Tulsa City Hall: September 2005 Archives

Last "Third Penny" meeting tonight


Tonight's the last of the Mayor's five town halls about renewing the "Third Penny" -- the one-cent, five-year sales tax that funds a specific set of capital improvements for the City of Tulsa.

The meeting is at the Helmerich Library, on 91st, and east of Yale, at 7 p.m. (Note that unlike the other town halls, the one for south Tulsa is not being held at a regional library, but at a smaller branch.)

I've argued for extending the current tax, passed in 2001, for another 14 months, to finish the projects that were promised way back then before starting over with a new set. If you've got an opinion about that, or anything else the Mayor needs to hear, tonight's your chance.

The Tulsa Whirled gave prime real estate -- the top of the Local section on Sunday -- to a story about City Councilor Tom Baker's proposal for a charter review committee:

"I don't necessarily think there is a need to make all of the proposed changes, but rather than continuing this debate, maybe we should put some of those changes through a more serious review process by a broader base of citizens and act on their collective opinion," he said.

"If they feel certain changes need to occur, then we can give it to the voters. Or, if they think not much is wrong, then let's let it ride for a while," he said.

So rather than let the Council, the elected representatives of the people, vet the proposed charter changes and pass them on to the citizens for a vote, Baker wants to gather a handpicked, unelected group to decide which reforms we the people will get to consider.

Does Tom Baker actually have any opinions of his own? Does he convene a task force when he's deciding what to have for dinner? Baker's approach to decision-making bears the marks of his years climbing to the top of a bureaucracy. It allows you to seem like a decisive leader, without actually making any decisions for which you could be held accountable.

At the end of the story, we learn that Baker has a couple of opinions about charter change: He doesn't think there's anything wrong with the recall provisions of the charter, and he doesn't think there's anything wrong with a councilor living outside the district he purports to represent.

Baker on recall:

The attempt to change the charter's provision on recall, which Baker said he thinks worked, points to the unsuccessful attempt to oust controversial Councilors Chris Medlock and Jim Mautino. A group wanted to recall the councilors, followed procedures, an election was called and the voters said no, he said.

Baker conveniently forgets the months of smears that his two colleagues had to endure, the expense of fighting to defeat the recall, and the effect that the process had on the City Council. Makes me wish they'd pursued a recall against him after all -- he might not be so blithe about it.

Baker on residency:

A change that would require a councilor to live in his or her district for the entire term is aimed at Councilor Randy Sullivan, who because of a divorce and court order had to find a new residence and moved out of his district.

It's not aimed at Randy Sullivan, but Randy Sullivan's situation pointed to a loophole that really shouldn't be there. (As I read state law, it isn't there, but it still needs to be spelled out in the charter, for our City Attorney's sake.) The proposed charter amendment doesn't make a councilor a prisoner of his district, but if he chooses to move out, he has to resign, which is only reasonable. There were plenty of places in District 7 where Sullivan could have moved after being booted from his home, but he had the gall to run for re-election after he had already moved out of the district. Anyone who supports the principle of geographical representation ought to have a problem with that.

Which is why Tom Baker doesn't have a problem with that. The hidden agenda of his proposed blue ribbon panel is to push for the addition of at-large members to the City Council, diluting geographical representation, and taking grass-roots politics out of the equation. The powers that be realize that they are losing control of the current form of city government, and they are trying to reel it back in. That's why you have a story that is not particularly timely, focused on one favored councilor, bolstered by a handpicked academic, on the front page of Sunday's local section. The Whirledlings want a council that's under their thumb, and they want an unimaginative bureaucrat as the next mayor.

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Roemerman on Record will be quiet for a while, as Steve Roemerman is off to Gretna, Louisiana, just across the Mississippi from New Orleans, with a group from his church to help Convoy of Hope. We'll keep Steve in our prayers and look forward to his report when he returns.

Our Tulsa World has added more video clips from Mayor Bill LaFortune's September 6 third-penny meeting at the Zarrow Library. This is a great service that Mr. Schuttler is doing by filming, converting, and posting these video clips. Too often the claims and promises made in this sort of meeting are lost to history. His summary of the meeting puts the clips in context. In another entry he has the response from Mayor LaFortune and Fire Chief Allen LaCroix to the question, "Are we prepared if Keystone Dam breaks?"

MeeCiteeWurkor has a special comments thread just for registering your opinion of the Tulsa Whirled. He's asking for submissions in a contest -- things you can do with a Tulsa Whirled. And he's about to add a new contributor to the blog.

City Councilor Chris Medlock has a recent entry on his proposal regarding the sales tax money currently going to Tulsa County for "4 to Fix the County." He says that the county is fixed now, and between the Vision 2025 sales tax and rising property taxes, the county is well fixed for funds. By denying a renewal of the 2/12ths cent "4 to Fix" sales tax, City of Tulsa voters could opt to pass the same size sales tax at the city level and earmark it for public safety.

Another noteworthy item on MedBlogged cites two Tulsa Whirled City Hall stories, one from 2002, one from last week. The March 2002 story has Mayor-elect Bill LaFortune saying he plans to have a direct, face-to-face relationship with the City Council, which lines up with my recollection of my first meeting with LaFortune as he started his run for office. The September 2005 story has councilors, including recently-elected Bill Martinson, complaining that LaFortune won't deal directly with the Council on issues like the new third-penny proposal.

Tulsa Downtown reports that new clubs are opening in the Blue Dome district.

Tulsa newcomer Joe Kelley has been trying the immersion approach to understanding his new hometown, and he's posted a list of some of the people he's met with so far, and would like suggestions for others he ought to talk to. About a week and a half ago, I introduced him to the tawook at La Roma Pizza (a Lebanese restaurant disguised as a pizzeria), and we had a very enjoyable conversation. He seems to be a very astute observer and a quick study.

Tulsa Topics has an audio tribute to Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, including their radio theme song, "Okie Boogie," "Cadillac in my Model A," and tributes by The Tractors and Asleep at the Wheel. One thing I love about Bob Wills songs -- you don't need liner notes, because Bob tells you who's playing as the song proceeds.

As always, you'll find the latest and greatest entries from blogs about Tulsa news on the Tulsa Bloggers aggregation page.

Extend the 2001 Third Penny


On October 7, 1980, the City of Tulsa approved a one-cent sales tax for capital improvements to expire after five years. It was dubbed the "Third Penny," as Tulsa has a 2% sales tax to fund general operations. It's a pay-as-you-go tax -- money is spent as it comes in. The Third Penny tax has been renewed every five years since, most recently in May 2001. Below are the dates the tax was renewed and the term for which it was renewed.

April 9, 1985 -- December 31, 1985, to April 30, 1991
December 4, 1990 -- May 1, 1991, to July 31, 1996
February 13, 1996 -- August 1, 1996, to July 31, 2001
May 8, 2001 -- August 1, 2001, to July 31, 2006

Each Third Penny election establishes a separate fund, which may only be spent on the projects advertised to the voters prior to the election.

Nearly every previous Third Penny fund has run a surplus, which the City Council has allocated to unfunded capital improvements projects. That isn't the case with the 2001 fund. At a Council committee meeting on August 2, Finance Director Mike Kier reported a shortfall of $69.2 million, reflecting the downturn in the local economy thanks to the bursting of the telecom bubble. That means that nearly $70 million in basic projects -- streets and sewers -- that we've been waiting to have for five years won't get done by the time the tax expires.

The rule of thumb is that a one cent city sales tax will raise $60 million in one year. It would take about 14 more months to erase the shortfall and pay for all the 2001 Third Penny projects.

There are two options: The first is to lump any unfinished projects in with a full slate of new projects for another five year extension. Mayor Bill LaFortune seems to be headed in this direction, as he holds town hall meetings gathering public input starting tonight. This would mean only 80% of the new tax would go for new projects. There's a danger that new projects for the 2006 Third Penny would be funded and completed ahead of the carryover projects from the 2001 Third Penny.

Another danger of this approach is that it would mean that the Mayor and Council will be putting together this entirely new slate of projects in the midst of a mayoral campaign that will pit at least one sitting councilor (probably more) against a sitting mayor. The renewal election would probably be held at the same time as the primary or general election. It would be the first time that a Third Penny vote has coincided with a mayoral election. Bill LaFortune would be in an excellent position to manipulate the list of new projects to help him secure renomination and a second four-year term.

If a five-year Third Penny election coincides with the mayoral primary or general, it will mean that there won't be a major capital improvements funding package during the term of the new mayor. The general obligation bond issue we just voted on back in April won't be up again until after the 2010 elections. In the past, it's been the tradition to space the bond issue and Third Penny votes out by 2 years -- Third Penny in 1996, bond issue in August 1999, Third Penny in 2001. The bond issue should have been up again in the summer of 2004, but the Mayor's office delayed and delayed.

The least controversial way to move forward, the way that will guarantee that all 2001 projects will be completed as soon as possible, the way that is most likely to win the voters' approval, is to vote in February or March to extend the 2001 Third Penny for another 14 months. No new projects -- just finish what we started. The tax would then expire at the end of September 2007, plenty of time for the new mayor, with a fresh mandate from the public, to put together a new five-year Third Penny package which reflects the new mayor's priorities.

Here's the list of the Mayor's town hall meetings on the Third Penny. If you'd like to see a vote just to extend and complete the 2001 package, this is an opportunity to make sure the Mayor hears you. All the meetings start at 7 p.m.

Tuesday, September 6: Zarrow Library, 2224 W. 51st St.

Wednesday, September 7: Aaronson Auditorium, Central Library, Fourth and Denver, downtown.

Monday, September 12: Rudisill Library, 1520 N. Hartford Ave.

Tuesday, September 13: Martin Library, 2601 S. Garnett Road.

Monday, September 19: Helmerich Library, 5131 E. 91st St.

About this Archive

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

Tulsa City Hall: August 2005 is the previous archive.

Tulsa City Hall: October 2005 is the next archive.

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