Tulsa City Hall: August 2004 Archives

Setting up a strawman

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Mayor LaFortune opened a new front this morning in the PR offensive against the City Council's Reform Alliance. It took the form of a news story that ran at least once an hour on KRMG. The story was reported like this in the 10 pm newscast:

Some City Hall observers believe continuing opposition to Vision 2025 is the real reason behind feuding on the Tulsa Council. If that's true Mayor LaFortune has a warning for those who may have that agenda: "From their perspective, they should be careful in terms of any kind of roadblocks to 2025 implementation, because within the city of Tulsa two of the propositions passed by 65%, and that is a mandate and a supermajority, and the other two propositions passed by 62%." Recent disputes are pitting one faction against another and against the Mayor on issues from appointments to annexation.

This is toned down considerably from the first version I heard during KRMG's noon newscast. (Sorry, KFAQ, but I can't stand Bill O'Reilly.) The original version used the term "Gang of Five" -- the Tulsa Whirled's term for the Reform Alliance -- and quoted these unnamed observers as saying that four of these five councilors opposed all or part of Vision 2025 at one time or another.

It seemed very odd to me that KRMG would go to the Mayor for a soundbite reaction to a concern raised by anonymous City Hall observers. It also seemed odd that he would have a well-rehearsed answer to this off-the-wall question. Clearly the point of the story is to create an association in the minds of those who hear it, to plant the idea in the listener's mind that behind every debate, behind every difference of opinion at City Hall -- behind the airport investigation and the disputes over northward annexation, extending water lines, reappointments to trust boards, and allocation of Federal block grant funds -- lurks a secret scheme to sabotage Vision 2025.

I learned later that the Mayor had been at some Chamber-related event and took questions. Someone (don't know who, as I write this) made some comments akin to those reported in the story, and the Mayor had a ready response. It has all the hallmarks of a planted question and manufactured news, and I expect there will be a story in tomorrow's Whirled, followed by an another hysterical editorial in Wednesday's Whirled.

I suspect that the PR flacks running this coordinated assault have finally figured out that Tulsans admire councilors who do their job and ask tough questions on behalf of their constituents ("meddle," in the Whirled's view). So on to the next attack. Vision 2025 is popular, they must be thinking, so let's create the impression that these councilors are out to derail Tulsa's express train to prosperity. I suspect they are using focus groups and polls to see which accusations will do the most damage to the Reform Alliance.

The assertion which is the foundation of this story -- that four of the five Reform Alliance councilors opposed all or part of Vision 2025 at one time or another -- is so broad as to be meaningless, as it would include anyone who publicly expressed, for example, a moment's doubt about the wisdom of the $350 million subsidy proposed for Boeing or the value of building new swimming pools when we can't open the pools we already have.

Of the Reform Alliance, only Sam Roop was the only one publicly and uncritically supportive of the entire package. Chris Medlock supported propositions 2, 3, and 4. Medlock opposed the Boeing proposition -- which didn't come to fruition anyway -- and expressed concern only about matters of oversight and the handling of money with both City and County involved. He is also concerned that, as key decisions are made about City of Tulsa Vision projects, that the elected representatives of the people, not the unelected advisory committees, have the final say.

Jack Henderson started out in opposition, but ultimately supported the entire package. I don't know where Roscoe Turner and Jim Mautino stood -- they weren't elected officials when the package was before the voters, and they weren't involved publicly in the debate. By the time the election came along, the debate and election was in the past. I do know that they are very concerned about infrastructure problems in their underserved districts, and I suspect that they would place basic infrastructure well ahead of lifestyle amenities on the city priority list. Whatever concerns these councilors may have about the projects and their implementation, everything points to a desire on their part to make these projects successful at accomplishing their purpose of reviving Tulsa's economic prospects.

The notion that someone who opposed part or even all of Vision 2025 would work to frustrate its completion is nonsense, unless you buy into the paranoid notion that those who opposed Vision 2025 hate our city and want to see it die. (For those who do buy into that, you might want to make yourself a tinfoil hat for protection against mind-control rays.)

As a spokesman for the opposition to Vision 2025, I think I am qualified to speak on this matter. We didn't oppose Vision 2025 because we opposed the individual projects per se -- if we could have had them without raising taxes and without raising government operating expenses, our objections would disappear. We opposed Vision 2025 because we believed (and still believe) that raising sales taxes is not the right way to grow the economy; because we believed that the projects would not solve our short term jobs problem nor lay a foundation for future prosperity; because we believed that public improvements should be funded within existing revenue streams, as existing sales taxes and bond issues expired; because we were concerned that a new arena would be a drain on the public treasury, not a boon; because we oppose favoring certain companies with hundreds of millions of dollars while neglecting the needs of homegrown small businesses; because we think it unwise to put entertainment and leisure facilities ahead of basic infrastructure and public safety.

Now that the tax has passed and all but the Boeing part has gone into effect, those of us who opposed Vision 2025 are committed to making sure that the projects are built as promised, that there is adequate oversight on how the money is spent and managed, that Vision 2025 contracts aren't distributed based on political favoritism, but based on who can provide the best value to the taxpayer. I don't think the arena will fix downtown, but I made suggestions on places to put it that would create more synergy with developments in Brady Heights and the Blue Dome District, and I am pleased that a world-class architect was chosen to design the facility.

In the same spirit, the Council's Reform Alliance is simply concerned that what Tulsa city government does is done right, for the benefit of all Tulsans, not just a favored few. Why would the Mayor, the Cockroach Caucus, or the Tulsa Whirled have a problem with that?

In the full-court press to secure the reappointment of Jim Cameron and Lou Reynolds to the Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority, the Whirled and others have repeatedly praised the two for their role in settling the lawsuit with poultry companies over poultry waste pollution in the watershed of Lakes Spavinaw and Eucha, major sources for Tulsa drinking water. Their leadership, we are told, is why the City must have them continue their service on the TMUA board, and why it was irresponsible for the City Council to reject their reappointment.

Just how good was the settlement they achieved for the City of Tulsa? Here's the front page from the July 17, 2003 Tulsa Whirled (jump page here):

The city of Tulsa and its utility authority will receive $7.5 million from six poultry companies the city sued over pollution in creeks and streams that feed two city water-supply reservoirs, Lake Spavinaw and Lake Eucha. The money will be used to pay the cityís attorney fees and litigation expenses, with none left to reimburse the city for the $4 million it has spent treating taste and odor problems in its water supply.

Of the $7.5 million, $200,000 will go to the city for out-of-pocket expenses, and the remaining $7.3 million will go to Oklahoma City law firm McKinney & Stringer. The firm is receiving $600,000 for out-of-pocket costs and the rest in cash and deferred payments, said Jim Cameron, Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority chairman.

Some deal. $7.3 million in attorney's fees but no reimbursement for the the cost of dealing with the damage the City of Tulsa suffered. The spinners argue that we got the poultry integrators to agree to clean up the watershed -- or rather, not to make it worse -- but it remains to be seen whether that will come to pass. The money Tulsa spent to make its once-pristine water palatable again is a tangible loss that was not addressed by the settlement. As long as the lawyers are happy, right?

400,000 people live in Tulsa, and there is no compelling reason why these two gentlemen should be selected over the remaining 399,998 to serve on this board.

Full court press on Roop

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Will he or won't he? Will City Councilor Sam Roop continue to stand firm with the bipartisan majority alliance which is working to open and clean up Tulsa city government? Or will his knees buckle under the pressure of a coordinated PR effort to get him to abandon the reform process which has been his goal throughout his long tenure on the Council?

The Whirled has run an article or an editorial nearly every day over the last two weeks trashing the City Council's majority, principally over their refusal to approve Mayor LaFortune's reappointment of Lou Reynolds and Jim Cameron to the Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority (TMUA) board. Sam Roop figures prominently in every article, including being the one councilor whose name appears in a David Simpson cartoon portraying the Council majority as running a torture chamber. Early this last week, KRMG talk show host John E. L. Frette (who uses the stage name "John Erling") phoned staffers at the City Council office to inquire about the process for recalling a councilor, and then launched an on-air campaign focusing on turning Councilor Sam Roop out of office.

Last Sunday Tulsa Whirled editorialist Ken Neal called the Council majority a "wrecking crew" and urged Mayor Bill LaFortune to use his "bully pulpit" to pressure the Council into approving the reappointment of Reynolds and Cameron. Lo and behold, Mayor LaFortune spoke to the Tulsa Rotary Club this week and made a special point to praise Reynolds and Cameron and urge their reappointment. Either the Mayor is doing Ken Neal's bidding, or they are both part of a coordinated offensive to break the Council majority and get Cameron and Reynolds reappointed.

(Anyone else find it ironic that the Whirled would call anyone else a wrecking crew when the Whirled is in the process of wrecking two more downtown buildings?)

And now today, Janet Pearson of the Whirled's editorial board, in a display of Olympic-class synchronized smearing with Mr. Frette, threatens that there is a groundswell of support to remove the majority councilors by recall, in an opinion piece with the subhead, "Is there a people's revolt in the making?" She repeats in a single paragraph the same old slams. Once again, at the end of the piece, the focus is on Sam Roop:

There's some reason for hope in the short term. Some observers think Roop, who showed he has genuine leadership and statesmanlike abilities in previous years, might come to his senses and distance himself from the fractious faction. There have been recent signs he is willing to rejoin the progressive and rational side.

Janet's playing "good cop" to Ken Neal's "bad cop", evidently.

What you are seeing is a full-out PR offensive to trash the Council, to cast doubt on their investigation of the Tulsa Airport Authority, and to pressure Sam Roop into joining the Cockroach Caucus. The offensive appears to be coordinated by Schnake Turnbo Frank, the politically-connected PR firm that ran the Vision 2025 campaign. Earlier this week, a businessman told me that his firm pays what he described as exorbitant monthly consulting fees to Schnake Turnbo, because of the firm's connections with the Tulsa Whirled -- it's a way to ensure that favorable stories are published about the company and that unfavorable stories would be suppressed. We can certainly understand why you'd want to have a firm like that beating the drum for you.

Steve Turnbo, the firm's CEO, headed up the PR effort to get public funds for for Great Plains Airlines, also serving as the airline's spokesman. He was seen recently at the City Council offices with Great Plains CEO David Johnson, looking to speak with any City Councilors they could find.

Margaret Frette (alias "Margaret Erling") is the wife of the radio talk show host mentioned above, who uses his stage name in her career as a lobbyist, is a lobbyist for Great Plains Airlines at the State Capitol. She had a key role in persuading legislators to subsidize the startup airline. The investment made by Great Plains in hiring her appears to continue to pay dividends, as her husband is using his microphone to put the pressure on Councilor Sam Roop, who happens to be heading the Council investigation into the Tulsa Airport Authority and their dealings with Great Plains Airlines.

(Another interesting connection: She was with Schnake Turnbo before going out on her own. And here is her most recent lobbyist registration form, filed on June 24, 2004, and links to all the forms she has filed since the beginning of 2003.)

So why the focus on Sam Roop? Not only is Roop the key councilor on the airport investigation, but he is seen as the likeliest to break with the rest of the bipartisan Council majority. Roop is by temperament conciliatory. He does not like what he calls power politics. Just before this spring's city elections, he refused to press the issue of the zoning protest petition process because the timing would make some of his colleagues, who opposed this basic protection for property owners, vulnerable to defeat in the elections.

Following the Council's July 29 vote to deny reappointment to Cameron and Reynolds, Roop was approached by Council Chairman Randy Sullivan to persuade him to move to reconsider the reappointments at a special meeting on Thursday, August 5, at 4 p.m. Roop attempted to put the item on the agenda, but due to a posting error, the item could not be considered because there was not sufficient public notice. Roop actually made the motion to reconsider, which was seconded by Sullivan, who was chairing the meeting -- an unusual departure from tradition. Councilor Roscoe Turner called attention to the posting error, and Council Attorney Drew Rees noted that this was the same situation as the motion to reconsider approval of the Owasso water line, when City Attorney Martha Rupp Carter ruled that acting without proper notice put the Council in danger of violating the open meeting act.

(Mayor LaFortune showed up at this same meeting to denounce the Council for their refusal to approve his reappointment of Cameron and Reynolds. Sadly, the performance was not captured by the TGOV camera -- it was already in the Council room for the 6 p.m. regular meeting.)

I've followed Sam Roop's career closely, and I've seen him withstand an amazing amount of pressure from the Whirled, from Mayor Savage, and the rest of the city establishment. He has suffered in years past from the lack of a majority of councilors to support his efforts to scrutinize and reform city government. Now that he has the support of four other reform-minded councilors, I am hopeful that he will remain a pillar of this bipartisan coalition, rather than seek refuge in the empty promises of the enemies of reform. Time will tell.

"I'm melting! Melting!"

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"Who would have thought that some little girl like you could destroy my beautiful wickedness?"

The Tulsa Whirled editorial board is madder than the Wicked Witch of the East when Dorothy doused her with water. Read over the witch's speech -- that's a pretty good fit with what the Whirledlings, the Chamber Pots, and the whole Cockroach Caucus must be thinking right now. They just don't have total control of City Hall any more, and does it ever frustrate them.

You need to keep in mind that in the months to come the Cockroach Caucus will do anything and say anything to restore things the way they were before the voters of Tulsa voted to take their city back and elect leaders who would look out for all Tulsans, not just the favored few. They may stop short of outright lies, but remember that media bias expresses itself most forcefully in the selection of what will be reported, and in the careful selection of descriptive words to insinuate meanings that can't be supported by the plain facts.

The Whirled whined today about the Council's allocation of this year's Community Development Block Grant funds. The Whirled's main problem seems to be the fact that there was a debate over how to allocate the funds and this debate was held in full view of the public.

It's funny that the Whirled takes the opportunity to condemn the Council's majority (they call them the "Gang of Five") when the final allocation passed by a 7-2 vote. The only two holdouts were the Whirled's most favorite Councilors. They passed up the opportunity to condemn Councliors Christiansen and Sullivan, who also participated in the reallocation of funds from the original recommendation.

CDBG is a chunk of money from the Federal Government to be used to help people who live in low-income areas of cities. As a "block grant", it's left up to the city government to decide, within Federal regulations, how the money is to be spent. Some of the money goes for projects which will be run by non-profits, other money is spent by the City itself, for example through the Tulsa Development Authority for "urban renewal" projects.

Under Mayor Susan Savage, the allocation process was simple: The Mayor decided how all the money would be split up and submitted her recommendation to the Council. For the Council to deviate from the Mayor's allocation, it would mean taking money from an organization already expecting to receive it, therefore making the Council the bad guys. To get CDBG money, it helped if your organization's director traveled in the Mayor's social circles. It helped even more if your organization was NOT faith-based in any way.

With the change in administrations in 2002, the Council adopted a new process that has worked to ensure that the same sorts of organizations continued to get the money. A committee run by the Whirled's favorite Councilors -- Susan Neal and Tom Baker -- and staffed by the aide they share, and including "subject matter experts" selected by Neal and Baker, made the initial recommendation for allocations. The Mayor's Office had a hand in this initial recommendation as well. The recommendation then went through the normal Council committee process, and like any other motion, was open for amendment when it came up for consideration by the full Council.

Councilor Medlock had this to say about the process on the TulsaNow forums:

The ultimate problem is, there are far too many worthy programs and projects chasing too few dollars. Many of our more successful social service programs have become reliant on CDBG for most, if not all, of their operating expenses.

As such, it becomes very difficult for new programs to get funding, as well as one time projects like what the Arts & Humanities Council and Neighbor for Neighbor are proposing.

The difficult choice we are left with is, defund ongoing programs to fully fund one time projects, or offer a small percentage of what is needed and hope that each group can leverage the public infusion of funds with enough private and foundation money to be successful.

Never a fun time of year.

One observer says that Baker and Neal, who represent affluent areas, approach the process as if the social service agencies are the target beneficiaries for these funds. In other words, they tend to see the agencies as ends in themselves, and in terms of the people who run them and work for them, rather than means to an end. Councilors like Henderson, Medlock, and Turner, who represent most of the poorer neighborhoods, regard the poor and needy as the people who should be served by this money, and aren't necessarily concerned about the impact on an agency, which is just a means to an end.

"Grilled" Schuller?

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UPDATE 8/9/2004: After viewing the complete segment of the hearing on TGOV 24, I've added some detail and reorganized this entry somewhat. The conversation between the Council committee and Stephen Schuller was so bland, so calm, and so brief that it makes the Whirled's hysterical editorial look even more ridiculous. Just as C-SPAN began to destroy the mainstream media's monopoly on coverage of Congress, TGOV (channel 24 on Cox Cable) gives Tulsa citizens the chance to see for themselves how the Council is conducting itself and to compare reality to the Whirled's spin and bias.

UPDATE 8/16/2004: Received an e-mail from J. Scott Dickman, who is mentioned below, with a correction about his employment.

Your comments dated August 9, 2004 stated that I am the Chief Financial Officer of Avalon Oil plc ("Avalon Oil"). Please be advised that I resigned as an officer and member of the board of directors of Avalon Oil effective June 30, 2001. I remain Of Counsel with the firm of Titus, Hillis & Reynolds as well as Chairman and C.E.O. of Pinnacle Packaging Company, Inc. here in Oklahoma and Oracle Packaging Company in North Carolina, Georgia, Illinois & Ohio.

I have made appropriate changes below.

"Appointee grilled by city councilors" was the headline over the Whirled's Wednesday story about Tuesday's Council Committee meeting, in which attorney Stephen A. Schuller was presented to the Council for reappointment to the Tulsa Authority for the Recovery of Energy, which handles trash collection in the northwestern part of the City and oversees operation of the controversial trash-to-energy incinerator on West 21St Street. He was first appointed in November 2002 by Mayor LaFortune. Schuller is a zoning and real estate attorney who appears regularly before city boards representing clients seeking zoning relief or amendment.

From what I saw of the committee meeting, the Councilors asked a few questions about Schuller's background. Here's the way it was recorded in the meeting notes on the Council's website. (No way to link directly, but search agendas for "Schuller" and you'll find it.)

CM [Chris Medlock] asked about Schuller's specilization as an attorney. Real estate and international law was the answer. He was also asked about the scope of the TARE. Supervises in the trash collection of the NW quadrant of the City. Contract for renewal for energy expires soon. He gave a brief operational history. Positive comments were made as well as a remark on his attendance. Bankruptcy issue in the past has been resolved.

The positive comments came from Councilor Randy Sullivan, who spoke of his personal knowledge of Schuller. Christiansen made the comment about his attendance record, missing only one meeting since his appointment. "Bankruptcy issue" refers to the bankruptcy of the company operating the trash-to-energy plant.

The Whirled's story adds that Schuller was asked about "a specific client of the law firm for which he works." I'm not sure why the Whirled story omitted this detail, but the question was from Councilor Roscoe Turner, and it was whether Schuller's law firm still represented the Tulsa Whirled. (See below.) Schuller replied that the attorney who represented the Whirled left the firm about the time Schuller joined the firm in 1998.

The Council didn't reject Stephen Schuller's reappointment, the first presented to the Council under their new rule for appointments. They've just asked some questions. No one's voice was raised. No accusations were made. Medlock said that the Council may want to have Schuller reply to written questions, in accord with the Council's new approach to vetting appointments to and authorities. Schuller replied that that he'd be happy to answer further questions. The agenda item was complete in about 10 minutes. No one was upset or distressed.

The facts don't provide any justification for the use of the word "grilled" in the headline, nor does the text of the Whirled's own story, but that doesn't stop the editorial board from fulminating about a "witch hunt" in the following day's lead editorial:

The latest outrage was on Tuesday, when two members of the Gang of Five needlessly and shamelessly grilled an authority member about his work and background for no good reason. The latest witch hunt comes on the heels of the councilís 5-4 rejection of two long-time authority members who were treated in a similarly contemptible fashion....

If there were some reason to suspect Schuller is unfit to serve on the TARE board, that would be one thing. But there is not. In fact he, like the two others receiving shabby treatment in recent days, has served respectably and honorably.

So from the Whirled's perspective, asking polite questions about an appointee to a board -- an important city board which regulates trash rates and will soon be deciding whether to renew a contract with the operator of the trash-to-energy incinerator -- is needless, shameless, and contemptible. As we know, the Whirled's standard for the ideal city councilor is a lobotomized monkey, wired up to be controlled from the Whirled's offices.

The Whirled also treats an appointment to a board as a right -- from their perspective, the burden of proof should be on those who wish to take it away. Instead, the burden of proof ought to be on the Mayor to make the case for any appointment he presents to the Council. The Council should diligently inquire about a nominee's business interests and look for any potential conflict of interest regarding the nominee's interests or those of his partners and associates. In fact, the Council, on July 29th, amended their rules to lengthen the time between when the Mayor presents a nominee and when the nominee may be considered by the full Council, so that there is time to vet a nominee properly.

The Whirled maintains that Schuller, Reynolds, and Coleman have served respectably and honorably. Perhaps they have, but do they expect the City Council and the people of Tulsa whom they represent to accept that assertion as fact?

The Whirled's hissy fit about this is suspicious. At the very least, this is part of a campaign to discredit and defeat the members of the Council's working majority in 2006, and also to discredit any results from the Council's investigation of the Tulsa Airport Authority.

SO who is Stephen Schuller?

Mr. Schuller has some interesting connections: Mr. Schuller is with the law firm of Boone, Smith, Davis, Hurst & Dickman. The late Byron V. Boone, whose father founded the firm, was a partner in the firm and was also for 30 years the publisher of the Tulsa Whirled. The "Dickman" in the firm name is J. Jerry Dickman, who is the father of J. Scott Dickman, who is of counsel with Barkley Titus Hillis and Reynolds, the current law firm which represents the Tulsa Whirled. J. Scott Dickman was (prior to June 30, 2001) also Chief Financial Officer of Avalon Oil Plc, of which Council Chairman Randy Sullivan is CEO. It's a small world.

Schuller is a former law partner of Brent Mills and together they incorporated Spartan Aviation Industries, which now owns Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology (formerly Spartan School of Aeronautics). Mills is Spartan's chief operating officer, is registered agent for Spartan Housing Industries, LLC, and was a classmate of Councilor Susan Neal in Leadership Oklahoma Class XV.

Schuller represented the Guier Woods neighborhood in F&M's 2001 attempt to get zoning approval for a branch at 71st & Harvard. He was a planning district co-chairman back in the early '90s and represented some of his own neighbors to stop Southwestern Bell from installing a cell tower in the bell tower of Southside Christian Church.

The TARE board is very important. Decisions by previous boards have resulted in big trash rate increases in recent years, and the upcoming decisions on the trash-to-energy plant will have an impact on Tulsa's fiscal health and environmental quality for decades to come. The Council should continue to do what we elected them to do back in March -- ensure that the people running our city agencies are doing so with the best interests of the citizens at heart. There's no harm in asking and answering some polite questions.

Tulsa's own C-SPAN

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Long before Fox News, before Rush Limbaugh did talk radio, before the emergence of the blogosphere, even before CNN, there was C-SPAN, which gave America the opportunity to see for themselves how Congress works, unmediated by newspapers and TV networks, and unmodified by unanimous consent requests to "revise and extend" remarks in the Congressional Record. C-SPAN marked its 25th anniversary this year. Without even trying, C-SPAN deserves a lot of credit for the end of Democrat rule in the House of Representatives in the 1994 election.

For many years, Tulsa's weekly City Council meetings were broadcast using C-SPAN's channel, preempting the network's programming for as long as the meeting lasts. Now the City has a dedicated channel on Cox Cable Tulsa, TGOV channel 24, which broadcasts the regular City Council meeting, City Council Tuesday committee meetings, and meetings of the City of Tulsa Board Of Adjustment and the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission. The channel also features some specially produced programs, like "This Week at City Hall" and "Talk of the Town". Last week's schedule is online here. I suspect they will follow this general pattern, although adjustments may occur as meetings in a given week are longer or shorter. Up-to-date listings should be on the TV Guide Channel (channel 2 on Cox Cable); TV Guide Channel's listings are also online -- free registration.

This is a wonderful development, as it gives us a chance to see for ourselves what goes on at these meetings and how our public officials are conducting themselves. Bright light tends to send the cockroaches scurrying away, and we've noticed that a camera in the room has an interesting effect. And I imagine this meeting might have been different had the cameras been running.

Speaking of bugs, there are still a few to be worked out. Remember the Saturday Night Live parody of C-SPAN's coverage of a 1992 Democratic Presidential debate? The intro included the line, "Our C-SPAN camera -- the only one we have -- is there." It seems that TGOV only has one camera at its disposal, which it must use at the Council Committee room for those meetings and over at the Francis Campbell Council chambers, where the regular meetings of the Council, BoA, and TMAPC are held. Remember this -- it will be important in a later item.

Catching up with the Council

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Between celebrating my son's birthday and playing hosts to some friends passing through town, I've gotten behind on filling you in on all that's been happening down at City Hall. It's been an eventful week or two, and if you only get your local news from the Tulsa Whirled, you don't know the entire story. (Why should that surprise anyone?)

In the next few entries, I'll cover the Council's "grilling" of Stephen Schuller, the awarding of Community Development Block Grants, the attempt to get the Council to reconsider their rejection of Lou Reynolds and Jim Cameron, and the issue of the arena location and eminent domain. If I have any energy left, I'll tackle Ken Neal's hysterical opinion piece in today's Whirled.

A Council that can say "no"

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Tulsa is a city where the conventional wisdom says the only way to accomplish anything is to agree with everything. Many public figures who opposed the Vision 2025 tax increase kept their opposition to themselves for fear that their opposition would jeopardize the projects and causes they supported. I'm amazed at the number of times a public official has told me he felt unable to vote according to dictates of his conscience.

So it was heartening to see the City Council decline to reappoint two members of the Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority (TMUA). I have nothing against Jim Cameron and Lou Reynolds, but the recent discussions over annexation and extension of water lines to Tulsa's booming suburbs have revealed a difference of basic philosophy between the Council majority and the TMUA board members. The Council majority believes that the City of Tulsa's water authority ought to be first and foremost concerned with promoting the City of Tulsa's growth and prosperity. The TMUA seems bent on promoting growth outside Tulsa's city limits.

Article V of the City Charter describes a Tulsa Utility Board, a board of six members plus the mayor ex-officio. This board has a great deal of power -- if the board passes a rate increase, the Council is bound by charter to approve it.

The Tulsa Utility Board may exercise full, complete and exclusive rights, powers, and duties in performing each and all and every of the things to be done and performed in the construction, extension, improvement, operation, management, and maintenance of the waterworks system and system of sanitary sewers and sewage disposal plants of the city. It shall be the mandatory duty of the Tulsa Utility Board to fix and establish rates and prices for services rendered and commodities sold sufficient to meet the mandatory provisions elsewhere provided in this Article and it shall be the mandatory duty of the Council to approve all such rates and prices herein authorized to be fixed and established by the Tulsa Utility Board. The Tulsa Utility Board may enter into such contracts necessary for the performance of its duties and may appoint, employ, and contract for the services of superintendents, attorneys, managers, hydraulic, civil and management engineers, and such employees necessary for the performance of its duties, all subject to the approval of the Mayor.

In 1984, the City of Tulsa signed a 50-year-lease with the Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority to operate and maintain the city's water system. The TMUA was created as a public trust with the City of Tulsa as the beneficiary. You can read all the details, including the lease agreements and amendments, here, in Title 39, Chapter 3 of Tulsa Revised Ordinances. I haven't gotten all the way through it yet. I have the impression that the membership of the Tulsa Utility Board and the TMUA are identical, although I don't know that for sure. But it appears that they always meet together.

Given the power wielded by this board, when unelected board members are at odds with the City's elected representatives, it makes sense for the elected officials to use the power at their disposal to effect change, since the elected officials are directly accountable to the voters. In this case, the City Council used its power not to ratify the Mayor's reappointment.

The Cockroach Caucus was scandalized by this development, according to articles in Friday's (jump page here) and Saturday's (jump page here) Whirled. The common thread of their comments seemed to be that mayoral appointees deserve reappointment by default. There were complaints, too, that the rejection came without any indication that the reappointments might be in jeopardy, although as I watched a rerun of the committee meeting (on Tulsa Cable channel 24) earlier in the week, I noticed that councilors were asking some detailed and pointed questions about the operation of the TMUA. It was funny to read Tom Baker's complaint that the five voted "no" without hesitation or discussion, given that his vote and the votes of others in the 71st and Harvard case came without a coherent explanation of their decision.

About this Archive

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

Tulsa City Hall: July 2004 is the previous archive.

Tulsa City Hall: September 2004 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

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