public safety budget, were a major focus for Rick Westcott. Bill Christiansen led a task force about improving communication between the city and neighborhoods in the zoning process. Chris Trail was concerned about prostitution and human trafficking that might be taking place in Tulsa's massage parlors.

(Trail's noble but ultimately futile attempt to require massage parlor owners to be accountable for criminal activities in their facilities is the topic of a news story by Jennie Lloyd in this week's Urban Tulsa Weekly.)

Although the specific issues varied, in each case these councilors were willing to spend time outside the scheduled meetings to read, to talk to citizens, to commission research from the council staff (and actually read it), and then to keep pushing for action. That's pretty much a recipe for annoying city officials.

It won't be necessary for Burt Holmes or Ben Latham to sit in the front row of the audience and hold up "YES" or "NO" signs to tell their city councilors how to vote. These councilors won't need to attend secret meetings with Chamber lobbyists.

WhatMeDewey.jpgIf Gilbert is representative of the new crop of councilors, they'll be content to be spoon-fed information from the mayor, the department heads, and the members and staffers of authorities, boards, and commissions. The string-pullers need only work behind the scenes to manipulate those who are generating the information that the councilors are consuming. The Complacent Councilors won't seek out alternative perspectives, and they'll be inclined to dismiss any alternative points of view that are brought to them by citizens, because those citizens aren't "experts." They'll vote the "right" way every time, and the department heads, authority members, and mayoral assistants won't have to answer any questions that make them uncomfortable. Never mind that the result may be uncontrollable spending and a decline in our quality of life -- at least those councilors won't be bickering!

And these new Complacent Councilors won't need to devote as many hours as the old Council did. Committee and council meetings will be shorter. There will be no need to read all the backup material, to meet with interested parties, to seek out in-depth research. All they'll need to read is the recommendation at the bottom of the "Request for Action" cover sheet and vote accordingly.

Despite the massive turnover on the City Council, I'm hopeful that the four members who weren't part of the Cockroach Caucus push to take over the Council -- two old, two new -- will continue to ask questions, seek alternative sources of information, look at practices in other cities, and bring new ideas to the table. But proactive councilors should expect to endure the same kind of strident pushback from the mayor, ABC members, bureaucrats, and the Cockroach Caucus that their despised predecessors suffered.

MORE on complacency:

An excellent article on strategies to overcome complacency on the Leadership and Management website identifies nine "forces that reinforce complacency and help maintain the status quo." Here are a few:

  • A lack of sufficient performance feedback from external sources.
  • A kill-the-messenger-of-bad-news, low-candor, low-confrontational culture.
  • Human nature, with its capacity for denial, especially if people are already busy or stressed.
  • Too much happy talk from management.
  • Internal measurement systems that focus on the wrong performance indexes, or no systems at all.

Tulsa certainly has a low-candor, low-confrontational culture, and the defenders of the status quo exploited that negative character quality in their campaign to paint the old City Council as a bunch of counterproductive bickerers. The councilors and their allies in the community (including me) did not succeed in countering the "bickering" meme. It was so universally accepted that two different colleagues congratulated me on the day after the city primary, assuming incorrectly that I would be happy with an outcome that fired four incumbents.

The Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority (TMUA) is working hard to rebut concerns that Tulsa citizens have about the addition of ammonia, in the form of chloramines, to our drinking water, in advance of the final discussion on the issue at today's (December 14, 2011) 2:30 pm TMUA meeting at Tulsa City Hall. Here are the some of the latest statements from TMUA chairman Rick Hudson, as reported by KRMG:

He told KRMG, "We have to do this," or else "we'll be subject to very severe fines."

He notes that the EPA has approved the use of chloramines and calls it "safe and effective." (See link below)

He also says studies by the city and an extensive study by the City of San Francisco "debunk" several objections that have been raised regarding health and environmental considerations.

The San Francisco chloramine "study", it appears, is not research specifically about the impact of chloramines on humans or the environment, but a bibliography of articles that may have some bearing on the topic. I found only two papers on the list that appeared to involve tests on human subjects, and it was limited to a particular kind of impact, as you'll see:

Wones RG, Deck CC, Stadler B, Roark S, Hogg E, Frohman LA. Effects of drinking water monochloramine on lipid and thyroid metabolism in healthy men. Environ Health Perspect. 1993 Mar;99:369-74.

Wones RG, Deck CC, Stadler B, Roark S, Hogg E, Frohman LA. Lack of effect of drinking water chlorine on lipid and thyroid metabolism in healthy humans. Environ Health Perspect. 1993 Mar;99:375-81.

The EPA penalties to which Hudson refers have to do with a relatively new EPA regulation governing disinfection byproducts (DBP), the Stage 2 Disinfectants and Disinfection Byproducts Rule, which was finalized in late 2005 and is tied to the passage of the 1996 amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The aim of the rule is to reduce certain byproducts of chlorinated water -- trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids -- which may be linked to an elevated risk of bladder cancer and possible developmental and reproductive risks. The rule is expected to reduce the number of bladder cancer cases by 280 per year (of which 26% would be fatal), at a projected nationwide cost of $79 million for implementation. Opponents of the use of chloramines say that other disinfection methods, such as activated charcoal filters, would be safer and just as cost effective.

Tulsa has a Schedule I system (serving more than 100,000 people), and it must begin compliance monitoring of the Stage 2 DBP Rule by April 1, 2012.

Jeannine Kinney sent along an email from water system consultant Bob Bowcock, who will be speaking about chloramine risks and alternatives at the TMUA meeting this afternoon. Bowcock addresses the San Francisco study and his passionate concern about the use of chloramines. Bowcock says that we have information about chloramine DBPs today that was not available when he oversaw the chloramination of the Los Angeles water supply in the mid-1980s.

You are correct... [the San Francisco study] is not a study it is CYA. I will be bringing factual information about real studies; chloramine DBP are significantly more toxic than Chlorine DBPs.

That is a simple fact... accepted by USEPA, CDC and AWWA. They have the information... the big question everyone is struggling with is... now that they have the information what will they do with it? Drinking water regulations evolve... the regulation of DBPs has been an ongoing process since 1979. If Tulsa... armed with this new information chooses to add ammonia knowingly to their drinking water they do it with knowledge we didn't have last year, three, five ten or twenty years ago... they do it with the full and complete factual knowledge that they will be harming people and causing property damage. If they can do that and sleep at night... God Bless them.

Remember, I personally turned on the ammonia feed pump in Los Angeles, the largest chloraminated system in the United States in 1984. I did not know what I was doing then would cause the harm I know it does now. I will fight, not just today, but everyday to right the wrong I know I contributed to.

They know that what they are about to do is wrong; they can however make a choice to do what is right. A choice to add ammonia to the drinking water in Tulsa in 2011 is a sin beyond reproach.

Drinking TapTulsa's water authority is planning to replace chlorine with chloramine as primary disinfectant this coming February. In response to growing concern about the harmful effects of chloramine on people and plumbing, tomorrow, December 14, 2011, the Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority (TMUA) will hear a presentation about the hazards of chloramine and better alternatives by Bob Bowcock of Integrated Resource Management.

If you're concerned about health, environmental, and plumbing problems caused by chloramine, tomorrow is the most effective opportunity to demonstrate that concern, by showing up at the TMUA meeting, Wednesday, December 14, 2011, 2:30 p.m., 10th floor of Tulsa City Hall, 175 S. Cincinnati.

Before founding IRM, Bowcock headed water utilities in Azusa and Huntington Park, California, worked for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and designed and built water treatment and distribution systems in South America and southeast Asia. Bowcock made a presentation on chloramine to the Tulsa City Council in October, at the invitation of Councilor Jim Mautino. You can watch that presentation online -- the item begins at 1:30:10 and ends at 3:02:00.) According to Jeanine Kinney, a citizen who has been watching this issue closely:

Mr. Bowcock is dedicated to help the TMUA realize that using Chloramine in Tulsa's water, as a secondary disinfectant, is not in the best interests for Tulsa's water consumer's. Mr. Bowcock is perplexed because Tulsa can use a safe alternative and DOES NOT need to go to Chloramine. Mr. Bowcock stated that Tulsa has by far some of the best water in the country and that it would be a shame for the TMUA to ruin it with Chloramine.

The contract for the conversion was awarded at the November 16, 2011, TMUA meeting, but it could still be cancelled.

It's my understanding that the chloramine conversion is being driven by new EPA mandates, but that there are safer alternatives that will meet the new mandates. I'm wondering why Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr. hasn't asked Senator Jim Inhofe, ranking Republican and soon to be chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, to push for the EPA to back off these new regulations that are forcing cities to make costly modifications to their water systems for no gain in water quality.

You can read more about chloramine and its hazards in this earlier BatesLine story,which has links to other web resources on the topic.

Photo, "Drinking Tap" by TounoTouji, on Flickr. Creative Commons license.

The Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority (TMUA), which operates the City of Tulsa's water system, will vote today whether to approve a contract for $925,600 with Crossland Heavy Contractors for "Chloramines Modifications" at Tulsa's two water treatment plants, A. B. Jewell and Mohawk.

(See the TMUA agenda here.)

The meeting will be held at 2:30 p.m., Wednesday, November 16, 2011, in Conference Room 10 South.

If you're concerned, as many are, about the health effects of chloramine in our drinking water, this meeting might be a good opportunity to express those concerns to the people entrusted with the stewardship of our water system.

MORE: The Tulsa City Council Urban and Economic Development Committee Meeting dealt briefly with the chloramine issue on Tuesday, at the request of Councilor Jim Mautino, who asked questions of city public works employee Clayton Edwards. The 20-minute video of the meeting begins at 10 minutes into the clip at this link.

The video includes an excerpt of TMUA vice chairman Rick Hudson at the October 27, 2011, City Council meeting, defending the choice of chloramine as a water disinfectant and informing the City Council that the TMUA has the final decision over the use of chloramine. Hudson said on October 27 that he'd be glad to have chloramine expert Bob Bowcock, a member of the American Water Works Association, at the next meeting.

You can watch the full October 27, 2011, City Council agenda item about chloramine here, including Bob Bowcock's presentation and comments from Hudson. The agenda item starts at 1:30:00.

At Tuesday's committee meeting, city director of environmental services Clayton Edwards said that Bowcock will be on TMUA's December 14 agenda. The TMUA board could opt, Edwards said, to delay the contract award until they hear from Bowcock, but once approved it would be binding.

Mautino noted an interesting article on the website of RL Hudson -- TMUA vice chairman Rick Hudson is the president and CEO of the company -- about the effects of chloramines in our water supply:

So how do chloramines affect the seals and other elastomeric parts within the water distribution chain? With anecdotal evidence suggesting that chloramines hasten elastomer failure in devices ranging from toilets to faucets to fire sprinklers, the American Water Works Association Research Foundation (AWWARF) conducted a study. The results indicate that chloramines do indeed pose a significant threat to many of the most widely used elastomeric materials, including natural and synthetic isoprenes, styrene butadiene (SBR), chloroprene (CR), and nitrile (NBR).

In side-by-side tests with chlorine, chloramines caused more material swell, deeper and denser cracking, faster loss of elasticity, and greater loss of tensile strength. In a susceptible material, chloramines appear to attack the polymer's cross-links, the connections that give the material a resilient, three-dimensional structure. Cracks develop and water flows in, swelling the material and resulting in a marked loss of other physical properties. Degradation becomes more pronounced as temperatures increase.

How to cope with this chemical that degrades the rubber and plastic parts in our plumbing systems? RL Hudson has a solution: "If your application requires it, we at RL Hudson can help you find compounds that will withstand chloramines."

Toward the end of the exchange between Mautino and Edwards, there's a discussion of elevated lead levels in the blood in Washington, D. C., related to the use of chloramines in their drinking water. Edwards acknowledged that that had been a problem but thought that Washington had taken steps to mitigate it.

It's evident that Councilor Mautino has done his homework on this issue. Tulsans should be grateful that Mautino is willing to continue to delve into this issue, despite being a lame duck since his defeat in September's primary. You may not miss him now, but you will in a few months.

A weird election season has come to an end. Tulsa voters have emptied out the City Council and turned down two radical plans to remake city government (while embracing two ill-considered modifications with bigger impact than voters appreciate).

After the polls closed, I collected results from precincts along the southern tier of District 4. Of the seven locations I personally checked, Ken Brune won only two -- 65 and 156 -- precincts in the heart of the Money Belt that pushed him over the top in the primary, but he won only by slim margins. It was apparent that Republican Blake Ewing would win by a handsome margin. I headed to the historic Church Studio at 3rd Street and Trenton Ave. for Blake Ewing's watch party.

During his victory speech Ewing explained why he chose the venue for his victory party:

"I chose to have it here, because this is one of those hidden gems in Tulsa. This place sat mostly empty for a very long time." He drew an analogy between the studio and Tulsa itself. "It's had this great, beautiful history, and then somewhere along the way it may have lost its way in some places. And the effort of creative, energetic people brought something special back to life again.... I appreciate what the Miller family has done with the Church, and I hope that on a much grander scale we can do that with our city, that we can see its potential and choose to raise the bar across the board, and that as a community we will work towards that together."

Blake surprised me with a very gracious shout-out for my work here at BatesLine during this election season. I found it especially touching because he gets why I do what I do, and one of the things I most appreciate about Blake is his commitment to honesty and transparency, exemplified by his willingness to talk about political machinations that are usually hidden from public view.

"Michael is an asset to our community in that he's a voice that continues to seek out the truth and continues to call things on the carpet for being unjust or for being vague or shady or anything other than transparent. And so I'm proud to call Michael a friend, proud to have had him on our team, and I hope that that same sort of attitude will start prevailing in our city -- that the things that happen behind closed doors or that happen because elite folks pull strings that the rest of us can't -- that we turn the tide as a city and that regular folks like you and I can trust in our government and trust in the future of our city."

(I've posted this here for my own sake, because once in a while, I can use a word of encouragement.)

I was happy to have a small part in helping Blake as a volunteer for the campaign. My five-year-old and I helped him on Saturday by knocking doors in our neighborhood, and from the beginning of the campaign, long before I endorsed him, Blake would call from time to time to use me as a sounding board (as did other candidates in the District 4 race).

The other result that greatly pleased me was the defeat of the at-large council proposal by a 3-to-1 margin. Hopefully that's driven a stake through the heart of a very bad idea.

The rest of the council races went about as planned, with the candidate of the dominant party winning by a 3-to-1 margin in each district, with one surprising exception: District 3, where Republican Dave Bell came within about 140 votes of beating off-and-on Councilor (and off-and-on Democrat) David Patrick. Perhaps the anti-incumbent sentiment damaged Patrick, too, although he took advantage of it in the primary.

I was sorry to see non-partisan elections pass. It was close enough that organized opposition might have been able to defeat it. In combination with the change in election dates, non-partisan ballots will add to the challenges that grassroots candidates face in getting their message to the voters.

The move to put elections in the fall of even numbered years won a bit more support, but one wonders if people understood the gist of the question. News outlets didn't seem to get it. Fox 23's results crawl described the proposition as "term limits" (not even close), while KOTV News on 6's story said it "reduces council terms to two years" and "restored the terms set out in the 1989 charter." That's partly true -- terms will end and elections will be held in even-numbered years, as in the 1989 charter, but in the fall, coincident with federal elections, not in the spring as was the case from 1990 through 2008. It seems that even the newsfolk did not grasp the salient feature of the proposition -- holding city elections with federal elections, rather than have a special time set aside to focus on and debate local issues.

Say Hello to Garfield:-)A number of guides, interviews, and videos have been posted to introduce voters to the candidates on the Tulsa City Council ballot tomorrow. In most cases, the winner of a hotly contested primary for the district's dominant party faces the nominee of the minority party, who either got a bye or faced minimal competition in the primary. District 4 is the exception -- an evenly-divided district in which both parties had strongly contested primaries.

OK-SAFE (Oklahomans for Sovereignty and Free Enterprise) is a non-partisan but conservative/libertarian organization that produces a lengthy questionnaire for City Council candidates. Only six general election candidates responded: Jeannie Cue in District 2, David Bell and David Patrict in 3, Blake Ewing in 4, Robert Gwin in 6, and William Suliburk in 8. Candidates give a short answer, reflected on a summary grid, but may also elaborate on their responses, and their responses are posted in full.

Steven Roemerman has video of the Tulsa Press Club forum for districts 2, 7, and 8. These forums were somewhat disappointing, as questions dealing with development and land use planning weren't included, but they were still revealing in places. Check out the responses to the question about the involvement in the election of the Tulsa Metro Chamber, a city vendor, keeping in mind that Lakin, Mansur, and Cue all received money from the Chamber's TulsaBizPac.

Also note the responses to the question about trash service. Everyone likes the current service, but no one even addresses Mayor Junior Bartlett's efforts to stymie the ability of the Council to shape the trash service to address the public's concerns. Half of the Tulsa Authority for the Recovery of Energy board (William Bowles, expired 2010/07/31, Beverly Anderson and Michael Pierce, expired 2011/07/31) continues to serve despite expired terms. Mayor Junior has refused to put them up for reappointment, avoiding a Council vote, in which the TARE board members could be held to account for the board's refusal to consider public concerns about their approach to the new trash contract.

Mayor Junior's City Attorney has issued an opinion that the charter provision giving the council the power to fill expired terms that the mayor refuses to fill doesn't apply to the TARE board, because the TARE board is authorized under state statute. (The City Attorney conveniently interprets conflicts and precedence between charter and state statute as suits Mayor Junior. Sometimes state law trumps charter, sometimes vice versa.) There's also an opinion that although the city legislature created TARE, they can't eliminate it without TARE's approval, and they can't strip it of its powers. A council effort to do just that was vetoed by Mayor Junior, and councilors were told they'd be sued personally if they overrode the veto. In a nutshell, Dewey Bartlett Jr is standing in the way of Tulsans getting the trash service they want, and these candidates for City Council don't understand that playing nice with the Mayor won't make him budge on this issue.

KOTV News on 6 has posted interviews with each of the 14 Council candidates on the News on 6 election coverage home page. Click on the map to pop up the two candidates for the district, or click the link below:

District 2:

Jeannie Cue (R)
Phillip Oyler (D)

District 3:

David Bell(R)
David Patrick (D)

District 4:

Blake Ewing (R)
Ken Brune (D)

District 6:

Byron Steele (R)
Robert Gwin Jr. (D)

District 7:

Tom Mansur (R)
Michael Rainwater (D)

District 8:

Phil Lakin (R)
William Suliburk (D)


District 9:

G. T. Bynum (R)
Mike Batman (D)

Democrat Ken Brune sent out a mailer to Republican voters in Tulsa District 4 with a list of 74 "Republicans for Ken Brune (1 MB PDF)."

Ken Brune seems to be liked only by an elite and elderly class of Republicans.

SaveOurTulsa-1228E25thSt.jpg

A BatesLine analysis of the 74 names, using voter registration and county assessor records, shows that 67 of them live south of 21st Street in the Money Belt precincts that were recently moved from District 9 to District 4, 4 live north of 21st Street in the district, and 3 don't live in District 4 at all.

Median age of the names on the list is 66. The youngest, former City Councilor Eric Gomez (who threatened to sue his constituents), is 42. Only four of the 74 are under a half-century old.


The median value (as assigned by the Tulsa County Assessor) of the homes where they reside is $392,450, and the median home size is 3,473 sq. ft. Only six people on the list live in homes worth less than $200,000. (The median sales price for Tulsa is $135,000.)

1359E29thStFence.jpg

The list of Brune fans includes John Brock, leader of Save Our Tulsa, who believes that City Councilors should be seen and not heard; Joe Westervelt, a developer and former TMAPC chairman who believes citizens should not be heard and historic neighborhoods should not be protected; Frederic Dorwart, the BOK attorney, George Kaiser Family Foundation trustee who pushed through the legally-dubious ballpark assessment scheme; Bob Poe, the highway construction hothead and 2004 Tulsa Metro Chamber chairman, famed for his divisive and embarrassing rants against city councilors and state legislators (Poe was a Democrat as recently as 2009); and Gomez, who decided his constituents didn't need to know about a massive residential facility for the long-term homeless being planned for their neighborhood, then threatened to sue a constituent who complained about it.

What kind of Republican supports Ken Brune? The kind that doesn't want to protect our beautiful older neighborhoods. The kind that wants the council to be a silent rubber stamp. The kind that would rather tear apart the city charter than cooperate and compromise with city councilors who have different priorities. The kind that is well insulated by his wealth from the daily concerns that affect most Tulsans. The kind that wants higher taxes and more corporate welfare. The Cockroach Caucus type of Republican.

2301SBostonAve.jpg

As I wrote about the Cockroach Caucus back before the primary:

A small group of wealthy Tulsans want total control of city government. They don't want thoughtful citizens on the City Council who will ask direct questions or who will stand firm against special-interest manipulation. They want a City Council full of well-trained monkeys who will vote on command. They exist under various names -- TulsaBizPac, Coalition for Responsible Government, Tulsans for Better Government, Save Our Tulsa -- I call them the Cockroach Caucus. They've used unsubstantiated claims of "bickering" and "ward politics" to discredit the councilors we've elected to represent us.

These are the people, the Cockroach Caucus, who created a year of turmoil with their 2004-2005 attempt to recall two city councilors over policy differences. For all the whining and complaining they do about "Council bickering," they dragged the city through a divisive year of attacks and smears, all because they didn't like the results of an election, and they refused to work harmoniously with the councilors that the people of Tulsa had elected.

These are the people who led us into the Great Plains Airlines mess. They promised us openly that the taxpayers were at no financial risk, while they were secretly promising financiers that the taxpayers would pick up the tab if their wacky airline idea failed. It failed, state taxpayers coughed up $30 million in transferable tax credits with nothing to show for it, and Tulsa taxpayers got saddled with $7.1 million, which we're paying for with higher property taxes.

These are the Midtown Money Belt people who don't like the councilors that east and west and south and north Tulsa elect to represent our interests at City Hall. Middle-class and working-class Tulsans want more cops on the beat, city pools that open in the summer, streets that don't tear our cars to pieces, zoning that protects our neighborhoods against shoddy redevelopment, and economic policies that attract and keep growing businesses. The Midtown Money Belt types want taxpayers to subsidize their entertainment -- islands in the river, expensive concerts at the arena, WNBA. They want us to subsidize the success of their investments in suburban real estate, at the expense of growth within the city limits to help fund public safety and infrastructure.

So because they don't like the fact that the rest of us elect councilors focused on efficient basic city services, these people propose charter changes to dilute geographical representation on the City Council. They yearn for the days when you could drive a golf ball from the Mayor's midtown backyard into the yards of the other city commissioners. They want to pack the council with at-large councilors who have to be wealthy enough to afford a city-wide race or beholden to those who are.

That's the kind of Republican that backs Ken Brune.

rino-768px.png

The Brune mailer makes a preposterous claim: "Partisan politics have hampered real progress for our great city." I can't think of a single example of national party affiliation being relevant to a major city government dispute. The divisions that have hurt us are those caused by the rich, old Money Belt coots of both parties who won't work cooperatively with the rest of the city.

When I was the Republican nominee for District 4 City Council, my opponent put out a robocall the day before the election. It was Scott Petty (also on Brune's list as Robert S. Petty), speaking on behalf of "Republicans for Tom Baker."

It was the same bunch then as now. They don't want a bright, independent, creative, and courageous man like Republican Blake Ewing on the City Council. They want a submissive milquetoast like Democrat Ken Brune.

This conservative Republican is proud to support my fellow Republican Blake Ewing for District 4 City Council.


Red-white-and-blue RINO logo courtesy the conservative blog with the tongue-in-cheek name AngryWhiteDude.com

Tonight the Tulsa City Council will vote on whether to annex a 300-foot fenceline running along the west side of the future alignment of the Gilcrease Expressway, parallel to 57th West Avenue. Other parcels within that fenceline belonging to owners who want their property in the city limits will be included in tonight's vote.

The proposal has been described as affecting Berryhill, but it runs to the east of the unincorporated community surrounding Berryhill schools, which would remain unclaimed territory between Sand Springs and Tulsa's fencelines. There's no threat here to the Berryhill community's semi-rural lifestyle. Berryhill would still be outside Tulsa's fenceline, any annexation move would require residents to vote their approval, and they would still have option, should they choose, to be taken into Sand Springs instead.

This is an important strategic move for Tulsa. City of Tulsa tax dollars are building the Gilcrease Expressway, and we need to make sure that future development along that expressway returns money to the city's coffers, rather than funding Sand Springs or Sapulpa. Tulsa fell asleep at the switch a few years ago, and Sapulpa reached an arm into Tulsa County to claim all the development on I-44 leading to the Turner Turnpike. We can't afford to have that sort of thing happen again.

Here's a map with the proposed parcels to be annexed in yellow, extracted from the City Council backup packet. I added annotations marking Berryhill Schools, certain subdivisions, and Chandler Park. Click the image for a full-size view.

Gilcrease_Fence_Line_Annotated.png

While Oklahoma voters have closed off most avenues for tax hikes without a vote, there remains one loophole: the sinking fund. As Tulsa County Assessor Ken Yazel explains in the news release below, each taxing entity (a city, for example) presents the county excise board an estimate of the property tax money it will need added to the sinking fund in the coming fiscal year to repay general obligation bonds and judgments against the taxing entity.

The excise board is supposed to analyze the request and determine its validity before approving it, but according to Yazel, the Tulsa County Excise Board has been rubber-stamping requests, resulting in a property tax increase for all Tulsa County property owners once again this year, without any vote of the people.

The property tax increase requested by the City of Tulsa includes money for the final payment of the Great Plains Airlines settlement, a settlement that was thrown out by the Oklahoma Supreme Court well before the Excise Board voted to approve Tulsa's request. Yazel called this to the Excise Board's attention at the meeting on October 19, 2011, but they rubber-stamped the request without any amendments. A motion by one board member, Ted Kachel (appointed by the district judges), to delay the decision until they could learn more about their prerogatives to review and amend requests from the taxing entities died for lack of a second.

Don Wyatt's Boondoggle Blog has a summary and audio of the Tulsa County Excise Board meeting. The apathy on the part of the board's majority (Oklahoma Tax Commission appointee Ruth B. Gaines and Tulsa County Commission appointee Warren G. Morris) is appalling. They don't want to exercise independent scrutiny and judgment to protect the taxpayer.

Wyatt makes an important point: Just because your property value declined doesn't mean that your tax will go down. If the decline in value reflects a general county-wide decline, the excise board will raise the millage rate to keep the same amount of revenue flowing in. It's as if an unelected body had the power to raise sales tax rates to compensate for economic slowdown and a decline in spending.

Here's Yazel's news release:

County Excise Board Raises Tax Rates in Spite of Concerns Expressed by Tulsa County Assessor

TULSA, OK.-- The Tulsa County Excise Board approved an increase in property taxes over concerns raised by Tulsa County Assessor Ken Yazel during its meeting held on October 19, 2011.

The county assessor's job is to appraise the fair market value of property in the county. It is the function of the county excise board to approve the amounts requested for property taxes that will be used in the calculation of the appropriate tax levies.

All of the entities receiving property taxes submit an estimate of needs for property taxes to the excise board each year. It is the board's responsibility to analyze those needs, approve the property tax requests, then apply the approved amounts to the certified property values furnished by the county assessor. It is from this process that the amount of taxes each property owner will pay is derived.

Yazel attempted to make the following points to the Excise Board on behalf of the taxpayers:

1. At its core, the county excise board has property tax oversight responsibility. The board has in fact historically voted on property tax rates with virtually no independent analysis of the various estimates of needs.

2. Instead of analyzing the requests as the statutes dictate, the board merely relies on a county employee to provide them with the millage rates. To properly exercise its oversight responsibility, the excise board needs its own independent analyst to help it fulfill this responsibility.

3. Statutes require the excise board to take into account (for all entities requesting property taxes) cash balances and revenues from all sources. The requirement is there so the excise board can determine whether the requesting entity actually "needs" what has been requested.

During the meeting, one excise board member characterized the board's activity over his eight year tenure as "rubber stamping" the millage rates presented to them. He expressed some regret for this and asked the assistant district attorney for a better understanding of the board's responsibilities. Another member stated bluntly that he is incapable of analyzing the requests.

Yazel's position is not that the excise board or the county employee are doing anything other than what has been the practice for years. Rather, he is trying to help the board understand that in an era where cumulative property values are going down and the demand for money and tax rates are increasing, they have broader obligations and authority to review and potentially modify these requests than they have been exercising.

"As an example, I attempted to point out the situation related to the City of Tulsa sinking fund and the Great Plains $7.1 million judgment," said Yazel. "The Oklahoma Supreme Court recently ruled that payment to be invalid. However, the City of Tulsa put the final portion of that payment into their current request for property taxes, having done so before the Supreme Court made its ruling. I was trying to get the board members to see that they were about to raise taxes on the citizens of the City of Tulsa for a payment that the Supreme Court had invalidated. In the end, they approved the request with no changes. This proves the point, that before raising taxes they need to be more deliberative and analytical and not merely accept what is put in front of them as accurate or complete."

Total property tax revenues collected in Tulsa County have risen over the past 10 years from $397 million to an estimated $621 million for the current year, even though in many communities the population and/or the cumulative property valuations are going down. An increasing number of residences are being converted to rentals, and there is some evidence that businesses are locating in neighboring counties because of the marked difference in tax rates.

"This is a trend that is unsustainable in the long run, and that is my concern on behalf of the taxpayers," Yazel said. "It is much easier for public officials to address it now. It will be exponentially more difficult to deal with in the future if this pattern continues."

Ken Yazel was elected Tulsa County Assessor in 2002 and was re-elected in 2006 and 2010. A retired Major, U.S. Marine Corps, Yazel was also a CPA for many years. During his time in county government he has continually fought to lower taxes and ensure that property values in Tulsa County are fair and equalized.

A couple of readers have emailed to express their concerns about the imminent introduction of chloramine into Tulsa's water supply. I am only beginning to study the issue, and it seems there may be reason to worry.

Rather than make you wait until I've thoroughly researched the matter, I've decided to present the concerns expressed by one of these readers, with her permission. I would be glad to post knowledgeable answers to her questions and other points of view on this issue.

Jeanine Kinney made the following remarks at the October 4, 2011, City Council committee meeting:

CHLORAMINE

The Health Department's, the Water Department's and The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) are claiming that Chloramine is safe for all everyday uses, drinking, bathing & cooking et cetera. Yet, the EPA itself admits that it has no Respiratory, Digestive, Skin & Epidemiological studies on the Human Health effects of Chloraminated water. The limited Cancer studies on Chloraminated water are so few that they are considered inadequate for assessment. Even though these studies show some evidence that Chloramine itself is a carcinogen, NO determination can be made from those handful of studies. The fact is there are not enough scientific data to know if Chloraminated water is safe for any uses for Human Beings.

Thousands of people all over the country and even in other countries have reported severe and life threatening respiratory, digestive and skin symptoms whenever they are exposed to Chloraminted water. These people have proven by avoidance and re-exposure that the Chloraminted water is the culprit for their symptoms. They do not have these symptoms when they are NOT exposed to Choramine and as soon as they are re-exposed their symptoms return. These symptoms fall into exactly the "gaps" in the scientific data about Chloramine's safety and the Respiratory, Digestive and Skin studies that DO NOT exist.

In addition to the immediate health effects that people are reporting from Chloraminated water is the grave concern about the emerging science in the very little known Disinfection By Products (DBP's) of Chloramine. These DBP's are NOT yet regulated, but are turning out to be many magnitudes more toxic than those of Chlorine. (THM's & HAA's)

Finally, Chloramine is much more corrosive to plumbing, lead pipes, copper pipes with lead solder and brass plumbing fixtures, which contain lead. Lead is being leached into drinking water because of the corrosive effects of Chloramine on combinations of these metals. Sometimes the level of lead leached into the drinking water is extremely high. Children from Chloraminated water districts are showing high levels of lead in their blood. And for those of us concerned about our environment, Chloramine is much more toxic to fish, frogs, amphibians and to other aquatic life. Water main breaks with water disinfected with Chlorine rarely does any damage unless the level of Chlorine is extremely high. But with Chloramine, however, even small traces from breaks and leaks, as well as from people washing their cars or watering their lawns can wipe out fish, frogs and amphibians in nearby ponds, streams and lakes. WHY RISK OUR FRAGILE ENVIRONMENT IF THERE ARE BETTER ALTERNATIVES????? And there are alternatives that are safer like:

Enhanced Membrane Pre-Filtration OR

Combinations of Alternative Disinfectants & Disinfection Techniques OR

Mixing well water with surface water to dilute the DBP's (Disinfection By Products) OR

Air Stripping of the THM's (Trihalomethane's), to name a few!

In closing today, I really want to believe in my heart that each of you 9 City Councilors took your position on the City Council in order to help, protect and look out for the best interest of the people of Tulsa. I plead with you to help protect the health of Tulsa's water consumer's. Please oppose the use of Chloramine as it has not been studied for the very health effects that people all over the country and all over the world are reporting.

A week later, on October 11, 2011, Kinney was at another City Council committee meeting to attempt to get answers to her questions about chloramine:

There was a Tulsa City Council meeting, Tuesday, October 11, where discussion with the Deputy Director for the Public Works Department, Clayton Edwards, & City of Tulsa Ammonia (Chloramine) conversion project leader, Joan Arthur took place. There was not one member of the TUMA (Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority) Board present for discussion. The meeting was set regarding the postponing the implementation of using Chloramines in the Tulsa public water system. The following concerns were attempted at being discussed, however, the meeting was terminated after a couple were asked and still yet unanswered.

Numerous email's & phone calls have been received regarding input and interest in Tulsa's conversion to Chloramine. Chloramine is to be used as a secondary disinfectant for Tulsa water utility consumers and those in surrounding areas, who do and will, purchase water from the City of Tulsa.

You state that Tulsa thoroughly researched the potential impact of the Stage 2 D/DBP rules and the alternatives available to meet the new regulations, for the last ten years. I would like to know exactly what treatment processes were evaluated and why these processes's were ruled out?

You state that the byproducts in some parts of the city, are projected to exceed or be very close to Stage 2 DBP standards. What data are these projections based on? Which parts of Tulsa are "problem" areas and/or areas where the levels of byproducts are projected to exceed standard levels? By how much are these areas expected to exceed the standards?

You state that a small amount of ammonia will be added to the water. Yet, no one, not even the EPA, knows if even a small amount of ammonia is safe since there is NO data regarding how much ammonia is safe in drinking water.

You state Chloramine is less reactive in the distribution system. Yet chloramine, forms many disinfection by products that are much more toxic than the currently regulated, THMs and HAAs. Some examples include iodo acetic acid, NDMA'S and nitrogen containing DBPs, according to the journal AWWA, February 2001. (NDMA is a probable carcinogen)

Using chloramine as a residual does not "adequately" protect people from re-contamination due to water line breaks, road work, construction with water lines and home plumbing leaks. It is also a greater hazard to the environment. Water main breaches and run off into storm sewers, lakes or ponds, kills fish, frogs and other aquatic life.

Chloramine is much more toxic to aquatic life than an equal dose of Chlorine. The edition of even small amounts of Chloramine to aquariums or fish ponds quickly results in death for fish as well as frogs, amphibians and other organisms. This has never happened with Chlorine unless unusually high concentrations of Chlorine were present in the tap water.
You state that trihalomethanes are linked to bladder cancer. The data shows that it takes 70 years of chronic exposure to trihalomethanes, to see a 1.7% increase in the incidence of bladder cancer. Bladder cancer is the easiest type of cancer to treat and has the lowest mortality rate.

You state that the maximum residual disinfectant level (MRDL) of 4 mg/ L is approved by the EPA. However, the EPA based this MRDL on studies that are incomplete. The EPA simply substituted data for chlorine, to fill in the "gaps" in the studies on chloramine, since the studies on chloramine were never completed. The EPA has ASSUMED that chlorine and chloramine have similar health effects, but studies from OSHA and NIOSH, prove otherwise.

Chloramine is a much more potent respiratory and dermal irritant than chlorine. It has different chemical properties and reactivity than chlorine.

CHLORINE IS NOT LIKE CHLORAMINE.

You state that you will be monitoring the lead levels in the distribution system for one year. Will you test water samples in homes, apartments, office buildings, schools and other building's in and around Tulsa? And if so how many residences & building's will be tested? How frequently will they be tested & in what manner will they be tested? (When samples are collected, will you take a first draw? Or will your flush/run the water to clear out the pipes? Flushing can miss the lead that may be present in the water, due to chloramine's corrosive effects on plumbing that contains combinations of copper, lead and brass).

You state that chloraminated water is safe for all everyday uses. However, there are NO skin, respiratory or digestive studies nor is there any epidemiological data to prove that statement. It is in fact your opinion. You can verify that these studies DO NOT EXIST, by looking chloramine up in the IRIS, published by the EPA. The EPA DID NOT study the dermal, respiratory, ocular, and digestive effects of chlorimanated water. The limited cancer studies on chloraminated water are considered inadequate for assessment. There is some evidence that chloramine itself is a carcinogen but, we do not know for sure if it causes cancer, what type and at what levels.

The truth is, that there is not enough data to know if chloraminated water is safe for ANY uses, for human beings. Until those studies are done, NO ONE can say that chloraminated water is safe. No studies = WE DO NOT KNOW!

Finally,

You state that currently 30% of all municipal water treatment systems rely on chloramine disinfection and that chloramine has been used for over 90 years. Still, ONLY studies will prove if chloramine is harmful to human health!

You state that neighboring cities like Oklahoma City, Norman, Sand Springs, Lawton, Dallas, Fort Worth, Denver, and St. Louis have converted their water disinfection process over to Chloramine. That DOES NOT PROVE THAT CHLORAMINE IS SAFE!

There are numerous cases in Pennsylvania, California, Washington DC, North Carolina, Texas, Oklahoma, Dallas, Vermont, Massachusetts, Colorado, Maine, Arizona, Florida, Oregon, Colorado, in which citizens are reporting serious health effects as a direct result of using Chloraminated water for drinking, bathing, cooking and other everyday uses of their tap water.

Where is the data supporting the finding that the reported health effects from Chloramine are "isolated?" How do you know the similar symptoms have not occurred in any of the cities using Chloramine that Tulsa has contacted? Did you contact hospitals and clinics, to ask if there had been increased reports of skin, respiratory or digestive symptoms, since the addition of chloramine to their water? How many cities and how many consumer's and residents were contacted? Until you have that information, you DO NOT KNOW what effects Chloramine is having on those residents.

Please do not put Chloramine in our water at the expense of the health of Tulsan's. We are already going to be paying more for an unsafe disinfectant when we should be paying more for a safe alternative!

MORE:

The EPA collection of frequently asked questions about chloramine.

The website of Citizens Concerned About Chloramine (CCAC)

Wikipedia article on chloramine

UPDATED 2011/10/13 with links to further reaction and my interview with KRMG's Nicole Burgin. Just remember, though, BatesLine had the story first, thanks to an email from an alert reader.

This post is worthy of a flashing light, a flaming skull, and 72-point type. Tulsa's taxpayers get our $7 million back.

The Supreme Court of Oklahoma has thrown out the Great Plains Airlines settlement by a 5-4 vote with three of the four dissenters concurring in part. From the decision (emphasis added):

¶26 In the present matter, the settlement was not based on a contract, but rather under the equitable theory of unjust enrichment to the City of Tulsa. The City of Tulsa, at all times, presented the settlement issues to the District Court of Tulsa County. The Judgments Against Municipalities Act does not apply. Therefore, the sinking funds requirement also does not apply. However, since we find the unjust enrichment claim to be unviable and the Statute of Limitations would bar the unjust enrichment claim against the City, we remand the instant matter back to the District Court of Tulsa County to direct the repayment of the settlement funds from BOK back to the City of Tulsa.

See my July 2, 2008, column, The Great Plains Ripoff, for background.

The Supreme Court ruling, sadly, lets Kathy Taylor off the hook for triple damages payable to the taxpayers who brought the Qui Tam suit over the Great Plains settlement. I'd hope Taylor would feel ashamed of ripping off Tulsa's taxpayers as she did, but I don't expect any remorse. The taxpayers of the City of Tulsa weren't as important to Kathy Taylor as the legal and financial well-being of her cronies.

UPDATE: Here's a link to a more readable version of the Supreme Court decision. Thanks to UTW's Jennie Lloyd for the tip.

MORE REACTION (2011/10/13):

City Councilor John Eagleton called it back in 2008 and in 2010, he cited the Great Plains Settlement as one of eight instances demonstrating Deirdre Dexter's incompetence as City Attorney, in a letter urging Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr to replace her.

News Talk Radio KRMG's Nicole Burgin spoke to me Wednesday afternoon about the Great Plains settlement. You can listen to the full interview via that link. I discuss what should happen with the money repaid by BOK to the City of Tulsa, what lessons should be learned, and speculate about why the Supreme Court's vote was so close.

(My radio chops are very rusty. Way too many ums and ahs. I probably should have asked for a few minutes to gather my thoughts and mentally shift gears from engineering back to politics before doing the interview.)

The KRMG story has a statement from the City of Tulsa:

"The City of Tulsa and the Tulsa Airports Improvement Trust are currently reviewing the Opinion from the Oklahoma Supreme Court setting aside the settlement between the Bank of Oklahoma and the City and TAIT, and considering their options. The City is pleased the Court recognized the City entered into the settlement in good faith, but the ruling by the Court was a mixed result for the City. The ruling obviously will cause BOK to return to the City the $7.1 million the City paid to BOK under the terms of the settlement. The ruling also makes it clear that the City has no liability to BOK arising out of the Great Plains transaction. However, the settlement the court set aside was global in that it included all of the claims BOK had against both the City and the airport. The result is that although the City has no liability to BOK, BOK can now pursue its previous claim against the airport."

KJRH reports that BOK will be resuming its lawsuit against the Tulsa Airports Improvements Trust:

BOK issued a statement to 2NEWS saying, "The Supreme Court's invalidation of the settlement with the City has freed Bank of Oklahoma to assert its $12.5 million claim against the Airport Trust for not fulfilling its obligation to the bank. While we'd hoped this issue would have been put to rest with the settlement back in 2008, the court's decision now requires that it continue."

Here's an idea: BOK should pursue repayment from the investors in Great Plains Airlines, who stood to profit if the airline had succeeded. Or from the vendors who were paid for goods and services with money GPA borrowed from BOK. Or from the individuals and companies that bought GPA's transferable state tax credits. Of the city officials who -- it is claimed -- promised BOK that city would cover any default. If all of the above had an attack of conscience and each paid a bit, they could raise that money very quickly, I imagine.

KOTV's report includes extensive comments from City Councilor Rick Westcott:


"This loan should never have been made. There's nobody that's on the hook for this," said Tulsa City Councilor Rick Westcott....

"What is important is the Supreme Court has ruled that the City of Tulsa has no liability to the Bank of Oklahoma. And the Bank of Oklahoma has to give taxpayers back $7.1 million."...

And don't start looking for a property tax rebate check in the mail anytime soon. The money will likely go into an account to guard against future lawsuits.

"The $7.1 million could be used to pay off judgments in the future and not have to levy citizen's property taxes to pay for those small judgments," Westcott said.

Fox 23 seems to get a key point wrong in their brief report. (It's quite understandable.) Kathy Taylor did not say the settlement "was illegal and unfair to taxpayers because it was paid with property taxes." She and the City of Tulsa asked the district court to affirm that the settlement to which she agreed was lawful. The court action that she filed included the complaining taxpayers as defendants. Taylor was pursuing this action to protect herself against liability for treble damages as a result of the taxpayers' claim; Taylor did NOT agree with the taxpayers that her agreement to the settlement was unjust. (See sections 11 through 15 of the Supreme Court's decision.)

In today's Wall Street Journal's William McGurn explores Tulsa billionaire George Kaiser's motivations in his involvement in Solyndra. Some excerpts:

The George Kaiser Family Foundation in Tulsa, Okla., was the company's largest shareholder. The family foundation has attracted attention because it is set up as a "supporting organization" for the Tulsa Community Foundation. Supporting organizations provide donors with generous tax deductions while they are not required to give away the 5% of assets that, say, a private foundation must....

No doubt Mr. Kaiser's charitable giving has done some wonderful things for Tulsa. Unfortunately, when it came to a politically fashionable cause, Mr. Kaiser's concern for the taxpayer simply vanished. In its place was a much less appealing ethos, which he alluded to in the same Rotary speech where he spoke about "guilt."...

...As Mr. Kaiser appreciates, an oil man who denounces fossil fuels will be lionized even as he continues to make millions off them, in the same way that a billionaire such as Warren Buffet earns praise for calling for higher taxes. But if you are a businessman such as David and Charles Koch, and you use your wealth to try to preserve the economic freedom you believe will help others move up the ladder, you will soon find yourself branded as an enemy of the people.

"We're all familiar with the greedy businessman who pushes taxpayer subsidies to enrich himself," says Scott Walter, a former domestic policy adviser in the Bush administration who now writes for PhilanthropyDaily.com. "Solyndra tells us we might want to start paying more attention to the businessman who's already rich--but seeks to salve a guilty conscience by putting taxpayers on the hook for his pet causes."

(If you're not a subscriber to the Wall Street Journal, you can read McGurn's entire piece for free by entering the site via a Google search for the title, "Solyndra and a Billionaire's Guilt Trip.")

McGurn's last paragraph quotes Scott Walter's article on Philanthropy Daily, "The Other Solyndra Scandal," which is worth your attention. Walter goes deeper into the special nature of GKFF and the tax advantages of this arrangement vs. direct charitable giving or setting up a traditional foundation. Effectively, you can set aside money for charitable purposes and take the tax deduction now, but wait until much later to decide how to spend it, maintaining control over the money in the meantime. (Idle thought: If you needed the money at some future time, could you take it out? What would be the tax consequences? Penalties, or just taxable at the time you withdrew it?)

A couple of excerpts from Walker:

Kaiser explains that "there's never been more money shoved out of the government's door in world history and probably never will be again than in the last few months and the next 18 months, and our selfish, parochial goal is to get as much of it for Tulsa and Oklahoma as we possibly can."

Is this zealous grab for other people's money greed? The dollars at issue weren't voluntarily donated by generous fellow citizens, nor were they knowingly risked by venture capitalists gambling with their own money. No, the dollars Mr. Kaiser sought to get his "selfish" hands on were tax dollars that his fellow citizens were compelled to provide, supposedly for the common good....

Why isn't it greedy and improper when a billionaire with enormous charitable resources - $4 billion in the George Kaiser Family Foundation as of 2009 - manipulates tax dollars into a dubious hobbyhorse project of his? Especially when that hobbyhorse is a for-profit company in which the billionaire's foundation is the largest stockholder? And when the billionaire's foundation ends up, at bankruptcy time, ahead of the taxpayers in the line to recoup something from the cratered company's assets, even though federal law appears to make it illegal to put private investors ahead of taxpayers in such circumstances?

I am still trying to get my mind around the motivations and actions surrounding George Kaiser, GKFF, and TCF. Solyndra is just the latest episode in a long-running drama that includes -- on the negative side of the ledger -- Great Plains Airlines (and the taxpayers' ultimate payback of money we didn't owe to Kaiser's Bank of Oklahoma), the downtown baseball stadium (and the heavy-handed approach to its surrounding development), the mediocre candidates Kaiser has backed for public office in Tulsa, the county river tax, and -- on the positive side -- RiverParks trails improvements, supplemental funds for beautification for new public construction, financial support for the comprehensive plan process and the city government efficiency study, purchase and preservation of the Blair Mansion and grounds, support for the Tulsa Fab Lab, and financial support for countless worthy projects and programs.

It's a complex picture. I don't buy the idea that Kaiser is all about building his own wealth. I don't buy his explanation of his success as "dumb luck," and I don't think he does either. Some describe Kaiser as very hands-off when it comes to spending his money, and that he lets himself be driven by what the community wants, but that doesn't entirely square with the facts either. (And who has the standing to define what the community wants for him?) Even if his motivation is purely altruistic, his vision of the good may be entirely at odds with that of his intended beneficiaries. Potentially, he could be a kind of cultural imperialist, with Oklahoma as his mission field.

Leverage and control are two recurring themes. It's a commonplace in Tulsa that money from GKFF comes not with strings attached, but with chains.

Because of his connection to Solyndra, who George Kaiser is and what he wants is a matter of curiosity for the rest of the world. Because of his economic power and his focus on Tulsa, who George Kaiser is and what he wants is a matter of critical concern for Tulsans.

Terry Simonson resigns

| | TrackBacks (0)

At a 4 p.m. news conference, Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr announced that his Chief of Staff, Terry Simonson, has resigned, according to News on 6 reporter Emory Bryan, who was live-tweeting the announcement.

MORE: Bartlett Jr sent an email to city employees at 4:32 pm:

Employees,

I have just announced to the news media that Chief of Staff Terry Simonson has submitted his resignation from this administration. Mr. Simonson has been an integral part of this organization's success and I appreciate his service, ideas, energy, dedication and hard work, and especially his friendship. The funding of our present and future police and fire academies are a direct result of his work.

The work of the external committee reviewing the ethics question of undue influence in the admittance of Ryan Simonson to the Fire Academy has not been completed. I do expect to receive some determination from that committee by the end of the week.

Terry will work in a transition capacity for approximately two weeks to conclude his multiple projects and assignments. We have a very talented staff that will take on the management of pending projects.

Regards,

Mayor Dewey F. Bartlett Jr.

MORE: Steven Roemerman's encounter with firefighter applicants at City Hall a few weeks ago puts the matter in perspective:

Sitting next to the two men who had made it so far into the process on their own made an impact on me. I could see in their eyes how important this was to them, everything about their demeanor, and their speech screamed, "I want to be a Tulsa Firefighter so bad I can taste it!" If they get through to the end everyone will know that they beat out hundreds of candidates to get there. They will feel the pride of being the best of the best. To start that process by cheating is dishonorable.

For a wonderful contrast between this scandal the right way to do things we need to look no further than Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer who refused a shot at FDNY because it would have required a special exception and special treatment. Meyer understands that a man can not attain honor by acting dishonorably.

You may ask yourself, what is the big deal? Why is this important? I'd say ask the hundreds of candidates that follow the rules if it is a big deal. Ask the people also tried and failed to call in that day but didn't have a father that works for the Mayor to help if this is a big deal. This is a big deal because it is a another alleged violation of the ethics ordinance from this administration, another investigation, and another controversy.

Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr has appointed two committees to look into allegations that Chief of Staff Terry Simonson used his position to get his son a slot in the Tulsa Fire Department applicant pool and to use the department's practice facility without authorization.

The list of names -- three on each committee -- is interesting, and one in particular stands out to me.

From Fox 23:

Sources in Mayor Bartlett's office say Bartlett will assemble an internal and external committee to determine two things: was there any undo influence used? And, can criteria for selection for testing for firefighter academies be improved?

Monday, the Mayor's office announced that the external committee will include Jody Parker, a Tulsa businessman; Robert Gardner, former city councilor; and Stanley Glanz, Tulsa County Sheriff. The internal committee will include Erica Felix-Warwick, Human Resources Personnel Director; Vickie Beyer, Management Review Office Director; and Doug Woods, Training Officer for Tulsa Fire Department.

Vickie Beyer is the head of the office tasked with implementation of the KPMG report. Her name turns up frequently in a large collection of emails to and from Terry Simonson, obtained in response to an Open Records Act request. (I do not know who made the original request. The response to the request was forwarded to me by a third party some months ago.)

The impression from the tone of the emails is that Beyer and Simonson have a great deal of regard for one another, purely professional respect, no doubt, but it raises the question: Can Beyer investigate a matter involving Terry Simonson with sufficient objectivity?

Here's one exchange from November 2010 (pages 199-203 of the PDF linked below). I've ordered the emails sequentially and formatted them for the web, but they are otherwise unedited from the versions as released by the open records custodian:

From: Beyer, Vickie
Sent: Saturday, November 06, 2010 7:49 PM
To: Simonson, Terry
Subject: Relationship with TMUA

Jim Cameron really wants to talk to the Mayor about the hiring of the Chief Technology Officer. I understand interviews are Monday, but Jim's meeting with the Mayor is not untilt Wednesday. It would be if the Mayor doesn't announce his decision until after he has met Jim.

From: Simonson, Terry [tsimonson@cityoftulsa.org]
Sent: Saturday, November 06, 2010 8:35 PM
To: Beyer, Vickie
Subject: RE: Relationship with TMUA

We know about their issue. Heard it from Sevenoaks and Hudson It was a perfect intro for me to ask them they why they don't try competition for IT services and how could anyone say there is nothing in their operations that needs improvement? I don't think Jim is seeing the full picture where our project can be m of help to them. He thinks things are fine yet has issues with the city support services. I don't think a decision will be made that quickly but he needs to starting thinking that maybe our project can answer his concerns

Guess you work like me.

From: Beyer, Vickie
Sent: Saturday, November 06, 2010 8:41 PM
To: Simonson, Terry
Subject: Re: Relationship with TMUA

I think we'll get there. I just want to guard the relationships until we do.

Not as prolific as you are - but always thinking!

From: Simonson, Terry [tsimonson@cityoftulsa.org]
Sent: Saturday, November 06,20108:46 PM
To: Beyer, Vickie
Subject: RE: Relationship with TMUA

I too want to keep the relationships. I think you are my countweight: because after 20 years being a courtroom lawyer and advocate, I take my cause or my client the whole distance and to the mat when I believe in them. That can be a little overwhelming to some folks who aren't used to a relentless advocate but I don't like to lose But there is a place for the kinder gentler approach which I can show at times. Just remind me once in awhile.

From: Beyer, Vickie
Sent: Sunday, November 07, 2010 8:37 PM
To: Simonson, Terry
Subject: Re: Relationship with TMUA

It's part of my job as president of the fan club!

From: Simonson, Terry [tsimonson@cityoftulsa.org)
Sent: Sunday, November 07,2010 6:19 PM
To: Beyer, Vickie
Subject: RE: Relationship with TMUA

Thank you Ms. President.

Simonson also holds Beyer in high regard, and this email from December 27, 2010, suggests that he may have had some influence in her obtaining her current position as head of the Management Review Office (page 34 of the PDF of emails linked below):

From: Simonson, Terry [tsimonson@cityoftulsa.org]
Sent: Monday, December 27,2010 1:30 PM
To: Doerflinger, Preston; Michael Brink
Cc: Jeff Stava
Subject: RE: Visit Schedule

Michael

This for this update. Since I sent to you the organization chart of the MRO which was established this past fall, we have discussed some possible personnel changes. The Mayor, Preston, and I believe we need to have a manager in charge of the MRO. At this point Preston and I do the best we can on a limited basis but its clear more day to day oversight is needed. We seem to be in agreement that the person currently on staff best fit for this role is Vickie Beyer. You met her when you were here. Vickie, who is a CPA, has 13 years of management experience with the city and truly grasps what we are trying to do. She is extremely competent and dedicated. One of the other staffers, Cathy Criswell, may be returning to direct our Risk Management Department. Cathy, who is also a CPA, was the risk manager before we moved her to the MRO. Cathy and I have discussed this change. These changes we would plan in January. That would leave, in the MRO, Vickie, Kelly Brader who moved to the MRO from Preston's internal auditing department and is fitting into the MRO very well and like Vickie is extremely competent, and Lydia Bracken.

Look forward to seeing you soon.

Terry

MORE:

Download the emails: Terry Simonson emails, November 1, 2010, through January 5, 2011, 232 page PDF file (5 MB)

KOTV: Two Tulsa city officials on paid leave over favoritism allegations

KJRH: Mayor puts city leaders on paid administrative leave

An interesting detail in the KJRH story:

2NEWS put in an open records request for the emails between fire administrators regarding Ryan Simonson almost three weeks ago. We only just received them Monday [September 26, 2011].

Simonson and son

| | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (0)

So Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr has placed Chief of Staff Terry Simonson and Fire Chief Allen LaCroix on paid leave pending an investigation into emails suggesting that Simonson's intervention with LaCroix allowed his son to jump ahead of the line to apply for a position as a Tulsa firefighter and Simonson and son's alleged unauthorized use of the Fire Department's training center.

The emails from Simonson to LaCroix were from late June. It's my understanding that the situation was well known around City Hall by August. The incident at the training center happened on September 3. So why did we only see news reports about this after the city primary election?

News about the appearance of impropriety on the part of Bartlett Jr's right-hand man might have reminded voters about the misinformation from the Mayor's Office to the Council about the Federal JAG grant, where correct information could have prevented police layoffs. It might have reminded voters that councilors had good reason not to trust Bartlett Jr or his staff, good reason to resist Bartlett Jr from time to time. It might have undercut the ignorant and widespread "bickering" meme that did such political damage to incumbent councilors.

UPDATE Monday, 2011/09/26: KRMG's April Hill spoke to me about this blog entry, and KRMG's Nicole Burgin spoke to City Councilor Bill Christiansen about the controversy.

Councilor Bill Christiansen says he requested internal emails within the Tulsa fire department that leads him to believe that influence was used to get Simonson's son into the pool for firefighter testing after it was full.

"After seeing the emails and seeing the comments made by some of the people in the process that kind of objected to doing what they were being asked to do, yeah, there were some things asked for that shouldn't have been asked for," says Christiansen.

There's been some uproar on the web over a video clip from George Kaiser's speech to the Rotary Club of Tulsa on July 8, 2009. Here's the video and the text of the clip, as transcribed by Reason Hit and Run:

The last major initiative is the federal Stimulus package. Jim East and Bev Anderson are working with us full-time for a while to reflect the fact that there's never been more money shoved out of the government's door in world history and probably never will be again than in the last few months and the next 18 months. And our selfish parochial goal is to get as much of it for Tulsa and Oklahoma as we possibly can.

[Applause]

So we've helped a number of entities try to make effective grant requests for this funding. We've secured more than $40 million extra for Tulsa so far. We've made multiple trips to Washington to tell the story in education and health care and energy to the respective cabinet secretaries in each of those areas and almost all the key players in the west wing of the White House. So that will be a strong effort going forward.

We're trying to get Tulsa selected as a pilot project in various programs like Promise Neighborhoods, Race To the Top, innovation initiatives, challenge grants for early childhood education and so forth. And we have the almost unique advantage in that we can say, "Whatever you do we'll match with private funding and we'll watch over it, because we don't want to be embarrassed with the way our money is spent and so we won't make you be embarrassed with the way your money is spent either."

This is plenty disturbing, but it's not some sort of smoking gun for the Solyndra scandal. Kaiser is clearly referring to assisting local non-profits to apply for federal grants.

Wouldn't it have been wonderful to hear Kaiser say something like this: "I've spoken to my friend President Obama, and I've been successful in persuading him that a massive expansion of government pork barrel spending is the worst thing we can do for our economy. Instead, the President will be pushing for a free-market-oriented reform of our health care industry, relieving employers of their worries about impact of health care reform on the cost of hiring and keeping employees on the payroll." But that didn't happen.

The most disturbing aspect of this clip is that Tulsa's business leaders applauded and cheered at the idea of robbing future generations to fund Kaiser-favored projects.

John Sexton of Verum Serum writes:

Frankly I can think of no better condemnation of the corruption and utter futility of the Obama stimulus then the fact that here you have one of the wealthiest philanthropists in America, a man with nearly $10 billion in personal assets, openly stating his intention to grab as much stimulus money as he possibly could, like every other pig at the trough. Is this the proper role of government, to take hard-earned dollars from tax payers (and their children and grandchildren) to fund the vanity projects of multi-billionaires, well-intentioned or not, who just so happen to have the right political connections?

A special event coming up in just a couple of hours: There are only a few competitive council races remaining for November, but the ballot will also feature charter amendments affecting the basic form of government. TulsaNow has gathered the former mayors of Oklahoma's two largest cities to talk about the respective forms of government. Rodger Randle led the effort to move from the at-large commission form of government to the strong mayor / council-by-district form in 1989, during his term as mayor.

City Manager? Strong Mayor? You decide!

Tulsans will be asked on November 8th whether to vote YES and change the city to a "city manager" style of government or vote NO to keep the City operating the way it is. Unfortunately, this is not a clear issue and the current city hall problems make it even cloudier.

Tonight, everyone can find clarity at TulsaNow's free public forum on this very issue. Former Tulsa Mayor Rodger Randle will speak on our current "Strong Mayor" system and why it works, while Former OKC Mayor Kirk Humphreys will speak on OKC's "City Manager" style and why it works.

You may never get an opportunity like this again. See you tonight!

Where: TCC Metro Campus Philips Auditorum. (Entrance on 9th St)
When: 5:30pm
Cost: Free!

(I hope I'm wrong, but, given some of his political connections in Tulsa, I have a funny feeling that Humphreys will wind up saying that city manager/council may be OK for OKC, but Tulsa really needs at-large councilors and the mayor as council chairman (in other words, the Save Our Tulsa for Our Kind, Dahling, proposals).

I received an email Monday containing an anonymous ethics complaint that had been filed against Tulsa District 9 City Councilor G. T. Bynum. The text of that complaint, with links to relevant documentation added by me, can be found on the jump page for this article.

(For your reference, here is a direct link to the City of Tulsa ethics ordinance.)

The complaint involves conflicts of interest connected with Bynum's participation in Council votes involving sole-source, non-competitive awards of city revenue bond business to the Bank of Oklahoma, of which Bynum's grandfather, former Mayor Robert J. LaFortune, is a director and shareholder of holding company BOK Financial Corporation, and involving clients of his lobbying firm, including the George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF) and Family and Children's Services (FCS), a CDBG fund recipient.

Despite the nearness of the election, I believe that these allegations deserve to be reported to and considered by the voters. (I had hoped to publish this within a day of receiving it, but researching and adding links is a time-consuming process.)

The facts alleged regarding specific Bynum council votes, Bynum's work as a lobbyist, and his grandfather's membership of the BOK board are all well documented. Matters of "the appearance of impropriety" are open to interpretation, and there are some subtle issues with the timeline presented in the complaint. Bynum voted on issues relating to GKFF shortly before and shortly after his 11 months as a registered lobbyist for GKFF. Alleged Violation 8, however, involves Bynum voting on a matter pertaining to the Tulsa Stadium Trust, in which GKFF has an interest as a donor, in March 2010, while Bynum was a registered GKFF lobbyist.

Allegation 11, regarding lobbying client Family and Children's Services, is the only allegation that seems weak, as Bynum appears to have recused himself from voting on the Community Development Block Grant allocations in August 2010 and July 2011. (During that same August 12, 2010, council meeting, however, Bynum voted on an item involving a gift to the city from Tulsa Community Foundation; at the time he was a lobbyist for GKFF. According to the GKFF website, the board of TCF appoints the GKFF Board of Directors.)

But a city councilor acting as a federal lobbyist for entities with interests before the City Council presents a clear conflict of interest in which an action by Bynum in the best interest of his constituents might not be in line with the aims of his lobbying clients and vice versa.

One of the alleged violations states that Bynum's work as a lobbyist is per se "a violation of Section 600, 'such individuals shall not use their public positions for personal gain nor should they act in such a way to give an appearance of any impropriety.'" Certainly, Bynum's lobbying practice is based in large part on his experience as a Washington staffer for Oklahoma U. S. Senators Don Nickles and Tom Coburn. But it could be argued that his status as a sitting Tulsa official adds to his appeal to potential clients, so that in and of itself, serving as a lobbyist while a councilor violates the ethics ordinance.

One allegation involves a promissory note for $7,825,000.00 from the City to the GKFF relating to the OSU Medical Center (formerly Oklahoma Osteopathic Hospital and Tulsa Regional Medical Center). The vote occurred on December 3, 2009, about 43 days before Bynum registered as a federal lobbyist for GKFF on January 12, 2010. "Expanded access to and improved health care in Oklahoma through the Oklahoma State University Medical Center" is listed as a lobbying issue in each of the four quarterly reports Bynum filed regarding his work for GKFF. (2010 Q1, 2010 Q2, 2010 Q3, 2010 Q4. The Bynum/GKFF lobbying relationship was terminated on December 1, 2010, according to Bynum's 2010 Q4 filing.)

On the House lobby disclosure search form, selecting Lobbyist Name as search field and Bynum as criteria will bring up G. T. Bynum's current lobbying work (under the registrant names Capitol Ventures Government Relations LLC, Capitol Ventures Government Relations LLC(AKA GT Bynum Cons), and G.T. Bynum Consulting, LLC) and his wife Susan Bynum's past work for Capitol Hill Consulting Group, headed by former Oklahoma Democrat Congressman Bill Brewster

Four of the eleven allegations involve Bynum failing to recuse himself when the Council voted to waive competitive bidding for revenue bond indenture with Bank of Oklahoma, in amounts ranging from $22,500.000.00 to $155,860,000.00.

Local governments and public trusts that look out for the taxpayers' best interest put bond issues up for competitive bidding in order to get the best possible interest rate and lowest bond fees. Just as a prospective or refinancing homeowner shops around for the best combination of interest rate, points, and closing costs, a city ought to shop around for the best bond financing deal. Publications like The Bond Buyer allow local governments to advertise their bond issues nationwide for the best deal. As the Lending Tree slogan goes, "When banks compete, you win."

Giving the city's bond business to the same bank without competition is a disservice to the taxpayer, but it does improve the bank's bottom line to the financial benefit of shareholders like G. T. Bynum's grandpa.

G. T. Bynum should have known to recuse himself on these votes; grandfather falls within the ethics ordinance's definition of immediate family. More than that, someone with Bynum's degree of financial savvy should have proposed an ordinance requiring competitive bidding for bond issues over a certain amount. There are plenty of firms in and around Tulsa and Oklahoma capable of handling the work.

This was a topic I followed closely in 2003, when Tulsa County commissioners chose to give sole-source Vision 2025 revenue bond contracts (borrowing money against future sales tax receipts rather than spending the money as it comes in) to politically connected firms. From the BatesLine archives on non-competitive bond issues:

Roemerman_Yard_Sign.jpgWe begin the BatesLine roundup of the 2011 Tulsa City Council primary races with an easy choice. I'm proud to endorse my friend, Steven Roemerman, for District 7 councilor. This endorsement is for both the primary and general election. While the other men running seem to be good folks, Steven Roemerman is the only candidate on the ballot who brings to the table nearly a decade of passionate and principled conservative involvement in local issues.

Shortly after graduating college in 1998, Steven came to Tulsa, his new bride's hometown, and went to work as a computer programmer for Avis/Budget, still his employer 13 years later. Interested in government since college, he began paying close attention to local politics in his adopted hometown, working as a Republican precinct official and volunteering for campaigns.

I've known Steven for at least eight years, and what follows are my personal observations of his character, energy, intelligence, and devotion to public service.

As Steven became more involved in local politics, he started a blog in 2005, Roemerman on Record, commenting on local, state, and national news and items of interest in the world of technology. Often, Steven would provide first-hand coverage of local news events, with photos, videos, summaries and analysis of public meetings, events that mattered to many Tulsans, but which mainstream media seemed to consider too complicated or insignificant to cover.

It's a testament to Steven's intelligence, temperament, and character that, although he had campaigned for fellow Republican Jim Mautino's 2006 reelection, the man who beat Mautino, Democrat Dennis Troyer, appointed Steven to the city's sales tax overview committee (STOC) in 2007. Steven was reappointed to the committee by Republican District 7 Councilor John Eagleton. (Eagleton is not running for re-election.)

Steven Roemerman is a careful student of local issues, applying the same gifts of analysis and problem-solving that he uses every day in his job as a computer programmer. His time on the STOC has made him familiar with the city budget process, capital improvements, Open Meetings and Open Records acts -- the nuts and bolts of the way the City of Tulsa spends and is held accountable for our tax dollars. As an active observer of politics citywide, he's also encountered non-financial issues -- zoning and planning, charter amendments, and neighborhood inspections, to name a few -- and he's gotten to know public officials and neighborhood leaders from every district. Few first-time candidates are as well-prepared as Steven Roemerman to be a great councilor from his first day on the job.

You can see that breadth of understanding on the issues page of his website. A solid fiscal and social conservative, Roemerman believes Tulsans are Taxed Enough Already and will oppose proposals that would raise our combined sales tax rate above its current level. He opposes the use of eminent domain for private gain, and supports a zoning process that is transparent, clear, protecting property owners without over-regulating. Noting the council's role in approving mayoral appointments to authorities, boards, and commissions, Roemerman pledges to "ensure that Tulsans from all districts are represented on these authorities, boards and commissions and to provide independent judgment on all nominees to these important boards and commissions."

As an IT professional and thirty-something, Steven would help to diversify the council in age and life experience.

Steven has three children in Union Public Schools, where his wife Stacey serves as a homeroom mother. The Roemermans are residents of Hampton South neighborhood; Stacey serves on the homeowners' association's board. They are members of Carbondale Assembly of God, where Steven and Stacey volunteer with Kindergarten through 5th Grade boys in the church's Wednesday night program.

Steven Roemerman has been endorsed by the Tulsa Area Republican Assembly and by the FOP. The FOP's endorsement states:

Among Republicans running for District 7, Steven Roemerman has the independence, knowledge of public safety and city budget issues. He is the only candidate for District 7 with first-hand knowledge of City finances because of his service on the City's Sales Tax Oversight Committee. We believe this combination makes Steve the best Republican candidate for City Council, District 7.

I agree wholeheartedly. I'm proud to call him my friend, and I'm proud to endorse Steven Roemerman for Tulsa District 7 City Councilor.

MORE:

Urban Tulsa Weekly's feature story on the District 7 race

From 2002, my take on the qualities of a good City Councilor, and why the City Council matters

Tulsa_City_Council_District_7-2011.png

Roemerman has two opponents in the primary: Tom Mansur, a civil engineer with SAIC (formerly the Benham Group), and Elliott Parker Sr., a retired military officer and civil magistrate from Chesapeake, Va. I met them both for the first time at KRMG's Council-rama on Tuesday. Both seem like reasonable, intelligent people, but both only now appear to be paying attention to local issues.

Mansur has, sadly, fallen in with the wrong crowd; Karl Ahlgren is a consultant and Jim East, a staffer for former Democrat Mayor Susan Savage (and a former co-worker of Mansur's at Benham Group), is an adviser to his campaign; he's been endorsed by the council-suer and SOT member who are working with Ahlgren, and he's been endorsed and provided with $2,500 in funding by the Tulsa Metro Chamber. Mansur has an impressive resume in the field of water resources; he might make a good pick for the Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority, but he doesn't offer the breadth of knowledge of city issues or the track record of principled involvement that Steven Roemerman brings to the table.

Parker was a career Navy medic who also served as a court-certified mediator in Virginia before moving to Oklahoma in 2006. What brought him to Oklahoma? As a young man (one of 10 children), a childless Oklahoma couple "adopted" him, bringing him to the state for holidays and taking him along on their travels. When he was ready to retire and leave Virginia, he remembered Oklahoma and its people fondly. Parker seems like a sincere and devoted citizen, intelligent and well-spoken with a depth of life experience, but he's a novice when it comes to City of Tulsa issues.

Good men both, but not nearly as ready as Steven Roemerman is to be a great city councilor.

UPDATE: Tom Mansur is not such good guy after all. His campaign has sent out a smear postcard claiming that Roemerman's been endorsed by the AFL-CIO. The only city employee organization to endorse Roemerman is the Fraternal Order of Police. According to the FOP, Mansur also sought their endorsement, but the FOP was concerned by Mansur's choice of campaign consultant, Karl Ahlgren.

UPDATE 2011/08/25, 1 p.m.: ONG spokesman Don Sherry has posted a comment to this entry, linking to a media kit about the Tulsa ONG franchise election. He points out that there are approximately 1,400 ONG/ONEOK employees working in the Tulsa area.

Tom Quinn, a civic activist and longtime critic of Oklahoma Natural Gas, filed criminal complaints on August 16, 2011, with the Tulsa Police Department and the FBI regarding the recent City of Tulsa special election granting ONG a franchise to use city rights-of-way for the next 15-years.

Quinn notes at the end of his press release that there are more ONEOK/ONG employees than the number of votes in the election. The implication is that it's possible to arrange a low-turnout election in which the majority of voters have a financial interest in the outcome. ONG reimbursed the City of Tulsa for the cost of having a special election solely for the purpose of considering the franchise renewal.

Here's Quinn's press release:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 16, 2011
CONTACT: Tom Quinn - 918-605-9456 - MafiaBusters@gmail.com
REGARDING: Election Fraud - August 9th Vote on ONG's Franchise Agreement

RACKETEERING AND ELECTION FRAUD

Tulsa businessman Tom Quinn has filed racketeering and election fraud charges against Oklahoma Natural Gas Company, parent company ONEOK, Mayor Dewey Bartlett and all nine Members of Tulsa's City Council. Quinn accuses ONG, ONEOK and the City of Tulsa of conspiring to defraud ratepayers by holding a special election on August 9th where only those who were likely to vote YES were informed about the process. Quinn says the vote on ONG's New Franchise Agreement was the most blatant example of racketeering and election fraud he has ever seen, and that all those responsible for this despicable act should be fined, fired, removed from office and sent to prison. ONG has an abysmal approval rating among consumers and no one in their right mind would have voted for this Franchise Agreement had they known about the election. The results of the August 9th Special Election should be thrown out and public hearings should be held so voters can make an informed decision regarding this important issue. ONEOK, the parent company of ONG, should also be investigated for bribery, price fixing, market-manipulation, off-shore banking violations, selling assets that were paid for by ratepayers and charging for gas storage and other items and services that were not used but ended up being charged to consumers. A copy of this news release has been sent to the FBI, the Tulsa Police Department, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, the City of Tulsa and several media outlets.

Questions that deserve an answer:


  • Who wrote the new ONG Franchise Agreement?

  • Was Mayor Dewey Bartlett or any of his staff involved?

  • How many City Councilors were involved in the process?

  • Was the new Franchise Agreement ever discussed during an open meeting?

  • When did the City Council vote to approve this new agreement?

  • When did the City Council approve and schedule the August 9th Special Election?

  • Why did the City Council call for and approve a Special Election on August 9th when Tulsa's General Election had already been scheduled for September 13, 2011?

  • Who paid for this special election and was the cost passed on to taxpayers and or ratepayers?

  • How many registered voters live in the City of Tulsa?

  • How many votes were cast in the August 9th Special Election?

  • How many employees work for ONG and ONEOK?

  • How many ONG and ONEOK employees voted in this Special Election?

  • Were ONG and ONEOK Employees informed of this Special Election?

  • Were any news releases issued or press conferences held before the August 9th Vote?

  • Did ONG, ONEOK or the City of Tulsa post any information regarding the election on their website?

  • Were Tulsa voters deliberately kept in the dark about this important election?

  • Did the so-called mainstream media ignore news releases or play any role in this cover up?

Election Results:

Number of Precincts Reporting: 215
Number of Precincts Counted: 215
Total Number of Registered Voters: 212,266
Total Number of Votes Cast: 3,425
Total Number of ONG / ONEOK Employees: 4,077
Total Number of Votes For: 2,546
Total Number of Votes Against: 864
Under Votes: 15
Percentage of Registered Voters Who Voted: 1.61%
Number of ONEOK / ONG Employees as of September 2010: 4077
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ONEOK

TulsaBizPac, the political action committee formed by Tulsa Metro Chamber, a city contractor, to influence the selection of the public officials who will decide whether those contracts will continue, has announced an odd assortment of full endorsements, partial endorsements, and non-endorsements that nevertheless come with a tidy sum of cash.

Strangely, TulsaBizPac hasn't made these endorsements and all-but-endorsements available on a website accessible to the general public. Although the Chamber announced in a June 27, 2011, website story that TulsaBizPac was accepting contributions, they haven't used that venue as yet to declare their endorsements and contributions to the public. None of the local TV stations appear to have the story, nor do the news/talk radio stations. My own requests for information about TulsaBizPac endorsements have gone unanswered.

So the Chamber's PAC must not be very proud of their endorsements, as it appears they only released the info to one friendly news outlet.

Candidates that were willing to participate were quizzed by Chamber leaders about their views on the Tulsa Metro Chamber's 2011 Issues Platform. Given the number of controversial statements therein, anyone accepting the Chamber's endorsement or contribution (which is tantamount to an endorsement), has some explaining to do, to set out clearly where he or she agrees and disagrees with the Chamber's positions on the issues

And one such candidate has explained himself. Blake Ewing, one of the candidates for the District 4 Republican nomination, and one of two (along with Liz Hunt), who will receive a $1,000 contribution, has set out on his blog, in great detail, his interaction with the Chamber and with Karl Ahlgren, in their evidently separate election efforts, and point-by-point, how he responded to questions about the Chamber's Issues Platform. There's a lot to digest, but I appreciate his candor. He goes into great detail about Ahlgren's recruiting efforts and the apparently associated group trying to solicit contributions to a slate of candidates, and the Chamber interview process. (I was intrigued to read that Liz Hunt, prior to deciding to run for City Council, offered to help direct resources to Ewing's campaign.)

Ewing has decided to accept the Chamber's contribution but to donate it to charity, rather than use it for his campaign, and is asking blog readers to suggest, in the comments to his entry, which non-profit should receive the Chamber's money.

I was surprised this week to see that TulsaPeople had dropped its glossy mag look for newsprint.

Then I looked more closely and saw that it was in fact Urban Tulsa Weekly that put a paper-airplane-tossing Kathy Taylor on the cover and a lengthy love song to the former Tulsa mayor (by Oklahoma City resident and Oklahoma Observer editor Arnold Hamilton) on the pages within.

Taylor mistakenly credits herself with starting the effort to revise Tulsa's comprehensive plan. In fact, that was launched in 2005, while Mayor Bill LaFortune was still in office, and it was the outcome of an initiative by then-Councilors Chris Medlock and Joe Williams for a "future growth task force" and a council-initiated study to identify the best locations for large retail developments in the City of Tulsa. It was the 2004-2006 Council, notorious for the "Gang of Four," that included funding a comprehensive plan update in the 2006 third-penny sales tax package.

As an antidote to the sweet treacle in Hamilton's story and by way of reminder, take a minute to re-read this Irritated Tulsa gem: Kathy Taylor's Un-Greatest Moments

And if you want more detail on those un-greatest moments, here are some links to past columns and blog entries:

Kathy Taylor voted in Oklahoma (in person) and Florida (absentee) in the 2000 presidential election, according to official state voter records.

Kathy Taylor's Clintonesque non-denial denials when confronted with the voter records

Kathy Taylor and Bill Lobeck get bill for back taxes and penalties from the Broward County Assessor for claiming homestead exemption in two states.

Kathy Taylor's husband's lawsuit against the Broward County assessor, over claiming a homestead exemption in both Oklahoma and Florida

Kathy Taylor keeps Council in the dark on police chief appointment, signs Tulsa up to the anti-gun-rights and global warming cause.

Kathy Taylor surrenders on a $7 million lawsuit, putting the burden of BOK's bad loan to Great Plains Airlines on Tulsa taxpayers.

Kathy Taylor's misuse of the assessment district to fund the new Drillers downtown ballpark

The Control Freaks' Squeeze Play -- the city pulling the football away from a private developer who had plans for residential and retail near the new ballpark.

Kathy Taylor, the ballpark assessment district, Will Wilkins' Lofts at 120 development, and lawsuits against the city.

Kathy Taylor refuses to confront looming budget problems

Kathy Taylor denounces city councilors on CNN for being cautious about strings attached to federal funds

The defeat of Councilor Bill Martinson funded by Kathy Taylor's husband and his business associates

Kathy Taylor pushes for the purchase of One Technology Center as the new City Hall, which winds up being more expensive to operate than she had claimed.

I heard an interesting rumor on Saturday from two different sources about City Council endorsements by TulsaBizPac, the Tulsa Metro Chamber-affiliated political action committee, so I sent an email to Shiela Curley, Vice President of Communications for the Tulsa Metro Chamber. Here's the text of the email:

Dear Ms. Curley,

I'm hearing reports that TulsaBizPac has made its endorsements. I'm writing to ask if you can confirm or deny each of the following assertions:

1. TulsaBizPac has endorsed three candidates
2. TulsaBizPac will give each endorsed candidate's campaign $2,500.
3. Endorsed candidates have been instructed not to disclose the endorsement until after the primary.
4. TulsaBizPac has endorsed Jack Henderson in District 1.
5. TulsaBizPac has endorsed Chris Trail in District 5.
6. TulsaBizPac has endorsed G. T. Bynum in District 9.
7. TulsaBizPac has made no endorsements in the other races

Thanks for your time,

Michael Bates

I'll let you know what she says.

There's one further piece to the rumor: That no endorsements have been made in some of the other races because they're "too close to call" based on polling data.

This is fascinating, if true. After all the talk about the "bickering" City Council, the only three rumored endorsees are sitting councilors.

I'm surprised not to see ANY of Karl Ahlgren's candidates -- Nancy Rothman, Liz Hunt, Karen Gilbert, or Phil Lakin -- on the rumored list.

And why would an organization want to keep its endorsements secret? In such a situation, it would suggest that the organization is aware of its lack of respect in the community, that the organization is not seen as a trusted civic voice, but just another special interest group, just another city vendor with its hand out for city dollars.

If you thought your endorsement would be well regarded, you'd jump right into a too-close-to-call race, in hopes that the endorsement would push your candidate over the finish line. But if you thought your endorsement would cause more harm than good, you'd quietly slip them the money just after the deadline for pre-primary reporting, and you'd pick candidates who were likely to win any way, in hopes of earning their gratitude and loyalty with your contribution.

Finally, wouldn't you want to give the maximum contribution of $5,000? And if you didn't, does that indicate that you just weren't able to raise the money you expected to raise?

I look forward to hearing a response from Ms. Curley, and I'll pass it along when I do.

Oklahoma Natural Gas is granted a franchise by the City of Tulsa to run its lines through the city's easements and rights-of-way. That franchise was last renewed in 1986 for a 25-year-term. The franchise renewal is on the ballot for a special election today, August 9, 2011. The proposed renewal period is for 15 years.

Today is also the first Tulsa County election under the new voter ID requirement approved by Oklahoma voters last November, so bring your drivers' license.

Here is the ballot text:

SHALL ORDINANCE NO. 22415, ADOPTED BY THE CITY COUNCIL AND APPROVED BY THE MAYOR OF THE CITY OF TULSA, OKLAHOMA, BE APPROVED BY THE PEOPLE, WHICH ORDINANCE GRANTS TO OKLAHOMA NATURAL GAS COMPANY (ONG), A DIVISION OF ONEOK, INC., A CORPORATION, ITS SUCCESSORS AND ASSIGNS, FOR A PERIOD OF FIFTEEN (15) YEARS, A NON-EXCLUSIVE FRANCHISE AND A RIGHT TO USE THE PUBLIC RIGHTS-OF-WAY FOR THE PURPOSE OF TRANSPORTING, DISTRIBUTING AND SELLING NATURAL GAS TO CONSUMERS AND THE GENERAL PUBLIC WITHIN THE CITY; DEFINES TERMS; REGULATES THE ASSIGNMENT, SALE OR LEASE OF THE FRANCHISE; GOVERNS THE USE AND REPAIR OF CITY RIGHTS-OF-WAY; ASSIGNS RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE FRANCHISE; REQUIRES ONG TO OBTAIN RIGHTS-OF-WAY CONSTRUCTION PERMITS AND SETS FORTH THE REQUIREMENTS FOR SUCH PERMITS; ESTABLISHES AN APPEALS PROCESS; REGULATES ONG'S SERVICE; ESTABLISHES ENGINEERING STANDARDS; IMPOSES CERTAIN DUTIES TO REMOVE OR ALTER FACILITIES; REQUIRES INDEMNIFICATION OF THE CITY; ALLOWS ONG TO MAKE AND ENFORCE REASONABLE RULES AND REGULATIONS FOR THE CONDUCT OF ITS BUSINESS; REQUIRES ONG TO MAINTAIN RECORDS AND PERMITS THE CITY TO INSPECT THEM; REQUIRES ONG TO PAY A FRANCHISE FEE AND SETS OUT THE METHOD OF CALCULATING THAT FRANCHISE FEE; AUTHORIZES THE RIGHT TO RENEGOTIATE THE TERMS OF THE FRANCHISE IN CERTAIN CIRCUMSTANCES; PROVIDES THAT THE QUESTION OF APPROVAL OF THIS FRANCHISE SHALL BE SUBMITTED TO A VOTE OF THE PEOPLE AT A SPECIAL ELECTION; ALLOWS SEVERABILITY OF INVALID SECTIONS; PROVIDES FOR ONG'S ACCEPTANCE OF THE TERMS OF THIS FRANCHISE; REPEALS THE ORDINANCE GRANTING ONG ITS CURRENT FRANCHISE IN 1986; AND DECLARES AN EMERGENCY?

There is no mention of today's election on the home page of either cityoftulsa.org or tulsacouncil.org. The city elections page at cityoftulsa.org refers only to September's municipal primary and November's general. The proposed ordinance (No. 22415) doesn't show up in the list of ordinances passed since the ordinances were last codified, but that list does include ordinances higher in sequence number, as recent as June 23, 2011. No info about the election can be found on oklahomanaturalgas.com.

The TulsaCouncil.org website still lacks a keyword or free-text search option for its database of agendas. By searching one regular meeting agenda at a time, I was able to find the ordinance calling today's election, but not ordinance 22415, the legislation that the voters will approve or reject today.

I would like to tell you in detail about the pros and cons of this proposition, or even how the proposed franchise agreement differs from the current agreement, but I can't find those details where they should be, on a city government website. It's as if they want us to vote without knowing what we're voting on. Therefore I'm voting NO.

MORE:

Tom Quinn's ONGsucks.com, once advertised on a billboard on US 75 north of downtown, has been offline for a while, but here's the Wayback Machine's capture of Quinn's 2002 appeal to terminate ONG's franchise.

Tom Quinn's February 4, 2010, jeremiad against ONG

A PERSONAL NOTE:

In the early part of 2010, a SNAFU involving ONG's transition to a new online bill pay system nearly got our gas cut off. Although I had had automatic bill pay in place via choicepay.com for several years, suddenly nothing was getting paid. ONG would run a computer tape once a month of what everyone owed, and send it to choicepay. Apparently the tape was being run after my previous bill was paid but before ONG charged the next month's bill to my account. At that moment in time, I had a zero balance, so the automated payment plan took $0 out of my account, which meant my bill wasn't getting paid.

I assumed choicepay's system was broken, and when I went to ONG's website, I found that ONG had a new auto bill pay system, hosted on their own website, so I signed up for it, again assuming choicepay had been discontinued. The next month, I was double-billed -- choicepay's system started working again, and ONG's auto pay kicked in. Highest gas bill of the year, and they hit my checking account twice. It took another two months to straighten everything out between choicepay and ONG.

I'd like to tell you that ONG was helpful and efficient in solving the problem, but in fact they were clueless and slow. I went through six months of lengthy phone calls to both companies and several erroneous cutoff notices, all because I assumed automatic bill pay would automatically pay my bill.

UPDATE, 11 p.m.:

The ONG franchise renewal was approved by a three-to-one margin: 2,546 for and 864 against. 3,410 votes cast.

I finally found the ONG franchise ordinance itself attached as "backup documentation" to an item further down the May 19, 2011, agenda on the council website. But I was only able to find it once a reader sent me a copy he got from the City Clerk, with the date of approval on it -- there's no text or keyword search available, as there once was.

According to this budget document, opening all the polls in the City of Tulsa today cost $220,000, with the cost paid for by ONG (ultimately, no doubt, passed along to the ratepayers). Couldn't they have waited until the November general election?

After the jump, snapshots of city websites showing the absence of information about today's franchise election. (Clicking on thumbnails opens a pop-up with the full-sized image.)

Perhaps public notice laws should be changed to make this failure to post election information online cause for invalidating the election.

We're beginning to see components of Tulsa's establishment coalesce around certain candidates for City Council, the candidates they believe will best represent the establishment's interests at City Hall.

Burt Holmes and Ben Latham have selected a partial slate of candidates, according to an email from Latham soliciting contributions for their slate.

Holmes was a director of Great Plains Airlines, a Tulsa-based airline that failed at great cost to taxpayers in Tulsa (property taxpayers had to pay a $7 million debt that we didn't owe, a loan that Great Plains had defaulted on, despite earlier assurances that taxpayers would not be on the hook) and Oklahoma (transferable tax credits were used to fund the airline; the money for the credits came from the state coffers).

Holmes, a maximum donor to Barack Obama's primary and general election campaigns, was also a plaintiff, along with Nancy Rothman, in a lawsuit against all members of the current City Council for alleged violations of the Open Meeting Act, a lawsuit that was later dismissed, but not until each councilor had to hire his or her own attorney to defend the suit.

Ben Latham is head of GBR Properties and is listed as a committee member of Save Our Tulsa, the group that wants to return our city to the "good ol' days" when a small number of the well-heeled and well-connected made decisions for Tulsa without the bothersome and distracting input of the nearly 400,000 other citizens.

Given the backgrounds of the men who picked these six candidates -- David Patrick, Liz Hunt, Ken Brune, Karen Gilbert, Tom Mansur, and Phil Lakin -- it seems reasonable to suppose that these candidates may support massive taxpayer subsidies for crazy business schemes, suing city councilors, and SOT's anti-democracy "reforms" that would dilute geographical and minority representation and put Tulsa at risk for a Voting Rights Act lawsuit. If that's not the case, each candidate should speak up and publicly repudiate the Holmes/Latham endorsement.

Holmes and Latham's list of approved candidates is not too surprising. It includes three of the four publicly acknowledged clients of Karl Ahlgren (Hunt, Gilbert, and Lakin). It is somewhat surprising that Nancy Rothman, Holmes's fellow plaintiff and another Ahlgren client, is not on the list -- at least not yet. David Patrick is a long-time rubber stamp for the Cockroach Caucus. Ken Brune was attorney for Coalition for Responsible Government 2004, the group behind the unsuccessful attempt to recall Councilors Jim Mautino and Chris Medlock.

There's a disparaging mention of the "Gang of Five." Given Holmes's involvement in Great Plains Airlines, that's not surprising. Reformers on the City Council led the effort to investigate the Great Plains scheme and identify those responsible, and they resisted Bill LaFortune's 2005 effort to make the city's taxpayers cover the bad debt.

Latham says the "current city council is basically unchanged from the 'Gang of Five' that eisted when Bill LaFortune was mayor." But the Council has had quite a bit of turnover since 2006 when Bill LaFortune was voted out of office. Only three members (Henderson, Turner, Mautino) of the "Gang of Five" are still on the council, and two of them (Turner, Mautino) lost an election before successfully regaining their seats. Bill Christiansen, who was usually in opposition to the "gang's" initiatives, is the only other councilor still in office who was in office prior to the 2006 election, and he's not running for re-election. So Latham's diagnosis of the causes of City Hall disharmony and his proposed solution are ill-founded.

With all nine councilors -- representing a diverse range of personality types -- at odds with the current mayor, the heart of the problem is obvious, but it seems to have escaped Messrs. Holmes and Latham.

Here is Latham's email.

As you may know, I have been an advocate of electing an entirely new City Council with citizens who want to make a positive difference. The current city council is basically unchanged from the "Gang of Five" that existed when Bill LaFortune was mayor. They have demonstrated they cannot get along with any mayor, male or female, Democrat or Republican. It is time for them to all be voted out.

So far, Burt Holmes and I have met with most of the announced candidates. It doesn't matter what political party, gender, ethnic group, etc. that a person belongs to as long as he/she makes good decisions for our city as a whole. After interviewing the candidates we have selected the best person in each district and have 6 to recommend that we all back. Thus far, all six of these are running their campaigns in a manner we like. They all need financing, so your help is important in making a positive change to our city.

Our six so far are:

District 1: We will have no recommendation.

District 2: We are still evaluating the candidates and will have a recommendation shortly. Incumbent Rick Westcott is not running.

District 3: David Patrick (D); running against incumbent Roscoe Turner.

District 4: Liz Hunt (R) and Ken Brune (D); incumbent is Maria Barnes. Liz will be running against Blake Ewing and Ken against Maria Barnes in the primary.

District 5: Karen Gilbert (R); running against incumbent Chris Trail.

District 6: Incumbent is Jim Mautino. Anybody would be better, but we have no recommendation yet. It will be forthcoming.

District 7: Tom Mansur (R); incumbent John Eagleton is not running.

District 8: Phil Lakin (R); incumbent Bill Christiansen is not running.

District 9: We do not have a recommendation in this race, yet.

The main thrust of this effort is to find community leaders who want to get more engaged; the idea being we will all support a slate of candidates with contributions to ALL the supported candidates. We must go outside of our own districts this time, if we want to make a difference. We recommend you support the candidates directly, and not go through a PAC. This is financially more efficient, and you will be certain who you are supporting and get credit for your contribution.

At this time, I would like everyone to consider making the same contribution to all six of these candidates. Please consider $200 or more to each of these six. I am sure the candidates will appreciate whatever contribution you make. Also attached is a generic contribution form (required) that you can use to send in your contributions. I will keep you informed on the needs of the candidates.

[List of candidate addresses deleted.]

I also request you forward this email to your own mailing list. Let's make a difference! Thank you in advance for your participation.

UPDATE: An August 16 email from Latham adds a candidate to the list of endorsements:

All,

Goods gets good. Nothing gets nothing.

If you are unhappy with the city council and want a change, you must help now. We have recruited, interviewed, and vetted excellent candidates, listed below. The candidates need your contribution NOW for the September 13 primaries. By September 1 it will be too late for them to acquire signs and other campaign materials. NOW IS THE TIME TO ACT.

We all care about Tulsa. This election may be our last chance to change the council to progressive collaborators who can move us forward, faster. The primaries on September 13 will decide the general election because there will be no serious opposition in the November general election except for districts 4 and 5. To be successful, we must support the candidates now, so they can win their primaries. As business people, we all have a vested interest in this.

Hunt, Gilbert, Steele and Mansur are the most in need of money. They, and the others, are running good campaigns, including knocking on doors in 100 degree heat.

We know you care about Tulsa, so send your contributions this week so the seven endorsed candidates can make a strong finish to the September 13 election. Ideally, we all send the same contribution to each of the seven. It's up to you to decide how much and to whom. Please consider $200 or more to each of them. I know all of them will appreciate whatever contribution you make.

Our seven endorsements:

District 1: We will have no recommendation.

District 2: We will not have an endorsement in the primary.

District 3: David Patrick (D); running against incumbent Roscoe Turner.

District 4 Ken Brune (D) and Liz Hunt (R); incumbent is Maria Barnes. Liz will be running against Blake Ewing and Ken against Maria Barnes in the primary.

District 5: Karen Gilbert (R); running against incumbent Chris Trail.

District 6: Byron Steele (R); running against incumbent is Jim Mautino.

District 7: Tom Mansur (R); incumbent John Eagleton is not running.

District 8: Phil Lakin (R); incumbent Bill Christiansen is not running.

District 9: We will not oppose the incumbent in this race.

Below is a generic contribution form that you can use to send in your contributions. Addresses to send your contributions to:

[List of addresses redacted.]

We also request you forward this email to your own mailing list. Let's make a difference! Thank you in advance for your immediate participation.

Good Gets Good!

This email had been forwarded with support from Daryl Woodard, Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr's appointee to the city's redistricting commission. It's beginning to look like the redistricting commission's radical redrawing of the lines (the adopted plan shifted over 20% of the city's precincts into new districts) is working hand in glove with the Latham/Holmes/Ahlgren effort to replace the council with Bartlett Jr rubber-stamps.

Note too that their effort to find candidates in District 2 and District 9 failed. Ahlgren approached District 9 candidate Robert Pinney, offering support for his campaign, and sought to have him meet with Latham, but Pinney, an independent-minded neighborhood leader and well aware of Ahlgren's reputation and connections, rejected his overtures. This seems to explain the change from "We do not have a recommendation in this race, yet," to "We will not oppose the incumbent in this race." Was this group aiming to knock off a potential rival to Bartlett Jr's 2013 re-election bid? (District 2's rubric changed from "We are still evaluating the candidates and will have a recommendation shortly," to "We will not have an endorsement in the primary.")

In 2009, incumbent Councilor Bill Martinson was defeated by Chris Trail, a well-funded challenger, a newcomer to politics and to the city limits, funded and supported by forces that didn't like an intelligent skeptic on the Tulsa City Council scrutinizing their schemes.

I recently came across Martinson's response to the Tulsa Metro Chamber's 2009 candidate questionnaire. As a response to each question, Martinson referred forward to the following reply. Given the Chamber's involvement in this year's election -- hiring a PR consultant to recruit candidates, hiring a political consultant to "advise" them on redistricting, founding a political action committee -- Martinson's words are worth revisiting. (The only edit was to turn a URL in the text into an actual hyperlink.)

An e-mail for a July 20 fund raiser for Chris Trail was forwarded to me from several sources. The invitation and message from Susan Harris, a member of the Chamber staff, clearly validate the rumors that the Chamber supports my opponent, Chris Trail, as a candidate for the City Council. The hostess for the fund raiser has ties to Kathy Taylor and her husband, Bill Lobeck. Mr. Lobeck's attendance at the event substantiates Mr. Trail's claim that he was recruited and is being supported by the Mayor. The Chamber and Mayor Taylor have previously worked with AH Strategies (Karl Ahlgren and Fount Holland) and Mr. Trail credits her with arranging AH Strategies as his campaign advisor. As much as I appreciate receiving your candidate questionnaire, I see no need to provide detailed responses since you and your team have already decided where to direct your support.

I am a CPA with over thirty years of varied business experience and have successfully managed the same manufacturing company since 1996. In addition, I have represented the citizens of District 5 since 2005. My wife and I have owned and occupied our current home since 1981 and our kids, now grown, all attended Tulsa Public Schools. While those qualifications and credentials may fail to meet the Chamber's standards, I ran unopposed last time and my only challenger this year is your handpicked candidate who recently moved into Tulsa and rented a house in my district in order to run for the City Council. This scheme, clearly designed to influence representation on the Council, demonstrates an appalling level of contempt for the value and intelligence of the voters in District 5. Perhaps they will appreciate it is they, not you, that I hope to serve and represent.

Chamber leadership typically advocates and practices blind obedience, and this situation is no exception. You, and the Chamber you represent, are free to follow and support whomever you choose, however, your membership and visitors to your web site may learn some of Mr. Trail's history from an article, "Legal Woes Haunt Candidate", published in the Tulsa World on July 21, 2009. Mr. Trail's documented legal and integrity issues aside, I fail to see how his limited qualifications and recent relocation to the City comply with the statement in your July 20 letter that "The Tulsa Metro Chamber understands the importance of a strong, responsible city government...."; especially since the City of Tulsa is facing perhaps the most difficult financial time in its history. Your attempts to establish a shadow government may ultimately succeed, although I hope the voters prevail, for I remain enough of an idealist
to believe it is still their City.

Trail won but, having served the ends of Taylor and the Chamber to eliminate Martinson, has been cast aside in favor of Karen Gilbert, who is Ahlgren's client in the race this year. I feel sorry for Chris Trail, who seems like a nice person who didn't fully appreciate how he was being used as a tool of revenge. I feel worse for Tulsa, having to make do without Martinson's analytical and financial strengths on the Council.

tgg_9655_110x165.jpgOn July 17, 2011, the Tulsa World ran a story on the 2003 appeals court ruling that levied attorney's fees on Tulsa City Council District 2 candidate Nancy Rothman because of her contemptible attempts to alienate her sons from their father and to smear her ex-husband's reputation.

(The story ran four days after the BatesLine story on the district and appeals court determinations that Nancy Rothman had plotted to have child pornography planted on her ex-husband in order to eliminate his visitation rights entirely.)

The World story reported Rothman's comments about her financial problems:

She also told the World that the handful of financial issues that she has had - including her 2006 bankruptcy, the 2005 foreclosure on her home and a 2001 tax lien that was later released - were related to her divorce.

BatesLine research into District Court records, Bankruptcy Court filings, and County Clerk records involving the home Nancy Rothman lost in foreclosure reveal large amounts of credit card debt and an ever-increasing amount borrowed against the growing value of the home she won in the divorce.

In an October 26, 2001, hearing to determine whether Nancy Rothman would be required to pay attorney fees to her ex-husband, John Rothman, for the contempt and custody trial involving her involvement in a plot to plant child pornography on her husband, John Rothman's attorney Russell Carson quantified the divorce award to Nancy Rothman:

Now, Your Honor, the September 10th, 1999 decree awarded Mrs. Rothman approximately $1.2 million in both real and physical assets. The Vanguard account was in excess of 400,000. The home, according to Mrs. Rothman's own appraisal, was 650,000. The furnishings approximately 60,000. She's got an alimony judgment of $227,000. That's $1,387,000. She has the means and the ability to pay a judgment for attorney fees in a case where every dime of attorney fees incurred on behalf of my client were incurred because of her conduct and no other.

In her June 13, 2006, bankruptcy filing, downloaded today from the uscourts.gov website, Nancy Rothman listed assets of $918,375 (including the home she won in the divorce, valued at $900,000) and liabilities of $1,030,932.35 including

  • $850,000.00 first mortgage,
  • $40,000.00 second mortgage,
  • $35,904.46 in judicial liens,
  • $80,967.66 owed on seven credit cards,
  • $10,080.00 owed in child support,
  • $10,083.14 owed to the IRS from 2000.

In a mere seven years, including nearly five years living on her own without custody of her children, these records suggest that Nancy Rothman went from at least $1,259,850 in the black to $112,557.35 in the red, a drop of over $1.3 million. (In that $1,259,850 figure, the $127,150 mortgage filed in August 1998 has been deducted from the appraised value quoted by Carson above.)

Online county clerk records point to repeated refinancing of the home for ever-larger mortgages.

The 5,423 sq. ft. home on the northwest corner of 27th St. and Zunis Ave. was purchased by John and Nancy Rothman on November 17, 1995, for $530,000 and mortgaged for 80% of its value. The mortgage release was filed on February 25, 1998, apparently leaving the house free and clear at that point.

On March 20, 1998, the deed was transferred to a trust, listed as Nancy Troub Rothman, Trustee, and John D Rothman, Trustee. On August 21, 1998, the house was mortgaged to Harry Mtg Co for $127,150. John Rothman filed for divorce on October 19, 1998.

The divorce was final and a quit claim deed filed on September 10, 1999, leaving Nancy Rothman's trust as the sole owner. At this point, county clerk records appear to indicate that the 1998 $127,150 mortgage was the only secured debt against the property.

In the subsequent five years, another eight mortgages were filed against the property:

  • December 12, 2000: Wells Fargo Fin Okla Inc, $53.827.47
  • September 27, 2001: Popular Fin Services LLC, $350,000.00, followed on October 8, 2001, by a release of the Wells Fargo mortgage.
  • March 19, 2002: Federal Bankcentre, $250,475.09, followed by the June 13, 2002: Release of the 1998 mortgage.
  • March 31, 2003: Indymac Bk, $637,500.00, followed on April 21 and 28 by releases of the 2001 and 2002 mortgages.
  • October 29, 2003: Long Beach Mtg Co., $712,000.00.
  • November 13, 2003: Cit Groupp Consumer Finance Inc, $46,500.00, followed on November 24, 2003 by release of the 2003 Indymac mortgage.
  • June 29, 2004: MERS Inc, two mortgages totaling $841,500.00, followed on September 1 and 27, 2004 by releases of the two fall 2003 mortgages.

Taking into consideration the delay involved in releasing a mortgage following a refinance, the total mortgaged amount appears in County Clerk records to have jumped in six distinct leaps, the largest being nearly $400,000:

  • September 10, 1999: $127,150.00
  • December 12, 2000: $180,977.47
  • October 8, 2001: $477,150.00
  • June 13, 2002: $600,475.09
  • April 28, 2003: $637,500.00
  • November 24, 2003: $758,500.00
  • September 27, 2004: $841,500.00

The divorce decree ordered John Rothman to pay Nancy Rothman alimony of $6,500 per month for 35 months, for a total of $227,500, child support of $2,250 per month until the children reached the age of 18 and graduated from high school, private school tuition and books for the two children of up to $15,000 per year, and all medical and dental insurance and expenses for the children.

Two obligations were imposed by the court on Nancy Rothman following the 2001 decision that found her guilty of contempt of court and gave her ex-husband custody of the children: $140 per month child support and $70,376 in attorney's fees and costs. At the time that the court awarded attorney's fees (December 7, 2001), the court found that Nancy Rothman had a gross monthly income of $8,500.

I watched the entirety of the agenda item on Tulsa City Councilor Jim Mautino's proposed revision to the animal control ordinance, from the Tuesday, July 19, 2011, Public Works Committee meeting. I'm guessing that's more than the editorial board of the daily paper or their caricaturist bothered to do before portraying Mautino as a baby throwing a "hissy fit."

Here's the video of the committee meeting on the TGOVonline website. It's also embedded below, (after the jump if you're reading this on the home page).

The entire discussion lasted 50 minutes. Of that 50 minutes, there's about 30 seconds where Mautino raises his voice, and that came after mayoral aide Dwain Midget raised his voice, three times interrupting Mautino when Mautino had the floor. Twice Councilor Roscoe Turner gavelled down Midget's interruptions, the second time saying, "Mr Midget, I'm asking you one more time; I don't intend to ask again." After Midget's third interruption, Turner told someone in the room to "call Security."

The discussion went on peacefully and productively for another 30 minutes, at which point a meeting of all concerned parties was set for Friday. That aspect of the meeting didn't get much attention.

You'd think that Midget, whose outbursts interrupted the councilor who had the floor, ought to have been the subject of the editorial and cartoon, but it seems our entrenched city bureaucrats can do no wrong in the eyes of the daily paper, particularly when they can turn the story to further the inaccurate "bickering council" meme.

Since his return to the City Council in 2009, Mautino has been pursuing a revision to Tulsa's animal control ordinance, so that outrageously abusive situations can be effectively dealt with by city animal control officials and the city prosecutor. Mautino has met repeatedly with city officials involved in monitoring, licensing, and prosecuting cases of animal abuse.

After a year and a half of talk, Mautino is pushing forward with a revised ordinance that distinguishes between licenses for hobbyists and for rescuers and which requires someone seeking a license to engage the support of neighbors. The intent is to make the ordinance somewhat self-enforcing, important because of the city animal welfare department's inability (or perhaps unwillingness) to enforce the current ordinance.

In Tulsa, you can have up to three dogs and up to five total cats and dogs without any special exemption. To have more, you must have a hobbyist exemption from the city. You must also have a hobbyist exemption if you don't wish to spay or neuter your pets -- for example, if you show your dogs and are required to keep them intact for that purpose.

What I've heard is that the terms of the exemption are practically unenforceable, particularly in this time of budget shortfalls.

In addition, it's my understanding that animal control calls must now go through 911, rather than to a separate animal control dispatch number, and because of that, Tulsa police must respond first to any animal control issues, even though the police department is not equipped to deal with animal control incidents. The result is an added burden on an already overloaded 911 system and police department.

Jim Mautino's eastside District 6 is more vulnerable to animal control issues than many parts of town. Large undeveloped areas provide habitat for feral dogs and cats and are tempting spots for irresponsible owners to dump unwanted pets. The east side is home to many newcomers to Tulsa, who come from places, like rural Oklahoma or foreign lands, where animal control laws are non-existent or unenforced.

But rather than help find a solution to meet the concerns of Mautino's constituents, the city bureaucrats responsible for animal control are working to undermine his efforts. Mautino read from emails, obtained via an Open Records Act request, from Jean Letcher, manager of the city's animal welfare department, rallying citizens against Mautino's efforts.

Instead of berating Mautino, Mayor Bartlett Jr should have been calling some of his own employees on the carpet for their uncooperative attitude.

What I saw in that Tuesday meeting fit a pattern that I've seen often during 20 years of involvement in local politics. A city bureaucrat looks at the certificates on the wall and his years of service and assumes he is the authority not merely about how things are done but the authority on what ought to be done.

So a new city councilor or a new member of an authority, board, or commission comes into office with a concern that isn't being effectively addressed by city government. The first answer from the bureaucracy is rarely, "Gee, why didn't we think of that?" It's almost always, "Nothing can be done," or, "We've never done it that way." And that answer is supposed to be the end of it.

If the councilor (or commissioner) persists, the bureaucracy attempts to re-educate the councilor, in the most condescending manner possible, to understand that his ideas are impossible to implement. Rather than saying, "Let's see how we can meet your concerns," the bureaucracy delivers the message, "Your concerns are ignorant and illegitimate."

What happens next depends on how the councilor deals with the initial rebuff. Some simply back off and tackle another issue. Some, like Tom Tuttle from Tacoma, become fully assimilated to the point where they'll defend the status quo and attack any other councilor who challenges it.

Then you have the councilors who do their own research, who dig into ordinances and budgets and case law and what other cities are doing, and they persist in asking "why not?" and presenting alternatives. From a bureaucrat's point of view, such a councilor is a pain in the posterior, a threat to their comfortable, stable existence, and must be taken down. If you can use your lack of cooperation to provoke the councilor, passive-aggressively, to the point of expressing his irritation, you win.

Since this sort of inquisitive, pro-active councilor also poses a threat to other entrenched interests, the aggrieved bureaucrat can usually find a helping hand from the various organs of the Cockroach Caucus, who miss the days when all one had to do was pull on their strings to get the councilors to do their bidding. The obligatory unflattering photo, misleading headline, twisted caricature, and tut-tutting editorial follow in due course.

It's a misunderstanding of the nature of bureaucracy to think that bureaucrats will be supportive and encouraging of a councilor's ideas for new ways to solve a problem, if only the councilor will be polite and patient. (People seeking public office really should read Jim Boren's books first.) It's not that bureaucrats are bad people, but it's a profession that tends to attract the risk-averse. You don't climb in a bureaucracy by taking risks. The exceptions to the rule are there, and they're real treasures because they're rare. Too often, bureaucrats will try to wait the councilor out -- keep holding meetings, keep delaying a final plan, until the councilor gets interested in another project or gets voted out of office.

It's a pretty good indication that a city councilor is doing what he ought to be doing if he's getting shot at by the bureaucracy and the daily paper. Jim Mautino is a good councilor, and if District 6 voters want an advocate for their interests who won't be deterred by bureaucratic foot-dragging, they'll return Jim Mautino to office this fall.

We're off to a rough start.

Of the 16 candidates that filed on Monday, six filed improperly by not specifying their names as they appear in the voter registration record. The deviations are all minor -- using an initial or nothingat all instead of the middle name, using a nickname, dropping the generational suffix -- and none of the filing names will be difficult to match to the voter registration records. Article VI, Section 3.1 of the Tulsa City Charter states:

Any person who desires to be nominated by a political party as its candidate for a city office shall file with the Election Board of Tulsa County or its successor a Declaration of Candidacy which shall contain:

A. The name and residence street address of the person as it appears on the voter registration records;

And again in Section 3.2:

Any person who desires to be an independent candidate for a city office shall file with the Election Board of Tulsa County or its successor a Declaration of Candidacy which shall state:

A. The name and residence street address of the person as it appears on the voter registration records; and

Or as I paraphrased yesterday:

A candidate for city office must file using his name as it appears in his voter registration, no matter how silly his middle name may be.

If your middle name is especially silly, you can run under your initials if you had first changed your registration to use your initials. I have to wonder which is sillier though: G. T. Bynum's given first and middle names or listing his first name in the voter registration records as "G T" -- not first name G, middle name T, but first name Gee-Space-Tee, no middle name. Database engineers everywhere are softly weeping at the intrusion of a non-alpha character in the name field.

I think the strict interpretation of the charter language was first enforced in 2006, if I recall correctly. There's no such requirement in state law:

The name of any candidate for any office shall be printed on the official ballot as said candidate signed his Declaration of Candidacy; provided, however, that no candidate shall have any prefix, suffix or title placed before or after his name.

Prior to 2006, you could file for city office using nicknames, initials, dropping a JR or SR suffix, with or without your middle name -- they didn't enforce the requirement. When I filed in 1998 and 2002, I filed as MICHAEL D. BATES, although I'm registered to vote under my full middle name.

What of the six who filed under variants of the name on the registration record? i suppose they need to go down to the Tulsa County Election Board between now and 5 pm Wednesday and file an amended (notarized, of course) Declaration of Candidacy.

The filing period for the City of Tulsa's 2011 city election begins tomorrow, Monday, July 11, 2011, at the Tulsa County Election Board and runs through Wednesday, July 13, 2011, at 5 p.m.

For the last time (at least until the charter is amended again), all nine council seats will be up for election at the same time. Councilors for Districts 1, 4, and 7 will be up again in 2012; District 2, 5, and 8 councilors will have a two-year term, expiring with the mayoral election of 2013; and District 3, 6, and 9 councilors will serve three years. This is a transition to the staggered three-year-term charter amendment approved (foolishly) by voters in 2009.

Tulsans will also vote for a City Auditor. Preston Doerflinger was elected to a two-year term in 2009, but left for Oklahoma City to serve as Gov. Mary Fallin's Director of State Finance. The incumbent, appointed by the mayor and approved by the City Council, is Clift Richards. In the 2011 election, for the first time ever, a candidate for City Auditor must be either a Certified Internal Auditor or a Certified Public Accountant. The City Auditor will continue to serve two-year terms.

(NOTE: I'm not going to write "his or her" over and over again or use "their" incorrectly as a singular possessive adjective. "He," "him," and "his" are used below in its traditional, generic sense.)

A candidate for city office must file using his name as it appears in his voter registration, no matter how silly his middle name may be. A candidate for a party nomination must bring with his notarized filing form a deposit of $50, in the form of an official bank check, or a supporting petition signed by 300 registered voters in his district. The $50 is refunded if the candidate receives 15% of the vote or wins his party's nomination. A candidate running as an independent (and you can run as an independent even if you're a registered Republican or Democrat, as Mark Perkins did in 2009 and Patty Eaton in 1986) can only file by petition, but he gets a bye to the general election.

You may be wondering which district you're in. If you remember from the 2009 election, there's a good chance you're wrong. 42 precincts were moved by the Election District Commission from one district to another in order to hurt Roscoe Turner's chances of re-election and completely draw John Eagleton out of his district as punishment for Eagleton's conscience-driven effort to oust Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr from office for violating his oath of office and dereliction of duty. (Other precincts were moved between Districts 2 and 9 to try to hurt Rick Westcott's chances for re-election, but District 2's boundaries were restored after Westcott opted not to run again.)

The Tulsa County Election Board has several resources to help you find your district:

If you're interested enough in local politics to read this far, please keep an eye on the filings as they unfold on Monday and Tuesday. Perhaps you should consider throwing your own hat into the ring.

Tulsacitycouncil-Districts-2011.png

The Tulsa City Council is hosting a special town hall meeting tonight, July 7, 2011, 6 p.m., at City Hall, 2nd and Cincinnati, to discuss a proposal to switch to a city manager/council form of municipal government. Under the proposal, a mayor, elected citywide, would sit on the City Council and be able to cast an extra vote in the event of a tie. City Attorney, City Clerk, City Auditor, and City Manager would be appointed by the City Council and removable by the council with a 2/3rds vote.

You can read the current draft of the proposal and find a considerable amount of backup material on the Tulsa City Council website, including analyses of the structure and charter language of other city governments using the council/manager form.

The town hall will be held in the 2nd floor City Council meeting room. If you can't attend in person, you can watch on Cox Cable channel 24 or online at tgovonline.org.

The final public hearing on the proposed redrawing of City Council lines will be tonight (May 31, 2011) at 7 pm at the Central Center at Centennial Park, on 6th Street west of Peoria, just east of downtown. (Here is the Tulsa World story on the topic, and here is the graphic of the final proposal and an alternative.)

Although the final proposal had the support of the two Republicans on the Election District Commission, I believe that the alternative from the Democrat on the Commission is a better plan, for two reasons: The alternative plan is less radical -- moves fewer people to new districts -- and it somewhat limits the damage that can be done by pro-big-government, higher-tax Midtown "Money Belt" voters. The alternative is not perfect, but I believe it is an improvement over the official plan.

The final proposal moves central and southern Maple Ridge, Terwilliger Heights, Utica Square, and other upscale Midtown neighborhoods from District 9 to District 4. Based on past voting patterns, I believe this will make it less likely that a limited-government, anti-corporate-welfare conservative can be nominated in District 4, and that even if such a candidate were nominated, pro-high-tax, pro-corporate-welfare Republicans in the district would crossover to support the Democrat rather than the limited-government conservative.

There are rumors that the same political consultant who drew the ridiculous State Senate map was instrumental in drawing the final proposal for the City Council. Keep in mind that this same consultant has been involved in Mayor Bartlett's campaign, the Vision 2025 and river projects sales tax hike votes, and the effort to gut Tulsa's historic preservation ordinance via the State Legislature. It seems reasonable to speculate that the lines such a consultant would draw would tend to work for lines that help pro-tax candidates and work against pro-neighborhood-conservation candidates.

If you'd just as soon not have to fight yet another proposed tax increase for frivolities, I'd encourage you to show up tonight and support the alternative plan. Unfortunately, there's no apparent way to comment online.

An ethics investigation by the Tulsa City Auditor's office into Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr's acceptance of free legal services from a city contractor found that Bartlett Jr violated the city's ethics code.

DOWNLOAD (4.5 MB PDF): Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr Ethics Investigation

Although the services offered by attorney Joel Wohlgemuth were intended as a public service, Bartlett Jr's acceptance of them, rather than paying for his own attorney, could reasonably appear improper "due to personal benefit received and the Mayor's position to potentially approve future contracts between the City and the Contractor." The value of the services performed for the mayor is unknown, but almost certainly exceeds the threshold of $35 for gifts or favors to city officials. The report states, "There reasonably could be a perception of influence of performance of official duties due to the personal benefit received and the Mayor's position to potentially approve future contracts between the City and the Contractor."

Bartlett Jr had previously approved contract extensions for Wohlgemuth's firm, but not since entering into an attorney-client relationship with Wohlgemuth in July 2010.

The report recommends that before accepting free services intended as a public service from a city contractor, the Mayor should seek an opinion from the Ethics Advisory Committee and the services offered should be formally accepted by the City Council using the standard process for accepting donations to the city.

Another finding in the report deserves attention: The City should have a formal process in place for selecting and hiring outside legal services.

Statements during interviews determined selection and engagement of outside legal counsel by the City has varied by Mayoral administrations. Depending on the Mayor and type of case, sometimes Mayors have determined who they wanted and the process was to determine budget amounts, hourly rates and to prepare a contract. Other times the City Attorney and Legal Department staff may have discussions of who would be an appropriate attorney for a particular case and the rates. Previous administrations and City Attorneys have used a Request for Proposal (RFP) process and RFP's are still used for some unusual cases. Without established policy and procedures, the selection process could be subject to manipulation or abuse, inefficiency and higher cost to the City.

Recommendation:
The City should adopt and document policies and procedures for engagement of outside legal counsel.

As it stands, the Mayor could easily shovel lucrative city legal business to personal friends and campaign donors, whether or not the attorneys so blessed are the best choice for a particular case. Many other attorneys are willing and able to do legal work for the city; the opportunity shouldn't be limited to a small group of insiders.

According to the report, the city and its related trusts and authorities have paid Wohlgemuth's firm $1,064,661.58 since 1993.

The City Auditor's office is independent of the other two branches of city government. The auditor is directly elected by the voters, except when a vacancy occurs within a year of the next election. Preston Doerflinger, elected in 2009, resigned to accept a position in Gov. Mary Fallin's administration. His replacement, Clift Richards, was nominated by the Mayor and confirmed by the City Council.

Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr has sent out a mailing inviting the recipient to contribute at least $250 for a series of luncheons hosted by himself and (it is implied) by Senator Jim Inhofe, the former Mayor of Tulsa.

A source provided me with a copy of the contents of the mailing: a cover letter, a glossy four-color, eight-page booklet summarizing Bartlett Jr's accomplishments and policy goals, and a contribution response card. Click the link to see a PDF of the mailing's contents. (My source scanned the contents of the mailing but did so with the text oriented in all directions because of the way the booklet was laid out -- in a couple of cases, opposite orientations on the same page. I extracted the scanned images in the PDF to separate files, cropped and rotated the images so they all have the same orientation, and reassembled the result into a PDF. I then used Acrobat's built-in optical character recognition to scan for text. If you want to compare, here is the original scan I received, a 2.4 MB PDF.)

Here is the text of the letter:

"A SHINING CITY UPON A HILL... ...." MAYOR DEWEY BARTLETT'S LUNCHEON SERIES May 20, 2011

April 10, 2011

Dear Friend,

Over two thousand years ago, Jesus described a "city upon a hill" in his Sermon on the Mount. President-elect John Kennedy returned the phrase to prominence when he described "a city upon a hill-the eyes of all people are upon us". In our most recent recollection of the phrase, it was Ronald Reagan who often cited, "a shining city upon a hill ..... ", as he led our imaginations and delivered us the results of a country that could be restored ..... if we would fix our eyes on such a city!

These words have special significance to me as the mayor of your city. For too long, we allowed our past achievements to dictate our current and future endeavors. We would study, plan, study some more....and rarely act! We did not allow the forces of the marketplace to create the value to the taxpayer and the quality that Tulsan's had historically come to expect. I have spent all of my adult life in the private sector, where your ideas must quickly be moved to action ..and where your past performance is no guarantee of future results. Accordingly, when I entered office as your mayor, I met with a culture and skepticism that can only come from people that have lived in a static society, protected from market forces and continual improvement. With all of the noise in and around City Hall, I decided to take another idea from our hero, Ronald Reagan. He always went directly to the people, and did not allow his vision and results to be left to the interpretation of others....many of whom wished to preserve the status quo and poor results that come from unchallenged governmental performance.

So, I am coming to you, along with my mentor and dear friend, Senator Jim Inhofe, to hold a series of luncheons to share directly with you the many exciting results we are achieving in the use of successful and proven ideas in municipal performance. Senator Inhofe was the last mayor that truly used the Ronald Reagan approach to government, and he was often touted by Reagan as his "favorite" mayor! I have included with this invitation my list of focused action results that are implementing our shared vision of what it takes to return Tulsa to its former position.....one that we haven't seen since Mayor Inhofe was in this office. As you will see here in this publication "Tulsa 2020-Many Voices-One Vision" we are not studying, vacillating and massaging.....we are acting! And those actions have already led to national recognition for our applied solutions to our municipal challenges. Finally, we are leading again, and other cities are follOWing our lead....a true return to Tulsa's greatest days!

I hope you will join Senator Inhofe and me for this most important luncheon. All of this is being paid for privately, absolutely nothing is at taxpayer expense. It would be particularly helpful to me and my efforts if you would consider being a Sponsor ($1,000 per couple), Host ($500 per Couple) or Patron ($250 per Couple). I have included in this mailing the information you will need to provide for participation. We would like to mail general invitations later this month, so it is important that I can hear from you quickly, as we would like to show you on our broader invitation. We will only be able to seat 200 for our first event, so I encourage your prompt attention to this important and timely luncheon with Senator Inhofe and myself.

Should you wish for more information, simply contact Laura Huff at (918) 691-1744, or by email at Laura.Huff@cox.net

Warmest Regards,
Dewey Bartlett
Not Printed At Taxpayer's Expense

The letter was mailed from Dallas, Texas. The zip code on the prepaid return envelope, 75234, is in the Dallas area, and the bulk mail permit for the mailing is from Dallas as well.

The return address on the envelope, and the address on the response card, is

Bartlett for Mayor 11806 S. Pittsburg Ave Tulsa, OK 74137

a residence in the Wind River Subdivision belonging, according to county land records, to the aforementioned Laura Huff and her husband Dustin. (The couple are mentioned in news stories from 2003 as involved in the performance review developed at the beginning of Bill LaFortune's term of office, an effort led by Mrs. Huff's father, former City Auditor Ron Howell.)

I don't have time for a detailed analysis, but here are a few quick reactions to the letter:

The big question: What does he plan to do with all the money he is trying to raise? It's two years -- two long years -- before Bartlett is up for re-election.

I wonder what Bartlett Jr's mentor, Sen. Inhofe, thought of Bartlett Jr's endorsement of Democratic incumbent Mayor Kathy Taylor for re-election (before she dropped out). Taylor's refusal to face fiscal facts put Tulsa in a deep financial hole. Bartlett Jr seemed quite content with the way the city had been run by his predecessors until he actually got into office. Bartlett Jr endorsed and praised Taylor's decision to make City of Tulsa property owners pay for the failure of Great Plains Airlines, despite promises that the taxpayers would not be at risk.

During the 2009 mayoral primary campaign, I asked the candidates whether they would continue following the autocratic leadership style of Kathy Taylor. Sure enough, Bartlett Jr has followed closely in the footsteps of the predecessor he endorsed, building an even worse relationship with the City Council than she had done.

(By the way, in responding to that question back in 2009, Bartlett Jr denounced Chris Medlock's idea of hiring an experienced City Manager to work for the mayor and oversee city departments involved in day-to-day operations. In 2011, Bartlett Jr has named former Broken Arrow City Manager Jim Twombly to do just that.)

Ronald Reagan, whom Bartlett Jr claims as a hero, not only didn't endorse his predecessors, he ran against two sitting presidents, one of whom was a fellow Republican, because he believed that the policies of the Ford and Carter administrations were leading the country to financial and geopolitical disaster.

I see some good ideas in the booklet that came with the mailer, but it's hard for me to trust Bartlett Jr's sincerity. I have to wonder why he hadn't been promoting these ideas prior to his election.

American Majority will hold a day-long citizen activist training session on Saturday, April 23, 2011, at Tulsa Technology Center, focused on training activists to be effectively engaged with state and local government. As part of the event, I'll be joining Jamison Faught of Muskogee Politico and Peter J. Rudy of Oklahoma Watchdog on a local blogger panel. It should be a great program -- hope you can join us.

Here are the details:

Our nation was founded by ordinary citizen activists desiring a government that was accountable to the people. Today, ordinary citizens in every citizen and in every community are tired of the status quo and are ready to get involved like they never have before to demand accountability.

American Majority's purpose is to address these passions by providing education and resources to help you reach your goals.

To that end, American Majority desires to challenge concerned citizens to turn their focus to state and local issues with the first annual Tulsa Battlefield Training.

This event will provide those in attendance with two things:

First, the Tulsa Battlefield Training will give those in attendance a clear picture of what is happening at both the state level and local level with government spending, waste, and clear explanation regarding how all levels of government got into this mess.

Secondly, the Tulsa Battlefield Training will also provide tool, resources, and specific ways that attendees can get involved in the local government structure - whether as informed citizen activists or candidates for local office.

Confirmed Presenters Include:

  • Ned Ryun, President of American Majority
  • Michael Carnuccio, President of Oklahoma Council for Public Affairs
  • Matt Robbins, Executive Director of American Majority
  • A Local Blogger Panel Consisting of Michael Bates of Batesline.com; Jamison Faught of MuskogeePolitico.com; and Peter J. Rudy of OklahomaWatchdog.org
  • Plus Presentations by the American Majority Oklahoma Staff

The Tulsa Battlefield Training will take place on Saturday, April 23rd at Tulsa Technology Center located at 3420 S Memorial Dr. from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm. Doors open at 8:30 am.

Registration is $20 per person (which includes lunch and all materials) - space is limited.

If you have any questions or would like additional information, call Seth Brown at 405-639-8896 or email him at seth@americanmajority.org

You do not want to miss this event!

American Majority is a non-profit and non-partisan political training organization whose mission is to train and equip a national network of leaders committed to individual freedom through limited government and the free market.

The City of Tulsa's Election District Commission has released five City Council redistricting plans (click to open the PDF) drawn up by Indian Nations Council of Government staff. The city must redraw the lines to produce districts of nearly equal population, based on the 2010 federal census.

Although the city's population didn't change significantly (it dropped by about 1000), the population did move around a good deal, with population losses in north and midtown Tulsa and growth in the south, continuing a 40-year trend.

To describe the five plans in words:

Plan I: Most stable for north and west Tulsa, radical changes in midtown. District 2 remains the same, District 1 adds downtown, District 3 adds Precinct 40. District 4 would add just about everything north of 31st, and District 9 would extend further east, as would District 7. This has the least population deviation, but 30 precincts move between districts.

Plan II: Most stable overall -- only 12 precincts and 21,725 people change districts. District 3 would lose two precincts that have been strong for Roscoe Turner over the years and gain some northeast Tulsa territory. District 4 would pick up the Owen Park and Crosbie Heights neighborhoods. District 8 would lose two precincts to 7 and 7 would lose two to 9. 2 would remain unchanged.

Plan III: This seems to produce more compact districts generally, but it does involve 36 precincts and 65,294 people changing districts. 4 would become long and skinny -- two miles wide and eight miles long, losing all territory south of 21st, and extending east to Memorial. 3 would lose three of Turner's best precincts on the western edge and gain territory as far south as 21st and Mingo. 2 would lose its territory south of 81st and gain three precincts around I-44 and Peoria.

Plan IV: The most radical plan of all, shifting 58 precincts and 110,917 people. District 4 would lose territory east of Yale, but extend as far south as 36th Street west of Lewis. 3 would lose its western precincts and gain everything east of Yale between 11th and Lynn Lane Rd. 7 and 8 would change from landscape to portrait orientation. 2 would gain precincts west of Peoria as far north as 36th Street, while losing its precincts northeast of 81st and Riverside.

Plan V: Identical to plan 2, except for Districts 7 and 8, which become north-south districts split at Sheridan. 8, which has always been the far-south district, would extend as far north as I-44.

At first glance, I'm inclined to back Plan II (pictured below), but I've got some thoughts on a better plan.

20110404-Tulsa_Council_District_Plans_Plan_2-500px.png

Thanks to Tulsa City Council aide Shannon Compton for sending me a copy of the plans so that I could make them available to the public for free. Previously, the plans had only been available online to subscribers to the daily paper. It seems to me that a citizen shouldn't have to go to a subscription-only website -- or to any privately-owned website, for that matter -- to view government documents. These plans and any future versions should be published on tulsacouncil.org and cityoftulsa.org, along with information on submitting comments about the draft plans to the commission. Shapefiles and datafiles for the maps and redistricting plans should be posted online as well.

Four public hearings on the proposals will be held around Tulsa:

Monday, April 11, 20117:00 p.m.Rudisill Regional (North) Library
Tuesday, April 12, 20117:00 p.m.Hardesty Regional (South) Library
Monday, April 18, 20117:00 p.m.Zarrow Regional (West) Library
Tuesday, April 19, 20117:00 p.m.Martin Regional (East) Library

The Save Our Tulsa charter amendment petitions -- pushing to add four at-large members to the City Council (including the Mayor), to eliminate partisan labels from city election ballots, and to hold city elections on the same ballot as national and statewide elections -- were certified by City Clerk Mike Kier earlier this week.

Attorney Greg Bledsoe, a leader of Tulsans Defending Democracy, the effort to stop the use of at-large council members to dilute geographical representation, has begun the process of examining the petitions, now that the City Clerk's office has finally complied with an open-records request he made on February 18, 2011.

The City Clerk's office finally let me look at the SOT petition documents on Tuesday, 4-5-11, despite my persistent request under the Open Records Act first made on 2-18-11 and despite being told that the documents had been digitally scanned and that with respect to petition 2010-1 (the at-large petition) the evaluation had been largely completed.

There are 7 volumes of scanned material each containing approximately 500 pages in each volume. I was able to review 100 page in Vol. 1 in about an hour. These pages contained less than 20 signers as most pages had only one or two voters and the signatures were only one page out of a four page pamphlet. The most signatures for one pamphlet was four.

11 of the circulators for these petitions were from out of state:

3 individuals from Fulton, MO, 2 from St. Louis, MO and one from each of the following: Miami, FL; Clifton Park, NY; Tampa, FL; Cincinnati, OH; Kansas City, KS; and McKees Rock, PA.

3 were from Oklahoma City and 7 were from Tulsa.

The circulators for these first 100 pages were verified by only three notaries--mostly by Linda Howard of Moore, OK (first got her comission in October of 2010) and Gregory Gray of Claremore, with one done by Rachel Fedor of Edmond, OK.

andy_griffith_show_otis_campbell.jpgAre there no underemployed people in Tulsa who could have been hired to gather signatures? Are there no notaries in Tulsa? Surely John Brock, Bob Poe, or one of the other SOTs have notaries who work for them who could have notarized the petitions. Why go to a brand-new notary who lives 100 miles from Tulsa? And did these out-of-town notaries come to Tulsa to meet with the circulators, or did the circulators drive to Moore, Edmond, and Claremore to get their petitions notarized? Were these petitions ever actually in Tulsa prior to their submission to the City Clerk?

It's strange too that no page had more than four signatures on it. If I were trying to get a petition certified by fraudulently having a few people sign over and over. Scattering the signatures over as many pages as possible would make it harder for anyone to spot multiple signatures with similar handwriting.

Yesterday, the 2011 Tulsa County Republican Convention unanimously approved the recommendation of the convention's platform committee to be the Tulsa County Republican Party's official platform. The platform includes clear stands on several current city and county issues. Here is the local section of the platform in its entirety:

LOCAL GOVERNMENT

1. We support strengthening protections for Real Estate owners against arbitrary zoning changes, which damage property values.

2. We oppose the use of eminent domain by any government for private benefit.

3. We believe that public safety - police and fire protection - should be a priority in the city budget, using existing sources of revenue. We oppose a special tax increase or Federal Grant to fund public safety.

4. We oppose any tax increase without demonstrated public need.

5. We oppose any public-private partnerships and also use of public powers such as eminent domain granting private for-profit entities the right to use public powers of eminent domain to build and operate toll roads and bridges.

6. We oppose the practice of "land-banking" by any government board within Tulsa County.

7. We support the repeal of Title 11, Section 22-104.1 of the Oklahoma Statutes which enables a municipal corporation to engage in any business it is authorized to license.

8. We do not support any sales tax, either municipal or county, levied for river development.

9. We do not support city non-partisan elections or the current movement to change the Tulsa City Charter to allow such.

10. We oppose the renewal of the "Four to Fix the County" sales tax.

11. We oppose all efforts to add a Charter Amendment which would add at-large Councilors, elected city wide, to the Tulsa City Council.

12. We support the Tulsa City Council having its own attorney, answerable only to the City Council and independent of any other branch of city government.

13. We oppose the use of City of Tulsa municipal tax dollars to fund the Tulsa Metro Chamber of Commerce.

I'll be interested to see if Tulsa County Democrats take equally clear, bold positions on these issues at their convention next weekend.

CORRECTION: I originally began this entry referring to a Steve Lackmeyer tweet about a Tulsa news story making his head hurt. Because the link he tweeted led to a "Latest News" page on the Tulsa Whirled's mobile website -- at least it did on the browser on my smart phone -- and the Tulsa County GOP convention was the top story at that time, I thought Steve was referring to that story. In fact, he was referring to a Whirled editorial about Tulsa mayor Dewey Bartlett's veto of a Council resolution rescinding the election for a charter amendment. My apologies for the misunderstanding, and here's the rest of the blog entry.

"This" was a web story by Whirled reporter Randy Krehbiel about Saturday's GOP convention. I'd love to give you my own report, but work prevented me from attending. Steven Roemerman was there, and I'm looking forward to a report on his blog at some point, but for now, all he had to say was that the 10-hour-long event gave him a headache.

John Tidwell, communications director for John Sullivan, tweeted the election results in real-time. To summarize (links lead to a tweet about the candidate or race):

Chairman: J. B. Alexander (stepping up from vice-chairman), by acclamation

Vice Chairman: Molly McKay (2010 nominee for HD 78, patent attorney), by acclamation
1st Congressional

District Committeeman: Don Wyatt over incumbent committeeman and former county chairman Jerry Buchanan, 180-145
1st Congressional

District Committeewoman: Donna Mills over Virginia Chrisco, 233-93

State Committeeman: Don Little over former State Committeeman Chris Medlock and Jeff Applekamp. First round was Medlock 113, Little 108, Applekamp 79; final result was Little 126, Medlock 121.

State Committeewoman: Sally Bell (stepping down as chairman) over Darla Williams, 221-79.

Many of the victorious candidates had the endorsement of Sally Bell. Bell's new job responsibilities wouldn't allow her to devote the time necessary to serving as chairman; state committeewoman involves quarterly meetings of the Republican State Committee in Oklahoma City and occasional meetings of the county party Central Committee and Executive Committee. (For what it's worth, I served as State Committeeman from 2003-2007.)

Krehbiel characterized the convention as a "move further to the right" and a defeat for the "moderate old guard." I don't think that's the case. The "moderate old guard" is pro-life (the pro-abortion Republicans left the local party 20 years ago), pro-2nd amendment rights, and (mostly) pro-limited government, and pro-lower taxes.

The real dispute is the role of the party organization with respect to elected Republican officials. The prevailing faction at the county convention believes that the party should hold Republican elected officials accountable for governing in accordance with the core conservative principles that they espoused when running for office.

The other side -- the "moderate old guard" -- takes the "stand by your man" approach. They don't disagree with the party's conservative core values, but in their view the party organization's job is to advocate for (or at least not to oppose) whatever policies a Republican elected official decides to pursue and should never publicly oppose something a Republican elected official or major Republican donor supports. For example, if the Republican members of the County Commission want to raise local taxes for a downtown arena or river development, the Republican Party shouldn't denounce them for promoting a tax increase, in their view, particularly if major donors support the tax increase too.

The dispute boils down to this: Principle vs. partisanship. Should the party organization back anyone with an R after his name, or should "protect the brand" by insisting that the R actually mean something?

Krehbiel's report mentions a resolution, to be presented at the state convention as an amendment to the state party rules, that would provide a means to censure Republican elected officials who deviate from the party's core principles. Here's the actual wording of the proposed state party rules amendment presented by newly elected Tulsa County GOP chairman J. B. Alexander:

Rule 10

(n) Party Support of Candidates and Elected Officials

In accordance with the framers original intent of the United States Constitution and in accordance with the Constitution of the state of Oklahoma, the core values of the Oklahoma Republican Party shall consist of:

* Life - Life is the result of an act between one man and one woman and begins at conception and concludes at natural death.

* Second Amendment - The right to keep and bear arms is an inalienable right of the individual citizen and government has no authority to regulate such right.

* Limited/Smaller Government - Government is instituted to oversee the general welfare of the citizens. Local, state and federal governments have reached well beyond that which is needed to carry out the basic functions of a constitutional government.

* Lower Taxes - Taxes and mandatory fees have grown to consume approximately fifty percent of an Oklahoma citizen's income. Drastic tax and fee reductions are needed at all levels of government.

Any member of the Oklahoma Republican Party State Committee shall have the right to present evidence of any elected Republican official who consistently works against and/or votes against these core values or publicly supports a candidate of another party.

After such evidence is presented, and a motion and second are made, the state committee shall take a vote of "NO CONFIDENCE" of said elected Republican official. A two-thirds majority vote of members present shall be required for a passing vote.

I might quibble with the selection of issues, the wording, or the proposed penalties (really should be more specific and concrete, I think), but I commend Alexander for focusing on a few key issues, rather than demanding allegiance by officials to every point of the party platform, as past resolutions have done.

Count me on the side of accountability. I've always believed it was an appropriate role for the party organization to play, but especially now that Republicans have supermajorities in the Oklahoma House and Senate and every statewide office, we've got to make sure our elected officials aren't led astray by lobbyists looking for special favors. Some organization needs to apply the pressure to ensure that GOP campaign rhetoric turns into reality.

I was not the least bit surprised at last Friday's announcement that Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin would not use her power to direct the Attorney General to investigate charges against Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr. Gov. Fallin is the play-it-safe type. (One indication of that during the general election campaign: The campaign's teleconference with conservative bloggers featured Q&A with two press aides, but not the candidate herself.)

Fallin-02.jpg

Okla. Gov. Mary Fallin, official portrait, Part 2 of 30

In her response to Tulsa City Councilor John Eagleton, Fallin scolded Tulsa leaders about the need to settle their disputes for the sake of economic development, even as she declined to do what is in her power to help them accomplish just that. If this dispute is " an obstacle to attracting new jobs to... the State of Oklahoma," then shouldn't a governor who promised to focus on jobs do what she can to eliminate this obstacle? Eagleton wrote Fallin precisely to ask her to move the problems with Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr toward resolution.

I don't know if Eagleton had this in mind when he wrote his letter to Gov. Fallin outlining Bartlett Jr's actions that warrant an Attorney General investigation, but I know Eagleton is a lifelong Presbyterian, and the idea of appealing disputes to a higher level of authority is deeply rooted in Presbyterianism, which in turn influenced the design of the American judicial system. In the Presbyterian form of government, if there's a dispute between the elders (the lay leadership of the congregation) and the pastor, it can be taken to the next level up -- the presbytery, a body made up of ministers and elders from churches throughout the area.

Taking the Mayor's alleged misdeeds to the Governor and the Attorney General is loosely analogous to appealing to presbytery. Theoretically it puts the dispute in the hands of officials who are somewhat removed from it. (Practically speaking, Bartlett Jr is much better known in statewide Republican circles than Eagleton, and Bartlett Jr was a $5,000 donor to Fallin's 2010 campaign for Governor.)

In her response, Gov. Fallin wrote, "Many, if not all, of your allegations involve violations of the Tulsa City Charter and Ordinances. I have been advised that Title 51 may only address potential state law violations." In fact, 51 O. S. 93 includes in its definition of official misconduct, "Any willful failure or neglect to diligently and faithfully perform any duty enjoined upon such officer by the laws of this state." It could be argued that, as all Oklahoma cities are creatures of the state, with powers defined and circumscribed by the Constitution and statutes of Oklahoma, an officer's failure to perform the duties required by a city's charter and ordinances constitutes a failure to perform the duties enjoined by the state's laws.

MORE: Mike Easterling of Urban Tulsa Weekly spoke to John Eagleton, several of his council colleagues, and GOP state chairman Matt Pinnell about Eagleton's motivations in pursuing the ouster of Bartlett Jr.

Eagleton, a Tulsa native and Oral Roberts University law school graduate, said there shouldn't be any doubt about why he's pursuing this course of action.

"The motivation is derived exclusively from the oath I took when I was sworn in to be a city councilor," he said. "If I had not taken that oath, I would not be doing this now. But I promised to defend the city charter, the city ordinances, the Constitution of Oklahoma, the statutes of Oklahoma, the Constitution of the U.S., the statutes of the U.S. against all comers. That includes elected officials who are not behaving in accordance with their oath of office. It breaks my heart to be on this evolution."...

"As I evolved in thought to reach the conclusions I've reached, it was really quite painful to realize that I was going to be going out on this and realize that there would be a collateral attack," he said. "Mistreating the messenger is always easier than defending the actions of the mayor. And I knew that I would be piñata-ed someway."...

[Oklahoma Republican Party Chairman Matt] Pinnell was careful to indicate he doesn't blame Eagleton for stirring up trouble.

"He's doing what he thinks is right, whether people agree with him or not," Pinnell said. "I respect him for that."...

"I think he's a good man. I don't have an issue with Councilor Eagleton," said District 4 Democrat Maria Barnes, who got to know Eagleton when they were both elected to the council in 2006. She described Eagleton as a very serious person and said she likes the fact that she always knows where she stands with him -- even if it's on the opposite side of an issue, as has often been the case.

[District 2 Republican Councilor Rick] Westcott shares that assessment.

"There's no guile in John Eagleton," he said. "He is what he is. Like him or not, there's no gray area in John Eagleton's personality, and I mean that as a compliment. He is what you see."...

When he first got to know Eagleton, [District 9 Republican Councilor G.T.] Bynum said, he developed the impression that he was bombastic, very certain of his views and fond of using a flamboyant approach to conveying them.

"What's changed over time is I've developed an appreciation for the kind of thought that goes into those beliefs," Bynum said, though he noted that many people who don't know Eagleton well probably view him inaccurately as a shoot-from-the-hip type.

"I'm a great admirer of Winston Churchill, and I can't help but think that serving on a legislative body with Winston Churchill was a lot like serving with John Eagleton," he said....

I've known John Eagleton for close to 10 years, and my impressions of John line up with those of his colleagues. There is no hidden agenda with John Eagleton. He is pursuing ouster -- a complicated process with a low probability of success -- because he feels it is his duty as a city official.

Out sick

| | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (0)

I was composing a couple of entries in my head for this morning, but my head is currently besieged by a howling sinus headache, so the entries were started but not finished. My apologies.

A couple of quick notes:

Tulsa City Councilor John Eagleton is slated to be on 1170 KFAQ Monday morning in the 8 o'clock hour to talk about the effort to oust Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr.

UPDATE: Here's a link to the Pat Campbell Show audio page and a direct link to the interview with John Eagleton.

Have you noticed? Not a single city councilor has voiced support for Bartlett Jr. Not a single city councilor has condemned the ouster effort. That's a significant difference between the current controversy and those of the past. Even Nixon had his supporters in Congress, until the "smoking gun" tape emerged, and Nixon had the grace to resign when that support dried up.

Since Thursday's announcement, the only public figure to speak up for Bartlett Jr -- as far as I've heard -- is his attorney -- you know, the one who is working for the mayor for free, the one whose law firm was granted increased limits of $70,000 total on two city contract amendments approved by Bartlett Jr, the one who serves as attorney for the private citizens who have named the city councilors individually in a suit over a ballot initiative.

Hear of anyone else speaking up for Bartlett Jr? Let me know in the comments.

At the Thursday, March 3, 2011, continuation of Tuesday's meeting of the Tulsa City Council's Urban and Economic Development Committee, Councilor John Eagleton made a public call for Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr's removal from office by ouster, a civil process initiated by complaint from registered voters, investigation and prosecution by the state's Attorney General, and concluded with a jury trial. That call was echoed by several of his colleagues, Democrats and Republicans alike, representing the length and breadth of the city.

Eagleton sets forth the case against Dewey Bartlett Jr on his website, a case that he presented during today's committee meeting. Eagleton's presentation constitutes about 23 minutes of the 46 minute video.

Following Eagleton's remarks, Council Chairman Rick Westcott (District 2) points out that there is an undeniable pattern of behavior on the part of Bartlett Jr and that none of the issues enumerated have been resolved. He says that "we need an independent third party... to make some legal determination if the actions do constitute violations of the law," referring to the Attorney General and to the jury that would ultimately hear the case. "Take it out of this arena, take it out of this political environment."

District 6 Councilor Jim Mautino talks about how he pushed to give Bartlett Jr the benefit of the doubt for six months, trying to work with the Mayor to get things done for his district, and how doing so hurt him with his fellow councilors and his constituents as they lost faith in Bartlett Jr. He mentions Bartlett Jr's apparent willingness to appoint an east Tulsa neighborhood leader to the TMAPC, to provide some geographical and neighborhood balance on the planning commission, only to back away, telling Mautino that his proposed commissioner was "toxic." (Mautino did not mention the name of the proposed commissioner, but I'm guessing he was speaking about Al Nichols, a long-time neighborhood leader, very familiar with Tulsa's zoning code and process. Presumably Nichols is too knowledgeable for the taste of someone with powerful influence over Bartlett Jr.)

District 1 Councilor Jack Henderson commended Eagleton for his courage: "John, I know you're going to receive some heat for it, a Republican going after another Republican, but I just want to take my hat off to you for being a man that stood up, is standing up for what's right, trying to make this city a better place." Henderson expressed hope that enough people would "do the right thing" and sign the affidavits so that the investigation by a third party can move forward.

District 3 Councilor Roscoe Turner said, "This is the first time, in all the years I've served on the Council, that there has been this kind of dialogue between a Mayor's Office and a Council. I've never in my life seen a Council that came together 9-0 against a Mayor.... When this Council first came together, the Mayor had a majority of the Council on his side. One by one, I guess he forced them off of his team....." Turner recalled a Council committee meeting at which Bartlett Jr got angry and asserted, "Last time I looked, I was still the boss." Turner said, "Why does anyone want to be the boss? We're here to work together to try to move the city forward."

District 4 Councilor Maria Barnes, wanting to end the meeting on a positive note, said that one of many good things to come out of this is that it has united the Council: "We all have been on the same page, working together."









Get Microsoft Silverlight

On his website, Eagleton has posted the presentation he made to the Council, over a hundred pages of backup material relating to the points of the complaint against the Mayor, and, most importantly, an "Affidavit for Ouster" which can be downloaded. This is a petition, requesting the Attorney General to pursue the charges against the Mayor. Approximately 1100 signatures are required. Each page details the charges and has a place for six signatures of City of Tulsa registered voters. The form can be attested by a notary, the Mayor, any city councilor, the City Clerk, or the City Attorney.

I've mostly avoided delving into the ongoing dispute between Tulsa Mayor Dewey F. Bartlett Jr and the Tulsa City Council. My main reason has been lack of time and energy. It's a valid reason -- my family and the job that pays the bills must come first -- but I'm sorry nevertheless because I feel I've let down BatesLine readers by not covering the issue and my many friends on the City Council by not speaking out in their defense.

When friends have asked about the conflict, I've pointed out that Bartlett Jr has accomplished what no previous mayor has done -- he has managed to alienate all nine members of the City Council. Of course, it's hard to maintain cordial relations with a group of people when you've allegedly recruited citizens to file lawsuits against them as a means of pursuing your political aims. While I won't defend every action by every councilor, I believe that they are more sinned against than sinning in their dispute with Bartlett Jr.

It's all coming to a head with Wednesday's news that Tulsa District 7 Councilor John Eagleton sent a letter to Governor Mary Fallin asking her to request that Attorney General Scott Pruitt investigate a list of charges against Bartlett Jr, with a view to his removal from office.

Eagleton cites 10 charges. To my mind, the most troubling is Bartlett Jr's acceptance of free legal services from Joel Wohlgemuth, whose law firm is also a city contractor. The documentation provided to Gov. Fallin includes two contract amendments with the firm of Norman Wohlgemuth Chandler and Dowdell, one for $25,000 and one for $45,000, both signed by Bartlett Jr.

Nearly as disturbing is the allegation that Bartlett Jr recruited citizens to file lawsuits against the City of Tulsa. From a December 23, 2010, news story:

However, Warren Blakney, the newly elected president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said he was asked to join the suit but declined because he needed to remain neutral even though he agrees with its claims.

Blakney said he met with Goodwin, Bartlett and Simonson. He said he thought they called him in because Bartlett doesn't have good standing with the black community and needed someone in the suit who is respected in that community.

John Eagleton is a friend of mine and has been for many years. He would not take so drastic a step unless he felt there were no alternative. He knows he will be charged with grandstanding and troublemaking. He knows that this step will kill any political future he may have had. He believes that because of Bartlett Jr's ongoing destructive behavior, his removal from the Mayor's office is the only way for our city to move forward.

While I applaud Bartlett Jr's support for the implementation of PLANiTULSA and hope for positive changes from the KPMG report, he has poisoned his relationship with city councilors and city employees who were ready to work with him for the betterment of Tulsa. He has squandered the trust, the political capital a mayor needs in order to implement difficult changes.

Bartlett Jr needs to go.

Rodger Randle, a Democrat, was the last Mayor of Tulsa under the old city commission form of government and the first under the mayor-council form of government. When he defeated incumbent Mayor Dick Crawford in 1988, a new city charter was a key plank in his platform. He has issued a two-page statement of his views on the proposed charter changes currently under discussion. Randle believes that the proposed changes will not fix the problems facing our city government and would actually make matters worse.

(If you're on the home page, you can read it via the "Continue reading" link; otherwise just scroll down.)

In reading his comments, keep in mind that the goal of those shaping the new charter back in 1989 was to produce a representative government in name only. We would have geographically-elected councilors but only with just enough power to avoid a federal Voting Rights Act lawsuit. As much power as possible would be concentrated in the mayor's office. Councilors were to be kept in line. That attitude seems to explain some of Randle's comments, e.g.:

The rationale in the 1990 charter placing council members up for re-election every even-numbered year was to provide the Mayor, who has a four year term, an opportunity to attempt any necessary housecleaning on the Council on the off-year when all the members of the Council were up but the Mayor was not....

Nine Council members are a lot for the mayor to try to look after already. Making that number bigger will only increase the amount of time that the Mayor will have to spend lobbying and politicking them....

In addition, the more counselors there are, the more difficult it will be for voters to keep track of who is who and who deserves to be reelected and who does not....

I had thought mayoral contempt for the City Council was a Susan Savage innovation, but evidently it was there from the beginning.

It seems to me that the more councilors there are, the fewer constituents per councilor, the more likely a constituent is to have regular, direct access to his councilor and the more likely he is to know whether his councilor deserves to be re-elected or not. Randle's comment makes more sense if you replace "voters" with "special interest groups like the Chamber and the homebuilders."

Randle worries that adding councilors would create the kind of dysfunctional legislative dynamics at work in Chicago city government. But Chicago has 50 aldermen, which is a far cry from 13, a number small enough to seat everyone around the same table. Care to guess how many members serve on the city council of Detroit, the poster child for urban dysfunction?

Although Randle's central concern -- protecting the mayor's power and prerogatives against legislative encroachment -- is misguided, he makes some good points. Randle is right that moving city elections to the state/federal dates would put a heavy burden on voters and reduce the scrutiny given to candidates for city office. He is right in saying that partisanship hasn't been a significant factor in City of Tulsa politics:

Since the adoption of the new form of government, on the other hand, we have not seen much mischief at City Hall that appears to have been purely produced by partisanship. Members of the City Council that form alliances seem to do so totally independently of partisan affiliation.

And, as he says, "we should be cautious of making permanent structural changes simply in response to temporary personality issues that may affect current relations between the Mayor and Council."

In general, and at every level of government, we should be cautious of making a structural change because it seems to solve a current political problem. In the 1970s and 1980s, when the Republicans dominated the White House but couldn't win a majority in Congress, Republicans wanted a more powerful executive branch. In the 1990s, when we had the majority in Congress but the Democrats had the presidency, we wanted to rein in the White House. Political types seem prone to think that today's circumstances will obtain forever.

Randle is also right that it's the mayor's job to lead, to work to gain the councilors' cooperation and support for his initiatives.

But the mayor shouldn't regard the City Council as a smelly flock of sheep in need of herding, but as peers and partners who can complement his strengths and weaknesses. A mayor is one person, with one set of friends and influences and experiences -- and blind spots. City councilors bring nine more sets of friends and influences and experiences to the table, and, if the mayor is wise, he'll make use of those resources to compensate for his weaknesses and blind spots.

(There is an area where the mayor does need more power than he currently has -- in the executive branch of government. The civil service rules make it difficult if not impossible for the mayor to appoint department heads and other key decision-makers in city government. I would support a charter change that would allow the mayor to hire and fire department heads, with new appointees to be approved by the council.)

That said, here are former Tulsa Mayor Rodger Randle's thoughts on the proposed charter amendments:

This week's Urban Tulsa Weekly cover story, by reporter Mike Easterling, is a look back at Dewey Bartlett Jr's first year as mayor of Tulsa. Easterling spoke to the Mayor himself, to chief of staff Terry Simonson, to several city councilors, to urbanist and developer Jamie Jamieson, and to me. What's striking is that only Bartlett and Simonson give good grades overall to the Bartlett-Simonson administration. Five of the nine councilors, all Republicans, were willing to speak on the record, and all were disappointed, on balance, particularly with his failure to treat the councilors as partners, rather than adversaries. These are councilors who had high hopes for his administration and who agree with his stated policy goal to make intelligent reductions in city spending. As I note for the article, he has managed to alienate all nine city councilors, an unprecedented feat for a mayor.

In his conversation with Easterling, Bartlett tells an anecdote about the literal nightmare he had the night after his swearing in, followed by the waking nightmare of learning the next morning from Finance Director Mike Kier of the depths of the city's financial crisis. What it reveals is that Bartlett had not been paying attention. Councilor Bill Martinson had called attention to the problem back during the budget process in the spring of 2009, noting the Taylor administration's overly optimistic expectation of a recovery by the end of calendar year 2009, an expectation that allowed them to postpone hard choices until after the election.

For his honesty and persistence, Martinson was targeted for defeat by Kathy Taylor. Bartlett did not back the fiscal conservatives on the Council in their effort to face facts; instead he endorsed Kathy Taylor for re-election and ignored the fiscal crisis during his campaign. In so doing, he entered the mayor's office without the mandate to do anything except not make political contributions to Barack Obama.

The Save Our Tulsa bunch -- SOTs for short -- see the conflict between mayor and council, and they think the solution is to pack the council with their kind of people and then maybe pass a tax for some new "visionary" project. They've misdiagnosed the problem, and they offer a remedy that will only make matters worse. The problem is in the mayor's office, and, short of resignation or removal, the way forward is for the mayor to call his SOT buddies and his supporters who are suing the councilors personally and tell them to back off. That's a minimum first step to get executive and legislature working together again.

It appears that the rich old SOTs, who seek to take Tulsa back from, well, Tulsans, are attempting to marshal the resources for gathering the necessary signatures to put their aristocratic propositions on the ballot. Word is that they aren't getting the kind of support and traction they may have expected, not even from their usual allies in Tulsa's Money Belt. But behind-the-scenes disapproval is not enough. Those who are informed enough to know that the Save Our Tulsa charter change proposal is bad for Tulsa need to speak out publicly and now, so that this mess can be quickly nipped in the bud.

Nick-Nolte-Mugshot.jpgTuesday was the first reported sighting of a petition circulator for the three Tulsa City Charter amendments proposed by Save Our Tulsa, Dahlink. The sighting occurred at Central Library, and according to my correspondent, the circulator bore a striking resemblance to Nick Nolte's infamous 2002 DUI mugshot, including the Hawaiian shirt.

On Wednesday, my wife spotted one in the supermarket parking lot. As the circulator approached a prospective signer, my wife intervened, giving a brief explanation of the key problem with the proposals -- you'd need to be a millionaire, or beloved by millionaires, to win a seat on the City Council. The circulator didn't get the voter's signature.

I would predict that a horde of circulators will be illegally roaming the parking lots of Tulsa polling places on November 2 in search of signatures. It would be wonderful if every petition-taker was shadowed by someone who could make the case against the SOT proposal. That might get ugly -- they usually get paid by the signature -- so the better course will be to call the sheriff's office if you spot a petition circulator near a polling place. I seem to recall that in November 2004 the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office shooed paid circulators away from polling places. The petition was for a gas tax increase, a proposal that was defeated 7-1 in a 2005 special election. Back during the 2004 election, at one northside polling place, a display promoting the tax was set up in the lobby of the school that hosted the precinct.

SOT leader John Brock has made a few public appearances to speak on behalf of at-large councilors (with the mayor serving as council chairman) and non-partisan city elections on the same day as statewide general elections, a set of propositions that would make the general election ballot longer and more confusing for voters and would make it more difficult to win a seat on the council with grassroots support. From his interviews with KOTV's Emory Bryan and KWGS's Rich Fisher, it seems that Brock has no idea that Tulsans from outside his social circle would find his proposals offensive. He certainly didn't take the time to run his idea past those who opposed his 2005 council-packing scheme.

I've heard from multiple sources that Tulsa Metro Chamber leadership thinks the push for the proposed charter amendments is bad for Tulsa. I've heard that those concerns are shared by other prominent Tulsans, every bit as wealthy and connected as the public members of the SOT steering committee. A few polite but firm denunciations of the proposals from the right people could quickly kill the petition effort, deter a divisive election, and allow Tulsa's leaders to focus on, e.g., applying KPMG's recommendations to the city's difficult budget situation.

So why haven't we heard anything negative about the SOT proposals out of, say, Chamber CEO Mike Neal? It's as if there's an unwritten code of silence among Tulsa's wealthiest and the individuals and organizations who depend upon their patronage. Mustn't quarrel in front of the help. Mustn't humiliate the folks who could make a few calls and get you fired from your cushy gig as head of the non-profit.

In my years of civic involvement in Tulsa, I've seen it time and time again: Those who belong to the Money Belt culture are unwilling to say publicly what they say privately about a bad idea supported by their peers. They leave it to outsiders to make the case against the bad idea, and then they stand aside when those who speak out are marginalized.

Way back in 2003, I wrote a long email, later published on this blog, to a number of people, some of whom had privately qualms about Vision 2025 privately -- the process that developed the final product, the structuring of the ballot, the lack of strategic thinking -- but were unwilling to express those reservations publicly.

To use the terms of the Pogo cartoon I sent earlier, let's speak our criticisms openly and plainly, not into a bag and disguised as praise. We don't live in the old USSR. We shouldn't be afraid to utter mild criticisms of Tulsa's politburo and nomenklatura. And yet fear is precisely what I detect beneath the surface: Fear of ostracism, fear of exclusion, fear of economic consequences.

This may be a bit impolite to say, but it's there beneath the surface and ought to be dealt with openly. Some of our group work for organizations which are funded by supporters of this package. Others aren't personally dependent, but are involved with organizations that need the funds that the package supporters can offer. Others need the goodwill of city government to conduct business and make a living. Some of us have even been paid to facilitate and promote the vision process and to work for the "vote yes" campaign. Beyond the financial considerations, many members of our group move within a narrow circle of social and organizational connections -- a virtual "small town" within the city, focused on the arts and other non-profit organizations, centered around Utica Square and chronicled by Tulsa People and Danna Sue Walker. As in any small town, some opinions are acceptable and some are not, and speaking your mind risks ostracism.

It's time for the big shots who think the SOT proposals are a bad idea -- unnecessarily divisive, a "solution" that fixes nothing -- to speak out. Nip the SOT plan in the bud, before yet another underfunded opposition group has to beat it -- and the hundreds of thousands of dollars that will back it -- at the polls.

FOOTNOTE: Not all who live in the Money Belt are part of the Money Belt culture. One such courageous dissident is attorney Greg Bledsoe, a leader of Tulsans Defending Democracy, which opposes diluting geographical representation with at-large councilors. The group formed in 2005 to oppose an earlier charter amendment petition seeking at-large councilors. Bledsoe was on the Thursday, October 21, 2010, edition of KWGS Studio Tulsa.

Who is backing the latest effort to dilute grassroots influence over City Hall?

I took the list of 23 names in the list of Save Our Tulsa steering committee members in John Brock's email and did some research.

According to recent voter registration records, the median age is of Save Our Tulsa is 75. According to the county assessor's records, the median property value of the residences of the named steering committee members is $586,350. Here's a map showing where they live, based on voter registration and county assessor records:


View Save Our Tulsa (SOT) in a larger map

You'll notice a dense cluster of SOTs live in the wealthy section of midtown, aka the Money Belt. The map correlates well with the PLANiTULSA / Collective Strength survey from 2008 that showed Midtowners feeling more understood by city leaders and more included in the city planning process than north, west, and east Tulsans. It would seem that the SOTs don't know very many Tulsans from other parts of the city.

Many of these same people supported Tulsans for Better Government, the earlier push for at-large councilors, and Coalition for Responsible Government, the group that unsuccessfully attempted to recall Councilors Jim Mautino and Chris Medlock.

There are a few outliers. That dot in far east Tulsa is Shane Fernandez, a former chairman of TYpros, the Tulsa Metro Chamber young professionals' organization that ran the grassroots ypTulsa out of business. But according to assessor's records he and his wife (also a former TYpros chair) are also the owners of a home near 29th and Cincinnati.

Way up north, you find a dot for Pleas Thompson in Gilcrease Hills. Thompson was (or is?) head of the local chapter of the NAACP. Given the NAACP's role in moving Tulsa to district representation, it's strange that Thompson would lend his name to an effort that would dilute geographical representation with at-large council members.

Two (possibly three) SOTs are not Tulsa residents.

The dot in far south Broken Arrow (not even close to Tulsa) is former Whirled editorial page editor Ken Neal. Having spent decades espousing bad ideas for Tulsa, most of which were enthusiastically adopted (e.g. urban renewal), he has retired to a city that was fortunate to escape his influence.

Way up north in Owasso, in one of the Bailey Ranch subdivisions, that's Bishop Donald O. Tyler, pastor of Greater Grace Apostolic Church. The bishop moves around: In 2008, Tyler and his wife Marcia were registered to vote at an address in the Greens at Cedar Ridge in Broken Arrow; assessor records show the Tylers sold the house in 2008. Through most of 2009, Donald O'Neil Tyler Sr. was registered to vote in precinct 182 in south Tulsa; his wife Marcia was still registered at that address as of August 2010.

The Tylers do at least own a piece of Tulsa: Assessor records indicate that they bought about 12 acres of undeveloped land just southwest of Mohawk Park in December 2008. (He seems to have been registered to vote for the first half of this year at an address intended to correspond to this piece of property. There's nothing on it except a mailbox with his name and the house number, but the Postal Service and the city say the address doesn't exist. The mystery of a seemingly bogus address in the voter record, corresponding to the city water treatment plant, and the confusion of two roads with similar names, took some effort to unravel; it deserves an entry of its own.)

There is a James Alfred Light registered to vote on W. College St in Broken Arrow, but there's also a James Light that claims homestead on a house in Florence Park. I placed his dot at the latter location. My guess is that he lives in Florence Park but hasn't yet changed his registration. Then again, they could be two different Lights.

MORE:

On Monday, October 11, 2010, KWGS aired a Studio Tulsa interview with John Brock. Again, he never cites a specific example of ward politics. Brock says that the Council should set policy and pass ordinances but not try to run the city. He also hopes that the elimination of party primaries will mean that more moderate candidates will be elected; primaries encourage extreme candidates to be nominated, according to Brock. Brock claims that having separate city elections puts the council under the control of "special interests," although he never says what those special interests are.

Rich Fisher seemed a bit confused about election dates under the current provisions of the charter, which is understandable. Currently, a city election cannot happen a week out of sync with a state election. That happened a few times in the past, usually when a spring city election was a week off from a school board election or presidential primary. But when we approved moving elections to the fall of odd-numbered years, we specified that the elections would be held on the dates authorized by state statute (26 O.S. 3-101) in September and November. In 2009, when voters approved the ill-conceived staggered council terms, a conflict was created -- no election date is authorized in September of even-numbered years. A further change on this year's ballot will fix that problem by moving the primary in even years to August.

I certainly hope that KWGS will allow an opponent of SOT's proposals to appear on Studio Tulsa. Tulsa voters should hear the downside of these amendments before they're asked to sign petitions; perhaps we can avoid an expensive and acrimonious election battle.

Also on Monday, KOTV's Emory Bryan spoke to John Brock, head of SOT. One aim seems pretty clear -- keep debate on public matters out of the public eye. (Video after the jump.)

Now the Council has been complaining, justifiably, that the Mayor will not talk to them. When he's on the Council as the Chairman, he will have to talk with them, and we believe that will create an environment where they will all hash things out before they get to the newspapers.

There they go again.

Many of the same people involved in the attempt to recall Tulsa City Councilors Jim Mautino and Chris Medlock, many of the same people involved in Tulsans for Better Government (the group promoting at-large councilors) -- they're on the list of named members of a group called Save Our Tulsa, which has filed three initiative petitions for city charter changes. Someone forwarded to me an email that he had apparently received from John Brock, head of SOT, in which he outlines the proposals, explains his misdiagnosis (in my opinion) of Tulsa's ills, and lists the members of the steering committee. Here's the whole thing:

Dear Concerned Tulsa Citizen,

This is a letter to people who love Tulsa and want it to remain the best place in the world to live. It is obvious that our city government has become ineffective. We believe that our form of government is basically flawed and must be changed to have our Tulsa Government work again.

As a result of this situation, several of us have joined together to present you with an option that we believe will improve our city government structure. We have no political agenda; in fact, our group represents all sides of the political spectrum; Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. The group includes the following steering committee members: former Tulsa Mayors Robert J. LaFortune and James Hewgley, Former City Councilor Robert Gardner, David Blankenship, John Brock, Leonard Eaton, Tom Hughes, Robert Poe, C.T. Thompson, Walt Helmerich, Pat Woodrum, Joe McGraw, Jim Light, Joe Cappy, Chester Cadieux, Pete Meinig, Nancy Meinig, Paula Marshall, Shane Fernandez, Darton Zink, Ken Neal, Pleas Thompson and Bishop Donald Tyler.

We plan to make the following charter changes:

1. Add three at-large members and the Mayor to the City Council and make the Mayor the Chairman. The four will represent the broad interest of the City and not just a council district. The three at large councilors will be elected by all the voters in Tulsa but to maintain geographic diversity they must be a resident of a super district. For example at-large councilor #1 will reside in districts 1, 3 or 4, #2 will reside in district 2, 8 or 9 and #3 will reside in district 5, 6 or 7. The nine council districts will remain unchanged. With the addition of the four at-large seats, the council will then be made up of 13 members (nine district representatives and four at-large). The Mayor will not vote except in case of a tie. The Mayor will appoint the Vice Chairman from the Council. This will improve the Mayor-Council communications and create Team Tulsa.

2. Have all City elections on the same day as State and Federal elections and return all district elections to a two year cycle. This will raise interest and turnout. Currently, Council members are elected with about 10% and sometimes less of the registered voters. Also, it will permit the voters to express their opinion on how the council is doing as a whole. The current system prevents the voters from changing the policies of the City in one election. It costs twice as much money to have an election every year. The money saved will more than pay for the four new at-large councilors.

3. Make City elections non-partisan. The candidates will be able to identify themselves as Democrats or Republicans or any other way but will run against all other candidates in a non-partisan primary. The top two in the primary will meet in the general election guaranteeing the best two candidates for the general election irrespective of party affiliation. This will again increase interest and turn out.

We have created, Save Our Tulsa Inc., a 501c4 corporation. Its sole purpose is to change the City Charter to make our city government more effective. Save Our Tulsa Inc. will not promote or oppose any candidate for public office.

The three initiative petitions will minimize the problems of "ward politics" and will make the transition of the council to a more workable legislative body. The successful accomplishment of the enactment of these petitions will cost an estimated $300,000. A 501c4 corporation is permitted to accept unlimited corporate, foundation, or individual contributions.

If you are interested in making Tulsa a better city, we need your support now. Respond to this e-mail and indicate: 1. if you will permit the use of your name in a similar newspaper ad to show the voters the extent of the support for our Charter amendments, 2. whether you will volunteer to circulate the petitions and 3. Send generous financial contributions to: Save Our Tulsa, 2021 S. Lewis Ave., Suite 415, Tulsa, OK 74104.

Tulsa is a unique City. It is the best place in the World to live and raise children and grandchildren. Let us pledge ourselves, our time and our treasure to keep it that way. Please pass this e-mail on to your friends. Encourage them to join us and to respond as above. Organize your own group for our newspaper ad.

The petitions are effective today. Watch for circulators and sign up. Our website will be coming soon.

Many thanks from all of us,

John Brock

The sight of so many familiar names told me all I needed to know about the group's intentions. Their previous efforts -- recall, at-large councilors, campaign contributions -- have all involved defeating grassroots influence in local politics. These proposals, much like their previous efforts, would make it more difficult for a neighborhood leader or grassroots activist to win a seat on the City Council, more difficult for grassroots candidates to hold a majority on the council.

I get the sense that you should pronounce the group's name with an accent on that second word: Save Our Tulsa. They want to go back to a time when they and their circle of friends decided Tulsa's priorities without any input from the rest of us. I believe it particularly bothers them that most of the councilors owe them nothing and owe everything to the voters in their districts. The SOT plan would make it more expensive to run a winning council campaign, even at the district level, as candidates would be competing for media attention, volunteer time, and small-donor contributions with every other race on the ballot. To win, you'd either need to be personally wealthy or beholden to the SOTs and their pals for sufficient campaign funds.

I don't believe these people are motivated by personal profit. Are they driven by a kind of paternalistic altruism for the rest of Tulsa? Perhaps in a couple of cases, but for the most part, I don't believe they give a thought for the rest of Tulsa. I suspect that they only care about Our Tulsa -- aka the Money Belt.

A follow-up entry will take a look at the list of people cited by John Brock as SOT steering committee members, but here are a few points about the proposals:

We should move back to two-year, uniform council terms, but we should return to the fall of odd-numbered years, as it was before last November's ill-considered charter change to staggered three-year terms. Moving elections to coincide with presidential and gubernatorial elections will deprive Tulsa of the opportunity to focus attention on our city's situation and the best course for its future. With the presidency or a hot U. S. Senate race on the ballot, municipal concerns will get short shrift from the voters. You may have more people voting in city races, but you will have fewer voters who are actually paying attention to city issues. I suspect that, in the minds of the SOTs, that's a feature, not a bug.

At-large is still at-large. In the new proposal, it means that two-thirds of the people picking your representative don't live in your district. The proposed division of districts would make it possible for all three supercouncilors to live in the Money Belt -- the southwest part of District 4, the wealthier sections of 9, 2, and 8, and the southwestern part of 7. Even if you drew a superdistrict with no Money Belt overlap (say 1, 3, and 6), it would still be possible for the SOTs and their allies to find an "acceptable" resident -- parachute them in, if necessary -- in that superdistrict to push in the citywide election.

Having four at-large members of the City Council (the mayor and three supercouncilors) is likely to heighten disagreements, not reduce them. The supercouncilors, having been elected citywide, will be natural rivals for the mayor.

The SOTs are fond of claiming that "ward" politics is the source of our city's problems. I've never seen them give a valid example. The issues that have caused the most strife at City Hall have been issues of citywide importance -- budgets, zoning philosophy, water sales to the suburbs, tax increases, airport shenanigans.

Non-partisan -- no party or descriptive information on the ballot, just a name -- is a bad idea made worse by holding the election with state and federal elections, when people are thinking in terms of Democrat and Republican. Oklahoma voters already have to wrangle both sides of a ballot the size of a bedsheet. Tulsa voters will get one more ballot with five or six races on it, with only names, no helps to remember which candidate was which. A voter so confused may just vote for whoever had the most yard signs or the most TV commercials; again, the SOTs probably consider this a feature, not a bug. A better way is the multi-partisan ballot I've suggested, where candidates could list national party affiliation if the choose, or some locally significant label. A multi-partisan ballot gives voters more information, a non-partisan ballot gives voters less.

The SOTs seem blind to the real source of dysfunction at City Hall: The wrong mayor. The one we have at the moment has alienated all nine members of the City Council, including his own. If the SOTs would help elect a mayor who is:

  • independent -- not likely to be pushed around by the Tulsa Metro Chamber, the homebuilders, or other special interest groups;
  • a collaborative leader -- someone who will work with the council and citizens and seek win-win solutions; not someone who runs roughshod over anyone who stands in her way;
  • someone focused on the priorities of ordinary Tulsans -- public safety, good streets -- not the entertainment needs of the idle rich;

Tulsa city government would be just fine.

The cover story in this week's Urban Tulsa Weekly is a profile of Tulsa District 9 City Councilor G. T. Bynum. Reporter Mike Easterling has written an interesting story about a significant figure in Tulsa politics, and he includes extensive quotes from Jack Henderson and Rick Westcott, Bynum's colleagues from Districts 1 and 2; former Sen. Don Nickles, Bynum's first boss in Washington; and me.

As the article noted, I like G. T. personally, but I've been disappointed with many of his decisions on the council. At the same time, as I told Mike Easterling, although the point didn't make it into the story, I appreciate G.T.'s leadership on the charter change that requires the council to sign off on large lawsuit settlements and the new proposal to require the city to save money when times are flush, rather than expanding government. (That said, I still wonder why he wasn't helping Bill Martinson when Martinson was trying to get Mayor Taylor to deal forthrightly with the city's fiscal crisis last summer.)

Another admirable aspect that came out in the story is Bynum's respect for the City Council as an institution, the city's legislative body. However you may feel about the current membership of the Council at any given time, it has an important role to play in representing Tulsa's diversity, crafting legislation, and providing oversight of our city government. In the early years under our current charter, a majority of councilors seemed to see themselves as mere rubber stamps or window dressing. 2004 and the advent of the Gang of Five began to change that outlook; Dewey Bartlett has cemented the City Council's identity as an independent co-equal branch of government:

One of the great ironies of the situation, he acknowledged, is that it has unified the council like never before.

"If you look back, every mayor's had problems with councilors," he said. "Mayor Taylor had problems with some councilors, Bill LaFortune did, Susan Savage did. But none of them have had unanimous problems before. I'm hopeful that the mayor'll take that as a sign that he needs to work in a more cooperative fashion with the council. And I say that as someone who worked on his campaign and grew up looking up to him."

Also worth pondering from the story was the quote from the late Sen. Paul Coverdell that Bynum has written where he'll see it often: "If you have been given a moment here, you should not let the dust grow under you."

(Coverdell, by the way, beat an incumbent senator, Wyche Fowler, thanks to a general election runoff. The Libertarian candidate split off some of the anti-incumbent vote, and Fowler finished first at the 1992 general election, but without a majority of the vote. Under Georgia law at the time, a runoff was held three weeks later, and Coverdell won narrowly.)

Conservative parents of politically-aware young people should also take to heart what Bynum had to say about his experience as a congressional staffer:

"It was wonderful," he said of that period in his life. "For a young person interested in government, there are few things you can do that give you so much access and opportunity as working on Capitol Hill. I do encourage any young Oklahomans who are interested in government to do it.

"I think that's one of the great secrets about our government that a lot of people aren't aware of is Capitol Hill is largely staffed by people under 30 years of age because they're the only ones who'll work that cheap and that hard. And so you get a tremendous amount of responsibility, and you learn a tremendous amount. That experience was really formative for me."

On the negative side of the ledger, it was interesting to read that Bynum's support for the defeated 2007 Tulsa County sales tax increase helped him decide to seek a seat on the Council:

But there were other, more worldly factors motivating him, as well. Bynum and his wife were big supporters of the 2007 Our River Yes! campaign for a sales tax increase that would have funded $282 million in improvements to the Arkansas River, and they were not happy to see it go down in defeat.

"When it failed, I was really disappointed in the response of the leaders of the city, which seemed to me to be, 'We'll wait 10 years and then try again,'" Bynum said. "Working in the Senate, I'd known that when we had a bill that was really important and it failed, we went back to the drawing board and found what things we needed to fix in order to get the votes to win. We didn't just say, 'Oh, well, it's over, we'll try again 10 years from now.' "

Bynum characterizes the river as the biggest untapped asset in the city and believes it has the capacity to become Tulsa's biggest economic driver. Earning himself a seat on the City Council, he believed, would provide him with the chance to champion that belief.

It's hard to believe that any intelligent person would believe in the river as "Tulsa's biggest economic driver." And while Bynum talks about his libertarian leanings, it's hard to see how having government taking a bigger share of everyone's money is consistent with a libertarian perspective.

And what was libertarian about the ballpark deal, which Bynum supported? Is it libertarian to take money by force from owners of distant property who will see negligible benefit from a facility built to house a private entertainment company?

It's also hard to see what's libertarian about a city policy that will be used to penalize people for a sort of thought crime. What Bynum's non-discrimination policy amounts to is a ban on taking any notice of a major component of a person's psyche and character. When Bynum says that sexual orientation "has nothing to do with job performance," he's effectively saying that it never has anything to do with job performance under any circumstances, a view that is not universally shared but which, thanks to Bynum's leadership, is now universally imposed.

(My blog entries at the time explain in more detail why I feel Bynum "didn't really understand the issue from a conservative perspective" and seemed to ignore the long-range consequences of the decision: G. T. Bynum's sexual orientation proposal, Bynum gay proposition on council agenda tonight.)

I seem to recall that, when he spoke to the conservative Tulsa Area Republican Assembly back in 2008, when he was running for office, he used the word conservative a lot, and talked about his work for Sen. Coburn. I don't recall him making any use of the word libertarian.

Regarding Bynum's new lobbying business, Easterling writes that I "described [the George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF)] as Bynum's biggest client." That's true, but I didn't leave it to opinion or speculation. I pointed the UTW reporter to the Senate Office of Public Responsibility's Lobbying Disclosure Act database, which shows that G. T. Bynum Consulting, LLC, reported $30,000 in lobbying income from GKFF for the first and second quarters of 2010, and $20,000 from Williams and Williams (Bynum's former employer) over the same period. (Over the entire length of Bynum's lobbying career, the two are currently tied; Bynum began lobbying for Williams and Williams in the 4th quarter of 2009.)

To clarify my concern about Bynum representing GKFF as a lobbyist and serving on the City Council: GKFF is actively engaged in civic and governmental issues here in Tulsa, as are closely related individuals and entities. George Kaiser is a significant political donor in local elections, as is the BOK Financial Political Action Committee. Kaiser and GKFF were heavily involved in the 2007 Tulsa County sales tax increase for river improvements and in the downtown Drillers stadium deal, to name two recent examples of their engagement in local political issues. I cannot think of another example of an elected official at one level of government simultaneously serving as a lobbyist at another level of government. It would be a different matter if Bynum limited his lobbying practice to organizations and businesses that had no interest in City Hall affairs.

By the way, Bynum's 2010 second quarter disclosure form reveals that the job he created -- the other lobbyist he hired -- is Stuart McCalman, who was Governmental Affairs Director under Mayor Kathy Taylor, and who continued in that role under Bartlett, until his involvement in the Mayor/Council dispute over the JAG grant and police layoffs.

FLASHBACK: G. T. Bynum's statements on the ballpark assessment district in 2008, with commentary by Steven Roemerman.

It's happened twice this week. I've written long blog entries -- long essays with links -- and then hesitated to click the "publish" button. Ironically, the essay arose from a story about a sociologist reluctant to publish his findings because they may give aid and comfort to the politically incorrect.

Rather than leave you completely deprived, while I decide what to do with this latest piece, which is about immigration, here are some of the articles I read while writing it.

First, the item that got me started, by John Leo, on Robert Putnam's five-year study showing "that immigration and ethnic diversity have a devastating short- and medium-term influence on the social capital, fabric of associations, trust, and neighborliness that create and sustain communities." Leo reports that Putnam (best known for his book Bowling Alone) has expressed reluctance to publish his research:

Putnam's study reveals that immigration and diversity not only reduce social capital between ethnic groups, but also within the groups themselves. Trust, even for members of one's own race, is lower, altruism and community cooperation rarer, friendships fewer. The problem isn't ethnic conflict or troubled racial relations, but withdrawal and isolation. Putnam writes: "In colloquial language, people living in ethnically diverse settings appear to 'hunker down'--that is, to pull in like a turtle."

That led me to Roger Axtell's collection of books on "Do's and Taboos around the World" and an essay on missionaries and culture stress.

And from there, I went looking for Francis Fukuyama's work on trust, social capital, and economic development:

Social Capital and Civil Society (1999)
Social Capital and Development (2001)

Then there's this McClatchy news story from January 2010 on the devastation wrought by Haiti's lack of construction codes:

Most buildings in Haiti go up without engineers, standards or inspections. The earthquake is only the latest, and worst, tragedy to expose the largely unregulated and slapdash construction long accepted on the island -- practices that structural engineers believe added to a staggering death toll that could reach 200,000....

It wasn't just humble shacks and turn-of-the-previous-century icons like the historic Roman Catholic Cathedral of Port-au-Prince, but new and newly renovated schools, police stations, bank branches, high-end hotels and hospitals. The U.S. Agency for International Development reported Thursday that 13 of 15 government ministry buildings had been destroyed.

"This was pseudo-engineering. It was terrible," said Eduardo Fierro, a California-based forensic and seismic engineer who was among the first experts to survey the damage....

Most Caribbean countries, Haiti included, have building laws based on the Caribbean Uniform Building Code, said Cletus Springs, director of the OAS' Department of Sustainable Development in Washington. But in many places, rules exist only on paper....

Haiti has taken stabs at beefing up building codes in the past. Ironically, said architect Magloire, one expert brought in recently to work on the code died in the collapse of the Hotel Montana.

You may recall Tulsa City Councilor Jim Mautino's remarks from March 2010 regarding "taco trucks" and zoning, health, and tax enforcement:

City Councilor Jim Mautino said he had received complaints from constituents regarding six mobile food trailers. He said he was concerned about food safety and the city's ability to collect sales taxes.

"This is Third World stuff," he said. "When people come here we assimilate them (new residents of the country) into our lifestyle and our politics; it's not the other way around.

"And it seems to me like what's happening is we're being assimilated."

Mautino expanded on those comments in an April 28 UTW story:

As for new residents assimilating to the U.S., Mautino said this statement stemmed from what he was taught as a child.

"My parents came from Italy and their opinion was when you're in Rome you do like the Romans, when you're in America you do like the Americans," he said. "You come to this country and you don't change this country. You can add things that come from your country, but you abide by our laws."

And here's another immigration-related item, although not part of my essay, on the topic of immigration enforcement, a report that U. S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents have no confidence that the agency's leadership is committed to enforcing the laws:

On June 11, 2010, the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council and its constituent local representatives from around the nation, acting on behalf of approximately 7,000 ICE officers and employees from the ICE Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), cast a unanimous "Vote of No Confidence" in the Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), John Morton, and the Assistant Director of the ICE Office of Detention Policy and Planning, (ODPP), Phyllis Coven.

The letter from the president of the AFL-CIO-affiliated union that represents ICE agents explains that local law enforcement is really the only path to immigration enforcement at the moment:

  • While ICE reports internally that more than 90 percent of ICE detainees are first encountered in jails after they are arrested by local police for criminal charges, ICE senior leadership misrepresents this information publicly in order to portray ICE detainees as being non-criminal in nature to support the Administration's position on amnesty and relaxed security at ICE detention facilities.
  • The majority of ICE ERO Officers are prohibited from making street arrests or enforcing United States immigration laws outside of the institutional (jail) setting. This has effectively created "amnesty through policy" for anyone illegally in the United States who has not been arrested by another agency for a criminal violation.

I'm dealing with blog guilt. I look at my blog and feel guilty for not updating it. Then I start to write a blog post and feel guilty about all the non-blog things I should be doing instead.

I was at a candidate's volunteer event today and someone was surprised to learn that I don't blog for a living. He had assumed that, because of all the content I produce, I must be doing this full-time. (It doesn't seem to me that I produce all that much content these days.) I assured him that that was not the case. I have a full-time, mentally-demanding, private-sector job that pays the bills and doesn't leave me with much energy when I finally have time to sit down and write. The time I spend on this I really ought to be spending (1) asleep, (2) playing with my kids, (3) doing housework, or (4) doing yard work.

I am not a trust-fund baby. No foundation is paying me a stipend so I can research, think, and write full-time. The only income this blog brings in comes from readers hitting the tip jar or people buying ads. It's enough to cover the hosting and domain costs and some research expenses. I'm grateful for and encouraged by the five people who contributed in response to my appeal, but it's clear that I'm not going to be able to feed, clothe, house, and educate a family of five by blogging about local issues. I suppose I should be thankful there wasn't a bigger response; if there had been, I'd feel guilty for not blogging more.

All that said, I don't have anything new for you from my metaphorical pen, but I can offer you some interesting links elsewhere about the 2010 Oklahoma election:

Steven Roemerman lives in Tulsa County Commission District 3, and he's received mailings from two of the three Republican candidates for that seat, incumbent Commissioner Fred Perry and Tulsa City Council attorney Drew Rees, with an interesting contrast in endorsements. Roemerman writes of Rees's piece, "I've never had a piece of campaign lit so thoroughly convince me not to vote for someone before, while at the same time making me hungry for the sweet sweet combination of chocolate and peanut-butter." Click through, read the mailers, and see if you can spot the missed opportunities. Sad when a consultant's connections and preferences are allowed to override his candidate's best interests.

Mike Ford has the scoop on David Hanigar, "Republican" candidate for State Auditor. Hanigar only recently changed his party registration and was a significant donor to several Democratic state officials, including disgraced and convicted former State Auditor Jeff McMahan.

Jamison Faught has been scrolling out his endorsements for statewide candidates in the upcoming Republican primary.

Oklahomans for Life has posted their July 2010 newsletter which contains the responses to their candidate survey.

Mike McCarville has dueling commercials and dueling press releases from the campaigns, including the latest dust-up between Scott Pruitt and Ryan Leonard, Republican candidates for Attorney General.

And finally, Irritated Tulsan offers a "urinalysis" of the dispute between Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr and the Tulsa City Council.

UPDATE: G. T. Bynum tweets, regarding the charter amendments on the 6 p.m. agenda:

@BatesLine Staff error. Will be delayed yet another week for amdts to be online plenty of time.

This is a crazy-busy time in Tulsa politics. You'd think the City Hall folks would have the courtesy to settle things down while there are state and county primaries about to happen. But no....

There are four -- count them, four -- Tulsa City Council meetings today. At 2 p.m., a special meeting will be held to discuss amendments to the Tulsa City Charter proposed by Councilor Roscoe Turner:

01. Proposed Charter Amendment:Change of form of government to a Charter form of the Council / Manager form of government. (Turner) 10-446-3 02. Proposed Charter Amendment: Making the City Attorney an elected position. (Turner) 10-446-4 03. Proposed Charter Amendment: Establishing a Council Attorney. (Turner) 10-446-5 04. Proposed Charter Amendment: Having Fire Department assume EMSA's duties and responsibilities. (Turner) 10-446-6

The 3 p.m. special meeting will deal with the controversy surrounding Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr, Chief of Staff Terry Simonson, federal grants, and police layoffs.

01. Consider motion and enter executive session pursuant Title 25 O.S. Section 307(B)(1) to discuss potential disciplinary action by the Council with regard to the Mayor and/or Chief of Staff/General Counsel, based upon the recent investigation into statements made to the Tulsa City Council and to federal agencies regarding the use or repurposing of Justice Administration Grant funds for police officer salaries. 10-184-3 02. Leave executive session to possibly take appropriate disciplinary action with regard to the Mayor and/or Chief of Staff/General Counsel, based upon the recent investigation into statements made to the Tulsa City Council and to federal agencies regarding the use or repurposing of Justice Administration Grant funds for police officer salaries. 10-184-4 03. Adjournment 04. Discussion regarding the status of the investigation, report and effects of City Attorney's Office recusal, and possible administrative actions which the City Council may take with regard to the Mayor and/or Chief of Staff based upon the findings of the report. 10-184-5 05. Discussion and possible approval of a recommendation regarding the qualifications of Dafne Pharis for the position of Director of Grants Administrator. (Henderson) 10-536-1

Charter amendments will be back on the table at the 5 p.m. meeting. The first item deals with the amendments regarding independent candidates, an "independent primary" election, and primary runoff elections that emerged from G. T. Bynum's election reform task force. These items are also on the 6 p.m. agenda, and once again the text of the proposed charter amendments is not available on the City Council website.

There's another new amendment on the 5 p.m. agenda, brought forward by Council Chairman Rick Westcott. This would fix a problem with the ill-considered charter amendment approved last fall, which made council terms three years on a rotating cycle, so that three seats are up for election every year. The proposal (which IS on the Council website) would move the primary in even-numbered years to August to coincide with the state primary runoff election. The primary would remain on the second Tuesday in September in odd-numbered years. This would allow the City to use the resources of the Tulsa County Election Board to run the election. State law prohibits county election boards from servicing elections which are not held on election days authorized by state law (26 O. S. 13-103)

D. All municipal elections, including elections for municipalities with home rule charters, shall be held only on dates identified by subsection B of Section 3-101 of this title.

The authorized dates are established by 26 O. S. 3-101:

Except as otherwise provided by law, no special election shall be held by any county, school district, technology center school district, municipality or other entity authorized to call elections except on the second Tuesday of January, February, May, June, July, August, September, October, November and December and the first Tuesday in March and April in odd-numbered years and the second Tuesday of January, February, May, and December, the first Tuesday in March and April, the last Tuesday in July, the fourth Tuesday in August, and the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November of any even-numbered year; except in any year when a Presidential Preferential Primary Election is held in February, the date for the special elections shall be the same date as the Presidential Preferential Primary Election.

While this change is an improvement, staggered terms will still result in different election conditions every year on a 12-year-cycle: which councilors are up for election, which month for the primary, which Tuesday in November for the general, whether or not the Mayor is on the ballot, whether or not the Auditor is on the ballot, whether or not the President is on the ballot. In some years, council candidates will share the stage only with the auditor; in others, council candidates will compete with presidential, congressional, county, and legislative candidates for dollars, volunteers, and attention. The number of weeks between primary and general will oscillate between 8 and 11.

(And staggered terms, with or without the new amendment, play havoc with the number of signatures required to recall a councilor, which is based on the last time the seat was on the same ballot as the mayoral general election, an event that could be 11 years in the past.)

The best way to fix the staggered terms mess is to repeal it.

The 6 p.m. meeting brings back the aforementioned Bynum charter amendments for consideration for the November ballot and considers replacing the Existing Structures Code wholesale with a new "Property Maintenance Code." (Anyone looked at the impact on restoration and reuse of historic buildings?)

On top of everything else, the Council will consider adoption of PLANiTULSA as the City's comprehensive plan. As with the charter amendments, NO BACKUP DOCUMENTATION has been provided on the Council's website, so we can't see precisely what the Council may be adopting tonight.

Oh, and all the City Councilors are being sued by Burt Holmes, Nancy Rothman, and Henryetta McIntosh for allegedly violating the Open Meeting Act. Who paid the filing fee?

RECEIPT # 2010-1935441 ON 07/14/2010. PAYOR:FREDERIC DORWART TOTAL AMOUNT PAID: $128.00.

The Dorwart firm is the former employer of Tulsa City Attorney Deirdre Dexter and lists among its clients BOK Financial Corporation, George Kaiser Family Foundation, Kaiser-Francis Oil Company, Tulsa Community Foundation, and Tulsa Metro Chamber of Commerce. Dorwart was the attorney of record for the Tulsa Industrial Authority in its suit against the Tulsa Airports Improvement Trust and the City of Tulsa over the Great Plains Airlines loan default, which was settled by the City paying $7.1 million from property tax funds.

Fun times.

What are the odds? After protesting loudly during the mayoral campaign that he wasn't a member of Tulsans for Better Government and had no idea how his name got on that list, Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr is now talking sympathetically about the concepts -- at-large councilors and non-partisan elections -- that TfBG have circulated as initiative petitions for Tulsa City Charter amendments. From this week's UTW:

"I believe the members of the City Council, if they disapprove of the actions I'm taking, in three and a half years can help vote me out of office," [Bartlett Jr] said. "That's their right. I think if the council wants to look at changing the form of government, they should look at other forms of government, as well.

"I've heard people say they'd be more comfortable with a group of city councilors who are elected at-large. They'd still have to live in their district, but they'd be elected by people all across the city, and that would make them more beholden to the city of Tulsa instead of a particular area."...

Bartlett said he believes most cities the size of Tulsa operate under a strong-mayor form of government, while smaller cities operate well with a city manager style. A prominent exception to that, he pointed out, is Oklahoma City, which proponents of the city manager-style of government like to cite as an example.

"I agree with them that Oklahoma City is an example of a city that's run well," he said.

But Bartlett noted that hasn't been the case until recent years. For many years in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the City Council there was split almost evenly between two factions, and whichever faction held power at any given time would hire its own city manager. The result was a revolving door in that office.

"They were having a terrible time keeping city managers and keeping the City Council engaged in a forward-thinking way," he said.

Bartlett said he has spoken to city officials there at length about what turned the situation around, and he said they told him it is their belief that two things make the situation in Oklahoma City different.

The first is the fact that the city holds nonpartisan elections, meaning candidates do not run under a party affiliation -- an idea strongly espoused by Mark Perkins, a Republican who ran as an independent in the mayoral campaign against Bartlett last fall, earning 18 percent of the vote....

Before last fall's city election, Stephen Roemerman wrote about his conversation with Bartlett Jr regarding Tulsans for Better Government and at-large councilors:

Last Sunday, I was a part of a small group who met with Mr. Bartlett to ask him questions (This will be another post). I told Mr. Bartlett that one of my primary concerns regarding his candidacy was his involvement with the Tulsans for Better Government. I told him that I found the idea for at-large councilors extremely concerning. The implication in my statement was that I could not support anyone who wanted to take control of the City Council in a way that would focus power in downtown and midtown, and disenfranchise the other parts of the city.

What he said, shocked and confused me. With regard to his involvement with Tulsans for Better Government, he said that he did not know about the at-large councilor push, that it was tendered without his knowledge. He suggested that he was asked to joined the group years ago but never really had anything to do with them, and certainly had nothing to do with the idea of at-large councilors. I asked him what he thought of at-large councilors and he said the he did not think it was a good idea, and that our form of government should not be changed.

In an October 2009 open letter to Republicans, then-nominee Dewey Bartlett Jr made a number of commitments to Republicans in an effort to win their support. Many Republicans felt that, however flawed Bartlett was as a candidate, they now had him making an on-record commitment on issues important to conservatives. The e-mail included a postscript that Bartlett Jr had signed the pledge opposing non-partisan elections.

That list of commitments is worth re-reading. It includes his pledge to "hire more police." And there's this gem (emphasis added:

We cannot ignore any part of town. We must improve our entire city and be sure that each part has proper investment and service. I will work with, not against, the city councilors to achieve this goal.

The at-large councilor proposal that Bartlett Jr mentions positively is even more radical than TfBG's original proposal to mix three at-large seats with six district seats. Even if the councilors lived in nine different districts, they would either have to be personally wealthy enough to sustain a city-wide campaign or be beholden to groups with a financial stake in manipulating city government. Grassroots campaigns to win a council seat would have a very slight chance of success, which I suspect is the whole point of the idea. Under at-large voting for the council, there would still be a District 1 councilor, but he'd be the sort of District 1 councilor that District 9 residents would find acceptable.

Question to the readers: Has Dewey Bartlett Jr turned out to be the kind of mayor you were led to believe he would be?

We're still waiting to see the actual text of the charter amendments proposed by the Tulsa City Council Election Reform Task Force, led by Councilor G. T. Bynum.

In the meantime, the Tulsa Whirled's Janet Pearson used her Sunday, July 4, 2010, column to renew the call for the Whirled's favorite reform idea: at-large councilors.

In 2005, a group called Tulsans for Better Government circulated an initiative petition for a charter change to reduce the number of City Council districts from 9 to 6 and adding three councilors who would be elected citywide. The obvious result (and apparent intention of the idea's supporters) would be to dilute geographical representation in city government and to give a greater voice to those with the money to fund a citywide race.

A grassroots group called Tulsans Defending Democracy, made up of Tulsans across the ideological spectrum and from around the city, emerged to oppose the TBG proposal. If you want to go into depth on the pros and cons of at-large council representation, you'll find plenty of information at the TDD website, including the report of the Citizens' Commission on City Government. The commission, convened by then-Mayor Bill LaFortune, emphatically rejected the at-large concept.

Pearson continues to try to sell the line that city council disputes are caused by councilors selfishly pushing for their wards' interests over the interests of the city as a whole. In reality, the current debate is over a citywide issue, just as the disputes of 2004 and 2005 were. Back then the debates had to do with land use and suburban development and Great Plains Airlines; today the dispute has to do with budget cuts and public safety unions. Ward politics has nothing to do with it.

More later.

Last night (July 1, 2010), the Tulsa City Council postponed consideration of three proposed charter amendments involving the city election process.

Following the meeting, District 9 City Councilor G. T. Bynum was kind enough to send me some background information on the proposed amendments, including a link to the page on the tulsacouncil.org website with information on the Election Reform Task Force and its recommendations. The task force materials include research by council staff on election practices regarding independent candidates in other cities. I sent him seven questions in reply, and he answered those as well. Here (with his permission) is his first email to me:

Michael:

Regarding the charter amendments that weren't posted online, as soon as Councilor Eagleton brought that to my attention I agreed we should delay two weeks to allow for public review. It was my understanding that they had been posted, but clearly not.

All of the documents compiled during the task force (including the final findings) can be found on the Council website here: http://www.tulsacouncil.org/research--policy/resources/other-reports.aspx

The intent of the amendments - and these come from the task force's work over a couple of months, not from my invention - is to make the election system more equitable between partisan and independent candidates: to allow for the same filing requirements (either signatures or filing fees for either group), the same primary system, and the same run-off system (also proposed in the amendments).

I do think it is important to note that representatives of both the Republican and Democrat County parties were present and offered insight at most of the meetings. Representatives from Tulsans for Better Government spoke and offered their thoughts on nonpartisan elections. This wasn't just a few city councilors sitting around a table shooting the breeze.

I also think, after reading Mike Easterling's story, that it needs to be pointed out that I offered Mark Perkins repeated opportunities to participate and offer his insight from running as an Independent but he declined. Lawrence Kirkpatrick (the other Independent candidate for Mayor in 2009) did accept our invitation and had a great deal of experience to share on Independent candidacies.

Best Regards,

GT

Here are Bynum's responses to my questions. For clarity of presentation, I'm interleaving my questions with his responses:

1. Currently anyone can file as an independent candidate regardless of party registration. Will that still be possible under the proposed amendments?

1. I don't have the election law before me but I can tell you we didn't discuss that topic and none of the proposed changes address that. I'm not certain existing law allows that, as I recall hearing complaints that Mark Perkins (a registered Republican) shouldn't have been allowed to file as an Independent but no one called him on it during the period immediately after filing when challenges can be made.

2. Do the proposed amendments provide for runoffs in general elections or special elections?

2. Only primary elections are addressed.

3. Who raised the concern regarding equity for independent candidates?

3. In our discussion with Independent Mayoral candidates (where Mr. Kirkpatrick showed up and Mr. Perkins declined the invite), Mr. Kirkpatrick made a strong case for allowing Independent candidates to pay a filing fee just like partisan candidates. He said he thought a primary for Independents would be fair if the filing requirements were the same for everyone (partisans and Indies). And, if my memory serves correct, some councilors felt that they would prefer to be able to assemble a petition rather than pay a filing fee - that this would open it up (particularly Council races) to more candidates

4. What specific examples of harm to particular candidates have occurred as a result of the current situation -- e.g. someone who intended to run as an independent but was deterred by the petition requirement?

4. No specific instances of harm were raised.

5. You mention representatives of Tulsans for Better Government. Who were the individuals who participated in the task force discussions on behalf of that organization?

5. Reuben Davis spoke on behalf of Tulsans for Better Government. Chris Medlock was there that day representing the GOP at Sally Bell's request. No Democrat Party representative was present, but several Democratic councilors (particularly Councilor Turner) offered their thoughts on the issue.

6. A group called Tulsans Defending Democracy was organized in 2005 to oppose Tulsans for Better Government's proposal for at-large councilors. A few representatives each from TDD and TBG were appointed by Bill LaFortune to his citizens' commission on city government. Were any representatives of TDD invited to participate in the Election Reform Task Force?

6. No. To be honest, I'm embarassed to say this is the first I've heard of TDD (I was in DC when all of that occurred) but did want to balance out TBG, which is why we originally invited both Party chairs. The Party input was very helpful so we ended up inviting them to each subsequent meeting. Mr. Medlock in particular had a lot of knowledge about how races are conducted around the country and historically in Tulsa.

7. Are there minutes or recordings of task force meetings?

7. I know Council staff was there taking notes, and each meeting was posted. I am copying my Council aide, Nick Doctor, who can assist in that regard. Also, League of Women Voters attended every meeting and took notes - not that this would count as minutes but they might have some info that our minutes don't cover.

I still haven't seen the actual amendments. If Bynum's answer to question 1 is accurate, the proposal could bring about non-partisan elections in all but name. The charter allows anyone, regardless of party registration, to run as an independent provided they can put together 300 signatures. Mark Perkins, a registered Republican, did this in 2009. In 1986, under the old City Charter, Patty Eaton, who had filed as a Democrat for reelection as Water and Sewer Commissioner, filed as an independent for Mayor after the primary defeat of incumbent Democrat Terry Young by Tom Quinn.

By allowing a filing fee (really a deposit, refundable if the candidate receives enough votes) in lieu of a petition, more candidates are likely to opt for an independent run, particularly if the proposal for an "independent primary" is not put before or approved by the voters.

Here's the current Tulsa City Charter language:

SECTION 3.2. FILING FOR OFFICE--INDEPENDENT CANDIDATES. Any person who desires to be an independent candidate for a city office shall file with the Election Board of Tulsa County or its successor a Declaration of Candidacy which shall state:

A. The name and residence street address of the person as it appears on the voter registration records; and

B. The name of the office sought.

The Declaration of Candidacy of the independent candidate shall have attached a supporting petition which shall be signed by at least three hundred (300) qualified electors from the city at large if the independent candidate seeks the office of Mayor or City Auditor or from the election district if the independent candidate seeks the office of Councilor from an election district.

There were similar provisions in the 1908 Tulsa City Charter (from the 1917 edition of Compiled Ordinances of Tulsa):

3. In case a primary election is held pursuant to the call or under the direction of any political party, or of any association of individuals for the nomination of candidates for the offices of Mayor and Commissioners and City Auditor, the candidates or persons voted for in said primary election shall be voted for at large by all of the legally qualified voters in said City according to and in the manner now or hereafter provided by the general election law of the State of Oklahoma.

Independent candidates for Mayor or for positions on said Board of Commissioners or for City Auditor shall be entitled to have their names placed on the official ballot to be used in the regular election by filing with the City Auditor, not less than ten days before such election, a written petition therefor , which shall be signed by such candidate and by at least one hundred qualified voters of said city.

(The 1908 charter also provided for a runoff ("second election") if no one received a majority of the vote in the "regular election". If someone has a version of the charter from the 1980s, just before the change, I'd love to have a copy.)

I do find it hard to believe that this push for charter amendments is at the behest of Lawrence Kirkpatrick, a perennial candidate without much of a constituency. The question remains: Who is pushing for this? Why now? Where is the problem that these amendments are supposed to solve?

The investigative report commissioned by the Tulsa City Council regarding Mayor Dewey F. Bartlett Jr. and Chief of Staff Terry Simonson is now online at the tulsacouncil.org website. The investigation concerned statements made by Bartlett Jr and Simonson regarding a particular Federal grant (JAG) that might be used to prevent or reduce the number of police layoffs. The Council forwarded the report to the city prosecutor without recommending for or against prosecution for the misdemeanor of making false statements to the City Council.

I have skimmed the report. I don't know if or when I'll have time to read and analyze this 90-page report in depth. From what I read, my sense is that the new administration was wrestling with the complex terms and conditions of this Federal program to ensure that Tulsa would not be penalized for applying the funds in violation of Federal law.

Compliance with Federal regs is a big deal. Recall that Tulsa was penalized to the tune of $1.5 million in 2008 by the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for the city's failure to supervise Tulsa Development Authority's use of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds and scolded again by HUD in 2009. In 2004 the U. S. Department of Transportation's Inspector General labeled the plan to use passenger service fees to cover, indirectly, the default of Great Plains Airlines as a "misuse of airport funds". In a separate report, the DOT OIG also "found instances where the Tulsa Airport Authority's procurements of professional services, which were funded by the Airport Improvement Program, did not adhere to FAA's required competitive-selection procedures... conflicts of interest on the part of former authority officials, poor recordkeeping by the authority."

Thinking about this in moral, rather than legal, terms (because I haven't studied the specific terms of the JAG grant): If the purpose of a Federal grant is to increase the number of police officers, taking the grant and leaving the TPD headcount the same would amount to diverting the grant to fund other city departments, since money is fungible. It would make sense for the Federal grant to come with certain conditions to prevent that sort of misuse.

Deliberate deception by one branch of government of another is a serious matter and ought to result in some sort of penalty. I'm not convinced that that is what occurred in this case, although I am open to persuasion based on the facts presented in this report.

Lest anyone think I'm being spun by the Mayor's office or regurgitating their talking points, it should be obvious to long-time BatesLine readers that there's no love lost between me and the Bartlett Jr Administration. I've not been contacted by anyone in the Mayor's Office since Bartlett Jr's inauguration nor have I made any effort to contact anyone in the administration.

On tonight's (Thursday, July 1, 2010) Tulsa City Council agenda are three proposed amendments to the Tulsa City Charter:

8. COUNCIL ITEMS c. Proposed Charter Amendment: Independent candidates will have the same filing requirements as partisan candidates, allowing either a filing fee or a petition with the required number of signatures. (Bynum) [UED 6/29/10] 10-446-7
8. COUNCIL ITEMS d. Proposed Charter Amendment: Adopt the State of Oklahoma's practices for run-off elections, requiring a majority of votes for a primary election victory. (Bynum) [UED 6/29/10] 10-446-8
8. COUNCIL ITEMS e. Proposed Charter Amendment: The City should provide for primary elections for independent candidates, in addition to those held for partisan candidates. (Eagleton) [UED 6/29/10] 10-446-9

I would like to provide you with a detailed analysis of the proposals and the pros and cons of each, but I can't. The text of the proposed amendments is not available on the tulsacouncil.org website. Ordinarily, there's a link next to each agenda item which leads to "backup material," which in this case should be the text of the proposed amendment, the proposed ballot title, and the rationale behind the proposal, but that hasn't been provided, either on tonight's agenda or on last Tuesday's Urban and Economic Development committee agenda, when the items were previously discussed.

All I know of the proposals so far has been relayed to me over the phone. Late last week I spoke to Mike Easterling for his UTW story on the three proposals from G. T. Bynum's Election Reform Task Force. When Mike called, I couldn't talk at length at the moment, but I asked him if he had something in writing that he could forward to me, so that I could look at it before giving him my thoughts. He told me all he knew had been conveyed to him in a phone call.

I'm asking the City Council not to take action on these proposals tonight. The public has not been provided with the text or rationale for the changes. The report of Bynum's task force is not available on the Council website, either.

To borrow a phrase from the Sunlight Foundation, which promotes government transparency, "public equals online." If it's not online, it's not really public. The public should have a chance to read, digest, and comment on these proposals before they're considered for the November ballot.

If the aim is to get charter amendments on the November general election ballot, the City Council has two more months before the 60-day deadline. From what little I've been able to gather about the proposals, they seem half-baked, won't address genuine problems with our current system, and may create additional problems if approved. The problems may be even worse if only one or two of the three ideas are adopted.

We're already dealing with the unintended consequences of an ill-considered charter amendment approved last fall which will require the City of Tulsa to spend the money to develop its own election infrastructure. (Because the three-year staggered terms for councilors will result in fall elections in even-numbered years on dates not authorized by state statute for elections, Tulsa won't be able to use the Tulsa County Election Board's ballot scanners, personnel, and precinct organization.) Let's not rush to put another half-baked idea on the ballot.

UTW has an interesting cover story this week about Terry Simonson, chief of staff to Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr, written by Mike Easterling with photos by Michael Cooper.

The story begins with Simonson filing for mayor just before the deadline in 1998. I was there when it happened. I had gone to the County Election Board to file for the open District 4 City Council seat earlier in the afternoon, but learned I needed to have my declaration of candidacy notarized, so I drove over to Swinney's Hardware in Whittier Square, which had a notary in-house. When I returned to hand in my declaration, Terry was there with a couple of other people, at the other end of the counter, filling out his paper work.

Terry made a good run in 1998. He had solid grassroots support. He had been doing a good job as Republican Party chairman, taking over after a contentious period, bringing a degree of harmony and refocusing the party apparatus on the nuts and bolts of organizing volunteers and supporting candidates. In 1997, when Mayor Susan Savage and the Tulsa Metro Chamber proposed increasing sales taxes, hotel/motel taxes, and car rental taxes to build an arena, a natatorium, and a soccer stadium stadium downtown, Simonson, as GOP party chairman, was a leader of the opposition, debating Savage on TV. The measure -- known as the Tulsa Project -- was defeated resoundingly.

But by the time 2002 rolled around, Simonson had lost credibility with the grassroots. When arena supporters hijacked the Convention and Tourism Task Force in 2000, Simonson, who was co-chairman of the community outreach committee, raised no protest. Had he spoken out, we might have been able to keep the task force on track to produce a holistic approach to maximizing Tulsa's tourist appeal, rather than just a justification for yet another big-project tax package. When a near-repeat of the Tulsa Project was put on the ballot, with a more burdensome tax package than in 1997, Simonson didn't help to defeat it.

In general, the refreshing boldness that characterized Simonson in the 1990s seemed to be replaced by a cautious deference to the big players in local politics. I was one of a number of people who happily supported Simonson in 1998 who spent 2001 looking for a better candidate to back in 2002. The fact that Terry's most notable supporter was John Benjamin, one of my all-time least favorite city councilors and a prominent Chamberpot, only confirmed my gut feeling that Simonson was not the right man for the mayor's office. (My eventual pick, Bill LaFortune, turned out to be a disappointment, too. The first sign, within a couple of months of taking office, was his reappointment of Joe Westervelt to the TMAPC. The second was his allowing the city's vision summit, which had huge popular support and could have led to a PLANiTULSA-like process for a comprehensive vision for the city's future, to be diverted into a hodgepodge of unrelated public works projects.)

From the UTW profile it appears that some of Terry's boldness has returned. I believe he genuinely wants to address Tulsa's fiscal problems, but he and his boss have failed to build the kind of coalition needed to support radical change. The way you campaign affects the way you can govern. Bartlett Jr didn't talk about the fiscal mess that he needed to fix, because that meant attacking Kathy Taylor, whom he had endorsed for re-election. Instead he ran on a platform of not having contributed to Barack Obama's campaign. That didn't give him much of a mandate for the hard steps that needed to be taken. It appears that Bartlett Jr and Simonson have managed to alienate many of the leaders and officials who might otherwise have helped mobilize support for difficult reforms.

One last note: I don't really get the effort to investigate Simonson regarding the JAG grant. I wish there had been as much determination to hold decision-makers to account over the Great Plains Airlines fiasco or to pursue TDA's mistreatment of Will and Cecilia Wilkins. Those issues seem far more significant. I do, however, respect the Council's assertion of their rights as a coequal branch of government, and I'm happy that the councilors are united in defending their institutional prerogatives. It wasn't that many years ago that we had a significant number of councilors who felt that it wasn't their business to challenge the mayor on anything.

UPDATE 2010/06/18: It passed as expected, 6-3. Now it goes to Mayor Bartlett's desk, and we're about to find out whether he is the conservative he claimed to be during the campaign.

A month ago, I wrote about a proposal authored by Tulsa City Councilor G. T. Bynum adding "sexual orientation" to the city's human resources anti-discrimination policy. Tonight that proposal comes before the Tulsa City Council for approval, and six councilors -- the three Democrats plus Republicans Bynum, Bill Christiansen, and Chris Trail -- have voiced support. As I wrote last month, I thought we had a solid majority of conservatives on the council, but it appears I badly miscounted. Even the three councilors who voiced opposition were tentative in their remarks, as if they knew they should be against this, but couldn't articulate the reasons.

Bynum has presented this proposition as if it were a matter of "live and let live" -- not intruding into the private life of an employee or applicant. Bynum is either naive or disingenuous. The ultimate use to which these propositions are put is to silence those who hold traditional opinions of homosexual behavior. The only permitted opinion about homosexual behavior will be approval and celebration.

Today's (2010/06/17) edition of the comic strip "The Meaning of Lila" shows where all this is going. An employee complains to his company's HR manager about the comments of a coworker.

HR: I'm sorry, Boyd, but there are no laws protecting sexual orientation in Ohio. If Brittany made racist comments or sexually harassed you, we could take some action.

Boyd: You mean Brittany can say anything she wants about gays?

HR: Legally, yes.

Boyd: So there's nothing I can do?

HR: Come back when you're 40, and we can look into age discrimination.

What horrifying thing could Brittany have said to prompt Boyd to complain about her to HR?

She expressed opposition to gay marriage.

In Monday's strip, Brittany hears Boyd, her cube-mate, talking about attending a gay coworker's wedding in Iowa. She says, "Gays can't get married." When Boyd told her that Iowa allows it, she replied, "How did that sneak by?"

On Tuesday, Brittany says to Boyd, "Don't get me wrong. I'm totally cool about gays. I just don't think you should get married."

That was provocation enough to prompt Boyd's complaint to HR that Brittany was making "homophobic comments."

The company in the strip didn't have the kind of rule that G. T. Bynum is pushing, so the character that voiced her opposition, in very mild terms, to gay marriage couldn't be punished for her opinion.

Yes, I know it's only a comic strip, but it's a reflection of the real-world effort by those who want to tear down sexual morality to push aside those who stand in their way, however meekly.

And as I pointed out last month, these rules aren't just about silencing opinions in the workplace but are weapons that can be wielded against religious coworkers any time a homosexual employee feels slighted.

The real effect of Bynum's push to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation is to add another pretext for someone to sue the city. An unsuccessful job applicant, a city employee passed over for a promotion, someone demoted or dismissed for poor performance -- any of them could claim "it's because I'm gay" and file a formal complaint.

With such a complaint, the focus shifts from the performance, attitude, and capabilities of the disgruntled employee or applicant to the moral opinions of the manager or supervisor who made the decision. The supervisor would be hauled up before the Civil Rights Commission and Exhibit A in the hearing would be the paperback New Testament on her bookshelf or the poster on her cubicle wall of a basket of kittens with a verse of scripture beneath. The supervisor's membership in a church that teaches that homosexual behavior is sinful (e.g., Bynum's own Roman Catholic Church) would create a presumption of guilt that the supervisor's hiring decision or disciplinary action was based in bigotry.

After the system makes an example of a couple of city supervisors, they'll learn to cut their "out and proud" homosexual employees extra slack, just to avoid the hassle of justifying themselves to the Civil Rights Commission. This sort of thing is already happening in Europe and Canada. Ultimately, "anti-discrimination" laws to protect homosexuals are used to persecute those who hold to views of sexual morality which within living memory spanned all major religions and all civilized cultures and which are still held by the vast majority of Oklahomans.

It should also be said that the proposal backed by Bynum puts the city in the position of taking a moral and religious stand that makes abnormal sexual behavior morally equivalent to being born with a certain skin color or coming from a certain ethnic background.

It should be noted that, while the new rule would not affect private business in Tulsa -- yet -- it does set a precedent that will make it easier for activists to push for similar rules in private companies. Part of Bynum's justification for his proposal is that other cities and major companies are doing it.

If you object to our "conservative" city councilors moving Tulsa city government further toward socially liberal political correctness, please speak up today. Call your councilor at 918-596-192x, substituting your district number for x. So, for example, G. T. Bynum in District 9 may be reached at 918-596-1929; District 8's Bill Christiansen is at 918-596-1928; and District 5's Chris Trail is at 918-596-1925. You may also be able to reach councilors Christiansen and Trail through their businesses, Christiansen Aviation and Ike's Chili Parlor.

Bynum also has some budget proposals to bring forward tonight. I'm happy about that, but budgets come and go. What Bynum is doing with this sexual orientation proposal is unlikely to be undone -- public policy is like a ratchet, and once it moves in a liberal direction, it's very difficult and costly, if not impossible, to move it back.

MORE: If you're unfamiliar with the "ratchet effect," it's a phrase originated by Keith Joseph, Margaret Thatcher's political mentor, in reference to the seemingly inevitable shift toward socialism and away from economic freedom in Britain, but the term's use has been generalized to social policy by the observation that movement away from traditional values is almost never reversed. There's an excellent essay in the Red State archives on the ratchet effect and its application to morality and society. Here's an excerpt:

In addition to the skill of ratcheting the nation's policies continually leftward, the Left possesses a remarkable facility in permanently fixing their aims into place. Through the illegitimate exploitation of the courts, a multitude of important issues has been effectively eliminated from the public square of legislative discourse. The Left's success in removing critical social and cultural matters completely off the table and beyond the reach of `government by the people' is a perversely admirable achievement. Re-reading the Johnson and Ponnuru excerpts leaves one incredulous at the overwhelming nature of the Left's triumph. No matter how difficult the admission is for conservatives, the Left has run the table.

It is tempting to attribute the one-way street of social liberalization to the inevitable and uncontrollable forces of modernization and secularization. Others of a more suspicious cast of mind believe that resorting to explanations of invisible social forces is nothing more than a smoke screen to conceal the fingerprints of human agency in the Left's success. The latter is far closer to the mark as argued in The True and Only Heaven by Christopher Lasch and The Secular Revolution by Christian Smith. The dubious assumption that modernization equals secularization has been advanced and employed by "various interest groups...in the service of their own quest for power, usually at the expense of religion and religious institutions." [Quote courtesy of First Things]

Any councilor voting in support of this leftward shift is either not really a conservative or too naive to be trusted with higher office.

I was fairly stunned to see the following message, from Tulsa District 9 City Councilor G. T. Bynum, on my Facebook news feed Thursday afternoon:

Proud to see Civil Service Commission approve proposal by Councilor Barnes & me banning City HR discrimination based on sexual orientation.

(Bynum crossposted the same comment to Twitter.)

I wasn't surprised to see District 4 Councilor Maria Barnes's name in connection with the proposal. She's a social liberal, and when I endorsed her for City Council, I felt certain that there would be at least six socially conservative councilors to block any left-wing initiative or appointment. I'm wondering now if I counted wrong.

Amid hearty attaboys from Bynum's left-of-center Facebook friends, I asked the question, "Why did you feel this was an important issue to push at the moment?" My question was seen by one of Bynum's congratulators as an attack, and I was instructed to "get with the program" because "it's the 21st century" -- this from a Democratic ally on fiscal issues who surely knows me well enough to know I don't leap aboard bandwagons. In response I said I thought it was a fair question and one with interesting implications for Bynum's political future.

Bynum responded a few hours later:

Michael, I think it's a very fair question. I spoke at a council candidate forum put on by Oklahomans For Equality back during the campaign, and the issue was raised that gay and lesbian employees of the Tulsa City government don't enjoy the same protections as those in other cities. I was surprised, and agreed to do what I could to fix that situation. As a conservative who believes in keeping the government out of our private lives, I don't think an employee's sexual orientation is the City's business and shouldn't play a role in HR. As to my political future, an old mentor of mine wisely advised me after I got elected to the Council that if I made decisions based on my political future I'd be a lousy elected official. I try to keep that advice in mind.

(As I reread that quote, I thought, "Wouldn't it be nice if GT Bynum were as devoted to giving Tulsa's historic buildings, neighborhoods, and commercial districts the kind of protections that they enjoy in other cities?" His vote last Thursday night in support of Eric Gomez's nomination to the TMAPC isn't an encouraging sign.)

I would have thought that a conservative who worked for Senator Tom Coburn would be able to see through noble-sounding phrases like "Oklahomans for Equality" and "anti-discrimination" to the reality of the agenda or program underlying those words -- you know, the program I'm supposed to get with because it's the 21st century. I'd have thought a conservative would object to the term "sexual orientation," with its implication of the unscientific notion of the "gay gene" and its undermining of one's personal responsibility for one's sexual choices.

Most of all, I'd have thought a conservative who worked for Tom Coburn would get the idea of unintended consequences. The real effect of Bynum's push to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation is to add another pretext for someone to sue the city. An unsuccessful job applicant, a city employee passed over for a promotion, someone demoted or dismissed for poor performance -- any of them could claim "it's because I'm gay" and file a formal complaint.

With such a complaint, the focus shifts from the performance, attitude, and capabilities of the disgruntled employee or applicant to the moral opinions of the manager or supervisor who made the decision. The supervisor would be hauled up before the Civil Rights Commission and Exhibit A in the hearing would be the paperback New Testament on her bookshelf or the poster on her cubicle wall of a basket of kittens with a verse of scripture beneath. The supervisor's membership in a church that teaches that homosexual behavior is sinful (e.g., Bynum's own Roman Catholic Church) would be create a presumption of guilt that the supervisor's hiring decision or disciplinary action was based in bigotry.

After the system makes an example of a couple of city supervisors, they'll learn to cut their "out and proud" homosexual employees extra slack, just to avoid the hassle of justifying themselves to the Civil Rights Commission. This sort of thing is already happening in Europe and Canada. Ultimately, "anti-discrimination" laws to protect homosexuals are used to persecute those who hold to views of sexual morality which within living memory spanned all major religions and all civilized cultures and which are still held by the vast majority of Oklahomans.

It should also be said that the proposal backed by Bynum puts the city in the position of taking a moral and religious stand that makes abnormal sexual behavior morally equivalent to being born with a certain skin color or coming from a certain ethnic background.

I'm disappointed that a professed conservative like G. T. Bynum wouldn't understand all this. I'm hopeful that the conservatives on the City Council will use their power to overturn the proposal.

RELATED:

I was surprised to learn recently that G. T. Bynum was no longer with Williams & Williams but had set up his own Federal lobbying firm. GT Bynum Consulting has three clients listed with the Senate Office of Public Records as of April 25, 2010, according to OpenSecrets.org (fields are client, total, and industry):

  • George Kaiser Family Foundation, $20,000, Human Rights
  • Williams & Williams Marketing Services, $10,000, Unknown Business
  • City of Miami, FL, $0, Civil Servants

Last year, in 2009, GKFF gave all of its Washington lobbying business -- $150,000 -- to powerhouse law firm Akin Gump. So far in 2010, GKFF has spent $40,000, divided evenly between Akin Gump and G. T. Bynum.

MORE:

Here's an example of the use of "diversity" and "non-discrimination" policies to punish dissenting views of homosexuality: Crystal Dixon was fired by the University of Toledo for a letter to the local newspaper, as a private individual, objecting to the misappropriation of the legacy of the civil rights movement by homosexual rights activists. Pittsburgh Theological Seminary Professor Rob Gagnon wrote a letter supporting Dixon and citing studies in peer-reviewed journal that undercut claims that same-sex attraction is as ingrained as skin color.

Pete Vere, co-author with Kathy Shaidle of Tyranny of Nice, explains how "Canada's human rights commissions and tribunals, originally founded to help socially-disadvantaged minorities seek redress against racism in government housing and services, have now turned their sights on Christians and pro-lifers," citing several examples both north and south of the 49th Parallel, including the case of the Christian owner of a small Toronto print shop fined for refusing to print stationery for a homosexual organization and the case of a Georgia counselor who was fired because she referred a lesbian couple to another counselor in the same office, citing a conflict with her religious convictions.

In a 2007 Daily Telegraph op-ed, James Mackay, former Lord Chancellor under two Conservative prime ministers, considers the impact of an anti-discrimination regulation then proposed by the Labour government on those who object to homosexual behavior on religious grounds.

TO COMMENTERS:

I'm not really interested in hearing from people who want to attack those who hold to traditional views of sexual behavior, and I won't be approving any comments along those lines. I am interested in hearing from social conservatives who want to debate for or against Bynum's actions from a social conservative perspective.

Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr's nomination of ousted City Councilor Eric Gomez to the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission is on tonight's City Council agenda. The nomination is likely to be defeated by a supermajority, based on public statements by the councilors, but it's still worth expressing your concern to your councilor, particularly if your councilor has expressed support for Gomez's nomination. If you're wondering why you should be concerned, please read my earlier entry on Eric Gomez's TMAPC nomination, which links to earlier evaluations of his record on zoning and development issues.

By the way, I notice that the agenda for tonight's meeting includes no backup information on Eric Gomez or the other mayoral nominees being considered tonight. The Council usually gets a fact sheet on each nominee, with a resume. Certainly a prospective planning commissioner's sources of income would be a matter of public interest, and in this case there are rumors of a connection between Gomez and a developer who is notoriously hostile to homeowners; those rumors need to be either confirmed or dispelled.

Under Oklahoma's Open Meetings Act, public bodies like cities are required to post agendas for upcoming meetings, so that citizens will know what issues may be discussed and what action may be taken. At the old Tulsa City Hall, this was accomplished by means of a cork bulletin board, inside a glass case near the walkway between City Hall and the council chamber. You could drive by any hour of the day or night and see the agenda for the City Council, the housing authority, the sign advisory board, and any other authority, board, commission, or task force.

At Tulsa's new City Hall, One Technology Center, the old school cork board has been replaced with a high-tech electronic display. Last week, that display failed to show the agenda for Thursday night's meeting when it failed to reboot automatically. As a result, the regular City Council meeting had to be postponed to last night, Monday.

The electronic system was touted as foolproof, over the objection of skeptics, like Council administrator Don Cannon:

Council Administrator Don Cannon said he's frustrated because he and others warned city officials that something like this could easily happen.

"We told them that a hard-copy backup was needed just in case," he said.

Cannon said he intends to post paper copies of the council's agendas by the television screens until some other backup system is developed. Monday's agendas were physically posted Thursday afternoon.

"The risk is just not worth it," he said. "There's a lot of things that are uncontrollable, but this is controllable."

City Councilor John Eagleton, the only councilor to vote against the City's acquisition of One Technology Center, had a brief comment about the situation: "I told you so."

It's a story from February 1, 2010, but I just saw it this week, via Troy Sappington on Facebook: a story in the London (Ontario) Free Press that prominently featured comments from Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr on police salaries and layoffs. The story was part of a series entitled "Protection at What Cost?: An occasional series examining the soaring cost of emergency services.

Three years after they're sworn in on the force, in some cases with little more than the minimum high school diploma and 12 weeks' training, London police officers get a base salary that tops $80,000.

That wouldn't surprise other police and firefighters in Ontario, whose salaries are closely tethered by unions that demand it and police boards that often give in.

But south of the border, jaws drop.

In U.S. cities where there are more murders in a month than London has in a year, police are surprised when told how much police are paid here and how that has changed so quickly over time.

"It's really a death spiral," said Dewey Bartlett Jr., mayor of Tulsa, Okla., where senior officers max out at $62,783 US.

Bartlett, too, deals with police unions and did so last week without an arms-length police board or provincial arbitrator to get in his way.

With Tulsa facing a budget crisis and needing to cut $7 million from its police budget, Bartlett gave cops a choice: Agree to a 5% wage cut and rollbacks or he'd lay off 155 officers -- nearly 20% of the force.

The police association said no.

Last Friday, police administrators were preparing pink slips.

"In this part of the country, unions aren't a way of life. (The police association) was selfish and greedy, rather than what people expect of a police officer," Bartlett said.

What wasn't said in the story was that similar cuts were required from other city departments. The Firefighters Union made a different choice than the FOP, picking pay cuts over layoffs.

The story goes on to look at the pros and cons of high police salaries in London, where a "three-year officer is paid nearly 2 1/2 times more than a typical London adult," and the disconnect in Ontario between those who set police salaries and those responsible for setting municipal budget priorities.

MORE: Stephen Malanga in the Spring 2010 City Journal on the role of government employee unions (teachers', public safety, and SEIU) in California's budget crisis.

"He is either totally clueless or absolutely in your face, one of the two."

"I guess he wants everybody mad at him."

"He's appointing a councilor that threatened to sue one of his constituents over a planning issue to the planning commission?"

Eric Gomez, former Tulsa City CouncilorThose were the instantaneous reactions of my lovely bride to the news that Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr has nominated former Councilor Eric Gomez to the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission. ("He" meaning Mayor Bartlett Jr.)

At this moment, the TMAPC is considering whether to approve a new comprehensive plan, deciding whether to substantially approve the plan that came out of the two-year-long PLANiTULSA process or whether to remodel it to suit a couple of squeaky-wheel developers named John Bumgarner and Joe Westervelt -- developers who happen to have donated to Eric Gomez's recent unsuccessful campaign for City Council. Bartlett Jr's nomination of Gomez sends a clear message to the thousands of Tulsans who invested their hopes and energy into the PLANiTULSA process: It's going to be business as usual -- a continuation of the bad land use planning decisions of the past -- if Bartlett Jr gets his way.

Before last fall's election, I set out a long list of bad decisions by Eric Gomez during his brief, single term of office. One prime example: Approving Bumgarner's Folly -- a straight rezoning of most of a large, formerly residential block near Cherry Street, a block that is now vacant and apparently will be for a long time:

During his term of office, Eric Gomez has offered no resistance to bad development plans that set bad precedents. Now we're stuck with an ugly open lot at 14th and Utica where there used to be homes and sturdy brick apartment buildings. Gomez voted to rezone that land to OH -- Office High Intensity. It was a straight rezoning, not a PUD, so (under our outdated zoning code) there are no requirements to encourage compatibility with the investments of neighboring property owners. Gomez accepted the developer's proposal to put development conditions in a covenant, which could only be enforced by the city filing a lawsuit, rather than a PUD, which can be enforced by administrative action.

Gomez voted for the PUD for the Bomasada development on 39th east of Peoria, despite the project's violation of the very recently adopted Brookside Infill Plan, which is officially part of our Comprehensive Plan.

Both projects have been halted by the economy's decline, but we're stuck with the bad zoning decisions regardless, and the precedents they set to put development conditions in hard-to-enforce covenants and to ignore a recently crafted and adopted portion of the Comprehensive Plan.

As I wrote in endorsing Eric Gomez's defeat last November:

One of the key issues at this point in Tulsa's history, as we move toward adoption of a new Comprehensive Plan, is whether we have land use rules that are fair, clear, consistently applied, and that encourage compatible new development or whether we continue to allow developers to warp those rules and to build in ways that undermine the investments of neighboring property owners. Maria Barnes is on the right side of that issue. Eric Gomez is on the wrong side.

And as my wife noted, Eric Gomez is emphatically on the wrong side of the related issues of (a) keeping homeowners in the dark and (b) threatening to sue someone for criticizing his political actions.

While I supported Gomez in 2004, when he ran as a neighborhood advocate against the development lobby's pick -- incumbent Tom Baker -- he's changed since then. Now a developer himself, he's wholeheartedly adopted the agenda of the "build anything I want anywhere I want" development community, and he's attacked even mild, watered-down versions of the kinds of laws our peer cities use to allow change to occur in a predictable way that protects the stability and character of neighborhoods.

In answer to the question in the title of this post: No, I don't think Mayor Bartlett Jr is serious about his nomination of Eric Gomez. Gomez has at most three supporters on the council, and I suspect those three are mainly a matter of friendship rather than endorsement of his planning philosophy. This nomination is a delaying tactic, I believe, to reset the 60-day clock and prevent the City Council from appointing Al Nichols, a long-time neighborhood leader from east Tulsa who would bring both geographical and (as someone not involved in real estate or development) professional balance to the TMAPC.

A political friend of mine opined that Councilor Maria Barnes (who was beaten by Gomez in 2008 and beat him in 2009) would "show her [posterior]" over this appointment -- in other words, make a fool of herself by loudly opposing the nomination of her political rival. I disagreed. She doesn't have to say a word and likely won't. A majority of her colleagues are already well aware that Eric Gomez is the wrong choice for the TMAPC, particularly at this crucial time in the development of a Tulsa's first comprehensive plan in a generation.

MORE: Here's an example of Eric Gomez's philosophy of zoning from a 2008 candidate forum:

"Doesn't all zoning infringe on property rights, and if so, why is the idea of conservation district different from that? Why is it a further infringement on property rights that are already infringed by zoning?"

Gomez's verbatim reply: "We already regulate land use. We already regulate what you can and cannot do with your property. When people buy a property, they look at what the policies are, they understand what the zoning is, and if that should change, there has to be a--it's a fine line, I believe, between private property rights and zoning, and absent of covenants that are not easily enforceable, when you buy a property in an older neighborhood--I live in an older neighborhood--you do understand that these things may happen and it, um..." As his voice trailed off to a mumble, he sat down.

AND FINALLY: At a candidate forum last fall, Eric Gomez responded to a question (click for video) about public officials suing their constituents, as he threatened to do, but he wasn't too excited about his response being recorded for posterity.

Back in January, Tulsa City Councilor John Eagleton sent a 12-page letter to Mayor Dewey F. Bartlett Jr. expressing his concerns about City Attorney Deirdre Dexter's competence to continue serve in that capacity. Dexter, a former associate district judge, was appointed as interim city attorney in December 2006, as one of then-Mayor Kathy Taylor's at-will employees. Dexter became the permanent city attorney a year later.

Eagleton's letter to Bartlett included detailed, footnoted discussions of eight cases where Eagleton believes Dexter has failed to serve the best interests of her client, the City of Tulsa.

1. Failing to alert the Council to a conflict between state law and the election date specified by the charter amendment, adopted last fall, which calls for three-year staggered terms;
2. Issuing conflicting opinions, reversing years of precedent, on the extent to which and manner in which city employees could participate in partisan city elections;
3. Incorrectly identifying a low-turnout citywide special election as the basis for the number of signatures needed for the non-partisan election petition;
4. Failing to provide timely advice concerning an ordinance that would compel city employees to cooperate with a City Auditor investigation;
5. Failing to providing an accurate summary of (and apparently failing to research) the case law affecting a proposal to require permitted LED billboards to display public safety information during emergencies;
6. Allowing a collective bargaining agreement to include terms that violated the 2007 ordinance limiting take-home vehicles to city employees;
7. Failing to give timely and accurate advice to the City Council concerning the Owen vs. City of Tulsa settlement conference as to whether the case would be covered by the newly passed charter amendment requiring Council approval of settlements exceeding $1 million;
8. Failing to properly advise or defend the City of Tulsa regarding the Great Plains Airlines lawsuit and the settlement of the case for over $7 million.

Last week, there was a story about Eagleton's letter in the daily paper. Subsequently, Eagleton has released the text of the letter on his website with this introduction:

Recently the Tulsa World ran an article regarding a letter that I sent to Mayor Bartlett in January, detailing my concerns about City Attorney Deirdre Dexter's ability to adequately fulfill her role for the City. I would like to share that letter here so that you can read firsthand my reasons for thinking Ms. Dexter is unfit to serve in her current position. This was a letter I shared with the City Council and the Mayor. If you should read it and find within it something you believe to be a factual inaccuracy, I would appreciate it if you would share it with me.

To his credit, Eagleton sought to handle this quietly back in January. As a recently elected mayor, Bartlett could have replaced Dexter without surprising anyone, as she was an at-will employee of the previous mayor.

Eagleton's case against Dexter is a strong one. Here's his summary of the last case he cited, the settlement of the Great Plains Airlines lawsuit:

This issue arises out of Mrs. Dexter's failure to properly advise or defend her client regarding the legal defenses and issues surrounding a lawsuit. Due to lack of competent counsel, the City of Tulsa settled a lawsuit against it for over seven million dollars ($7,000,000.00).

Defenses for the City of Tulsa included statute of limitations, governmental tort claims act, and common law. These defenses were either not explained with sufficient clarity for the City to make a proper decision, not pursued with due diligence, or if explained to the Mayor (a recent board member of the de facto Plaintiff), Mrs Dexter was under an obligation to notify other elected officials of the Mayor's specific intent to pay the plaintiff regardless of the law on the issue.

Since Mayor LaFortune refused to agree to the same settlement, presumably because he believed it was an unlawful and completely defensible, Mrs. Dexter was under a duty to notify the Council of the Mayor's conflict of interest and receive their input as well, before settling a 7,000,000.00 case without a fight.

As a result, the day the plaintiff filed an amended petition naming the City of Tulsa as a defendant, the City submitted its Answer. The next day a joint motion for approval of settlement was submitted, parties appeared before the judge, and it was approved.

Mrs. Dexter's inability to properly advise the Mayor or the Council of the legal defenses and the weight to be given to each, caused the taxpayers of the City of Tulsa to pay a judgment they had little or no legal responsibility for. There is currently a qui tam action pending as an attempt by some taxpayers to recover the monies paid to the plaintiff.

Dexter may have been doing exactly what Mayor Taylor wanted, but she had a responsibility to serve the interests of the entire city, not just Taylor and her cronies.

(Here's my take on the Great Plains Airlines settlement from my July 2, 2008, column.)

The City Attorney is entrusted by charter to act as the chief legal authority for the City of Tulsa. Structurally, however, the City Attorney is accountable only to the Mayor. I have long advocated for a charter change to give the City Council the right to hire its own attorney independent of the City Attorney's office. (The City Council has been blessed with very good attorneys -- the latest being Drew Rees -- but they officially work for the City Attorney.) I also believe that mayors should be able to hire and fire department heads, just as the president can hire and fire cabinet members, but only with the advice and consent of the City Council.

In several of the cases cited by Eagleton, the errors and failures had the effect of serving the political interests of Mayor Taylor and her allies. Whatever ultimately happens to Deirdre Dexter, Tulsans need to address the bigger, structural problem with the way the City Attorney is appointed and with the office's powers and responsibilities.

It's opening day for the Tulsa Drillers at Oneok Field, and some of the downtown property owners who are forced to pay for its construction filed a petition today for summary judgment in their lawsuit to overturn the assessment for the Tulsa Stadium Improvement District.

The case against the ballpark assessment seems pretty solid. State law requires that an assessment be used to pay for improvements that provide a direct benefit to those subject to the assessment. In Oklahoma City, assessments for maintenance of Bricktown, the Bricktown Canal, and the Conncourse (the underground tunnel system connecting downtown buildings), pay assessments based on a formula. The more you benefit from the improvements and their maintenance, the more you pay. The same thing was true for the previous downtown assessment, which was in part proportional to proximity to the Main Mall. The current assessment is a flat rate per sq. ft. of land and sq. ft. of building, applied equally to properties across the street from the new ballpark to properties over a mile away.

More excerpts after the jump, but the point of law that jumped out on me was part III of the petition:

Oklahoma Const. Article 10 §26 protects the citizens from government run amuck. It protects the citizens from long term financial obligation without a vote of the people. A stadium is exactly the sort of municipal building project that should be paid for by all of the property owners in the city after approval by a three-fifths majority of the voters. The City of Tulsa cannot avoid this constitutional requirement by the legal legerdemain of labeling the project a local improvement, and decreeing that it shall be paid by assessment by a relatively small group of arbitrarily selected property owners. A ninety million dollar assessment, almost sixty million of which is to service debt incurred to build new ballpark and for which the people forced to pay receive nothing in return,--not even box seats or season tickets-- is a coercive use of government authority so unfair and oppressive as to shock the conscience, and in violation of clearly stated statutory and constitutional protections.

The point and purpose of the constitutional provision cited above is to protect the citizens from exactly what has happened here. Admittedly, the City itself theoretically escaped obligation through the artifice of creating a public trust, but the constitutional provision is there for the protection of the citizens who would ultimately be forced to pay the financial obligation. The fact that the City has essential laundered the obligation through a trust does not alter the essential constitutional principle at issue. Furthermore, the fact that rather than the cost of a new stadium being born evenly by the entire city, this 60 million dollar burden has been thrust upon the shoulders of a very few makes it all the more egregious, the damage more significant and all the more deserving of constitutional limitation. For the reason that the City of Tulsa may not evade the restrictions of Article 10 § 26 by engaging in the fiction that this is a local improvement, this assessment district is unconstitutional and should be declared unconstitutional, and null and void by the court.

That same constitutional provision should have protected Tulsans from getting stuck with the tab for Great Plains Airlines, should have prevented the pledging of a municipal trust's asset as collateral without a vote of the people.

A lot of my friends hail Kathy Taylor as a visionary mayor. However good her intentions may have been, her decision-making approach and her disregard for the constitutional and statutory limits on local government led her to choices that ultimately will prove very expensive for the citizens of Tulsa to clean up. Oneok Field is one example, the new City Hall purchase is another.

From a TPD press release Tuesday, reversing the February 4 decision not to respond to non-injury accidents:

Due to police layoffs, a temporary change in collision response was made on February 4, 2010, until a manpower re-distribution and re-structuring of the Department could be evaluated. Since that time, the Police Department has reviewed 911 call priorities and the decision of diverting non-injury collision calls to alternative reporting methods.

Effective immediately, Tulsa Police will respond to all collisions on public roadways in the Tulsa City limits. Some collisions on Private Property, i.e. shopping center parking lots, will be referred to alternative reporting (Operator Collision forms at local convenience stores and online).

We would like to thank the citizens of Tulsa for their patience and support during these difficult times. Additionally, we appreciate the Tulsa County Sheriff's office for volunteering to be on standby during that time of transition.

Tulsa District 7 City Councilor John Eagleton has posted a lengthy e-mail from an employee in the City of Tulsa's Information Technology Department responding to the concerns of several councilors that the department is overpaid and overstaffed. Click the link to read the whole thing, but here's the heart of the matter -- private-sector incentives for excellence don't work in a unionized environment where seniority trumps performance:

When I first started working at the City I was pleasantly surprised at the number of talented and dedicated I/T employees. At the same time I was dumbfounded at the number of employees, especially employees with a significant number of years with the City, that barely, or rarely met their job requirements. In over five years I have yet to see a project completed by its deadline. I have also yet to see consequences for not meeting a project deadline. The culture in the I/T department is no reward for exceptional work and no punishment for substandard work. The dedicated I/T employees are making things happen solely from a sense of duty and satisfaction from a job well done. At the end of the day everyone gets the same pay raise, no pay raise or same pay cut regardless of their effort. The list of I/T employees that could be let go without loss of service to customers is long. Unfortunately if there were layoffs those are the employees that would stay.

IT may be about the easiest government function to outsource. There are plenty of hungry application programmers, software toolsmiths, web designers, and number crunchers who would compete to do work for the city. The city would still need strategic planners and analysts to determine what IT work is needed, to define requirements, and to write specifications, acting as interpreters between the non-IT folk in city government and the IT contractors. And the city would need program managers to oversee and validate the work done by outside contractors. While there are overheads involved in soliciting bids and overseeing contracts, I still suspect there could be some substantial savings. It's worth a look.

It's always interesting to see the Money Belt make an appearance in unexpected ways. The latest manifestation is in a map of water usage by neighborhood generated by the Tulsa World from city utility records.

The neighborhoods with heaviest usage -- an average of 125,000 gallons per year and up -- fall along a narrow band from Maple Ridge through Utica Square through Southern Hills and to the gated communities of south Tulsa -- with a slight gap between I-44 and Joe Creek. Maps of the highest priced homes, of members of city boards and commissions, of precincts with the greatest percentage support for tax increases -- all follow a similar pattern. Correlation does not imply causation, but it's interesting nonetheless and together with the PLANiTULSA polling this pattern suggests a kind of subculture different from the rest of the city.

According to the World's story about water usage, the average annual use for single-family homes is about 83,000 gallons.

The Tulsa World has provided a way to search the Tulsa water use database, and I've been having a little fun with it. Our usage, for the record, about 10% higher than the average and higher than I'd like, but not bad with five people in the house, a large yard to water (occasionally) and a small fishpond to top off in summer.

Here's how our city elected officials measure up for annual water use in gallons, based on the address on their filing form:

Dewey Bartlett Jr.
Mayor           138,000
Preston Doerflinger
Auditor           327,000
Jack Henderson
Council District 1
            54,000
Rick Westcott
Council District 2
          124,000
Roscoe Turner
Council District 3
            90,000
Maria Barnes
Council District 4
            97,000
Chris Trail
Council District 5
            57,000
Jim Mautino
Council District 6
          148,000
John Eagleton
Council District 7
          116,000
Bill Christiansen
Council District 8
            87,000
G. T. Bynum
Council District 9
          178,000

Our current mayor looks pretty conservative compared to previous incumbents, especially his immediate predecessor.

J. M. Hewgley Jr.
          298,000
Bob LaFortune
          504,000
Jim Inhofe
188,000
Rodger Randle
          212,000
Bill LaFortune
          281,000
Kathy Taylor
        1,635,000
Dewey Bartlett Jr
          138,000

Former Mayors Richard C. Crawford and M. Susan Savage no longer live in Tulsa. I couldn't find former Mayor Terry Young in the database.

Bartlett's annual usage pales compared to his main mayoral rival (Tom Adelson, 412,000 gals/yr) but is about four times as much as independents Mark Perkins (32,000) and Lawrence Kirkpatrick (33,000).

What about big institutional users? A search for Southern Hills turned up four accounts that seemed connected to the country club: 26,813,000 gallons per year. But the Southern Hills Marriott Hotel uses 30,067,000. Philbrook and its beautiful gardens use 11,089,000.

St. Francis Hospital? 219,766,000 gallons. That's a lot of handwashing.

Walmarts are big users. Interestingly, the Woodland Hills Walmart (6.9 million) uses almost twice as much water as the Admiral and Memorial Walmart (3.5 million). Irritated Tulsan would not be surprised.

The thirstiest Quik Trip in Tulsa is the truck stop at Admiral and 165th East Ave -- 2,552,000. The least thirsty -- about a tenth of the water -- is at Gilcrease Museum Road and the Sand Springs Expressway.

Lortondale Pool, a privately-owned pool (but the public can join as members), used 376,000 gallons last year. That's a lot, but not bad when divided out among the number of families that belong. It's certainly more reasonable than the consumption involved if each of those families had a private pool, however small.

Big Splash? 13,983,000.

Hmmm: On average, the six board members of Sustainable Tulsa use 173,167 gals/yr, a bit more than twice the average for a single-family home.

Our municipal customers: Owasso, 886 million gallons; Bixby, 1 billion; Jenks, 989 million; Glenpool, 298 million; Catoosa, 126 million; Sperry, 61 million; Skiatook, 62 million.

Rural water districts: Sapulpa Rural, 147 million; Osage County #15, 40 million; Wagoner County #4, 60 million.

What about Charles Hardt, our longtime city director of Public Works? Not in the database; he lives in Bixby, near 121st and Mingo.

The World story mentions that there are 140 single-family residential water customers that used over one million gallons in 2009. It doesn't mention that its own publisher and its publisher emeritus are among that number, using (according to their database) 2,258,000 and 2,763,000 gallons respectively. Thanks to both of them for giving us the chance to explore this data on their website.

UPDATE: I heard from City Auditor Preston Doerflinger that he's having his home checked for leaks tomorrow.

MORE: Here's a similar story on Oklahoma City's biggest water users in the Oklahoma Gazette from last May. Their biggest home customer used 2.26 million gallons in 2008 -- and that doesn't count the water he draws from his own wells. Surprisingly, their biggest commercial user only used 152 million gallons. The highest hospital on the list was Baptist Medical Center with 77 million gallons.

And Tulsa District 9 Councilor G. T. Bynum tweets, "After reading your water usage breakdown, it can truly be said that I represent my district!"

Listening to last week's radio reports of slick roads brought to mind a commercial parody from back when Michael DelGiorno hosted the morning show on 1170 KFAQ, back during Tulsa's last budget crisis, early in the Bill LaFortune administration. A 911 caller with a police emergency was told by the dispatcher that because the city was on "Operation Slick Budget," an officer couldn't respond to the call.

It's not quite that bad, but police response to certain calls will decrease as a result of Tulsa Police Department layoffs, according to a TPD press release:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For More Information Contact
Officer Jason Willingham
February 4, 2010
918.596.1336

Due to the recent reductions in staffing, the Tulsa Police Department has been forced to evaluate ways to maintain the staffing levels in order to respond to priority 911 calls. As a result, the department has temporarily suspended responding to certain property crimes and report calls.

Officers will not respond to non-injury collisions, fraud and forgery reports, burglary from vehicle reports, larceny reports and other minor property crime reports. The exception to this new policy will be a non-injury collision involving an intoxicated driver, or a non-injury collision involving a disturbance or other crime. Officers will respond to calls for service if the crime is in progress or if a suspect is still at the location.

While we understand that this may not be a popular decision, it is important to continue to have adequate manpower to respond to higher priority calls and crimes against a person. This change will be revisited as the department recovers form these difficult times.

Crime Reports can be filed electronically at the Tulsa Police Department website www.tulsapolice.org or call the Non-emergency number at 596- 9222 for other reporting options.

I've been negligent in reminding you about an excellent source for information about current issues at Tulsa's City Hall. Tulsa District 7 City Councilor John Eagleton has a personal website, johneagleton.com, where he posts some of the data and analysis that inform his decisions as a councilor.

The latest article on the site features graphs comparing the growth of Tulsa's general fund spending compared to inflation. One graph reveals how increases in costs per person have driven overall growth of the budget. Between 2002 and 2010, police personal services budget per employee grew by 35%, compared to an increase in the cost of living of 19% over the same period. (The fire department personal services budget per employee grew by 23% over those years.)

Other recent articles feature a comparison of the cost of providing ambulance service through EMSA vs. through the Tulsa Fire Department, emails from Tulsans about the budget crisis, and a graph showing how Tulsa police ticket writing has dropped dramatically over the last three years, even more dramatically since last October.

For most entries, there's a PDF or spreadsheet you can download for more details.

There's also a blog, with links to articles (often from the Wall Street Journal) that Eagleton finds interesting.

Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr sent an email on Thursday to city employees regarding the poll of AFSCME members, preferring layoffs to salary and benefit cuts, and regarding the state of negotiations with the police and fire unions. Click over to Roemerman on Record for the full text of Bartlett's statement.

Late yesterday afternoon, I received an interesting e-mail from Fox 23 investigative reporter Emily Sinovic:

This youtube clip has been getting passed around quite a bit recently. Do you have anything you'd like to say about what's happened since you raised these concerns about the unnecessary decision to move into the new city hall and its effect on the budget?

The clip was my statement to the City Council on July 12, 2007, prior to their vote to purchase One Technology Center as the new City Hall.

My reply:

It's interesting to know that this is still being discussed.

The new City Hall is a beautiful building, but, as I said in my remarks to the City Council, the decision to move was made without a clear understanding of the impact on the city budget. Like so many other decisions made during the Kathy Taylor administration, the City Hall move was approved without regard to the bottom line for the taxpayers. Taylor was skilled politically at getting a majority on the City Council to follow her lead, but she wasn't leading the city in the right direction.

In addition to the City Hall deal, a decision biased by advice from a consultant with a financial interest in the deal going through, Taylor pushed for budget increases above the rate of inflation in good economic times, causing us to cut deeper now that times are bad. Taylor hurt the city by orchestrating the lawsuit settlement that forced taxpayers to pay $7.1 million that they didn't owe to cover the default of Great Plains Airlines. Taylor's ballpark assessment deal may ultimately be rejected by the courts, which would once again stick city taxpayers with millions of extra dollars to pay for the ballpark. And in the budget process for this fiscal year, Taylor used unreasonably rosy revenue projections to avoid making difficult decisions about pay cuts and layoffs. Those projections have had to be revised downward repeatedly, but Taylor managed to push the hard decisions onto her successor's plate.

Only Councilor John Eagleton was consistently opposed to these fiscally irresponsible moves, joined occasionally by former Councilor Bill Martinson and Councilor Rick Westcott.

Some people believe that Taylor's motives in all these cases were to solve problems for her political allies, regardless of the cost to the taxpayers. Whatever the motivation, Taylor's poor fiscal stewardship has forced today's mayor and council to make harder choices and deeper cuts.

A few minutes later I received a follow-up from Ms. Sinovic:

Thank you for your response. How much money do you think this move ultimately cost the city? Do you think staying in the old city hall building would have prevented, at least to some degree, the serious budget crisis we are now experiencing? Again, thank you for your comments.

My response:

I don't have the numbers handy, but we know that the operating expenses were $1.4 million greater than expected for the first year. There was also a substantial cost involved in relocating employees and in making alterations to the new building to meet the city's requirements.

By itself, the extra expenses for the new City Hall wouldn't make up this year's shortfall, but it has made the job of cutting the budget much harder.

I didn't see Emily Sinovic's televised report, but here's a link to the web version of the story City Warned: OTC May Cause Budget Problems. Attached to the story is an e-mail from the City of Tulsa -- doesn't say who sent it -- defending the decision to buy OTC.

(By the way, if you're wondering why Michael Bates in 2007 had more to say about the city budget than Michael Bates in 2010, it's a simple matter of time. The job that actually pays the bills is demanding more time and energy. At home, I want to be available to my kids while they're awake. There are homework problems to solve, laundry to be sorted, dishes to be put away, stories to be read, baths to be run. When the kids are finally in bed, there's still housework to be done and bills to be paid. That still used to leave me time to write, but I'm finding it harder than it used to be to get by on 5 hours of sleep a night. This past week has been a particular challenge, with two back-to-back trips, both of which involved graveyard-shift hours.)

MORE: Back in August, when news broke of the $1.4 million in unexpected maintenance expenses, I posted this summary of my coverage of the One Technology Center / Tulsa City Hall story from 2007.

I went to the new ballroom at the Tulsa Convention Center for today's swearing-in of our new mayor, auditor, and city councilors.

Events like this bring together the diverse cast of characters that take an interest in local politics. There were federal, state, and local politicians, both current and former, neighborhood activists, politicos, developers, small business owners. It's like a dysfunctional family reunion for political nerds, complete with a few implacable feuds.

It was a happy privilege to greet some of my friends who were sworn in today, particularly those coming back to the City Council after a few years away. (I missed saying hello to a few of them -- had to leave to go back to work before I made the rounds.) Two of those friends, Rick Westcott and Maria Barnes, were elected as chairman and vice chairman of the Council for the coming year. It was wonderful, too, to see many friends who had volunteered to get these good people in office. Carol Barrow, for example -- Carol and her husband, Jim, Dave and Donna Beekman, Nancy Turner, and I spent a Saturday knocking doors for Nancy's husband Roscoe.

Bartlett's speech was short and to the point. If he does indeed focus on the basics and bring real fiscal conservatism back to City Hall, he'll have plenty of support from the council. Tulsa will be well served If he governs in accordance with the conservative Republican principles he espoused in his general election campaign, rather than following the lead of the predecessor he endorsed for re-election.

Rick Brinkley served as emcee. He did an excellent job and was a welcome change from 2006, when John Erling presided over Kathy Taylor's swearing-in.

One thing that struck me as odd about the ceremony. Marlin Lavanhar, pastor of All Souls Unitarian Church, gave the invocation and Bill Scheer, pastor of Guts Church, gave the benediction. Given that the new mayor is a Roman Catholic, I'm surprised we didn't see Bishop Slattery or a priest involved in the service in some way.

It's ironic: During the primary campaign, Bartlett pooh-poohed Chris Medlock's proposal to use one of the mayor's at-will appointments to hire an experienced city manager to oversee all city operations. Now Bartlett has hired Jim Twombly, recently the city manager of Broken Arrow, and Bartlett has only one person reporting directly to him -- Terry Simonson, who will... oversee all city operations.

"I haven't been involved in city management, so [Twombly's] input will be highly regarded," Bartlett said.

It's interesting, too, that two of the four chiefs atop Bartlett's org chart, Jim Twombly and Jeff Mulder, are Broken Arrow residents.

Personnel is policy, as they said back in the Reagan administration, and you can tell more about the future course of an official's term by the people he hires than by the promises he made during the campaign. These are the people who will have the mayor's ear as the input is sifted and the decision is made. From that perspective, I'm very sorry to see that Bartlett is keeping on several members of the Taylor administration.

I'm particularly sorry to see that Susan Neal is staying on to oversee city planning and neighborhood issues. Neal was elected to the District 9 City Council seat in 2002 after winning the Republican primary by a narrow margin, thanks to a last-minute smear campaign targeting civic leader and neighborhood activist Bonnie Henke. I'm concerned that, under Neal's influence, PLANiTULSA's carefully crafted win-win balance between development and preservation will be tilted entirely to the development side.

(We saw something similar happen with the 1999 Infill Task Force, which I hoped at the time would address the concerns of developers seeking to build in already developed areas as well as the concerns of property owners about infill that would erode the character of their neighborhoods. Instead, after revisions by then-Mayor Susan Savage, the resulting document was almost entirely one-sided. A proposal for neighborhood conservation districts was watered down to infill studies -- full of good recommendations, but lacking any enforcement mechanism.)

On another note: Standing in Oklahoma's largest ballroom, I felt a certain amount of vindication. Back in 2003, I said that a vote on a tax for a new arena didn't need to be coupled to a vote on expanding and improving the convention center. I said we could use the block southeast of 3rd and Houston for a new ballroom and additional meeting space. We could give voters the ability to choose improved convention facilities without having to subsidize an expensive sports facility. The proponents insisted that the two had to be coupled, that the only way to accommodate this giant ballroom we desperately needed was to eliminate the old arena. In the end, they kept the old arena and built the additional convention facilities where I had suggested.

Congratulations to our new city leaders. You have our prayers and best wishes.

MORE: Irritated Tulsan says farewell to Kathy Taylor with a list of her top ten un-greatest moments. And Steven Roemerman offers a video tribute to Kathy Taylor's 44 months in office.

It's been a long wait, but TGOV, the City of Tulsa's government channel, is streaming video and offering archived video of city government meetings at tgovonline.org. You can read the city press release at Councilor John Eagleton's blog.

This will make it easier for people interested in city government to cut the cable. Until now TGOV was only available on Cox Cable channel 24, offered as part of its franchise agreement with the city (if I recall correctly). It's one of a small number of reasons we've continued to be cable subscribers.

What many of us suspected was confirmed by the post-primary ethics filing from Tulsa District 5 City Councilor-elect Chris Trail: Trail was Mayor Kathy Taylor's instrument of revenge against City Councilor Bill Martinson, who opposed her on the ballpark improvement district, raised concerns about the overly rosy revenue projections in her budget (and the actual numbers have vindicated his concerns), and provoked her to walk out of a meeting simply by insisting on a straight answer to his question about city financing of downtown services in the Tulsa Stadium Improvement District.

Councilor John Eagleton's website has an entry with copies of Trail's pre-primary and post-primary contribution reports. Trail raised $51,505. At least $24,100 of that money came from Bill Lobeck (Mr. Kathy Taylor) and associates connected with Vanguard Car Rental. Except for $500 from Lobeck, all of these contributions were made after the filing deadline for the pre-primary report, allowing Trail to avoid disclosing contributions that clearly marked him out as Taylor's tool.

A report on Edgar Online (a repository of SEC filings) from 2006 shows several names found on Chris Trail's contribution report. Below are the names, city of residence according to Trail's report, amount of contribution to Trail, and title according to the 8/2/2006 SEC report for Vanguard Car Rental Group or according to linked web documents:

  • Bill Lobeck, Tulsa, $5,000, President, Chief Executive Officer and Director
  • Jeff Parell, Edina, Mn., $5,000, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer
  • Thomas Kennedy, Plantation, Fl., $5,000, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer
  • Thomas J. Santorelli, Highland Beach, Fl., $500, Senior Vice President, Risk Management
  • Tyler Best, Plymouth, Mi., $2,500, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer
  • Dan Lynch, Owasso, Ok., $300, VP of FP&A
  • Barry Benoit, Tulsa, Ok, $800, VP of Fleet

In addition, Alvin Swanner of Kenner, La., gave $5,000 to Trail. Swanner shows up as a partner with Lobeck in several investments and acquisitions.

Trail also benefited from funds from public employee unions, angry at Martinson's scrutiny of the dramatic growth of public safety spending as a proportion of city revenues. The PACs of AFSCME, the firefighter's local, and the FOP lodge contributed a total of $7,140.23 to the campaign.

Trail received funds from several people connected with the downtown ballpark assessment. Frederic Dorwart, attorney for Bank of Oklahoma, spearheaded the scheme. He gave Trail $1,000. Dorwart firm associates John D. Clayman and H. Steven Walton gave Trail $250 and $1,000 respectively. Trail received $1,500 from BOK Financial PAC. Peter Boylan contributed $500. Francis Rooney, who lists an address on N. Elgin, although he isn't registered to vote in Oklahoma, gave $1,000.

I have to wonder: What compelled Lobeck's associates to contribute funds to a city council race in Tulsa? Did Lobeck call them? If so, what did he tell them about Trail and Martinson that would be compelling enough to convince them to give maximum contributions.

Parell, Kennedy, and Benoit all gave money to David Patrick's 2008 campaign to unseat Roscoe Turner.

The voters ought to be able to know about these sorts of contributions BEFORE the election.

I spent the last half of last week and all weekend at home dealing with a particularly nasty virus, and in the process missed a family gathering in Arkansas and what must have been an interesting political discussion. To compensate for the abnormal quiet in the house, I had the TV going all night, with the History Channel running endless repeats of an interesting two-hour documentary on the JFK assassination. I caught bits and pieces of it every time a coughing fit woke me up.

So nothing new from me, but here are some recent Tulsa blog entries of interest:

Tulsa City Councilor John Eagleton has the memo from Mayor Kathy Taylor announcing that September sales tax revenue is $1.2 million below her budget projections with this comment:

The numbers vindicate Councilor Bill Martinson's prediction that the Mayor's numbers were overly optimistic and would leave the incoming mayor and council with difficult budget choices.

Eagleton also was quoted in a story on the city's budget problems in the current issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly, reminding of his spurned efforts in earlier years to rein in spending increases to core inflation:

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

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

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

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

Despite Tulsa's budget crisis, Meeciteewurkor reports that some city workers in the Human Resources Department may have received $2500 bonuses for "superb" participation in a city-run training program. The head of the local municipal employees' union says the interim HR director verbally confirmed that the "stipends" were paid and has submitted an open records request seeking written confirmation.

Fear an Iarthair offers some thoughts on Bible translations and reminds that the original preface to the King James Version "advised the reader to read the Scriptures in several translations."

Historic Tulsa has an entry on the Dawson schoolhouse, built in 1908, one of the few (perhaps only) Romanesque structures remaining in Tulsa.

PR consultant Mandy Vavrinak is now blogging on public relations for the Journal Record. According to a press release announcing the blog:

Vavrinak will anchor the newly-launched PR blog, dubbed "Public Relations > Beyond The Press Release" and will focus on the reality of good public relations.

"I want to share solid how-to info for businesses as well as stories from the trenches, good examples and bad examples, and also be a resource for PR information," Vavrinak said. The PR blog will feature contributions from other area PR pros as well, including Kristen Turley, an active member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). New posts will be appearing weekly, and comments are encouraged.

Finally, please keep Brandon Dutcher's newborn daughter Anne Marie in your prayers (and her parents, siblings, and doctors, too).

100px-Seal_of_Tulsa,_OK.pngThe City of Tulsa's website presents the City Charter in PDF format, which makes it hard to link to a specific provision and hard to cut and paste text. Beau McElhattan has posted the Tulsa City Charter and the City of Tulsa Policies and Procedures online in HTML format, with one page for each section. Check it out!

It's rare that I say this, but I agree with the Tulsa Whirled editorial board. In a Wednesday editorial, they urged the defeat of a proposed charter amendment to have the City Council elected to staggered three-year terms, so that only a third of the council is up for re-election in any given year. The amendment will be on the November general election ballot.

Here are their objections:

First, it would perpetuate the current silliness of holding some municipal elections in odd-numbered years, when voter turnout will be low.

Further, it would shotgun the races over three years, meaning there will be less publicity about elections. Councilors will be able to run for re-election below the radar of public scrutiny.

And it would give councilors three-year terms instead of the current two years, making them less responsive to voters.

Finally, it would mean it would take three election cycles for voters to flush out a corrupt or inept council.

On the whole, it wouldn't be unreasonable to conclude that the change is designed to make the council more powerful and less accountable to voters.

I disagree with their disdain for municipal elections in odd-numbered years. Municipal issues deserve attention that they are unlikely to get in the midst of a presidential or gubernatorial campaign. Nevertheless, they are correct to point out that staggered terms make it harder to clean house and make it more difficult for voters and potential candidates to plan for the next opportunity to replace their councilor.

By the way, those very same factors are at work in our school board election process, but worse. In Tulsa, school board members serve four year terms, with two seats up each year, except for one year out of four when only one seat is on the ballot. In the suburbs, terms are five years, with only one seat open to change each year. The filing period, right after Thanksgiving, is in the midst of the Christmas season and always catches people unawares, a fact that likely explains the small number of candidates who file each year. Worse still, school board elections are non-partisan, which further depresses turnout; the lack of labels of any sort on the ballot is a deterrent to many voters. I look forward to the editorial board's endorsement of two-year terms for school board members, with all board members on the ballot at each election.

There's a theory that school administrators and bureaucrats like the staggered terms, because if a firebrand reformer should sneak through the defenses and get elected, the other members, having already been tamed and enculturated to The Way Things Have Always Been Done Around Here, will throw a wet blanket on his zeal. Staggered terms seem to have the same effect on authorities, boards, and commissions.

The same dynamic would be at work with staggered terms on the council. Far from making the council more powerful, it would make them less likely to challenge the Way Things Have Always Been Done at City Hall. From that perspective, it's surprising that the Whirled editorial writers would object to the idea.

The editorial goes on to note the legal problems with holding a September election in an even-numbered year, at a time when, it says, state law says "that during even-numbered years cities can't use the state voting system for elections in September." (Actually, state law -- 26 O.S. 13-101.1 -- says the county election board isn't required to run an election on a date other than those specified in 26 O. S. 3-101.) If the county election board wouldn't cooperate, as they probably wouldn't, given the expense, the city would have to staff polling places and either buy machines or else conduct a hand count of ballots.

On a related issue, a number of people have complained about this year's primary being the day after Labor Day. The city charter amendment that moved elections to the fall tied the primary and general election date to "the day specified by the laws of Oklahoma" in the months of September and November respectively. The relevant section of state law is 26 O.S. 3-101. This situation will occur two years out of every 28, when September begins on a Tuesday in an odd-numbered year. The next time is 2015, at which council and auditor are up for election, but not the mayor. After that, it won't happen until 2037, a mayoral election.

But to eliminate even those few occasions It would be a simple amendment to state law to change the September date from the second Tuesday to the Tuesday after the second Monday, thus avoiding the Labor Day problem altogether. The change would not only help Tulsa, but would benefit the whole state. No jurisdiction should be holding a special election the day after Labor Day.

From Rocky Frisco's Tulsa Metro Chamber questionnaire. Nail, meet hammerhead.

The more the city government has tried to "develop" the downtown, the worse it has become. I firmly believe that if had been allowed to develop naturally, without all the wild ideas for "development," it would still be an exciting, successful part of the city. I would like to see the city government stop meddling with the downtown area, re-synchronize the traffic lights and stop killing the area with excessive revenue generation based on parking tickets, fees and fines. The first fatal blow was the loss of the Ritz, Orpheum, Majestic and Rialto Theaters; the second was the ill-advised "Downtown Mall." It has gone downhill from there. The time to stop "fixing" a thing, even when it's broken, is when every attempt to fix it breaks it worse.

See my May 13, 2009, column for the 53-year-long list of attempted fixes and Downtown Tulsa Unlimited's role in promoting same.

RELATED: I have received a tip that the Tulsa Metro Chamber is seeking to take over DTU's former role handling downtown marketing in exchange for a share of the cash from the Tulsa Stadium Improvement District assessment. I was unable to find an RFP online, but if this treated as a personal services contract the City may be able to award the contract without a bid process. It should still, however, come through the City Council. The tipster speculated that the Chamber is trying to push this through quietly, before the advent of a new Mayor and City Council that may not be as friendly.

Mautino-20040814.jpgI grew up in far east Tulsa (and beyond, in Rolling Hills in what was then unincorporated Wagoner County). My parents still live out there in District 6, and they've got a Mautino sign in their yard.

In the 19 years we've had a Tulsa City Council, for only two years has far east Tulsa had a representative at City Hall who was devoted to the district's best interests. During his 2004 to 2006 term, Jim Mautino worked for improved infrastructure to make attractive new development possible. He fought against those who wanted to treat east Tulsa as a dumping ground, who refused to respect our zoning laws and stormwater regulations. His service on the council was a natural extension of his many years of volunteer service as a neighborhood advocate.

He also worked closely with councilors from north and west Tulsa to ensure that city government paid attention to the needs of these long-neglected areas. This too was an extension of his pre-council work in organizing a coalition of neighborhood associations from around the city. Cooperating with councilors from different parties, socioeconomic backgrounds, and parts of the city, he worked for more considerate treatment of homeowners in the zoning and planning process, for stronger ethics standards, and for identifying and developing major new retail centers -- trying to capture more suburban retail dollars within city boundaries.

Long before the bribery scandal in the Public Works Department came to light, Mautino pushed for a top-to-bottom audit of the department.

For his devotion to his job, his district, and his city, Mautino was vilified by the mainstream media and officials of the metro-wide chamber and homebuilders association, and he was the target of a recall effort in 2005. He beat the recall overwhelmingly and in 2006, won renomination, despite a primary challenge well-funded by the Money Belt establishment. But he fell short of re-election, as his Transport Workers Union brothers betrayed him and campaigned instead for Dennis Troyer.

Troyer, who considers Crocs to be appropriate footwear for City Council meetings, has been a cipher on the council -- a reliable vote for Mayor Kathy Taylor and the Money Belt establishment, a reliable vote for zoning changes to permit more haphazard, ugly industrial development along our city's eastern gateway.

While Mautino is a conservative Republican, his honesty and integrity have won him fans across the political spectrum. Here's what Greg Bledsoe wrote about Jim back in 2006:

A little over a year ago I had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know your City Councilor Jim Mautino. Since that time, it has become clear to me that Jim is the most hardworking, dedicated and selfless public servant I have ever known. He is the salt of the earth. His tireless commitment to the improvement of District 6 and the whole City of Tulsa is without limitation. He has worked long hours for better sewers and streets (including a dramatic increase in funding for District 6), balanced economic development and transparent government at City Hall.

Here's what I wrote about Jim Mautino back during his first run in 2004:

Jim Mautino... is by far the best choice for the District 6 seat. Jim has been a tireless advocate for his part of town, working on zoning and planning issues to protect property values and the quality of life. Jim has persisted and more often than not prevailed because he knows the rules and does his homework, and he won't give up without a fight.

Here's what Steven Roemerman wrote about Jim Mautino during his 2006 re-election campaign:

If you spend 5 minutes with Jim you'll hear a lot of sewer talk. Not foul language but talk of sanitary sewer lines, then you'll hear a lot of talk about water lines, followed by a lot of talk about improving streets. He is passionate about improving the infrastructure in East Tulsa because Jim knows that infrastructure spurs development, and development spurs economic growth. Despite stiff opposition Mautino's hard work has paid off. Jim has brought sewer lines to East Tulsa businesses that were threatening to leave because they were still operating on sewage lagoons. When Jim is not working on acquiring water or sewer he is working on our streets. Jim drives all over District 6 taking pictures of poor road conditions, dangerous intersections, and car wrecks.

All that hard work has paid off. It is Jim Mautino's tenacity that has brought 28 million dollars of new project dollars through the 2006 Third Penny Sales Tax.

There were several close votes where Jim's voice and vote would have been decisive in favor of good government and careful management of taxpayer dollars. There were several close votes where Jim's voice and vote would have been decisive in favor of good government and careful management of taxpayer dollars. East Tulsa and the city at large need Jim Mautino back on the Council. To make that possible, Jim Mautino first needs your vote in the Tuesday, September 8, 2009, Republican primary, and again in the November general election.

MORE: After the jump, a video (by David Schuttler) of a 2006 council speech by Jim Mautino on problems in the Public Works Department, and a second video about BOK's efforts to get the City of Tulsa to pay off the Great Plains Airlines loan. And here's my column from January 28, 2009, about his proposal for a SCARE audit of the city's largest department -- he learned this kind of wide-ranging, independent, well-funded, top-to-bottom audit during his years working for American Airlines.

The Whirled editorial board says, regarding the news that the new Tulsa City Hall at One Technology Center will cost $1.4 million more to operate than projected this year, draining Tulsa's general fund budget, that "the old I-told-you-so refrain isn't going to help anything."

On the contrary, a healthy dose of IToldYouSo Political Purgative is exactly what Tulsa politics needs. It might stimulate some needful skepticism in our city leaders. It might encourage councilors to ask more questions and to dig in their heels when the answers aren't forthcoming. It might act as a vaccine against the establishment's PR machine.

(Funny how the Whirled makes excuses for and warns against holding officials accountable for the bad decisions that they editorially encouraged. I seem to recall a similar editorial when the Great Plains deal came unraveled. Heaven forfend that those who encourage us to make expensively bad decisions should lose credibility when their folly comes to fruition.)

So here, in chronological order, is what I said about the City Hall move.

In my March 28, 2007, column, I praised the idea of relocating to One Technology Center as a planning concept, but with a big IF:

But as appealing as the move is, aesthetics and urban design aren't sufficient reasons to spend millions of public dollars. There has to be a net cost savings in the near term. City officials need a business plan that will give them a realistic picture of how much the current City Hall block and other city buildings would be worth.

(A business plan for the cost of operating the BOk Center might be a good idea, too. Before we go buying new buildings, we need to know if one we're already building is going to blow a massive hole in the city budget.)

They also need a conservative estimate of energy and maintenance cost savings. They shouldn't underestimate the monetary cost and lost productivity involved in a move, along with the need to support duplicate facilities for a time.

There ought to be a look at alternatives, too. A group of two or three of the historic buildings in Maurice Kanbar's inventory might serve well as a new City Hall.

Tulsans have already committed all our special projects money for the next six years; it's tied up in the Third Penny, Four to Fix the County and Vision 2025. Redirecting Third Penny funds away from existing projects to pay for a new City Hall would be possible, but politically hazardous. (The City might get away with diverting money for other downtown projects.)

It would be a good thing to do, but only if the move could be done without straining the already-constrained city budget. At the very least, it's worth the due diligence that city officials are now pursuing.

After some of that due diligence had been done -- from my June 20, 2007, column:

There are plenty of subjective reasons to like the idea of moving City Hall. The old building is ugly and sits in the middle of an ugly plaza. It was constructed in view of the projected needs of the City of Tulsa in 1985. The new location puts City Hall at the crossroads of streets that tie directly to the expressway system. It also puts City Hall closer to the center of new development activity on the east side of downtown. The newer building ought to be more energy-efficient.

None of that changes the fact that the move will cost $67.1 million, of which (according to the daily paper) $52.25 million is the purchase price of the building. That money has to come from somewhere, and we've already been told that the City budget won't allow for a net increase in the number of police officers, repairing and opening more pools than last summer, or operating the golf courses, even with an increase in utility rates....

In all the material that has been publicly released, there doesn't seem to be anything that says how the City will pay for the new building. It's one thing to claim, as the Staubauch report does, that moving to OTC will save the City $15.2 million over the first 10 years. That claim assumes operating costs to go up at a certain rate and that the City would have to fund $12 million in deferred maintenance costs that are currently unfunded.

(One of the charts that illustrates the asserted savings is a year-by-year graph comparing the costs of different scenarios. The first year estimate that the OTC option will cost less than $2 million vs. about $5 million for the status quo is clearly erroneous. The move to OTC has to be more expensive in year 1 than staying put because the City will be paying duplicate operating costs and additional one-time moving costs. One also has to wonder about the straight line on the graph estimating the cost of the status quo. Surely a thorough accounting of projected capital costs would show some variation from year to year.)

From Brian Ervin's story in the same issue:

Following the conclusion of the feasibility study, [Mayoral economic adviser Don] Himelfarb said operating out of OTC would save the city $15.2 million over the first 10 years by consuming 30 percent less energy and allowing for more efficient use of space.

"This is basically $15 million that is freed up that the city would not otherwise have to spend on police, roads and other services," he said.

The move would also get the city out from under $24 million in deferred maintenance costs to existing facilities, $12 million of which is unfunded.

Here on BatesLine, on the night of the vote, July 12, 2007 (emphasis added):

This deal should be measured by one standard: Will it leave the City with more money or less money available to fund the basic functions of city government?

Based on the numbers in the Staubach Company's report and the analysis of those numbers by Councilor Bill Martinson, there is a high risk that the move will leave the City of Tulsa with less money for police and parks and streets. If one of the current tenants leaves or even reduces its presence, if we are unable to find a replacement tenant who will pay the same price, if rental revenue is less than debt service on the loan, the City will have to make up the difference out of its operating budget. This deal would make the City of Tulsa a competitor in the commercial real estate industry, rolling the dice in a risky business, and using our mortgage money to place the bet.

To shift metaphors, this deal is a house of cards, and if any one of several contingencies fails to occur, the whole thing collapses.

The only facts that matter are these numbers -- how much it costs to operate our current facilities, how much it will cost to operate One Technology Center, how much it will cost to repay the loan on OTC, and how much we are likely to be paid in rent from third-party tenants.

The Council has not been given a full and detailed accounting of the cost of operating our current facilities. This information is surely available in our accounting system -- how much we pay custodial staff, how much we spend on utilities, the cost of repair projects -- based on actual expenditures over the last few fiscal years. Instead, Staubach prepared a sheet estimating cost per square foot for broad categories -- utilities, repairs, security, etc. -- and then multiplied by the sum of those per square feet numbers by the size of our buildings. The $24 million claimed as deferred maintenance costs are buried somewhere in Staubach's per-square-foot figures.

The Council has not been provided with a list of deferred maintenance items, the cost of each one, and the likelihood of needing to fund those items in the near future. Each such item should have a basis of estimate, explaining the work to be done and the manpower and material required. Instead, in response for their request for a detailed list, the Council was given the names of the items and a single number covering the cost of all of them.

With this lack of detail, it would be easy for Staubach to pick numbers for estimates that would make staying in the existing facilities seem to be more expensive than moving. And don't forget that Staubach gets paid more if the deal goes through, so they'd have an incentive to make the existing facilities look as expensive as possible.

The Council should not approve this deal without an accurate apples-to-apples comparison of costs showing that the move will be less expensive in the near term.

That night, here's what I told the City Council (thanks to David Schuttler for the video):

The morning after the eight-to-Eagleton vote, July 13, 2007:

Needless to say, I'm disappointed with last night's results, but I'm going to save most of my commentary for my column, and I've got some family-related entries I want to post. I'm not so much disappointed in the vote to buy OTC as in the reasons the councilors gave for voting yes. In the end, costs only mattered to one councilor: John Eagleton. In this vote, and in previous votes on the budget, he seems to be the only one who thinks through the full financial implications of his decisions. Councilor Cason Carter's solution only protects the City on the income side, and that not completely, as a master leaseholder could very well go bankrupt, leaving the City holding the bag. Councilor Bill Martinson's worse-case (not worst-case) estimate still uses Staubach's S.W.A.G. for the cost of current operations, not the City's actual expenditures, which would be a findable number that would have given them a firm basis for knowing the bottom-line impact on the City's general fund. It is disturbing that they would go ahead without those numbers.

From my column the following week -- Believe in the Cube:

Prior to the 8-1 vote to allow the Tulsa Public Facilities Authority (TPFA) to incur $79 million in debt to buy the shiny symbol of Tulsa's fall from high-tech glory, Taylor read a speech that appealed to anything but hard financial facts. Councilor John Eagleton was the only one able to resist the Mayor's siren song.

I'm not so disappointed that the eight councilors voted for the purchase (it may turn out to be a good deal) as I am in the reasons they gave for their decision. They switched off their B. S. detectors, set aside logic and any concern about cost, and set the City up for a repeat of the Great Plains Airlines debacle.

Although the Council made a show of reducing the risk involved in finding tenants to fill the Borg Cube's excess space, they proceeded to a vote without using the best available information to determine whether the move would leave the city with more money or less money for police, streets, and parks over the near term....

The decision to go into debt to buy OTC for a new City Hall should have come down to this question: Will this deal leave us with more money or less money to spend on government basics?

One would hope that that question would be uppermost in the minds of our city councilors, who had just been through a grueling budget process, unable to open more pools, unable to fund enough new police officers to outpace attrition.

What did the Whirled have to say? A commenter called TCB wrote this comment under their "don't say 'I told you so'" editorial (hyperlinks added):

Based on their recent track records, maybe editorial board and the Chamber of Commerce shouldn't be so quick to hurl insults at city councilors for asking questions about large, complex transactions involving taxpayer assets.

Editorial quotes:

Great Plains:

"There is no taxpayer money involved . . . ." (2-27-00) [actually 7-22-2000]

New City Hall:

"The new building, One Technology Center, would be a perfect fit for city offices. It would require little renovation . . . . the decision to go ahead should be a quick and easy one for the Council." (6-8-07)

Ballpark:

"The plan to fund a new baseball park . . . has the backing of . . . the owners of the majority of the property affected. Delaying the Thursday vote will accomplish nothing, other than stalling progress and driving up costs." (7-10-08)

Over on TulsaNow's Public Forum, there's a link to this front page feature story in the June 7, 2007 Whirled, which used big bold red type to call attention to the projected financial benefits. I think they would have made the ink on the page blink if it were possible. (The print version is even more dramatic.)

CITY COULD SAVE MONEY WITH NEW HOME

Relocating to downtown tower projected to cut costs by $15 million over 10 years


In other news, for possibly the first time ever, I laughed at a Bruce Plante cartoon. Queen Kathy's crown is a lovely touch. Bruce had better update his resume, maybe check into adult education classes for a career change. Wasn't he instructed always to draw Mayor Taylor in a serious and deferential manner?

ONE MORE THING: A friend phoned to wonder if the Whirled is playing up this issue now to try to hurt three councilors -- Westcott, Martinson, and Christiansen -- who voted the Whirled's way in 2007 but have since defied them and Mayor Taylor and now have well-funded (albeit, in two cases, troubled) opponents. The one councilor who voted the right way -- Eagleton -- is safely back in office whether they like it or not.

20080401-TulsaSpecialElectionBallot-Header.jpg
Earlier today District Judge Jefferson Sellers ruled that an initiative petition seeking a charter amendment to make Tulsa city elections non-partisan is invalid.

The petition, circulated in 2008 by the group Tulsans for Better Government, was challenged by City Councilor John Eagleton on two grounds: That the petitions lacked a warning against false signatures that is required by state law to be on all initiative petitions, and that the number of signatures submitted fell short of the requirement of 25% of the vote in the last general election.

34 O.S. 3 requires (emphasis added):

Each initiative petition and each referendum petition shall be duplicated for the securing of signatures, and each sheet for signatures shall be attached to a copy of the petition. Each copy of the petition and sheets for signatures is hereinafter termed a pamphlet. On the outer page of each pamphlet shall be printed the word "Warning", and underneath this in ten-point type the words, "It is a felony for anyone to sign an initiative or referendum petition with any name other than his own, or knowingly to sign his name more than once for the measure, or to sign such petition when he is not a legal voter". A simple statement of the gist of the proposition shall be printed on the top margin of each signature sheet. Not more than twenty (20) signatures on one sheet on lines provided for the signatures shall be counted. Any signature sheet not in substantial compliance with this act shall be disqualified by the Secretary of State.

Only one of the signature sheets submitted to the Tulsa City Clerk had the copy of the petition attached and that copy lacked the required statutory language. There was no evidence that any of the other pamphlets had a copy of the petition with the required language. Eagleton, in his filing, cited Community Gas and Service Company v. Walbaum, 1965 OK 118 (case citations omitted):

The warning clause is just as essential to guard against and prevent fraud, deception or corruption of the initiative and referendum process as are such other indispensable requirements of the statute as (1) the pre-circulation filing of a copy of the petition required by 34 O.S. 1961 § 8 ; (2) timely post-circulation filing of the petition in compliance with 34 O.S. 1961 § 8 ; and (3) the execution of a circulator's verification prescribed by 34 O.S. 1961 § 6 .

Eagleton's second point, involving the number of signatures, is a bit complicated: City Clerk Mike Kier used the April 1, 2008, voter turnout as the basis for the required number of signatures, which he determined to be 3,427. 12,985 votes were cast for Prop. 1. 13,065 votes were cast for Prop. 2.

Eagleton argued that the last general election at which every voter in the city was allowed to vote was on April 4, 2006. 77,341 votes were cast in the mayor's race, so that an initiative petition would require 19,336 signatures to make it onto the ballot. Only 6,675 valid signatures were submitted by Tulsans for Better Government.

20080401-Tulsa3GeneralElectionBallot-Header.jpg

While voters in every precinct could vote on two charter change proposals in 2008, that was a special election; only the voters in five city council districts had a general election. The distinction is backed up by the ballots distributed to voters: If you lived in council districts 1, 2, 5 or 7, your ballot was headed "SPECIAL MUNICIPAL ELECTION" and had only the two propositions. If you lived in districts 3, 4, 6, 8, or 9, your ballot was headed "GENERAL MUNICIPAL ELECTION" and had the city council race followed by the two propositions. (Click on the images above to see a full photographs of the ballots for districts with no council race and for District 3. These photos were taken of the ballots that are stored along with the certified results in the files of the Tulsa County Election Board. Many thanks to Patty Bryant and her great team at the Election Board for their assistance in accessing records of past elections.)

By contrast, on April 4, 2006, every voter in the city received a "GENERAL MUNICIPAL ELECTION" ballot. (Click the image below to see the ballot that was used for voters in council districts 1, 2, 7, and 8, where there was no council general election. There was a general election for mayor and auditor, as well as a special election to decide six charter change propositions.)

20060404-TulsaGeneralElectionBallot-Header.jpg

Eagleton's arguments won the day. Eagleton's filing in the case cited Neidy v. City of Chickasha, a 2008 Oklahoma Supreme Court case in which the Court ruled that special elections could not be used to determine the number of required signatures. (Emphasis in the original.)

The use of a special election to determine the sufficiency of signatures on a referendum petition offends the Oklahoma Constitution.

What constitutes a qualifying general municipal election was addressed by the Oklahoma Supreme Court in Belisle v. Crist, according to Eagleton's petition:

The Court also determined that a preceding general municipal election in which all voters were not eligible to participate should not be considered, only the last general municipal election where all qualified municipal voters could vote and only qualified municipal voters could vote. (Emphasis added.)

Rick Westcott responds

| | TrackBacks (0)

Tulsa District 2 City Councilor Rick Westcott is using his blog to provide detailed rationales for his positions on some controversial issues, one of which resulted in him and other councilors being denounced by Mayor Kathy Taylor on a live CNN interview.

The latest entry addresses the concern that Westcott and other councilors have that accepting Federal money to hire police officers will cost the city money it can't afford. Taylor has accused these councilors of acting out of a desire for partisan advantage. Taylor claimed on the CNN interview that the City wouldn't be out any money by having to continue to fund the 18 positions in the fourth year, following the federal three year grant, because it would have to hire that many officers to replace retiring officers anyway.

Westcott has read through the Federal government's documentation for cities seeking the grant and finds that Kathy Taylor is wrong and gives chapter and verse to back up his finding:

One of the arguments in favor of accepting the grant money is that the City of Tulsa loses about 36 officers per year through normal attrition. Over the next three years, if we don't fill all of those positions, we will save enough money to pay the fourth year for the grant-funded officers.

But, the federal government's "Owner's Manual" says that we can't do that. If we do, we'd be in violation of the terms of the grant.

Section 5 of the "Owner's Manual" is called "Retention." The first paragraph says:

"At the time of grant application, your agency committed to retaining all sworn officer positions awarded under the CHRP grant with state and/or local funds for a minimum of 12 months following the conclusion of 36 months of federal funding for each position, over and above the number of locally-funded sworn officer positions that would have existed in the absence of the grant. Your agency cannot satisfy the retention requirement by using CHRP-funded positions to fill locally-funded vacancies resulting from attrition."

In earlier entries, Westcott has discussed his vote on the downtown ballpark assessment and his vote to delay the final vote on the city budget. (It wasn't a vote to layoff dozens of police officers and firefighters.)

To help you keep up with his latest entries, I've added Westcott's blog to my BatesLine Oklahoma headlines page.

If you missed it, CNN interviewed Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor live regarding the $3.5 million in federal stimulus money granted to the city to fund 18 police positions for three years.

The catch: Tulsa would have to provide funding for a fourth year and would also have to find $840,000 to provide equipment for the officers. Taylor is proposing to take the money from the Tulsa Authority for the Recovery of Energy, the trash trust that ran the now-defunct trash-to-energy plant. Taylor told CNN that "we" (the City, evidently) gave TARE $10 million "about 20 years ago."

Off the top of my head, I'd guess the City has given hundreds of millions, via the Third Penny, to fund capital projects for the Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority. Maybe some of those funds now for general fund purposes.

Taylor says the fourth year of funding isn't an issues, as we'd have to fund replacements for retiring officers anyway. On the face of it, that doesn't seem like that would meet federal conditions. Wouldn't Tulsa need to maintain the current number of positions through the fourth year? She seems to be saying that it doesn't matter how many officers retire or are let go, as long as we hire 18 more and keep those 18 on staff through the fourth year.

When asked about City Council concerns over whether Tulsa could afford the strings attached to this money, Taylor replied, "I think a few councilors are playing politics with this money." This is Taylor's standard answer when a councilor doesn't bend to her will. But what political gain would come from refusing federal funds for police officers? Why would you risk the political hit from opposing the money unless you felt it was important? Anyway, didn't Taylor eliminate politics from the budget process when she decided not to run for re-election?

(Video posted at My Tulsa World.)

Kathy Taylor's decision to denounce city councilors on a national news network is just one more example of her contempt for the legislative branch of city government. It certainly would be welcome to have a mayor that treated the City Council with due respect, as partners instead of pests.

MORE: Here's Councilor Rick Westcott's interview from last Thursday's Pat Campbell show on why accepting the stimulus money is a bad idea for Tulsa.

Still too swamped for a detailed analytical post, but I must at least point out the misstatements at the end of last Friday's story in the daily about the initiative petition filed by Tulsans for Better Government in support of a charter change for non-partisan elections. The original web story was more accurate than the version published on July 31. Tulsans for Better Government existed before the Citizens' Commission on City Government was formed, and the City Council did not ignore all of the commission's recommendations -- one of the three recommendations (fall elections) has already been approved by the voters and a second (appointed city auditor) will be on November's ballot. The third -- non-partisan elections -- did not have the unanimous support of the commission.

Tulsans for Better Government was actually formed in 2005 to promote the idea of at-large councilors -- reducing the number of districts from nine to six and adding three at-large seats. The effort was a reaction to a City Council with a majority of councilors who actually sought to represent the interests of their districts. It was seen as an attempt to boost representation for the wealthier sections of Tulsa -- under the old at-large commission system, nearly all city officials came from the Money Belt -- and to strip political power from the north, east, and west Tulsa. Dewey Bartlett Jr. and Mayor Kathy Taylor lent their names to the cause as members of the advisory board. The group circulated an initiative petition in support of their proposal.

Tulsans for Better Government suspended its petition effort when Mayor Bill LaFortune announced the formation of a "Citizens' Commission on City Government," assigned to study the City Charter, including terms and number of councilors, partisanship, etc. In their final report, the commission strongly rejected Tulsans for Badder Government's at-large councilor idea. The report made three recommendations, two of which have already been sent to the voters by the City Council, as noted above.

The third recommendation, non-partisan elections, did not enjoy as strong a level of support:

It should be noted that this recommendation is not made unanimously. Some suggested that no change should be made while others embraced an idea advanced by local commentator Michael Bates, known as multi-partisan elections. Still others recommended that the system simply needed technical changes to enable higher participation levels. For example, one thoughtful suggestion was a response to the situation where candidates of only one party file for a council race in a particular district. In those situations, a few task force members recommended that such an election be converted from a primary election to a general election.

More info at the following links:

Tulsa City Councilor Bill Martinson has issued a response to Saturday's press release from Tulsa FOP president Philip Evans. Evans attacked Martinson's budget presentation from last Thursday night, a presentation that highlighted the growth and size of the Police and Fire departments' portion of the city's general fund revenues, characterizing Martinson's proposal as an "attempted coup."

(You can now view the Martinson presentation online on Councilor John Eagleton's website, without needing a copy of PowerPoint. You will need the free Adobe Flash player installed.)

Some highlights of Martinson's response:

As I stated to both Chief LaCroix and Chief Palmer on Thursday night, my intent was not to attack, but rather to prepare both departments for a drastic decline in funding dictated by economic reality. Since Police and Fire have managed to consume 100% of our sales tax operating revenue, I feel they must be prepared to adjust their operating structure to keep expenses in line with those revenues. My proposal Thursday night accomplished just that. The choices were theirs to make and, despite the budget approved by the Council and their hopes to the contrary, they may still face those choices and sooner than they think....

The public safety unions have done a masterful job of dictating policy. This needs to stop and elected officials must assume responsibility for the Citizens....

The unions, Administration, and certain City Councilors argue that the only option in reduced funding is to reduce staffing. This is true only if they wish it to be.... For example, it is not unusual for the City to re-negotiate contract terms, and while I have not been a party to any of the pending contract negotiations, prudent business practice would be to include language allowing for a revision in compensation structure, including perks, should conditions so dictate. If a relief provision is not incorporated in the agreements, one must wonder why, or one must ask why protecting certain union paychecks is more important than protecting the City....

Contrary to their persistent cries for more manpower, the Police and Fire unions have parlayed this unabated 35% increase in funding into fewer positions rather than more. Not only have the unions successfully negotiated with the Administration to utilize the additional funding to enrich their members rather than increase staffing to serve the City, but the Mayor, Chief Palmer, and the FOP have all ignored Tulsa's ordinance pertaining to take home vehicles....

Click the link to read the whole thing.

On Saturday, I received the following press release from Philip Evans, president of the Tulsa Lodge #93 of Fraternal Order of Police, in response to Tulsa City Councilor Bill Martinson's presentation during the Council's debate on Thursday, June 18, 2009, about the budget. Here is Evans's statement, verbatim:

The Fraternal Order of Police does not normally take an active roll in public theatrical politic, but in light of the attempted coup of Thursday evening's City Council meeting there is actually no choice. When four elected leaders, Counselors:
Westcott, Gomez, Eagleton, and Martinson, actively attempt to get rid of 20% of public safety officers from both the Police and Fire service, the public needs to take notice. There are two main misconceptions that need to be addressed.

The public generally has no idea of how police officers are paid, however, city counselors are not the general public and should be well versed on our system.
Many years ago the City established a "universe of comparable cities", ten cities much like Tulsa in size and population. The goal was to make our wage system comparable to
that of similar cities. The Fraternal Order of Police Negotiations Team struggles to bring Tulsa up to the average wage; but Tulsa currently remains near the bottom of the list. And even remaining low on the list requires spending over $100,000 a year on arbitration, lawyers and forensic accountants. The FOP has been contemplating changing the tactics to just comparing Oklahoma cities instead of a nation wide group. If such happens, Tulsa, being the second largest city in the state, would rank about fifth in wages.

As a result of the last city council meeting, the FOP dissected Mr. Martinson's presentation slide by slide in light of the most currently available data. The FOP believes that the data presented by Martinson was out of date and to the direct benefit of his budget proposal. The below link to the original budget proposal is: http://www.johneagleton.com/documents/20090618-C5-Budget-Presentation-v.2.ppt

There are some interesting points of data that were available, yet were "hidden" from his presentation. Most 2008 crime data was available, but Martinson chose not to present it since the outcomes were antithetical to his point.

For example, slide 48:
Violent crime, 1997: 4,596
Violent crime, 2007: 4,552

But in 2008, there were 4,992 violent crimes--from the data in Martinson's own presentation. That's an 8% INCREASE IN CRIME. Also, Martinson cites a "73% explainable variation" co-relation of unemployment and crimes on slide 30. Crime peaked when unemployment hit 6.5 in 2003.
The Tulsa World just reported that Tulsa's crime rate is now 6.3%.
http://www.tulsaworld.com/business/article.aspx?subjectid=11&articleid=20090
620_11_A1_Oklaho643816

If Martinson's historical perspective is true, then we should prepare for increased crime according to the same variation. On Martinson's own terms, the "historical variation" suggests about 31,500 crimes will occur--versus the 28,500 he portrayed in 2007.
So, that would portend a 10% CRIME INCREASE. According to Martinson's proposal we would have to fight 10% more crime--with 149 fewer officers. There are many issues with the actions of Thursday's night City Council Meeting. The Fraternal Order of Police believes the public needs to be aware of the course the four councilors were attempting to chart. If the Mr. Martinson would have received one more vote, the Citizens would have woken up July 1, 2009 with 149 fewer police officers, and approximately 120 fewer fire fighters.

Councilor G. T. Bynum, who voted for the Mayor's budget, wrote previously that "under our contracts [with police officers and firefighters] we can't reduce salaries/benefits so the result of [Martinson's] proposal would have been to lay off 20% of our police and firefighting forces.

Tonight the Tulsa City Council approved Mayor Kathy Taylor's budget by a vote of 5-4. The budget reflects deep cuts due to falling revenues and includes mandatory unpaid furloughs for city employees.

The four councilors who voted against Taylor's budget supported an alternative by Councilor Bill Martinson. Before your knee jerks and you assume Martinson was motivated by sheer partisanship, head over to Councilor John Eagleton's website and download Martinson's budget presentation. It's an 8 MB PowerPoint file, but it's eye-opening and worth the trouble. (For number crunchers, the raw numbers behind the charts and graphs are embedded in the PowerPoint file.)

The presentation highlights the growth of Police and Fire Departments' share of the budget over the last 40 years, during which time the police and fire budget has more than tripled in constant dollars, while land area and population have grown by 13% and 17% respectively. So even if you had expected the police and fire budget to grow proportionately to population and land area and in line with inflation, the current budget is two-and-a-half times bigger than you would expect based on those factors.

Over the same 40 year period, police and fire personnel have only grown from 1,151 to 1,612, only about a 50% increase, despite the inflation-adjusted tripling of the budget.

In 1968-9, police and fire (including capital equipment) made up 32% of the General Fund. In 2008-9, police and fire (excluding capital equipment, which is now paid for from the Third Penny fund) makes up 57% of the General Fund.

Here's another way to look at it: In the current fiscal year (2008-9), the first two cents of the sales tax, which goes to the General Fund, were budgeted to bring in $142.8 million in revenue. The Police and Fire Departments budget for 2008-9: $142.8 million.

The problem isn't payroll, evidently: From 1999-2000 to the budget for 2009-2010, the police and fire budget grew by 35% (not adjusted for inflation) while the number of employees shrank from 1660 to 1597.

What about the City's many other areas of responsibility -- neighborhood inspections, parks and recreation, internal auditing, the legal department, human resources? Martinson provides several examples where a department has increased its revenues while cutting expenses, effectively, as Martinson puts it, "donat[ing] revenue to the Police and Fire Departments."

According to Martinson, Taylor's budget, revised for new, lower revenue forecasts, would put the combined police and fire budget at 105.23% of the projected General Fund sales tax revenue. Martinson proposes cutting that number and restoring $3.9 million in funding for materials for keeping our roads drivable (salt, sand, concrete, and aggregate), nuisance abatement, animal welfare, mowing, security and recreation programs for public housing, and other basic purposes.

Go read the whole thing, and let me know what you think.

UPDATE: Via e-mail, Councilor G. T. Bynum provides some perspective on Martinson's presentation and his vote in favor of Taylor's budget:

I thought Bill's analysis was pretty powerful when it came to the increase in funding not equating to an increase in manpower. At the same time, under our contracts we can't reduce salaries/benefits so the result of his proposal would have been to lay off 20% of our police and firefighting forces. That was too much for me.

In a later e-mail, Bynum wrote, "Whomever negotiates our next round of contracts needs to do a better job of protecting the City's flexibility."

gtbynum-tulsacouncil.jpgTulsa City Councilor G. T. Bynum sent out an email today announcing his decision to run for re-election to his District 9 post, rather than running for the mayor's seat left open by Kathy Taylor's decision not to run for re-election.

Bynum's decision leaves five councilors who have not officially announced their intentions regarding the mayor's race. Rick Westcott (District 2) and Bill Christiansen (District 8) have both said they're considering the race.

Here is Bynum's announcement, posted with his permission.

Family, Friends & Neighbors:

In the week since Mayor Taylor's surprise announcement that she would not seek a second term, many of you have emailed and called me with your encouragement to run for mayor. I can not convey how much it means to me that, based on my work in a brief time on the Council, you would enthusiastically entrust me with what I honestly believe is a sacred duty: managing the day-to-day affairs of the city in which we live with the people we love.

That is what drew me to run for the Council: the people I love live here, and I want the place where they live to be the best it can be. That has guided all of my decisions on the Council.

But with a rambunctious 2-year-old at home and a baby due in September, the people I love the most - our young and growing family - need me right now as a husband and Dad. Those are more important jobs to me than being mayor. I am also not so full of myself as to think I don't have anything to learn before seeking such an important public office.

I am hopeful that someone with political courage will step forward in this race, because that is what our City needs: performance audits of all departments, utility rates in line with costs, a clearly-defined and strategic partnership with the County, a second streets proposal to finish the work of the first, river development, and a bipartisan approach to governance. All of these will be tough, some of them will be unpopular, but all of them are needed. These are the issues I would have focused on as a mayoral candidate, and these are the ones I will focus on in my re-election campaign for City Council District 9.

The City Council is a tremendous opportunity for citizens to play a part in the life of our City without the taxing impact on family life that comes with the job of mayor. I love my work on the Council, and am eager to seek another term.

For all of you who have encouraged me to run for mayor, I'm honored by your faith in me.

GT

Photo from the Tulsa City Council website.

HelenAlvarez1952-200.jpgI'm in the throes of a major effort at work and only have time to throw you a few links to good reading elsewhere:

For your viewing pleasure, Tulsa TV Memories links to the Life archive and photos from February 1952 of KOTV general manager Helen Alvarez. Besides photos of the lovely Mrs. Alvarez, the archive shows the Channel 6 news, weather, and sports sets of the day, plus photos from the Sun Refinery and of a powwow. (Does this qualify as a Rule 5 post?)

Irritated Tulsan discovers that the Boulder Ave. bridge is safe enough -- for the crane that's demolishing it.

Steve Roemerman has posted a new podcast, reacting to Councilor G. T. Bynum's comments during last week's ballpark assessment vote.


Chris Medlock has a new podcast up
, reacting to comments about city election "reform" made by former Mayor Susan Savage. And he talks to State Sen. Randy Brogdon about the legislative session and the gubernatorial campaign.

I've got some thoughts about the Council's 5-4 vote to approve the assessment roll of the Tulsa Stadium Improvement District -- the controversial funding mechanism for funding the Tulsa Drillers new downtown baseball stadium -- but no time right now. Watch for something Monday morning.

Steven Roemerman has posted some hard-hitting commentary about the vote. It has extra relevance as the mayoral race looms near. It's a hard thing to say, "wait," or "no," when everyone is shouting that we must act and must act now. It's even harder to do that from inside a baseball mascot costume. Steven's commentary:

An excerpt from the second of the three entries:

Aside from the citizens exercising their right to vote her out of office, the Council is the only check and balance to the Mayor. It is the Council's duty to flush out such things before passing something as weighty as a 64,900% increase on a downtown assessment on the citizens of Tulsa. To complain now is sad and pathetic. Moreover, the very idea that Councilor Christiansen is thinking about running for Mayor now after this fiasco is insulting and scary.

Tulsa's Mayor has a lot of power, and the person that sits behind that desk on the top floor of the One Technology Center needs to be a strong leader, one who makes the tough calls, and flushes out all the details before making important decisions. We do not need a follower that stands in the Council chambers complaining that they cannot see past the next action they will take.

ackbar.jpgI haven't been watching much TV lately, but I'm told that Mayor Kathy Taylor's valedictory ads, trumpeting her record as mayor, have already begun to run on local stations.

I spoke to someone this morning who has some direct, recent experience with advertising on local TV. He says there's no way you could decide on a Thursday not to run for re-election and the next day start running TV ads. It takes at least two weeks to line up air time. It also takes time -- days, not hours -- to write, shoot, and produce a minute-long commercial that is as well-done as Taylor's "I'm not running" ad. This suggests that the decision not to run was made at least two weeks ago.

His speculation is that the ads are intended to create a groundswell of support for her to reverse course and run for re-election. Taylor is benefiting from news stories reviewing her term of office as if she's already gone. Her fans on local message boards are shouting down any criticism of her performance. For the next month, she can pose as someone above the fray of politics, as her potential successors jockey for funding and support. Then she can file at the last minute for re-election, reluctantly submitting to a draft.

What's the benefit of such a scenario? Here's one possibility: Before Taylor announced her withdrawal, the question among Republicans was who would "draw the short straw," "take one for the team," and run an almost certainly futile campaign against someone able to spend a million dollars on her own re-election. You can't run for mayor and run at the same time for re-election as councilor, so it would be hard to convince more than one councilor to abandon easy re-election for a doomed effort.

But if she's out of the picture, it suddenly becomes conceivable that you could raise the funds for a successful race for an open seat. Two, maybe three Republican councilors throw their hats in the ring, thinking the odds are worth the risk. In this scenario, Taylor lines up her allies to run for those now-open council seats, then jumps back into the mayor's race at the last minute, after the councilors have already filed to run for mayor, too late to back out and run for re-election. Taylor gets back in for another term with a more compliant council that won't challenge her decisions.

Even if Taylor doesn't re-enter the race, it's almost certain that there is an anointed successor waiting in the wings, possibly someone capable of self-funding to the same degree as Taylor. This scenario could still serve as a trap, luring councilors away from seeking re-election to safe seats, putting together last minute citywide campaign teams, and finding themselves up against an experienced campaign organization ready to do battle.

In 2002, when J. C. Watts announced at the last minute that he wouldn't run for re-election to Congress, only one potential replacement wasn't caught flat-footed: His longtime political adviser Tom Cole, who went on to win the seat. Cole drew some primary opposition from Marc Nuttle, and with several months to raise money Nuttle, with his connections to national conservative organizations, could have been a formidable candidate. Instead, Nuttle had only six weeks from Watts' announcement to election day in which to decide to run, organize a campaign, raise money, and meet voters. On primary night, Cole had 60% to Nuttle's 33%.

The scenario presented by my friend was intriguing, but I'm still inclined to believe that Taylor is setting herself up to run against Congressman John Sullivan next year. It would look crass if she said anything now, while he's still in rehab, but if she waited until he returns -- beginning of July at the earliest -- it wouldn't leave much time before the city filing period for someone else to get ready to run. The "I'm rising above politics to take care of the city" approach would get her out of the mayor's race, make room for someone else to get in, without seeming insensitive.

You may wonder why I'm not taking her at face value. She can very easily run the city and run for mayor at the same time. It's not like a statewide race where you have to travel incessantly to campaign. And it's not as though she has to knock doors, call voters, and lick envelopes herself. As mayor, campaigning or not, she'll be out in the community. She could do her job and then pay her PR people and campaign advisers to spin her record and get her message to the voters. There's something else going on here, and the decision to run slickly-produced campaign ads after officially "ending" her campaign only solidifies that suspicion.

UPDATE: Rusty at the OKDemocrat forum notes media interest in the story.

Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor has issued a press release saying she will not be running for re-election. She will hold a press conference at 5:30 at the Tulsa Press Club.

More as it develops.

UPDATE 6:15 pm: Taylor spoke very briefly and did not answer questions. She spent a minute or two greeting well-wishers like Tulsa Metro Chamber head Mike Neal, Convention and Visitors Bureau head Suzanne Stewart, and Sharon King Davis.

Taylor began her remarks with a list of accomplishments: A hangar for American Airlines to keep maintenance jobs here, completing the BOK Center, coping with the ice storm of 2007, "amazing progress" on the river, the entrepreneurial spirit awards, finding mentors for 400 students, and finalizing plans for the John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park before Franklin's death.

Taylor decried a focus on personalities and partisan politics and expressed hope that stepping down would help the Council do the right thing with regard to the ballpark. (Tonight is the final vote on the assessment roll for the Tulsa Stadium Improvement District.)

Taylor said the primary reason for not running was to ensure the economic viability of Tulsa. She claimed that "we've turned this city around." She said she needed to be running the city, not running a political campaign. As she makes tough budget decisions, she doesn't want a partisan political cloud over decision making.

Taylor said she had no plans for the future but would continue to pursue her passions: education, small business, and greening Tulsa.

MORE: Taylor's letter to city employees at 5:30 this evening:

Together, we have opened a world-class arena, moved city hall to a modern and high-tech new space, seen amazing progress on the revitalization of downtown, made a significant commitment to our streets infrastructure, created new education opportunities for our children and recruited hundreds of mentors for at-risk kids. We have promoted health programs, had success with our "biggest loser" wellness program and worked side by side with community leaders with the shared goal of making our neighborhoods safer.

We have launched new initiatives in the areas of energy efficiency and we have pulled resources together to honor the many veterans and military families in Tulsa. We have made city government more efficient because of your participation in High Performance Government and our green initiatives are saving energy costs in departments throughout the city. We have supported emerging businesses with our Entrepreneurship Week and Spirit Awards and thousands of Tulsans have given us their input through our city's comprehensive planning process.

All of these initiatives and many many more have culminated in a record of amazing progress for the city we love. It is a record you can be proud of and I want to personally thank you for all you have done to make it possible!

Because of the serious budget and economic challenges we are facing, the next 6 months are going to be pivotal and frankly, very difficult for our City. Tough decisions will have to be made that may not be popular, but they will be fiscally responsible- and they will help secure Tulsa's future.

I have been in public service now for 6 years -- first as Secretary of Commerce and Tourism for the State and these last years as your Mayor. Amazing things can be accomplished when private citizens get engaged in their community.

Thank you again for your hard work and for allowing me to be a part of this great team of city employees.

It is an honor I will value forever.

Sincerely,
Kathy Taylor,
Mayor

Tulsa City Councilor Rick Westcott emailed me a short time ago to point out the bind into which downtown property owners have been put by Mayor Kathy Taylor's administration's insistence that owners had only limited rights to protest the assessment for the new Tulsa Stadium Improvement District, which will finance a new ballpark for the Tulsa Drillers. Now that the Oklahoma Attorney General has contradicted the Taylor administration, it's too late for property owners to file a protest, according to Taylor's timetable for getting the assessment roll approved.

There are a couple of points that no one seems to be making about the ballpark assessment and the Attorney General's advisory letter.

Since last July, the Mayor and the City Attorney have repeatedly said that the assessment on a piece of property does not need to have a relationship to the benefit which the property will receive from the ballpark. They have said that all downtown property can be assessed at the same rate, no matter how near or far it is from the ballpark. I have disagreed with the Mayor and the City Attorney on that issue since last July. I believed that state law was clear, that there must be a relationship between the assessment rate and the benefit which a piece of property will receive. The less the benefit, the less the assessment rate.

Now, the AG's letter says the Mayor and the City Attorney are wrong. The AG says that the assessment rate for a piece of property must bear a relationship to the benefit which the property will receive. The further away a piece of property is from the ballpark, the less the benefit and the less the assessment rate. Or, if the County believes that the jail will not receive any benefit from the ballpark, then the jail should be assessed as a lesser rate.

In April, the City Council was preparing to conduct a hearing on the assessment roll and approve the assessment for all downtown property. The Mayor and the City Attorney told property owners that, if they had not objected last July at the formation of the assessment district, then they could not object at the hearing on the assessment on their property. In fact, the City Attorney provided a lengthy, written legal opinion justifying her position on that issue.

The AG's letter says they are wrong. The AG says that a property owner could object to the amount of the assessment on his or her property, even if they hadn't objected to the formation of the assessment district.

But, based upon the assurances by the Mayor and the legal opinions by the City Attorney, most property owners did not file objections in April. They were told that they couldn't object, so they relied on that advice and they didn't object.

Now, the AG says that the Mayor and the City Attorney were wrong. The AG says that the property owners could have objected at the April hearing. But, since they relied on the Mayor's statements and the City Attorney's opinion, they didn't object. Now, the deadline has passed and they can't object.

And, now, the assessment roll may proceed.

The Mayor and the City Attorney misinformed people as to what the law was and what their rights were. The property owners relied on that advice. Now, the time to file an objection has expired.

But, the Mayor is spinning this as, "The AG says there's nothing wrong and the assessment can go forward."

I am not against the ballpark. I have never been against the ballpark. But, I have a duty to protect the citizens of Tulsa and make sure that all aspects of it are done legally and properly.

The City of Tulsa has been scolded once more over its management of federal Community Development Block Grant funds. On April 30, the director of HUD's local Office of Community Planning and Development notified the City's grant administrator that Tulsa is not spending its federal grant in a timely manner. (Last August, the City of Tulsa was dinged by HUD for being unable to support $1.4 million in CDBG allocations for FY 2006 and FY 2007 and for another $115,215 spent on ineligible activities.)

April 30, 2009

Department of Grants Administration
City of Tulsa
175 East 2nd Street
Suite 15-051
Tulsa, OK 74103

Subject: CDBG Program Timeliness Notice


Dear Ms. Pharis:

The purpose of this letter is to remind you that as required by 24 CFR 570.902 of the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) regulations, this office will review the City of Tulsa for compliance with the requirements for carrying out a CDBG program in a timely manner. A grantee is considered to be in compliance, if 60 days prior to the end of its program year, there is no more than 1.5 times its annual grant remaining in the line-of-credit. Tulsa has an October 1 program year start date. Pursuant to our letter to the city dated October 10, 2008, the last 60-day test was conducted on August 2, 2008, and it was then calculated that your community had a balance in its line-of-credit of 1.65 times its annual grant. Accordingly, the city was in non-compliance with the timeliness performance provision at 24 CFR 570.902. As of April 21, 2009, the city had a ratio of 3.13 times its annual grant plus program income.

As discussed in our monitoring letter dated August 29, 2008, it is apparent that the City will not be able to move forward with its $1.5M acquisition, relocation, and disposition project until it has developed its relocation plan pursuant to the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act (URA). This delay has further hindered the City's ability to reduce its 1.65 ratio by the end of September 2008 as initially discussed with the office. Additionally, as a result of HUD returning the city's repayment of $1.49 Million in ineligible costs to the city's line of credit and Tulsa's apparent inability to thus far commit and disburse these and FY 2009 CDBG Program funds in a more timely manner, the city's drawdown ratio has further deteriorated.

The City of Tulsa should take all appropriate actions to improve the drawdown rate, including, but not limited to the development of a workout plan, timetables and schedules in order to comply with the timeliness standard. The workout plan should be submitted to HUD for review and approval within 30 days from the date of this letter.

For your information, you may download from HUD's web site a copy of the CDBG timeliness guidebook entitled, "Developing and Implementing a CDBG Workout Plan: Guidelines for Putting Your Community Devleopment Block Grant Program on the Road to Timeliness." The guidebook provides a detailed description of each element required to be included in the workout plan. The 14-page document can be downloaded from the following site:

(www.HUD.gov/offices/cpd/communitydevelopment/library/workoutplans.pdf)

Please submit your workout plan and any additional informatoin concerning the failure to comply with 570.902 to this office within 30 days from the date of this letter. My staff and I remain available to assist you in any way possible in your goal to reach the 1.5 threshold. Should you have any questions regarding thisletter or th eDepartment's timely performance policy, please feel free to contact Mr. Hillard Berry, CPD Representative at (405) 609-8568, Ms. Trina Tollett, Financial Analyst, at (405) 609-8426, or me at (405) 609-8569.

Sincerely,

David H. Long, Director
Office of Community Planning and Development

cc: Honorable Kathryn Taylor, Mayor, City of Tulsa
Mr. Ronald Miles, HUD, Tulsa Area Field Office Director
Amy Polenchek, Chief of Staff, City of Tulsa
Mike Bunny, Economic Development Officer, City of Tulsa

Two notes and some questions:

  • The whole point of the Feds giving you money is so that you'll spend it.
  • Evidently this problem is common enough that HUD made a booklet about it.
  • Why did HUD give Tulsa back the money Tulsa repaid for ineligible CDBG spending?
  • If they give us money back unexpectedly, why should we be scolded for not having spent it yet? Or is HUD giving it back to us with the command to spend it on eligible programs?
  • What is the "$1.5M acquisition, relocation, and disposition project" that the letter mentions? And is it just a coincidence that it's nearly the same amount that Tulsa paid back to HUD?

Last fall, Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor asked the International Downtown Association to send a team to study our downtown, and in particular to look at the city's arrangement with Tul-Center, Inc., the arm of Downtown Tulsa Unlimited (DTU) that has handled downtown services since the current business improvement district was established in 1981. (The DTU executive committee serves as the board of directors for Tul-Center, Inc.)

Here's what the City asked the IDA team to do:

The City of Tulsa seeks to create an organization that can coordinate, plan, direct and manage a wide range of downtown revitalization functions, including the integration and implementation of downtown plans, management of downtown public/private partnerships, support for downtown business groups, and support and management of programs as designated by the City. Possible functions include parking management, management of downtown business improvement district programs, event functions, and other downtown operations.

The IDA Advisory Panel will examine and assess the current organizations, agencies and programs focused on the revitalization of downtown Tulsa, including the relationship between the City of Tulsa, Downtown Tulsa Unlimited and various stakeholders; discuss and compare best practices and successful strategies employed by other similar business districts in terms of organizational structure, functions, and programs, particularly with regard to functions within the scope of a downtown management organization; review and make recommendations regarding any appropriate organizational development strategies; examine advantages and disadvantages of collaborative planning and funding strategies, especially in business improvement districts; and recommend ways that programs, if initiated, can be sustained.

The team of four, including Oklahoma City planning director Russell Claus, came to Tulsa, Nov. 15 to 18, 2008, right before the Tulsa Run. A 27-page report was released in February 2009. (Click here to read the IDA Advisory Panel Report on Tulsa (PDF format).

The IDA team's report begins:

A first-time visitor to downtown Tulsa may be somewhat mystified. Streets and sidewalks are clean and well-lighted. A collection of handsome, even extraordinary art deco buildings adorn the office core. A strikingly designed arena stands dramatically on the edge of downtown, complemented by perhaps the most attractive new City Hall in America. Here and there, a café or coffee house lights the street. And yet...where are the people?

As a visitor spends more time in downtown Tulsa, other impressions emerge. There are few street level establishments of a retail nature. Windows facing the street are far too often dark. The hustle and bustle that today characterizes many downtowns across North America is simply absent. It feels like a time warp - as if it's 1988 in downtown Tulsa, not 2008.

Here's the IDA report's description of the current arrangement:

According to the DTID (Downtown Tulsa Improvement District) Summary Sheet, the downtown Tulsa district "was created to provide public improvements and maintenance beyond normal City services to help sustain, increase, and re-attract businesses as well as entertainment activities to downtown." According to the Summary Sheet, the City is the governing body and Tul-Center, Inc., a non-profit organization of Downtown Tulsa Unlimited, manages the daily services provided by several subcontractors."

The 2008-2009 contract of approximately $952,000 between the City of Tulsa and Tul-Center, Inc. comes from two roughly equal sources: assessments on property owners in downtown and the City of Tulsa itself. The current contract, approved by the Tulsa City Council in 1999, is in effect through June 30, 2009.

Part of the report deals with criticisms of DTU:

With more than 50 years of history, DTU is one of the oldest downtown organizations in the US. It has a track record of accomplishments during its existence. It has a board of directors composed of some of Tulsa's most prominent corporate citizens. And, through Tul-Center Inc., it has managed the business improvement district since it was established.

Like many downtown organizations today, DTU relies on the BID assessment for its very existence. BID revenues constitute about 9 out every 11 dollars passing through DTU each year. With the BID assessment, DTU manages a fairly standard menu of "clean and safe" services, and also promotes downtown with events like Mayfest and by installing , removing and storing holiday decorations.

The recommendations and observations are well worth reading. One highlight is the strong interest among young people in downtown and their desire to protect buildings that may not be "architecturally or historically significant, [but they] represent adaptive re-use possibilities for residential development, office space for small companies, and street level space for restaurants, clubs, and retail shops."

DTU President Jim Norton responded to the team's visit in DTU's December 1, 2008 newsletter:

One of their first recommendations was that the current custodial responsibilities, which DTU performs, are done as good as or better than anyone in the country. That's very encouraging news for us, and it tells us that what we've been doing for the last 30 years has been a tremendous success. They were very impressed with the cleanliness of Downtown and with the efficiency of our operations. They made suggestions that DTU needs to reach out to the surrounding neighborhoods and to other interest groups to include them in creating a vision for Downtown that everyone buys into. They also made other recommendations regarding the marketing of our Central Business District in creating lively activities throughout the year. These are items which we have totally embraced and look forward to making the future better for everyone.

The Downtown Tulsa Improvement District expires on June 30 and is being replaced with the Tulsa Stadium Improvement District. The City of Tulsa has issued an invitation to bid (TAC 843) on providing the public property maintenance services (Microsoft Word document) currently being provided by DTU/Tul-Center. The deadline for submissions is 5 p.m. on May 20, 2009. The base bid includes maintaining 215 miles of sidewalk (daily), 18 miles of alleys, 1320 trees, and 80 trash containers. Bidders also have to quote a price for sidewalk cleaning per square yard, sidewalk snow and ice removal per mile, special event sidewalk sweeping per foot, brick sidewalk paver replacement per square foot, general labor per man hour, mowing/landscaping per square yard, and additional trash service per can per month.

The specification is precise in requiring particular fertilizers and lawn treatments, and there are some other interesting provisions:

Personnel must be fluent in English, as they will be expected to provide information, directions and help to the public.

All paved sidewalk and plaza surfaces must be swept daily (with a complete cycle each week) using mechanical sweepers and/or manually. Mechanical sweepers, blowers, or power vacuum equipment will not be operated during the lunch period or at other times when large crowds of people are present. The paved sidewalk surfaces shall be inspected weekly and specific trouble spots, INCLUDING CHEWING GUM, cleaned with a power scrubber, high pressure sprayer or other means as needed. The standard of maintenance for this service shall be to provide litter free, clean sidewalks and alleys.

Water usage specifically for this area will be metered and recorded by a portable water meter obtained by the landscape contractor from the City of Tulsa Water and Sewer Department. CONTRACTOR shall pay the required deposit and all other costs associated with obtaining such metering device.

Keep Michael Slankard

| | TrackBacks (0)

UPDATE 2:00 p.m.: Mayor's office has delayed Rodolf nomination to next week.

UPDATE 5/1/2009: Council declined to approve postponement, then turned down the Rodolf nomination, 3-6 -- Patrick, Troyer, Bynum voting yes; Henderson, Westcott, Gomez, Martinson, Eagleton, Christiansen voting no.

Tonight (April 30, 2009) at the Tulsa City Council's regular meeting, the Council will consider Mayor Kathy Taylor's nomination of a replacement for Michael Slankard on the City's Ethics Advisory Committee (EAC). The Council should vote against the replacement nominee, which will leave Slankard in place, continuing his honorable and independent service on that committee.

Despite the urging of the chairman of the EAC and the desire of a majority on the Council, Taylor refused to reappoint Slankard. As the Council's resistance to a replacement solidified, suddenly some anonymous person brought an ethics complaint against Slankard, claiming a conflict of interest because he suggested and then participated in the investigation (and dismissal) of ethical issues surrounding Taylor giving Councilor David Patrick a ride back from Colorado on her Lear 31A, just in time to vote on Taylor's financing plan for the downtown. Slankard voted with the rest of the committee, finding no ethical violation by either Patrick or Taylor.

The complaint against Slankard was passed through City Attorney Dierdre Dexter, who is an at-will employee of Taylor. The complaint was investigated and rejected by the other members of the EAC, despite their long-standing policy against hearing anonymous complaints at all.

You can read a more detailed account of the tug of war between Taylor and the Council over Michael Slankard's reappointment in my April 15, 2009, UTW column.

This apparent attempt to use the ethics process for leverage in a political battle between the executive and legislative branches ought to make Slankard's supporters on the City Council even more determined to keep him on the EAC.

Taylor's proposed replacement for Slankard, Sandra Rodolf, was back before the Council at the Tuesday, April 28, Urban and Economic Development committee meeting. According to a couple of independent reports, Jack Henderson, Rick Westcott, Bill Martinson, and John Eagleton all indicated that they support Slankard and would be voting against Rodolf's appointment; David Patrick, Dennis Troyer, and G. T. Bynum expressed support for Rodolf; Bill Christiansen and Eric Gomez didn't say either way, but have expressed support for keeping Slankard on the committee.

Here is the summary of the discussion from the April 28, 2009, Urban and Economic Development Committee meeting. The summary appears to have been truncated by the database software:

Sandra Rodolf present. Westcott felt her qualifications were stellar; however, he feels the Mayor is using her as an attempt to get back at Micahel Slankard, and for that, he apologizes. Councilor Westcott gave the background history of the case involving Michael Slankard. Councilor Troyer commented that all the Council does is approve or disapprove the Mayor's recommendations. Councilor Eagleton echoed Westcott's comments. Councilor Patrick commented that Mrs. Rodolf was not involved with Michael Slankard and should be approved based on her qualifications only. Councilor Bynum thanked Ms. Rodolf for going through this appointment process. The Charter states what the role of the Council is during the appointment process. We should vote on her qualifications only. Councilor Henderson expressed concerned of having 3 members from District 9 on one committee. Nancy Siegel - don't believe everything you think. She was recommended solely based her background and qualifications. Mr. Slankard is being replaced due to his tenure on the board. Ethics will be highly called upon due to PW issues. This is speculation only. Henderson does not understand why the appointees have to have a legal background. Also, the City's position has been to keep the experienced appointees on the board. Councilor Martinson

Henderson raised an important point about diversity on the committee. Taylor's change would be a step backwards in terms of geographic diversity. Replacing Slankard with Rodolf would swap a resident of north Tulsa's District 3, which has few members of city authorities, boards, and commissions (known as ABCs for short) with a resident of the Midtown Money Belt, which historically is where most mayoral appointees live -- this is a long-term trend, not specific to Taylor). As last summer's PLANiTULSA survey showed, midtowners and north Tulsans have very different views about how fair city government is. Loading the EAC up with Midtown Money Belt residents would send the wrong signal to the rest of the city. There needs to be a balance.

With due respect to Councilor Bynum, he's reading something into the City Charter that isn't there. Article III, Section 1.4, paragraph G says regarding mayoral appointments to ABCs:

Appoint, subject to confirmation by a majority vote of the entire membership of the Council, the members of all boards, commissions, authorities, and agencies created by this amended Charter, ordinance, agreement, or pursuant to law, and exercise general control and supervision thereof, provided, all appointees shall, as a condition of their appointment and continued service, be qualified electors and maintain their principal residence within the city limits of the City of Tulsa

Nothing in the charter specifies the criteria a councilor must apply when voting on a mayoral ABC appointee. The councilors can apply whatever standards they deem prudent. The confirmation power is an important check on mayoral power. ABCs have significant power -- some more than others -- and in some cases, the vote on the appointment is the only input the councilors have into the way a given ABC sets policy.

When Mayor Bill LaFortune reappointed Jim Cameron and Lou Reynolds to the Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority, a majority of the councilors objected, concerned about the TMUA's policies on water rates to the suburbs and whether the authority was putting the growth desires of the suburbs ahead of those of undeveloped parts of the City of Tulsa. I supported the "Gang of Five" in their effort to block the reappointment. (The effort failed when Sam Roop switched sides on the issue, shortly before LaFortune hired him to work in the Mayor's office.)

In August 2001, during the Susan Savage administration, the City Council voted against reappointing Kim Holland to the EMSA board. They were raked over the coals by the daily paper for doing so, but there was no question that they had the discretion and authority to say no to Savage's pick.

More recently, Taylor has quietly withdrawn the names of at least two of her appointees after it became clear that the Council would reject. There was speculation that the same thing would happen with the Rodolf nomination.

Once in a while the Council takes a vote that I regard as a key test of character, an indication of whether someone is willing to do the right thing in the face of pressure. These are the votes I remember and weigh when a city councilor seeks higher office. (If the persistent rumors that Taylor may be leaving for a position in the Obama administration are true, several of these councilors may be running for mayor sooner than they planned.)

The vote tonight on replacing Michael Slankard is such a test. The City Council should emphatically reject Kathy Taylor's efforts to kick an honorable, scrupulous man off of the Ethics Advisory Committee.

DOCUMENTS:

Last fall Novus Homes LLC, W3 Development LLC, and principals of the two companies filed suit against Tulsa Development Authority for breach of contract involving TDA's termination of the exclusive negotiating period with Novus Homes LLC for redevelopment of the vacant the half-block west of Elgin Avenue between Archer and Brady Streets. Novus Homes planned a lofts and retail development on the site, which is now part of the land the stadium donors plan to redevelop in connection with the new downtown stadium for the Tulsa Drillers. On Tuesday, the suit has been expanded to include the City of Tulsa as a defendant, citing actions by Mayor Kathy Taylor which, the plaintiffs allege, resulted in the early termination of the exclusive negotiating period for the land.

According to a story in today's Journal Record, "Through the discovery process, the developers said they learned of Taylor's alleged interference in TDA business and procedures, leading to termination of their exclusive deal in her quest to complete the ballpark deal."

Here's a link to the OSCN page on the suit, CJ-2008-5713. Here is the amended petition for the lawsuit (PDF). It includes the following allegation:

30. Beginning in late May, 2008, City of Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor began inserting herself into TDA operations related to this downtown Tulsa location, without TDA approval. The TDA viewed Mayor Taylor's interference as "irregular," and TDA Commissioners were "concerned" and "surprised" by her "irregular" interference in their operations. See, e.g., Transcript of Deposition of TDA Commissioner John Clayman, Tulsa County District Court Case No. CJ-2008-5713, at pp. 40-48 (November 11, 2008).

31. Mayor Taylor was, without consulting or obtaining approval from the TDA, personally renegotiating and amending existing TDA contracts, conveying TDA-owned properties in exchange for properties the City of Tulsa and the eventual Tulsa Stadium Trust desired, and influencing existing TDA relationships, all to enable the City of Tulsa and the Tulsa Stadium Trust to procure the real property necessary for the proposed new downtown baseball stadium and surrounding development.

32. Mayor Taylor's actions were in violation of O.S. §11 38-107, whereby powers of the Urban Renewal Authority (TDA) "shall be exercised by the commissioners thereof."

Here's the press release from Novus Homes:

DOWNTOWN DEVELOPERS SUE CITY OF TULSA
FOR MAYOR'S OBSTRUCTION WITH PROJECT

Two Tulsa development companies and their principals have filed a lawsuit against the City of Tulsa alleging that the City, and specifically Mayor Kathy Taylor, unlawfully interfered with their exclusive contractual rights to develop a downtown property. The developers allege that the City's interference was part of the Mayor's effort to relocate the Tulsa Drillers baseball stadium to the downtown Brady District.

On April 14, 2009, Novus Homes, LLC, W3 Development, LLC, Will Wilkins and Cecilia Wilkins added the City as a second defendant to their lawsuit originally brought against the Tulsa Development Authority (TDA). The developers sued the TDA on August 14, 2008, one week after the TDA prematurely terminated the developers' exclusive negotiating right on this property, situated on the half block west of Elgin between Archer and Brady, known as 120 Brady Village.

Since filing the original lawsuit, the developers learned through the discovery process that the City of Tulsa, and specifically Mayor Kathy Taylor, had irregularly interfered with TDA business and procedures in violation of Oklahoma statutes, which led to the TDA's unlawful termination of its exclusive deal with the developers. The developers allege Mayor Taylor unlawfully inserted herself into TDA operations in her quest to relocate the Drillers stadium to a site directly across the street from the property on which the developers had an exclusive right to negotiate.

As part of the stadium relocation effort, Mayor Taylor recruited a group of private donors which included herself and her husband through the Lobeck Taylor Foundation. These donors funded a significant portion of the project, and in return, were awarded the construction and financing of the ballpark project and the surrounding properties, including the property for which the developers had an exclusive right, under a self described "master plan."

Mayor Taylor's decision to rush this project through during the summer of 2008, bypassing normal process and due diligence, has resulted in multiple lawsuits and threatens to tie the City up in litigation for years to come.

Previous BatesLine entries and Urban Tulsa Weekly columns on this topic:

One of the stories that broke while I was focused on the day job involved Tulsa City Councilor Eric Gomez's threats to sue Julie Hall of Who Owns Tulsa? over her criticism of his actions as a councilor. You may have missed it, too, so here's the KOTV News on 6 video, from March 3, 2009:

In a March 2, 2009, e-mail, Hall wrote:

Attached is a letter from Councilor Gomez' attorney threatening to sue me for defamation and my attorney's response. The threat was prompted by my role in coordinating a recall petition against Councilor Gomez and related criticisms of his actions as a public official.

This release is in part a response to the threats against a citizen who reported a possible ethics violation regarding two city councilors. One of my concerns is that the initial response from the City Council included the implied threat of legal action. It would appear that the biggest mistake the citizen made was giving his name rather than reporting his concerns anonymously.

As citizens, we have First Amendment rights. These rights are so important that with respect to public officials and their acts, Oklahoma law protects these communications unless they falsely impute a crime to the officer criticized. Under federal law, speech concerning public officials is actionable only if it is false, defamatory, and made with actual malice.

The Gomez letter was issued after the recall was denied; after I had announced that another petition effort would not be pursued; and after Councilor Gomez stated publicly that he hoped we could put it behind us.

Although I was the direct recipient of the threat, it wasn't limited to me. Councilor Gomez threatened to sue "any and all persons acting in concert with me". This could include the officers of Who Owns Tulsa, anyone who has attended a meeting, or written a check. It could also include every citizen who signed the recall petition.

Lawsuits can financially devastate those involved, and the threat of such lawsuits has a chilling effect on free speech. Lawsuits designed to silence opposition on public issues are known nationally as SLAPP (strategic litigation against public participation) suits, and several states have passed legislation to protect their citizens from such threats. You rarely hear of threate