Tulsa City Hall: June 2004 Archives

The Whirled's editorial board -- the propaganda arm of the Cockroach Caucus -- pooh-poohed the efforts of the City Council to formalize the powers granted to it by the City Charter to conduct investigations into the operations of city government. The investigatory power is one of the three critical roles the Council plays in our system of government -- representing the diversity of the city, making the laws of the city, and overseeing the execution of those laws. The Whirled labeled the members of the Cockroach Caucus "the grownups on the council" for resisting progress. The real grownups are the majority bipartisan coalition which continues to work toward the maturation of the City Council as an institution, the full realization of the City Council's role in the checks and balances of city government, something that was promised to the citizens of Tulsa when we approved the new Charter in 1989.

If the Council is going to exercise its responsibility to investigate, it must be able to enforce lawful orders, such as subpoenas. "Subpoena" comes from two Latin words which mean "under penalty." In the absence of a penalty for failure to comply, a subpoena is not a subpoena.

The Whirled incorrectly states that the Council would become judge and jury in cases of contempt or disruptive behavior. That indicates the Whirledlings haven't bothered to read the ordinances. (They actually get paid for their opinions. I don't get paid a penny for this, and I still take the time to read something before I comment on it. It's not that hard, but it does mean they'd have less time for sipping whiskey and swapping stories down at the Press Club.)

For you Whirledlings reading this, I will make it easy for you.

Here is a link to the text of the proposed ordinance to define contempt of Council and set penalties for said offense: CLICK HERE, KEN!

Here is a link to the text of the proposed ordinance to define disorderly behavior in Council meetings and set penalties for said offense: CLICK HERE, JULIE!

Notice that a charge of contempt of Council is simply referred to the City Attorney, who must decide whether to press charges. If filed, the charge would be heard in municipal court. The Council merely makes the charge, the roles of judge and jury are filled, appropriately, by a judge and a jury, not by the Council.

Article II, Section 4 of the City Charter empowers the Council to issue fines for disruptive behavior. (CLICK HERE, JANET!) The proposed ordinance defines the kind of behavior that qualifies as disruptive. The terms and conditions specified in the ordinance line up exactly with the terms of the Charter.

This is a typically lazy slap from the Whirled editorial board. They're uncomfortable with the idea of a Council committed to making government work for all the people, not just a favored few. We know what kind of councilors the Whirled likes, and we're glad their choices aren't in the majority any longer.

We are hopeful that the days of Tulsa as a banana republic -- a land of Marcos-style crony capitalism -- are numbered, thanks to diligent public servants like Councilors Henderson, Medlock, Turner, Roop, and Mautino.

The Tulsa Beacon has an extensive article detailing more problems with the management at Tulsa Airport, reported by the supervisor of landscape maintenance. There's a recurring theme: Governmental authority puts out a request for bids with estimated value so low and requirements so stringent that most potential bidders are deterred. One favored bidder applies -- perhaps the sole bidder, or else the other bids are disqualified on one technicality or another, or else the favored bidder bids less than he needs to do the job -- and is awarded the contract. Then the winning bidder isn't required to meet the terms of the contract, or is granted "change orders" to raise the ultimate value of the contract well above the original bid. That's the accusation anyway, and you hear stories like this about many public authorities in the area.

I love this quote from the whistleblower:

“The foxes are watching the hen house at the Tulsa International Airport,” Johnson said. “The Mayor believes if he supplies training that these foxes will become vegetarians and therefore they will stop eating the chickens. I do not care how well or how long you train a fox – he is always going to eat chickens. The foxes at the airport have believed for too long that they own the chickens and can do whatever they want with them.”

Is the Mayor hamstrung?


Mayor Bill LaFortune acted late Wednesday to place Tulsa Airport Authority director Brent Kitchen on administrative leave with pay, apparently with a view toward removing him entirely. A lot of people, particularly those who were part of the Mayor's performance review team, have been asking him to clean house at the airport for months.

Because the Tulsa Airport Authority is a public trust and not directly a part of city government, it was unclear to me whether Kitchen was an employee of TAA or the City. Since the Mayor acted to suspend Kitchen, it appears that he is a city employee and therefore under civil service protection.

Here's the Mayor on why he acted and why he waited so long (jump page here:

Speaking at press conferences before and after a two-hour executive session of the Tulsa Airport Authority, LaFortune said the federal investigation yielded troubling management issues at the airport.

LaFortune said civil service regulations prevent him from going into detail about what triggered his decision to remove Kitchen. Likewise, he said, he couldn't estimate the timing of a settlement or the process the city would use to name a new airports director.

The mayor, however, said the federal investigation was key in his decision to remove Kitchen, who has been airports director since February 1988 and an airport executive since 1986. ...

As a former prosecutor and judge, LaFortune said, "You have to have all the evidence in your file. There are people who have opinions and people who can act on opinions in a public forum. I have to act on facts.

"You don't just fire people. It can mean hundreds of thousands of dollars in litigation costs if I don't act on facts."

Now, this gives us a useful insight into the Mayor's mindset. He seems to be applying a presumption that a city employee deserves to keep his job unless there is some iron-clad proof of malfeasance. That must be why nearly all of Susan Savage's department heads are still in place, more than two years after Susan Savage left office.

A lot of us who supported LaFortune expected him to start fresh with the best new ideas borrowed from successful mayors like Rudy Giuliani, Indianapolis' Steven Goldsmith and Jersey City's Bret Schundler. We also expected him to clean house and and replace the department heads with a team of people who believed in those ideas and would work wholeheartedly to carry them out.

The City Charter is an obstacle to cleaning house. Article X target="_blank">Article X includes a lot of detail about the civil service system that ought to be in an ordinance, where it would be easier to adjust. The charter enshrines the notion of seniority -- if jobs get cut in a department, first hired is first fired, even if the newest hire has needed skills.

Nevertheless, there is a system for dismissing or reassigning or demoting a civil servant, and hopefully the members of the civil service commission understand that the TAA administration is ultimately responsiblity for the mess there, and that failure of leadership is sufficient cause for removing those in charge.

But the Mayor must take the initiative to remove a department head. No one else can do it for him. Is his reluctance to act swiftly because he's a natural people pleaser, hesitant to make anyone mad at him? Or is he caught between a rock and a hard place, between the political imperative to respond vigorously to the mess that has been uncovered on the one hand and on the other hand, the desires of some of his political backers to maintain the status quo. Who was it who said, long ago: "So-and-so may be a crook, but he's our crook." There may be some powerful people who find it pleasant and profitable to deal with the current TAA administration and these folks would strenuously object to any changes. The Mayor may be looking for a way to say that his hand was forced -- he didn't pull the trigger, the FAA or the US DOT Inspector General or the Civil Service Commission did it.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa City Hall category from June 2004.

Tulsa City Hall: May 2004 is the previous archive.

Tulsa City Hall: July 2004 is the next archive.

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