Tulsa City Hall: December 2004 Archives

AG addresses conflicts of interest


Interesting article in today's Whirled about Attorney General Drew Edmondson's opinion issued in response to a question about conflicts of interest on state boards and commissions. You'll find the opinion, which was released on December 15, here. The Whirled article starts here and continues here. I haven't read through the opinion yet to see whether the Whirled article gives an accurate account of the opinion.

The question came from former State Senator Ben Robinson, and concerned the Environmental Quality Board, which oversees the state Department of Environmental Quality.

A couple of interesting points:

Mere abstention from voting may not be sufficient to avoid a conflict of interest. A board member could have considerable influence over a decision even without casting a vote.

Title 60 trusts are excluded from the constitutional provision on which the opinion is based, but some trust board members also hold positions on related city boards, which would be subject to the conflict provision. The story mentions that the board members of the Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority, a public trust, and also board members of the Tulsa Utility Board, a body established by the City Charter, and the members of the Tulsa Airport Improvement Trust are also members of the Tulsa Airport Authority.

The story mentioned Councilor Sam Roop's potential conflict of interest involving a new business venture seeking to provide networking services to the city, and Councilor Roscoe Turner's service on the board of a charity which sought Community Development Block Grant funds. It was interesting that no mention was made of Councilor Bill Christiansen's status as an airport tenant, and the controversy over airport rules which seemed to put his sole competitor at a disadvantage.

The City Council majority was right to raise this issue and to demand full disclosure, not only for the bodies covered by this AG opinion, but for all city authorities, boards, and commissions.

Videoblogging Tulsa


www.tulsaworld.cc features photos and video taken around Tulsa, particularly concerning local politics. This page has lengthy video excerpts from last Thursday's Council meeting and the debate over reappointing Jim Cameron and Lou Reynolds to the water board, including Councilor Jim Mautino's speech, in which he lays out the facts about the TMUA's neglect of areas within Tulsa city limits while they rush to serve the suburbs. The site also has extensive coverage of problems with the airport noise abatement program. Good to see a site devoted to eyewitness coverage of local events.

Watery business


This evening the Council will once again consider the Mayor's reappointment of Jim Cameron and Lou Reynolds to the Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority, the quango that controls Tulsa's water. It's been amazing to see how much anger has been directed at the Council majority for refusing to approve the reappointment, and how much energy has been spent trying to change their decision.

A passing mention in today's "Bleat" by James Lileks may help to explain why it matters so much to some people. He's writing about the historical novel Pompeii, by Robert Harris.

The hero is the local official in charge of the water supply for the cities around Pompeii, and most of the book concerns his efforts to fix a break in the aqueduct. ... Of course, water is a commodity, so there’s corruption of the “Chinatown” variety.

That's a reference to the 1974 film starring Jack Nicholson, set in Los Angeles in the early 20th century, and loosely based on controversies surrounding the Los Angeles Aqueduct, which carried water from the Owens River valley to the San Fernando Valley, making it possible to develop the valley, and making some land speculators very, very rich.

Here's the plot summary from IMDb:

Hollis Mulwray is a chief engineer of the water department. Ida Sessions, pretending to be his wife Evelyn, asks P.I. JJ Jake Gittes to investigate his adulterous ways. Jake takes photos of Hollis with a young lady. Hollis then turns up murdered, which Jake decides to investigate. Jake finds more than he was looking for. He discovers a plot to buy cheap, unwatered land for low prices, water the land, and sell it for millions of dollars. The plot is masterminded by one Noah Cross, who is Evelyn's father and Hollis' one-time business partner. His investigation leads him to an affair with Evelyn and a discussion with Noah Cross, both of whom seem curiously interested in the girl Hollis was seen with.

Subtract the murder and adultery subplots, and what you have left is a plot to direct public resources to help certain connected developers become very wealthy. The vehemence of the effort to keep Cameron and Reynolds on the water board make some folks wonder if something like that could happen here.

If you care about this issue, tonight is the time to show up and be heard -- 6 p.m. at City Hall.

Whirled endorses Medlock


Tulsa City Councilor Chris Medlock takes a trip down memory lane, back to his special election primary run for State House District 69 in 1994, back when the Tulsa Whirled editorial board actually liked him, and gave him their endorsement:

ON Tuesday, Republican voters in Tulsa's House District 69 will pick someone to represent them in the state House of Representatives. They should do themselves and the rest of Tulsa a big service by picking Chris Medlock.

Of the three GOP candidates, Medlock is the clear choice. At 35, he is a well-educated marketing and research analyst for the T.D. Williamson Co. ...

He is intimately acquainted with the need for adequate higher education facilities for Tulsa. He has been a staunch supporter of public school reform and new business development.

He also will provide Tulsa with another strong voice against crime. Articulate and knowledgeable on legislative issues, Medlock is exactly the kind of young person Tulsans should be encouraging to enter the political arena.

The voters in District 69 should have no hesitation in voting for Chris Medlock.

What's changed in ten years? As Chris himself notes, in 1994, he was considered the least conservative of the candidates, which would have won the admiration of the Whirledlings. Over the intervening years, Chris moved to the right, part of an even longer journey from a liberal, irreligious upbringing. Once pro-choice, Chris is now decidedly pro-life. Once a Unitarian youth minister, Chris is now part of a Presbyterian congregation. Having known Chris for nearly six years, I suspect several factors played a part: reading socially conservative thinkers and authors like Bill Bennett and Robert Bork, the experience of being surrogate dad to two teenage girls (a Russian exchange student who "adopted" Chris and his wife Cheryl, and the daughter of his late brother, who died the Saturday before his first election to the Council), and the prayers of conservative Christian friends in the Republican Party, who admired his energy, intellect, and boldness, and hoped to see those abilities put to the service of better principles.

Those prayers have been answered. Chris Medlock is the kind of city councilor we've needed for a long time, and the fact that powerful, shadowy forces have lined up to try to remove him from office is an indication of how sick and corrupt Tulsa's political culture is.

When first elected, Chris did not expect to be viewed as a radical. But as he witnessed the City's treatment of ordinary citizens, as he observed the way city trusts, boards and commissions operate, as he looked at the ineffectual economic development efforts of the Chamber bureaucracy, he could not in good conscience let the status quo continue without accountability.

Chris never expected to be at odds with Mayor Bill LaFortune expected to work side-by-side with Mayor Bill LaFortune to help the Mayor implement his promised reforms. But as Chris pursued his principled course, and as the Mayor purged voices for reform from his inner circle of advisors and chose to listen to the siren song of the Cockroach Caucus, they naturally found themselves on opposite sides of issues like economic development reform.

The Whirled and its publisher and their allies are pursuing their own interests, which are rarely and only belatedly disclosed. Chris didn't set out to alienate the Whirled, but in pursuing what is best for our city, he has come up against the cozy arrangements that suit the Whirled and the shadowy bunch backing the recall just fine.

An anonymous commenter to Chris's entry tracks the Whirled's decline over the same period. To paraphrase the Whirled circa 1994, the readers should have no hesitation in canceling their subscriptions. And the voters should have no hesitation in supporting Chris Medlock through this recall attempt.

Jim Rice, a Tulsa businessman, commissioned a song in support of the "Gang of Five," the alliance of reform-minded Councilors given a majority by the voters nine months ago. Two of those councilors are being targeted with a recall petition by entrenched special interests, whose ultimate aim is to grab back control and have a City Council that will serve those special interests without question.

The song is a parody of the Merle Haggard hit "Fightin' Side of Me" and Homeowners for Fair Zoning has the song on its multimedia page. It's a word of warning to the members of the Cockroach Caucus, and to others, like Mayor LaFortune, who play footsie with the Cockroach Caucus -- don't mess with our councilors, who are doing their best to serve all Tulsans, not just a favored few.

Rice was on the Michael DelGiorno show on KFAQ 1170 this morning talking about why he commissioned this song. He owns Central Towing and Recovery, and he's one of several towing company owners trying to get the city to use more than one service. Right now, if Tulsa Police needs a car towed, they call Storey Wrecker, which has an exclusive five-year contract. Cities as large as Oklahoma City and as small as Catoosa, the Tulsa County Sheriff's Department, and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol use multiple towing services, rotating calls among them, which improves response time, and spreads the work around. The City Council reformers heard the concerns of Rice and other wrecker owners and put the issue on the agenda to gather information and discuss whether there might be a better approach.

Towing for municipal governments can be a lucrative business, particularly if the towing company has the right to sell off unclaimed vehicles. The Chicago Sun-Times did an investigative series on the City of Chicago's towing business, and found that the city was selling unclaimed cars to the towing company (whose owner is a major donor to Mayor Daley's campaigns) for scrap prices, less than $130 each, no matter how new or well-maintained the car was. The towing company turns around and auctions the cars off at market values and pockets the difference. The owner of the unclaimed car is still stuck with the responsibility for whatever fines prompted the car being towed and for towing and storage fees -- none of the profit the towing company makes goes to satisfy those debts. The system is ripe for abuse and the Sun-Times documents several cases.

Meanwhile, Rice said on KFAQ this morning that he was called at home on his unlisted phone number by Tim Bartlett, an employee of the City of Tulsa in the Public Works department, who pushed for him to support the recall effort against Councilors Jim Mautino and Chris Medlock. Rice said that Bartlett suggested that Rice's efforts to get city business would be frustrated if he refused to play along.

There is something very wrong about a city employee, protected under civil service with the intention of insulating him from politics, using that position to coerce others to participate on one side of a political issue. Even if Bartlett was calling from his own phone on his own time, it was his position with the city that made his warning/threat to Rice credible. The matter should be investigated, and if Bartlett made such a phone call, it ought to cost him his job. It ought also to cost whoever -- his boss at Public Works, perhaps? -- put him up to making the call.

At some risk to his business, Rice didn't agree to play along with the Cockroach Caucus, and instead decided to find a way to show his support for these councilors who were willing to hear the concerns of local business owners.

Music can do far more than mere words to rally support and boost morale. Thanks to Jim Rice for giving us a battle hymn for the cause of reform in Tulsa.

Tulsa City Councilors Jim Mautino and Chris Medlock have just submitted their responses to the preliminary recall petitions. The response, limited to 200 words or less, must be submitted by the target of a preliminary recall petition within five days after the official has been served with the preliminary petition. The response will appear side-by-side with the 200-word reasons for recall on the supporting petition. The City Clerk will approve the form of the supporting petitions, which must be signed by 488 qualified District 6 electors in the case of Jim Mautino, 622 District 2 voters in the case of Chris Medlock.

Here is the response submitted by Councilor Chris Medlock. The response submitted by Jim Mautino is identical, mutatis mutandis:

Councilor Jim Mautino and I are honored that you, our constituents, elected us as your voice in city government.

We both took an oath to be good stewards of your government. We further promised, during our campaigns, to ensure that Tulsa’s city government serves all Tulsans and not just a favored few.

We promised to serve you with integrity. By keeping these promises, we have angered many who have previously benefited financially from old practices.

We agree with Mayor LaFortune who said recall “hampers our effort to find real solutions to the problems facing” Tulsa.

We agree with the League of Women Voters of Metropolitan Tulsa when they say this recall:

  • Would be a waste of time, energy and money.
  • Contains accusations in this petition that do not specify reasons for recall which are consistent with Oklahoma law.
  • Effectively disenfranchises you, the residents of District 2.

Jim Mautino and I thank you for allowing us to serve you as Tulsa city councilors. We promise to continue to work hard ensuring your business in city government is conducted with integrity.

I have a good excuse when something newsworthy happens, and I don't get around to writing about it for days or weeks or ever. It's just little ol' me writing this thing, and I have plenty of other responsibilities that have a higher claim on my time.

I don't know what the Tulsa Whirled's excuse is. The Whirled has a huge staff, plenty of paper, plenty of ink, and plenty of webspace if they run out of paper and ink on a given day.

Saturday the Whirled finally did a story about the League of Women Voters press release opposing the recall of two Tulsa City Councilors. The League's statement was released on Monday, November 22. The Whirled's story was buried on an inside page at the back of the first section, in the edition with the lowest circulation in a given week, 12 days after the League's statement was released.

Today the Whirled published a story about a City Council committee meeting (jump page here) that happened on Tuesday, five days earlier, at which meeting the possibility of increasing the upcoming bond issue amount from $238 million to $250 million was discussed. The story headlined the Local section of the Sunday edition. The headline, "Bond issues may keep council at odds" suggests that that rowdy "Gang of Five" is arguing and bickering for no good purpose. The story itself doesn't convey that impression at all. It mentions Councilor Chris Medlock pushing for $450,000 in funding for a new bridge over Fred Creek -- the existing bridge acts as a dam and exacerbates upstream flooding. Medlock's proposal is supported by the Mayor. The story quotes Councilor Jim Mautino as concerned about the higher bond issue amount causing a net increase in property taxes. Nothing in the story suggests that there were any heated words or significant disagreement -- no one was "at odds". And isn't it interesting that only Medlock and Mautino are quoted. I think the intention was for the reader to read the headline, glimpse the names Medlock and Mautino in the body of the story, and move on without reading it, but with a mental association between the words "at odds" and these two councilors.

Story delays, story timing, story placement, headline selection -- just four more ways the Tulsa Whirled practices media bias to advance its business interests and those of its cronies.

Back online


Thanks to Jace Herring and the crew at BlogHosts for getting us back online. BlogHosts and their customers were offline for about 15 hours because of a server problem. Even though BlogHosts is going out of business at the end of the month, they're still devoted to fulfilling their responsibilities as a hosting provider.

Meanwhile, I got a mention in the Whirled this morning, so I'm told. No time to write more this morning, but you can read what I wrote about Lake Sunset LLC here.

About this Archive

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

Tulsa City Hall: November 2004 is the previous archive.

Tulsa City Hall: January 2005 is the next archive.

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