Tulsa City Hall: July 2004 Archives

By a 5-3 vote last Thursday night the Council established an investigation of airport operations. Henderson, Medlock, Turner, Roop, and Mautino voted in favor; the usual members of the Cockroach Caucus (Baker, Sullivan, Neal) voted against, seemingly on the grounds that it would be effective at uncovering wrongdoing. Bill Christiansen expressed his support of the investigation but abstained -- his business is an airport tenant. If you don't believe elections make a difference, look at that list and realize that the vote would have failed if David Patrick and Art Justis had been reelected instead of Roscoe Turner and Jim Mautino.

The Mayor's response has been interesting. Not long ago he had threatened to veto the investigation unless the Council passed his annexation plan. Now he says he's fully committed to the investigation and has his own fraud investigator looking into it, and he wants to see coordination and cooperation between the Council's investigation and his own. A cynic might wonder about the commitment of someone who was willing to treat an investigation into fraud, waste, and abuse as a bargaining chip. An even more cynical cynic might wonder if the purpose of hiring an investigator and asking for cooperation was to be able to learn where the investigation was headed and to tip someone off before the investigation gets too close.

In any case, the Council's investigation will move forward. The question now is who will make up the committee. I would hope for a lineup of Roop, Medlock, and Turner. Medlock in particular has the kind of analytical mind and an eye for spotting patterns and connections that the investigation will need. He will not shy away from asking tough questions and cross-examinination, as we saw in the F&M Bank hearing. I don't know how much confidence I'd have in an investigation that didn't include him.

There have been some calls to exclude Roop and Turner from the committee since they voted for the city's support of the Great Plains deal. I don't see that as a problem, and I'd be concerned that they would be replaced by other councilors who won't be as determined to get to the bottom of things. Roop and Turner believed at the time that Great Plains would be a good thing for Tulsa; they realize now something went terribly wrong and so they support the investigation, which will not, in any event, be limited to the Great Plains deal. In no event should a councilor who voted against the investigation be made a member of the panel -- I would be concerned that said councilor would obstruct rather than aid the investigation. And keep in mind that the Council will only be investigating -- any leads on criminal activity would be forwarded to the appropriate prosecutor.

Oddly pleasant, as I walked through the Tulsa International Airport late Friday night, to be able to put two quarters into a paper box and pull out a copy of the latest Tulsa Beacon, with the headline, "Feds will help with local airport probe." This story and the other above-the-fold story ("Councilor thwarts annexation") tell the tale of a City Council majority that is working to protect the city's investments, despite the sniping of the Whirled and other establishment voices.

The Council will likely move ahead with its own probe of the airport, with assurances from the U. S. Department of Transportation's Office of Inspector General (OIG) that the Council's investigation will not be a hindrance, but will be welcome. The City has interests in the operation of Tulsa's airports that aren't matters of federal concern, and the OIG appears to be eager to pass along information about matters that fit this description. (Jim Myers of the Whirled's Washington bureau wrote about this last Wednesday -- jump page here.)

The Beacon's story has a very concise and comprehensible explanation of the land transaction that the OIG is interested in:

The City of Tulsa transferred 344 acres of land adjacent to the airport to the TIA so that TIA could use the land as collateral for the loan to Great Plains. On December 21, 2000, the Bank of Oklahoma and TIA entered into a loan agreement to issue two revenue notes of $15 million each. TIA then provided a loan totaling $30 million to Great Plains.

Also on December 21, 2000, the Bank, TIA, and Tulsa Airports Improvement Trust [TAIT] signed a separate “support agreement” in which the airport agreed that if Great Plains defaulted on its loan, the airport would purchase the property for an amount equal to the outstanding debt owed by Great Plains plus any other unpaid amounts due under the loan agreement (i.e., interest and collection costs, attorney fees).

In 2001, Great Plains paid back one of the $15 million revenue notes using state-issued tax credits. Since the agreements were signed, the bank has disbursed $8.25 million to Great Plains from the second $15 million note. The remaining $6.75 million was held in an escrow account to protect the Bank’s interest in the loan. Under the terms of the note, Great Plains was required to make monthly payments until December 21, 2003, at which time it was to have paid the outstanding loan amount in full.

On the annexation issue, there was and still is potential for a compromise that will protect the City's investments without trampling on the property owners who don't want to be annexed and without committing the city to expensive infrastructure improvements. Unfortunately, rather than working toward that compromise, Council Chairman Randy Sullivan went back on his word and put the item on the agenda when one of the councilors opposing annexation was scheduled to be out of town. Although Sullivan's proposal would not have annexed all of the north annexation area, it would have created a wide enough fenceline to allow forced annexation after November 1 (the deadline created by new state law), and it would have committed the City to building infrastructure in the area even before it is annexed. (For whatever reason, the proposed ordinance is not accessible online.)

There is an area we should consider annexing or leaving Tulsa the option of annexing forcibly at a later date, and that's the Cherokee Industrial Park, which represents a significant investment by the City in infrastructure. We also ought to consider annexing (with landowners' permission) a strip along US 75 where commercial development would be encouraged. That's the kind of development we need to boost city sales tax receipts. Housing and industrial development will only help the city to the extent that it indirectly encourages retail development. These facilities don't generate sales tax -- industrial facilities may generate some use tax receipts -- but they do generate property tax, which would mostly go to help the schools in Owasso and encourage more people to live and shop in Owasso.

We missed the chance to annex a commercial area at the principal highway entrance to Tulsa -- I-44 east of the Turner Turnpike gate. Owners would have preferred to be taken into Tulsa if they had to be annexed, but instead Sapulpa lassoed the area with its fenceline and recently annexed it, prompting a group of property owners to sue Sapulpa.

Berryhill residents reportedly would prefer to be in the City of Tulsa rather than in Sand Springs -- we should take advantage of that willingness while we can.

About this Archive

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

Tulsa City Hall: June 2004 is the previous archive.

Tulsa City Hall: August 2004 is the next archive.

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