Tulsa City Hall: September 2004 Archives

Reform Alliance Town Hall: Part 2

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Last night's town hall meeting for the City Council's Reform Alliance will be continued next Tuesday, at 7:30 pm, at Hicks Park Recreation Center, as Councilor Sam Roop speaks on his vision for the City and answers questions about his decisions. I encourage you to plan to be there and show your support for Councilor Roop, just as you did last night for the other four Reform Alliance councilors.

(UPDATED -- see note at the end of the entry.)

In my earlier entry, I guessed that there were about 2,000 at last night's town hall meeting on the Civic Center Plaza. This morning's Whirled's story claimed the number was 300, but we had at least that many packed into Aaronson Auditorium at 5:45 p.m. when it was decided to move up to the plaza, something that the Whirled's reporter must have observed as she tried to find her way into the room through the crowd at that time. Far more were up on the plaza already, and people kept arriving as the 6 p.m. start time approached. A teacher at the event told KFAQ that she sent out several people to count the crowd, and that they counted just shy of 3,000. I was told that someone with the library estimated 2,500. Obviously, it's in the Whirled's interest to downplay the rally and the strong show of support.

KFAQ has a story about the event on its homepage, headlined "Taking Back Tulsa". There's a slideshow hotlinked from the page. (The link doesn't work in Mozilla -- you can get straight to start of the slideshow here.) There are some great shots of the creative signs people brought to the event.

MORE: Although I take great exception to his characterization of Michael DelGiorno, "Average Joe" has a great summary of the event over in the Tulsa Now forums, and you'll find it here. He's been skeptical and critical of the Reform Alliance, but he clearly gained some insight from attending last night's event.

If you haven't already done so, I encourage you to register (it's free) and participate in the conversation.

UPDATE 10:00 pm: I am informed that the Whirled's estimate came from a fire marshal and a library official, that they have these estimates on tape, and that the fire marshal's count was taken as Chris Medlock concluded his remarks on the plaza. I am also told that there were only 147 chairs in Aaronson Auditorium, which would mean that fewer than 300 were in the room before we moved up to the plaza.

My point in what I wrote above was not to accuse the Whirled's reporter of deliberately low-balling the attendance, which I don't believe she would do -- although I could believe that higher-ups at the Whirled might -- but to say that with the crowd already present in Aaronson when she arrived about 5:45, a final, maximum crowd estimate of 300 doesn't pass the common-sense test. I've changed my first paragraph to clarify that. I do find it hard to believe that the number present on the plaza during the heart of the event was almost identical to the number present 15 minutes before the scheduled start of the event. As we moved upstairs, there were people on the plaza who hadn't yet made their way downstairs, and more who arrived before and after things got underway at about 6:10, as it took time for people to find a parking spot and make their way to the plaza.

I misunderstood the source of the estimates of 2,500 and 3,000, which I have second-hand, and I've corrected and clarified the first paragraph above to reflect that. I hope to be able to track the estimates back to the original source.

Whatever the actual number, it was a strong turnout, and it reflected the diversity of Tulsa's citizens.

Poor sports in a plain brown wrapper

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Tuesday witnessed the gratuitous intrusion of politics on the Tulsa Whirled's sports pages. Dave Sittler, once a key member of the team that produced the city's best sports section in the late lamented Tulsa Tribune, has now been reduced to inserting irrelevant criticism of local politicians into his column:

STILLWATER -- You're familiar with the "Gang of Five," right?

No, not that city council Clown Band that seems hell bent on stunting Tulsa's growth. The group I'm referring to doesn't pose as serious a threat as those five 20th century-thinking city council members, who apparently would like to turn Vision 2025 into Vision 1925.

The Clown Band plays in the real world, which in this case they've turned into a five-ringed circus of nasty politics. Here in journalism's "Toy Department," we deal with the games that people are supposed to play for fun.

"Clown band"? It's obvious that Sittler hasn't done any original thinking here. He's just parroting phrases he's heard from Ken Neal and the rest of the inhabitants of the rubber room that houses the Whirled's editorial board.

I figure someone on the top floor thought, "We have some readers who only read the sports section. We need to make sure we properly indoctrinate them as well. Have Sittler insert some irrelevant slams at the Council majority. Better yet, send Sittler home and have a copy editor cut and paste a few grafs from an old Ken Neal editorial."

Or does this opening reflect Sittler's own view of the conventional wisdom? Ordinarily, you don't want to alienate half of your readers before you even get to your topic. Would Sittler open a column with some crack about Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard? Or some snide reference to Kerry's Purple Heart Band-Aids? Political humor usually finds its way to the sports page or the comics page once a characterization has become generally accepted as accurate. If Sittler believes that all of his readers have contempt for the Council's bipartisan Reform Alliance majority, he needs to get out more.

Forget the fact that it repeats inaccurate charges that apply more to the Councilors' critics than it does to them: How rude of the Whirled to inflict their political opinions on people who just want to relax and read about college football.

As Councilor Chris Medlock quipped on KFAQ Tuesday morning: "Penalty on the offense. Unneccessary roughness. Piling on. 15 yards and loss of subscription."

Elsewhere in the sports section, we see evidence that the Whirled is becoming more desperate for ad revenue, resulting in another unwelcome intrusion on the sanctity of the sports section. An alert reader pointed me to Tuesday's scoreboard page -- click here then scroll down to the lower right.

Here's the text of the ad starts off this way:

Tulsans take a stand

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(NOTE: If you can't see the pictures, it's because your firewall or Internet security program doesn't permit "referrer" messages to be sent to the web server for this site. I have "bandwidth protection" enabled, which prevents another website from directly incorporating images from my site, and unavoidably a browser request without a referrer is handled as if it were an attempt at bandwidth theft.)

It was a magnificent sight. By 5:45 Aaronson Auditorium was packed to capacity -- easily 300 people in there, and more already gathered on the Civic Center Plaza, where KFAQ had their van parked. Michael DelGiorno was doing a live "emergency broadcast", preempting Laura Ingraham's syndicated show and setting the stage for the town hall meeting hosted by four members of the City Council's bipartisan Reform Alliance majority. At about 5:50, Councilor Chris Medlock addressed those gathered in the auditorium, and asked for a show of hands -- stay put or move outside to allow more people to hear. By a two-to-one margin they voted to move up to the plaza.

In the middle, you can see Councilor Roscoe Turner speaking. He was the first of the group to address the crowd, followed by Jim Mautino, then Jack Henderson, with Chris Medlock batting cleanup. As you look at that picture, keep in mind there are hundreds more off the right edge, going west into the plaza at least as far as the library entrance, more behind me, and more all the way to Denver. I'm guessing we had about 2,000, but that's just an educated guess. Here's another view, from behind the councilors looking west:

I couldn't take notes -- I had my daughter on my shoulders a lot of the time -- but there were many memorable moments. Jack Henderson went down a list of institutions that have come after the reformers, following the same pattern: "We don't have a personal problem with the Chamber of Commerce, but the leadership of the Chamber of Commerce seems to have a personal problem with us. We don't have a personal problem with the Tulsa World, but the leadership of the Tulsa World seems to have a personal problem with us." This group is not out to get anyone, but the fact that they ask questions seems to have a lot of people out to get them. Henderson pointed out that there had been councilors in the past who would ask tough questions. He thanked God that there were now a majority who would ask the tough questions.

Chris Medlock started by responding directly to the charges that have been leveled against them, then moved on to speak about the positive aims the reformers have for our city. Medlock made it clear that he was and is a supporter of Vision 2025; he simply wants to make sure that it's done right. Medlock pointed out that the city is very different than it once was, but we are still operating under plans drawn up in the 1970s. When our zoning code was developed, retail was dominated by Froug's and C. R. Anthony's and OTASCO and TG&Y; today, it's Home Depot and Lowe's and Wal-Mart. We can and must work together, without hateful rhetoric, to adopt reasonable reforms so that city government will work as it should for our people.

None of this is verbatim, but hopefully there someone will make audio available online before long.

I was impressed that the councilors stayed positive as much as they could, while defending their record. There were no verbal attacks on those who had been attacking them. There was no demagoguery. Medlock rebuffed a suggestion that DelGiorno made about marching on the VIP reception for the arena unveiling.

I'm fading fast here. It was a great event, and the Councilors, their families and supporters, the citizens who came out, and KFAQ radio should all be proud of the part they played in making this important event successful.

Bob Poe: A gift for making enemies

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A reader reminded me today that Bob Poe's wild rants against the City Council's Reform Alliance majority are nothing new. It's just the way he does business. His approach to conflict resolution seems to be, "If you don't agree with me, you're evil and must be destroyed."

At the beginning of his term as Tulsa Metro Chamber Chairman, Poe, a lifelong Democrat, attacked Republican state legislators who had taken a pledge not to raise taxes. His tirade puzzled and offended conservative Republican legislators, who are focused on helping Oklahoma businesses prosper. These legislators expected to be working shoulder to shoulder with the leadership of Tulsa's Chamber of Commerce on crucial economic development issues like lawsuit reform and workers' compensation reform. Instead they find themselves dealing with an organization whose leadership is obsessed with raising taxes and boosting gambling as the solution to Oklahoma's problems.

Of course, Ken Neal and the Tulsa Whirled just love Bob Poe's tax hikes, and they love it when Republicans bail on their principles and support feeding more of your tax dollars to a bloated state government:

Poe called on Republicans to avoid signing "pledges" to oppose any tax increase whatsoever. ...

Poe said lawmakers ought to vote for taxes now, and promised he would support any Republican or Democrat criticized for a tax vote or any other
measure the Legislature might pass to help Oklahoma through a rough economic
time. ...

Did Poes public scolding of legislators help? Maybe.

Will the other major chambers in the state follow his lead?

Will they back him and pressure lawmakers to put aside partisan gain
(for once) and work for Oklahoma?

Its hard to say. Its seldom happened in Oklahoma history.

But Poe has certainly given them their marching orders.

Did you catch that? Poe gave the legislators a "public scolding" and gave them their "marching orders." Not private discussions, not cool reasoning, but public scolding. Isn't that the way to get off on the right foot with elected officials? Who could blame a Republican legislator for wanting nothing more to do with the Metro Tulsa Chamber as long as Poe is chairman? Hopefully, for the sake of all the Chamber's members, the next chairman will be able to mend some fences and build a cooperative working agreement with legislators and city councilors. Or perhaps the membership should take action now and rid themselves of a leader who is bringing their organization into disrepute.

(Side note: Ken Neal misidentifies Poe, a lifelong Democrat, as a "solid Republican." Who needs factchecking when the facts are inconvenient?)

There's been a lot of talk about how public "bickering" and harsh words are making the city look bad and frightening away potential employers. But all the harsh words and divisiveness seem to be coming from Bob Poe, the Tulsa Whirled, and other Cockroach Caucus stalwarts like Council Chairman Randy "You're Toast" Sullivan. Meanwhile, the Reform Alliance councilors ask questions, pursue their oversight duties, and work for fairness and oversight with a calm demeanor, and they're accused of "badgering" and "trickery."

Wouldn't the city be better served by Chamber leadership that respected the will of the people as expressed at the ballot box? The people of Tulsa said we no longer want a rubber-stamp City Council. The Chamber leadership and members of the good-old-boy network had the option of reconciling themselves to this change and working in cooperation with the new Council. Instead they are pursuing a scorched-earth policy, and they don't seem to care how badly it reflects on their city.

More Poe

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Here's another tidbit making the rounds. Although I don't have dates of service, I am told that Bob Poe, chairman of the Tulsa Metro Chamber, used to be the chairman of the Oklahoma Transportation Authority (OTA), formerly the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority. This is fascinating, because Poe's firm has been a contractor to the OTA for over 10 years, serving as consulting engineer. Poe and Associates served as chief engineer on the Creek East Turnpike. It seems strange that someone could be both a board member of the OTA and the head of a company with large contracts with the OTA.

A similar situation existed with former OTA board member Bob Parmele, who is co-owner of Cinnabar, a company that, among other things, specializes in right-of-way land acquisition for roads and turnpikes. Parmele's Cinnabar has also done acquisition for Tulsa County projects, while Parmele has been a long time member of the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority (the fair board).

Makes you shake your head.

Time to take a stand

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Tonight (Wednesday the 29th) at 6 pm, four of the five members of the Tulsa City Council's bipartisan Reform Alliance majority will give their perspective on the state of the city. The Mayor's "state of the city" address was delivered at a fundraising luncheon for the Tulsa Metro Chamber. The Reform Alliance's remarks will be in a public place -- Aaronson Auditorium on the first floor of the Central Library, 5th & Denver downtown -- to the general public, with free admission.

Councilors Jack Henderson, Chris Medlock, Roscoe Turner, and Jim Mautino will be speaking. Sam Roop, the fifth member of the alliance, has a conflict with a college course he's taking, so he'll be speaking at a town hall meeting the next night. Roop's absence will also help alleviate any possible issues with accidentally having a quorum present in violation of the Open Meetings Act.

It is important that everyone who supports their efforts on our behalf show up tonight and show that support publicly. As Michael DelGiorno said this morning, it's no longer a time just for praying and forwarding e-mails, it's time to show up and stand up. You might even want to bring a small sign -- emphasize the positive, why you support what these councilors are doing.

These five councilors have been under a sustained and coordinated attack. Why? Simply for doing their job -- asking questions, exercising oversight over city departments and boards and commissions. Like a dentist discovering a rotten tooth, the Council's gentle probing has produced screams of pain as it finds pockets of decay.

And yes, the Whirled's spinning notwithstanding, the probing has been gentle. Watch the Council meetings and committee meetings on TGOV channel 24. (This week's schedule is here.) The Reformers ask their questions and raise their concerns politely and with a calm demeanor. When questions are dodged, the Reformers press for answers firmly, but without losing their cool. They have demonstrated grace under intense pressure, and I think all of them would credit God's grace for sustaining them through all of the attacks.

Last week's debate over the Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority's (TMUA) $18.5 million revenue bond issue is a great example. (You can catch this one last time Thursday morning on channel 24 -- the rebroadcast begins at 8 am, and the bond issue discussion starts about an hour or so into the meeting.) The Reformers asked questions of Paul Zachary from the Public Works department, Owasso City Manager Rodney Ray, Tulsa Deputy Mayor Steve Sewell, and the head of Owasso's economic development agency.

In the course of the questions, Chris Medlock and the other Reformers made it clear that they do not want to cut off water to the suburbs, and they are willing to sell more water to the suburbs, but they want to ensure that it is at a rate that is fair to Tulsa. At the Mayor's request, the Council voted to delay considering the TMUA bond issue for at least two weeks. Some councilors wanted to proceed with approval for the non-controversial items and defer consideration of the suburban water lines only. After receiving assurances from Paul Zachary that the two week delay would not jeopardize critical projects such as dam repair to Lake Spavinaw and Lake Eucha, the Council voted 6 to 3 to continue the issue to a future meeting. The Reform Alliance split on the issue, with Medlock and Roop agreeing to delay the issue, Henderson, Turner, and Mautino not wanting to delay the projects that have unanimous support, demonstrating that these men are truly exercising independent judgment, not marching in lockstep.

Who is Bob Poe?

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Robert C. Poe is the current Chairman of the Tulsa Metro Chamber, who has gained attention recently for his denunciation of the Reform Alliance majority on the Tulsa City Council. He is the owner of Community National Bank and Trust Company, Poe & Associates (a civil engineering firm), Penterra Co., and Pittman Poe and Associates, Inc.

Poe is a lifelong registered Democrat and an outspoken advocate of higher taxes, such as a gas tax increase (to build roads that would create work for his engineering firm), as well as the proposed tobacco tax that would eliminate city sales taxes on cigarettes, hurting the City of Tulsa and other local governments. That's probably why the Whirled editorial board praises him for his tireless efforts lobbying the Legislature.

Randy Sullivan: "You're toast"

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At about 9:30 Sunday evening, Tulsa City Councilor Chris Medlock was relaxing, watching a movie and eating ice cream with his family when he got a call from Council Chairman Randy Sullivan.

We've written about Randy Sullivan before. He is not related at all to Congressman John Sullivan or to Dan Sullivan, who is running for election in State House District 71. Randy Sullivan is serving his second term as City Councilor for District 7. He was elected chairman this year over significant objections, and despite the fact that his side, the Cockroach Caucus, was defeated in the city elections. He made threats that ended a private school's efforts to buy the old Children's Medical Center for their new campus. He was F&M Bank's point man on the 71st & Harvard rezoning and tried to prevent homeowners from getting a fair hearing in that case.

So in his phone call to Chris Medlock Sunday night, Randy Sullivan had a simple message for Medlock, which managed to be understood, despite his slurred speech: "You're toast." The recall effort is going forward and Medlock and Mautino are the targets. Randy Sullivan said he had been asked by the Tulsa County Republican Party chairman to join other Republican city officials in signing a statement pledging cooperation and renouncing all efforts to recall city officials. He refused. He would only sign such a statement if Medlock would agree to four concessions. Medlock stopped him at that point. (Through another source, Medlock learned of the concessions -- approval of the Owasso and Sperry water lines and approval of the reappointment of Jim Cameron and Lou Reynolds to the TMUA.)

Randy Sullivan had already publicly expressed his contempt for the Reform Alliance majority on the Council, in response to a question at last Thursday's Tulsa Press Club luncheon, at which Tulsa Metro Chamber Chairman Bob Poe spoke. Sullivan expressed his agreement with Poe's attacks on the reformers.

Back in May, Randy Sullivan incorporated Lake Sunset LLC, which is a real estate development company. You don't suppose he stands to benefit financially from new water lines into north Tulsa County?

Wouldn't it be nice if someone else were head of the legislative branch of our city government?

Recall phone survey: whodunit?

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I have received confirmation from multiple reliable sources about the source of the funding for last weekend's automated phone survey targeting the five Tulsa City Councilors who comprise the bipartisan Reform Alliance majority. The clear intent of the calls was to identify voters who would be willing to sign a recall petition to bring down one or more of the reformers. The ultimate goal appears to break the Reform Alliance majority, and replace it with a majority which will preserve the special deals and special privileges that have dominated Tulsa city government over the past two decades.

I have been told that the phone calls were funded by the Home Builders Association of Greater Tulsa (HBA). They've decided to target Councilors Chris Medlock and Jim Mautino, and the only thing that would get them to stop is if the Council confirms the reappointment of Jim Cameron and Lou Reynolds to the Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority (TMUA) board and approves funding for a new water line to Owasso and a feeder water line to Sperry. The message has been passed on to the councilors in question. (I am told that Council Chairman Randy Sullivan is the message boy.) Needless to say Councilors Medlock and Mautino and the rest of the Reform Alliance have too much character and courage to go along with what amounts to extortion.

What we appear to be seeing is an attempt to overturn the City of Tulsa's election results because the City Council majority is looking out for the interests of Tulsa. Whoever is ultimately behind this wants to continue to control Tulsa's water supply to their own financial benefit. In all likelihood, they've been joined by those who want to derail the investigation of the airport in order to protect their business interests. It appears to be a coup d'état funded and led by people who believe that the City of Tulsa should be their own cash cow.

Why would the Home Builders Association be involved in this effort, especially when the two councilors in question have been strongly supportive of extending infrastructure and encouraging new development in east and west Tulsa?

Why does reading a Whirled editorial invoke the same reaction in me as getting a whiff of dirty diaper? It's an annoying and disgusting task, but it's gotta be dealt with. Especially when, in the course of shooting off their mouths without getting their facts straight, the editorial board accuses the Reform Alliance councilors of shooting off their mouths without getting their facts straight. Yes, the Mayor is in Germany on an eight-day Chamber-funded junket, right after his "State of the City" speech before the Metro Tulsa Chamber, and at a time when the City is reconsidering how best to oversee the way the Metro Tulsa Chamber bureaucracy spends our tax dollars for economic development.

Details and a point-by-point rebuttal after the jump.

The Reform Alliance majority on the Tulsa City Council is pressing ahead with efforts to reassert the City of Tulsa's oversight of the millions of hotel/motel sales tax dollars that the City gives to the Tulsa Metro Chamber bureaucracy every year. The money is to pay the Chamber bureaucracy to promote economic development, conventions, and tourism.

Please note the phrase "Chamber bureaucracy". I don't have a quarrel with the hundreds of local businesses that join the Chamber in hopes of supporting local business or networking with other businesses. What's controversial is the Chamber's bureaucracy -- the full-time staff who spend the money that comes from chamber dues and government contracts, like the economic development contract with the city.

As happens with many organizations over time, particularly organizations with paid staff, the Chamber bureaucracy has lost sight of its purpose and seems more concerned with preservation of its perks and power than with providing the services it ostensibly exists to perform.

Mayor LaFortune in his "State of the City" attack address last week did his best to blur the distinction between the businesses that pay dues to the Chamber and the Chamber bureaucracy, trying to characterize the desire of the Council's reform majority to oversee the Chamber bureaucracy as an attack on the integrity of the Chamber's membership. He knows better, and he has whispered plenty of comments, directly and through surrogates, to make reform-minded Tulsans think that he didn't trust Chamber bureaucracy and planned to reform its relationship with City government. But now it appears to serve LaFortune's purposes to make the City's business community think that the Reform Alliance is hostile to their interests. (LaFortune is currently in Germany on a Chamber-paid junket.)

The Chamber's economic development bureaucracy is led by Chamber Senior VP Mickey "No Idea" Thompson, who said last fall that he had "no idea" how to attract the kinds of information technology jobs that we lost in the thousands at WorldCom and Williams.

For over 20 years the Chamber bureaucracy has served as a vendor to the City of Tulsa, providing economic development services, at a cost to taxpayers of over $70 million dollars. During that period Tulsa has suffered two major economic downturns -- the oil bust in the mid-'80s and the tech wreck and aerospace downturn of the last three years. During that period, most of the corporate headquarters we once hosted have slowly drifted away. Some have suggested that it's time we fired this economic development vendor and hired someone who can do the job.

It's funny too that city tax money is paying for a regional economic development effort, which may or may not benefit the City of Tulsa's growth and the growth of its sales tax base. It is interesting that the CEO of the Chamber, Jay Clemens doesn't even live in the City of Tulsa -- he lives in Broken Arrow.

While it may be able to handle the nuts and bolts of wooing businesses, the Chamber bureaucracy has demonstrated an inability to think and act strategically. That's why the Council wants to put the Economic Development Commission, a board appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the Council, in charge of developing an economic development strategy and coordinating and overseeing the various city-funded economic development efforts.

To the Mayor's credit, he did reactivate the EDC, as required by city ordinance. The Council majority wants to make sure it will have the authority to do what needs doing. Too much money has been spent, to too little effect. The Mayor has seemed strangely reluctant to support the Council's efforts, and in his speech he denounced any reappraisal of the City's relationship with the Chamber bureaucracy, as noted above.

There's a concept called SMART goals -- the acronym stands for Sustainable, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Tangible. It's an approach to goal-setting that focuses on concrete results, not pie in the sky. The Chamber bureaucracy seems to have focused on inputs -- what it has attempted, as opposed to what it has achieved in the realm of economic development. (The lack of achievement, we are expected to believe, is entirely due to circumstances beyond its control.) The EDC should set SMART goals for what the Chamber bureaucracy will accomplish with the taxpayer money it receives. If it can't measure up, time to look for someone else to do the job.

One more thing: The City Council should require a full annual audit of all the Chamber's finances. I have worked for companies that are Federal contractors, and the Federal government has the right to look at balance sheets, hourly rates, and timesheets to ensure that the government isn't paying for work the contractor is doing for other customers. Because money is fungible, and there is the potential for redirecting government funds from the intended government project to something else, the government must be able to look at records for the contractor's entire business. The City should apply the same standard to major City vendors like the Chamber bureaucracy.

Those mysterious phone calls

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More about those Saturday phone calls targeting certain Tulsa city councilors for recall -- here's another report from Council District 6:

"This is a brief survey about Tulsa city government. Do you support the decisions being made my your city councilor Jim Mautino? Press 1 for yes and 2 for no."

Caller ID was blocked.

Also learned that these calls were received in Council District 1, directed at Councilor Jack Henderson, which means that all five members of the Council's Reform Alliance majority are being targeted.

Channel 2 reported on the phone calls tonight on their 5 and 10 PM broadcasts. The story included an interview with Tulsa County Republican Chairman Don Burdick, who denounced the targeting of the three Republican councilors and asked for those responsible to come clean. Democratic officials were unavailable for comment. The story led off the 5 pm news. (Channel 2 archives the last two weeks of news broadcasts, and the September 19th broadcasts should be up in the next day or two, linked from this page.)

Finally this pithy comment from the TulsaNow forums, by someone going by the handle "sendoff":

Whoever is behind this is squirming like a leech with salt poured on it. These attacks are beyond absurdity, and are becoming downright comical.

The attack moves to the phones

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Just got word that an automated phone survey is going out today. So far it has been received by people in four Tulsa City Council districts: 2 (Chris Medlock), 3 (Roscoe Turner), 5 (Sam Roop), and 6 (Jim Mautino). The number is showing up on caller ID with a 212 area code, which is Manhattan. The survey is a single question asking for a touch tone response: "Do you have confidence in your City Councilor, ? Press 1 for yes, 2 for no." I haven't heard whether anyone is receiving more than one question, but it seems that different households are getting asked different questions. Another question that was received: "Do you agree with the tactics used by Councilor Chris Medlock?"

It's obvious this is connected with a recall effort. We don't know yet who is behind this and how comprehensive the coverage is. Are they targeting registered voters, people who vote in city elections, or random voters? With some help from you, we can figure it out pretty quickly.

By the way, it would be useful if you answer the question as if you oppose the councilor. Then it will be possible to learn what they are doing with this information. It would also be interesting to learn if a "no" answer leads to further questions.

If you get such a call or know someone who did, please e-mail me at blog AT batesline DOT com, and provide the following information:

  • The exact question that was asked -- word for word, if you're able
  • The number on caller ID
  • Your name, address, zip code and phone number -- this will allow me to analyze the pattern of the calls

This looks like a very expensive operation. It would be interesting to know who is paying for it. If the money is coming from the Chamber, it is effectively being paid for with tax dollars, since the Chamber commingles money from the City and money from other sources. It may very well be an attack in response to Council efforts to bring some accountability to the way the Chamber spends taxpayer funds on economic development efforts. Whoever is behind it obviously feels they have a lot to gain financially by getting rid of the Reform Alliance.

UPDATE 6:00 PM: A call received by a voter in District 6, who relays the gist of the phone call. This is not necessarily verbatim because of background noise:

This is a brief survey about Tulsa city government. Do you support the decisions being made my your city councilor Jim Mautino? Press 1 for yes and 2 for no.

[After pressing 2 for no, the following two questions were heard.]

Would you support a recall election for Jim Mautino? Press 1 for yes, press 2 for no.

Would you sign a petition for a special recall election? Press 1 for yes, press 2 for no.

Pretty clear what the Cockroach Caucus is after.

My question is this: What are the roaches so afraid of that they would spend huge amounts of money on this campaign? Some of the roaches are Republicans, if in name only -- why risk party unity at a time when the party needs to pull together to elect Tom Coburn and gain the majority in the State House?

The motto of the Cockroach Caucus seems to be "rule or ruin".

To whom does the Mayor answer?

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Tulsa Mayor Bill LaFortune delivered the annual "State of the City" address today.

When the President reports on the State of the Union, he addresses a joint session of Congress, the elected representatives of the people of the United States of America.

When the Governor delivers a "State of the State" address, he addresses a joint session of the Oklahoma Legislature, the elected representatives of the people of the State of Oklahoma.

But when the Mayor of Tulsa speaks on the State of the City, he speaks not to the City Council, the elected representatives of the citizens of Tulsa, but to the Tulsa Metro Chamber, at a fundraising banquet for the Tulsa Metro Chamber.

You'd think he would want to demonstrate some independence from this organization, which is, after all, a vendor to the City of Tulsa (as Councilor Jim Mautino rightly identified it), providing unsuccessful economic development services to the City, which are paid for by $1.5 million annually in hotel/motel sales tax revenue. As a private organization, the Chamber is not required to give a detailed accounting of how that money is being spent, and is not required to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not commingled with dues and privately-raised funds. Money is fungible.

As always, keep in mind that when we speak of the Chamber, we don't mean to disparage the thousands of Tulsa area businesses and institutions that are members of the organization. Most join simply because it's what you do. But the Chamber as an institution, particularly the economic development department, seems to have long ago lost track of its purpose and has become a stagnant organization focused on maintaining its power and perquisites.

The Chamber is paying to send the Mayor on a trip to Germany in the name of economic development. Is the Chamber lobbying the Mayor with taxpayer dollars to keep the taxpayer dollars flowing its way?

I could not be at the speech, which was not open to the public anyway. I did hear a few audio excerpts of the speech. I understand from eyewitnesses that the Mayor was introduced by Chamber President Bob Poe, who delivered a vigorous verbal attack on the City Council's Reform Alliance. Unfortunately, the person recording the event for TGOV 24 (the staffer referenced here) didn't happen to record that segment for our enlightenment. The Mayor didn't refute or disagree with anything Mr. Poe (a Democrat) said and in fact piled on, declaring his commitment to keeping the Chamber on the City government teat and denouncing anyone who disagrees.

I would welcome additional details, and would welcome a recording of the event (including Poe's remarks) even more.

There is more to be said, but the most important question is this: To whom does Bill LaFortune answer? To what constituency does he consider himself accountable? From what I heard of his speech, he gave an unequivocal answer today. Too bad for the rest of us.

Why these two men?

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The full-throttle media campaign to reappoint Jim Cameron and Lou Reynolds to the Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority continues at the top of the front page of today's Metro section in the Tulsa Whirled (jump page here). Mayor LaFortune wants to call a special meeting of the City Council to specifically respond to Councilor Sam Roop's stated reason for refusing to support the reappointments, namely that the TMUA's settlement of the water-quality lawsuit against poultry producers succeeded only in enriching the attorneys who handled the case and failed to get any money to reimburse the City for the extra expense of treating chicken-poop-befouled water.

Clearly, the Mayor is hoping to get Roop to break his public commitment not to support the reappointment of Reynolds and Cameron. Roop, along with Chris Medlock and Jim Mautino, signed a letter to the Mayor communicating that commitment.

Why this insistence on getting these two men back on the TMUA? Surely the Mayor could find two other Tulsans to nominate as replacements. Cameron and Reynolds would probably be glad to move on to other things at this point. The Mayor's (and the Whirled's) refusal to move on is odd.

Also odd was this week's unprecedented letter from Richard Carter, the Mayor of Broken Arrow:

Normally, I would not comment about happenings in our neighbor city, but the treatment of Jim Cameron and Louis Reynolds by some of the Tulsa City Council members went far beyond my tolerance level.

As chairman of the Regional Municipal Utilities Authority this past year, I have worked with and come to know both gentlemen quite well, and have witnessed firsthand their dedicated service.

They both spend many uncompensated hours working for the benefit of Tulsa citizens and have always demonstrated to me the highest level of competence and integrity.

Mr. Cameron and Mr. Reynolds deserve kudos, not condemnation, and it puzzles me as to what self-serving motive some city coun cilors think they will satisfy by denying the reappointment of these two dedicated, public-spirited volunteers. I sincerely hope that Tulsa Mayor Bill LaFortune will submit both their names again and that the Tulsa City Council will approve them both.

I don't have a problem with Mayor Carter praising these two men, but his slap at the City Council makes no sense. No one on the City Council has condemned Cameron or Reynolds. The majority simply voted no when their names were submitted for reappointment. No one has mistreated these men. They aren't losing salary or benefits. They aren't being deprived of anything to which they are entitled. Their terms have expired and the majority on the City Council believe it's time for a change. Next, please.

At the heart of the reappointments dispute is a debate about whether the TMUA's policies are fueling suburban growth at the expense of the City of Tulsa. And given that fact, it doesn't bolster the case for reappointment to have the mayor of Tulsa's biggest suburb writing to criticize Tulsa's elected officials.

Recall process

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During my appearance this last Tuesday on KFAQ's Michael DelGiorno show, I was asked by Michael to look into the City of Tulsa's recall process. While Mayor Bill LaFortune, Councilor Chris Medlock, and I were all up in New York at the Republican National Convention, there were a number of people calling Michael's show wanting to launch a recall effort against the Mayor.

A recall is not a tool to be used lightly, but it does provide a check against official wrongdoing or neglect of duty when such conduct falls short of criminal conduct. Having supported Bill LaFortune in the 2002 Republican mayoral primary over other worthy candidates, it grieves me to think that he has become so estranged from the city's grassroots that some are unwilling to endure his continuation in office for another 19 months. It appears to many observers that he has not fulfilled the promises of reform and cooperation with the City Council which won him the support of so many Tulsans. In fact, it seems that he has aligned himself with those who want to preserve the status quo at City Hall regardless and set himself in opposition to the Council's Reform Alliance majority.

Article VII is the article of the City Charter dealing with recalls. Here's the timeline of the process, using maximum times for each step:

The Outsiders

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Ken Neal's weekly rant in Sunday's Whirled takes a new tack in his ongoing campaign against the Tulsa City Council's Reform Alliance. (Nice to see that the term I coined is taking hold -- let's see if the Whirled starts referring to the rest of the Council as the Cockroach Caucus.)

He has now concluded that this majority of meddlesome troublemakers is the result of a structural problem with our form of government -- it makes it too easy for the wrong sort of person to win:

When the average voter turnout per council district is but 2,500 or so, outsiders can shape the election with relatively small amounts of money and that is what happened last spring. Tom Baker, Tulsa's former fire chief and one of the most knowledgeable and reasonable of councilors, barely won with a 24-vote margin.

There was a concerted effort to beat all the sitting councilors because of zoning decisions at 51st and 71st Streets and Harvard Avenue. In both cases, councilors had little choice under the law but to approve the zoning changes.

A slight change in the way Tulsa elects a council would make it much harder for a few well-heeled activists to shape the election.

I could spend all night dissecting the internal contradictions in those three paragraphs. Ken, are they "well-heeled" or are they spending "relatively small amounts of money"? Either way, the point is clear -- the current system makes it possible for well-organized grass-roots campaigns to succeed, and in the Whirled's eyes, that's a bad thing. It means that the Council might be run by "outsiders", strangers to the corridors of power, who will interfere with all the cozy insider deals and relationships that have traditionally characterized Tulsa city government, certainly over the last 20 years.

So Ken's solution is to change the City Charter dramatically, by making five of the Council seats elected at-large, with the remaining four seats elected from much larger districts. Instead of council districts of 44,000 population (already bigger than a state House of Representatives district), five of the councilors would represent all 400,000 residents of the city -- more than half the size of a congressional district -- while the four district councilors would represent 100,000 each, as many people as in one and a half State Senate districts.

About this Archive

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

Tulsa City Hall: August 2004 is the previous archive.

Tulsa City Hall: October 2004 is the next archive.

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