Tulsa City Hall: May 2005 Archives

Change the charter?


As mandated by the City Charter, every odd-numbered year the Tulsa City Council receives recommendations for amendments to the City Charter, evaluates the suggestions, and, if a suggestion is supported by a majority of the Council, the amendment is placed on the following year's general election ballot.

We're in the first phase of that process, and suggestions are due to the Council by July 1. You'll find details on the Council's home page. Suggestions for charter amendments can be e-mailed to suggestions@tulsacouncil.org or you can fax them to 596-1964.

John S. Denney has submitted a few suggestions and has posted them on the Homeowners for Fair Zoning newslog. His amendments have to do with zoning, the City Attorney, and disclosure of conflicts of interest for councilors. He also supports eliminating the recall process entirely; officials could still be removed for cause in accordance with the process defined by state statutes. I especially like his suggestion that the City Attorney's position should be removed from the classified service (civil service). I'd extend the idea to include all city department heads -- the Mayor should be able to appoint whom he will to run city departments, with the advice and consent of the Council. As it stands, the Mayor has very little control over who will carry out his policies, which makes city government less accountable than it should be to the people who pay for it.

(By the way, in response to a comment on an earlier entry -- I am not the same person as Michael S. Bates, the human resources director for the City of Tulsa. He and I are among about half a dozen Michael Bateses registered to vote in Tulsa County.)

An election result like this ought to convince you that first-past-the-post is a lousy way to run an election. Never mind for the moment who won -- none of the candidates came anywhere near a majority.

Ideally, you want a system where voting for your favorite candidate can't help your least favorite candidate win. You want a way to handle races with more than two candidates so that the winner is the candidate who would have beaten each of the other candidates in a head-to-head election. You want a system where no candidate -- not a Ross Perot, nor a Gary Richardson -- can be a spoiler.

In this election, there is no way to know for sure if Martinson would have beaten Phillips or Harer or even Nichols in a head-to-head race.

Adding a two-candidate runoff gets you closer to the ideal system I described above, but with the top three so close, there is still the possibility of the order of finish varying had the minor candidates not been in the race. Between them Nichols, Harjo, Weaver, and Jackson received 601 votes, and there were only 63 votes separating 2nd and 3rd place, 74 separating 1st and 3rd. If only the top three had been in the race, where would those votes have gone? We can't know, but any two of the three might have wound up as the top two.

Louisiana has a system where all candidates run against each other, regardless of party, and if no one gets 50% of the vote, the top two candidates face off in a runoff. In 1991, with twelve candidates in the race, disgraced ex-Governor Edwin Edwards received 34%, former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke received 32%, incumbent Governor Buddy Roemer received 27%, and the remaining nine candidates received 7%. The runoff was "between the crook and the Klansman," but we can't know what the initial result would have been if the nine minor candidates had not been in the race. Roemer may well have received enough of that 7% to put him in second place instead of Duke. There's little doubt that in a head-to-head race with either Duke or Edwards, Roemer would have won. There was a similar result in the 1990 Democrat primary for Governor in Oklahoma (David Walters, Mike Turpin, Steve Lewis) -- the top three clustered together, and enough minor candidate votes that any two of the top three might have made the runoff if the minor candidates had been eliminated.

What voting system eliminates those sorts of anomalies? Instant runoff voting (IRV) does. Under IRV, voting is simple. Voters rank the candidates in order: I mark a 1 next to my favorite, then mark a 2 next to the name of the candidate who would be the my choice if my favorite weren't in the race, and so on down the list.

It's called instant runoff voting because it's equivalent to having a series of runoff elections, eliminating the low vote-getter each pass and choosing among the remaining candidates. The advantage of IRV over a series of runoff elections is that you only have to open the polls once. IRV is used to elect the President of Ireland, members of Parliament in Australia, and here in Tulsa it was used at the 1st District Republican Conventions of 2000 and 2004 to elect delegates and alternates to the Republican National Convention. I first experienced IRV in college -- we used it in our fraternity to elect officers.

At the very least, Tulsa needs a runoff in special elections, but it would be better still to use IRV in all elections. As a charter city, Tulsa could choose to do that.

The final unofficial returns in the Tulsa City Council District 5 special election, from the Tulsa County Election Board, with all precincts reporting and absentee ballots included:

Martinson 1129 28.93%
Phillips 1118 28.64%
Harer 1055 27.03%
Nichols 389 9.97%
Weaver 131 3.36%
Harjo 58 1.49%
Jackson 23 0.59%

Although no official announcement has been made, word around City Hall is that acting City Attorney Alan Jackere will be appointed City Attorney, and Mayor Bill LaFortune has said an announcement will be made tomorrow.

I spoke to the Mayor as he was leaving tonight's neighborhood meeting about the proposed Yale Avenue bridge. Here is a link to a 2 MB WMV (Windows Media) file of the interview, which runs about nine minutes. (Sorry for the video quality -- I am still learning how to get video from the camera to the hard drive, and I probably should have picked a higher resolution or some better compression settings.) In our conversation, I asked the Mayor how he thought the appointment of a Democrat holdover from the Savage administration would be viewed by the conservative Republicans who supported his election, and I asked him how he thought neighborhood associations would react to the appointment of an attorney who was involved in controversial zoning opinions surrounding the 71st and Harvard F&M Bank case, decisions which undermined and ultimately nullified the protest petition process. He didn't have an answer when I asked if Jackere had ever issued an opinion that went against developer interests.

All right, you say, this British election stuff is mildly interesting, but what does it have to do with the situation in Tulsa? Plenty. Britain's "first-past-the-post" electoral system has a fundamental flaw that works against enacting the will of the majority, and Tulsa's upcoming City Council special election -- no primary, no runoff, no majority required -- has the same flaw, only to a greater degree. The flaw requires voters to do more than simply vote for their favorite candidate, if they want to ensure that the outcome is at least acceptable to a majority of voters. Strategy is required.

First-past-the-post means no majority is required to win a seat. Whoever gets the most votes wins, no matter how small the percentage of the total vote. If 20% of the electorate loves Candidate Smith, and the other 80% hates him, but are split evenly between five or six candidates, the hated Mr. Smith wins anyway. In the 2001 UK general election, the winning candidate received a majority of the vote (greater than 50%) in less than half the constituencies. 333 seats out of 659 had a winning percentage below 50%, 26 seats had a winning percentage below 40%, and in two seats, Argyll and Bute, and Perth, both in Scotland, the winning percentage was just under 30%. (Thanks to the UK Elections Directory for making the 2001 results available in spreadsheet form.)

Winning without a majority is common in the UK because there are three nationally competitive parties -- Labour, Conservative, and Liberal Democrat -- and in Scotland and Wales, there's also a pro-independence party that has a significant base of support, (Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru, respectively). If voters who supported the winning candidate in the last election became disaffected, there were at least two other places they could take their votes, and an unpopular MP could stay manage to in office if his opponents split the rest of the votes evenly. This is how Tony Blair's Labour Party managed to retain a majority of the seats in the House of Commons, despite taking only 35.2% of the nationwide vote, down from 40.7% in 2001. If the entire 5.5% swing away from Labour had gone to the Conservatives, there would have been moving vans at Number 10, but most of it went to the Liberal Democrats, the third place party. If a voter's main goal had been to get rid of Tony Blair as prime minister, the smart thing would have been to vote for whichever party stood the best chance of beating the Labour candidate in his constituency, even if that meant a Tory voting for a LibDem or vice versa. It's called tactical voting, and anti-Tory activists tried to convince anti-Tory voters to give it a try in 1992 and nearly succeeded -- the Conservatives barely managed a majority of the seats despite winning nearly 41% of the vote.

In Tulsa on Tuesday we have an election which will determine which of two factions -- the Cockroach Caucus and the Reform Alliance will gain overall control of the City Council. The two factions are fundamentally divided over policy and philosophy (although the Cockroach Caucus would like you to think that it's all a matter of personality and temperament). There are four serious candidates in the race -- two, Bill Martinson and Andy Phillips, have the support of elements of the Cockroach Caucus, and two, Charlotte Harer and Al Nichols, are supported by pro-reform activists. There is a real danger that pro-reform voters could form a majority of those who vote on Tuesday but still lose the election by splitting that pro-reform vote between two candidates.

I can illustrate the danger by telling you about the results in the South Belfast constituency. In Northern Ireland, there are two main political sympathies but four main parties -- two nationalist parties that want all Ireland united in the Republic of Ireland (Social Democratic and Labour Party, Sinn Fein), two unionist parties that want Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom (Democratic Unionist Party, Ulster Unionist Party). To oversimplify, within each grouping there are two parties that share a central aim but differ on how best to achieve that aim. All four parties competed for the South Belfast seat, which had been held by an Ulster Unionist.

In Thursday's vote, unionist parties received 51.1% of the vote, while nationalist parties received 41.3% -- the rest of the votes went to three minor parties which are neither unionist nor nationalist. Even though a majority of voters supported unionists, the winning candidate was a nationalist. Most of the nationalist votes went to the SDLP candidate, who took 32.3% of the vote, while the DUP and UUP candidates split the unionist vote almost down the middle -- 28.4% and 22.7% respectively. If there were a runoff, the DUP candidate would almost certainly have won, but there isn't going to be a runoff -- just a "winner" who had two-thirds of the voters against him.

In such a situation, the only way to ensure that the winner is someone acceptable to the majority is for each voter to conduct the runoff in his head before he goes to vote. A voter should ask himself, "Of the candidates acceptable to me, which one has the most support already? Which one has the best chance of winning?" That question is easier to answer if polls have been conducted, but you can still make an educated assessment by looking at the segments of the electorate that are likely to back each candidate.

The South Belfast scenario may well play itself out in Tulsa's District 5, but the stakes are higher here. If the reform candidates split a majority of the vote and lose the election, it will be cold comfort to say that we would have won if there had been a runoff. We'll have to suffer for the next 11 months with the Cockroach Caucus back in control of the Council.

The situation here is complicated by the fact that each of the factions has a serious candidate from each political party. That's part of the data that has to be considered in casting a strategic vote. You may not care what party label a Council candidate wears, but some voters will, and that affects which candidates have the best chance of winning. Charlotte Harer's long list of endorsements by elected Republicans like Senator Jim Inhofe and Congressman John Sullivan will carry a lot of weight with those voters who care most of all about electing a good conservative Republican.

Al Nichols, a Democrat and a reformer, is a good man and would be a good councilor. His credentials as a neighborhood activist are impeccable, and he has the best understanding of land use issues of any of the candidates in the race. I don't believe that neighborhood activists and voters concerned about land use constitute a sufficient base of support to win the election. Nichols would have to win a certain number of voters who are simply looking for a Democrat to vote for. Unless they disagree with him on a specific issue, most Democrat voters will vote for Andy Phillips -- they saw his name on the ballot and voted for him just over a year ago.

I believe that Charlotte Harer is in the best position to put together a winning coalition. Her support from prominent Republicans gives her a head start, and the district does lean Republican. Now that she's the only woman in the race, she'll get all the votes of those who simply want more women on the Council. She's solidly pro-reform at City Hall and that should win her some crossover votes from pro-reform Democrats.

I'm going to ask some people I greatly respect and admire to do a hard thing. We share the same goals for city government. I wish it weren't necessary to make this request, and if we had a better voting system, like Instant Runoff Voting, it wouldn't be necessary. Under IRV, you could give your first preference to your favorite without worrying that you might help elect your least favorite candidate. But we don't have IRV, or even a simple runoff. So here goes:

I urge Al Nichols and his supporters to throw their support behind Charlotte Harer for the sake of keeping the Council in the hands of the reformers. You've fought a good fight, and as a former candidate I have some idea of how hard it would be to drop out at the last minute after knocking on hundreds of doors and making hundreds of phone calls. For the sake of the ultimate aim -- reforming city government -- I believe such a sacrifice is necessary. The only thing that would change my mind is a scientific poll or comprehensive survey showing Al in first or second place.

Tulsa City Council District 5 candidate Nancy Jackson withdrew from the race earlier in the week and has thrown her support behind Cockroach Caucus standard-bearer Bill Martinson. Her voice was used a few days ago for an automated phone call on behalf of Martinson to District 5 voters, accusing the Republican Party of being unfair to certain candidates in the race.

In response to Jackson's accusations of unfairness, Tulsa County Republican Jerry Buchanan issued the following statement at a press conference today:

It has been my intention as the Chairman of the Tulsa County Republican Party to give every Republican Candidate in the City District 5 every opportunity to any and all information available from the party. We have maintained a neutral position for all candidates because it is not only fair, but the right thing to do.

Nancy Jackson, a former candidate of the upcoming city council race, has been prompted to use a pre-recorded phone message to blanket the constituents of District 5.

I would like to read an excerpt of the message containing the material:

"Hello, my name is Nancy Jackson and even though I have withdrawn my candidacy from the District 5 race, I wanted to tell you why I have given my full support to Bill Martinson. The adversarial nature of the local Republican Party officials toward candidates other than their chosen one in this race has been apparent from the start. First by encouraging candidates to rethink the candidacy and withdraw so that the heir-apparent, Charlotte Harer, would be the only option for the voters. Following that, they withheld access to valuable party lists to all of the candidates except for Charlotte."

Any candidate that might feel that information was not available to them is only because they did not ask for it. I have repeatedly called the Republican Candidates to see if they needed anything or any help with their campaigns. Ms. Jackson was asked if she had any needs from the Republican Party and which I was told that all was going fine and that she appreciated being asked. Later calls made were either ignored or not returned.

The Tulsa County Republican Party has not endorsed or given extra help to any Candidate competing for the Tulsa City District 5 seat. Any persons that might be misguided into stating so is mistaken or is stating untruths. Those that would use smear tactics, un-truths, inaccurate statements about our party are encouraged to disengage from the outside forces that are inherently trying to disrupt a fair and honest election. It would almost seem that there are those that would have a self interest in ruling our city government that are toying with a free and democratic election. The City of Tulsa is trying to fill a position vacated by Sam Roop with an individual that has Tulsa's best interest at heart and not the interest of someone or a group that have their own selfish motives. I understand that Ms. Jackson's campaign did not go her way, but to blame the Republican Party with untruths and trying to discredit a fellow Republican candidate with untruths is just not consistent with Republican Values.

Jerry Buchanan has been scrupulously even-handed in his dealings with these candidates. Whatever resources the county party has at its disposal -- and those resources are not as impressive as you might think -- they've been available to any Republican candidate.

As Republican chairman, he has expressed the concern that, in a first-past-the-post special election, with no primary and no runoff, too many Republican candidates would split the GOP vote and allow a Democrat to win with a minority of the vote. It's a simple political fact, and several sensible candidates assessed their chances, their willingness to commit time and resources to the race, and chose instead to drop out and support another candidate. Buchanan would have been negligent of his responsibilities if he had ignored the significant risk to the party's ability to retain a seat it has always held.

But the party chairman doesn't control the endorsements made by Republican elected officials and precinct leaders. Senator Jim Inhofe and Congressman John Sullivan, State Rep. Sue Tibbs and State Sen. Brian Crain are supporting Charlotte Harer because they've known her and worked with her for years in the party, and they know that she's a solid conservative and a hard worker.

As far as I'm aware, the other Republicans in the race have never been involved beyond checking the Republican box when they registered to vote. Checking that box entitles them to even-handed treatment from the party organization, but it doesn't entitle them to the loyalty and support of Republican officials and activists. Charlotte Harer has earned that loyalty and support. She has served for over four years as one of Tulsa County's representatives on the Republican state committee, and as president of the Tulsa County Republican Women's Club, she has increased membership from 50 to 250, building up a corps of women who stand ready to donate time and money to Republican candidates and causes. If anyone would deserve special treatment by the party organization, it would be Charlotte Harer.

Charlotte Harer, Republican candidate in the Tulsa City Council District 5 special election, could use your help tomorrow morning to get her message out to the voters. You don't have to be a District 5 resident to help. Volunteers will be gathering at 9:30 a.m. at her home at 2927 S 67th East Ave. For more information, call Charlotte at 664-7596 or on her cell phone at 639-1044.

The local chapter of the League of Women Voters had candidates for next Tuesday's Tulsa City Council District 5 election respond to an extensive questionnaire, and Tulsa Topics has posted it online. The candidates were asked about their reasons for running, non-partisan elections, the recall provisions of the City Charter, privatization, economic development, zoning, and whether a council seat should be a full-time position.

In his responses, Bill Martinson, the candidate of the Cockroach Caucus, sidesteps the question about recall ("The recall provisions do not apply to this race"), says he'll follow the recommendations of the professional staff and TMAPC when it comes to zoning decisions, and thinks the job of Councilor can be handled on a part-time basis, "[b]ased upon [his] perception of the role of the city council, as supported by conversations with a number of present and former council members." Yes, Bill, if you want to be a rubber stamp, it doesn't take much time at all. Show up, vote how you're told and go home. No need to read reports or research issues if you've decided not to exercise independent thought.

Andy Phillips disqualifies himself in my eyes by referring to "bickering and squabbling" by the current council. It shows that he hasn't been paying attention and that he doesn't appreciate the important issues that have been debated over the last year. He also sidesteps questions about zoning and land use.

Meanwhile on his blog, Chris Medlock makes a strong case for supporting Charlotte Harer.

Steve Roemerman was at Monday night's candidate forum for the Tulsa City Council District 5 election and his report is on his blog.

The big surprise of the night: Nancy Jackson dropped out of the race and threw her support behind Cockroach Caucus candidate Bill Martinson. I was never quite sure why Ms. Jackson was running, and I'm not sure she knew either. When she spoke at a meeting of Republican precinct leaders from the district just before the filing period, she was the only candidate who refused to answer a question about her opinion on abortion and refused to say whether she would vote to allocate any of the city's federal block grant money to Planned Parenthood. (Bill Martinson was not in attendance at that meeting -- last minute conflict came up.)

When you go to Steve's report, pay close attention to the candidates' responses to the question about zoning -- it's very telling.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa City Hall category from May 2005.

Tulsa City Hall: April 2005 is the previous archive.

Tulsa City Hall: June 2005 is the next archive.

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