Tulsa City Hall: December 2005 Archives

Bobby of Tulsa Topics has done a great service by collecting in one place, in chronological order, the petition origins of the recent drive to dismember three Tulsa City Council districts and add three at-large seats on the Council, and the parallel thread leading to the Mayor's "Citizens' Commission on City Government".

It's especially interesting to notice the timing of Tulsa Whirled editorials and news stories on the subject.

Updated October 28, 2017. Sadly, this particular blog entry doesn't seem to have been captured by the Wayback Machine, but the Tulsa Topics archive for December 2005 has some related material on the charter change initiatives during this period.

An edited version of this column was published in the December 14, 2005, edition of Urban Tulsa Weekly. The published version is still online, courtesy of the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine. Here's my blog entry linking to the article. Posted October 28, 2017.

The at-large councilor petition appears to be dead, but supporters of representative democracy in Tulsa shouldn't rest easy just yet.

On Monday, December 4, the effort to dismember three City Council districts was put on hold. You'll recall that on October 20, a group with the misleading name of Tulsans for Better Government (TBG) began collecting signatures on an initiative petition for a City Charter amendment: Add to the Council three at-large "supercouncilors," elected citywide to four-year terms, and reduce the number of council districts from nine to six.

Just over halfway through the 90 days for gathering signatures, the petition wasn't catching fire with the general public. An opposition group, Tulsans Defending Democracy, quickly emerged, with support from Tulsans of all races, classes, and political views.

Also on Monday, December 4, Mayor Bill LaFortune announced the formation of a "Citizens' Commission on City Government," a group of 17-20 citizens, handpicked by him, to study the structure of Tulsa's government for six months and make recommendations next June.

Most of the petition's backers were residents of Tulsa's "Money Belt," and their motivation was to bring city government firmly and permanently back under the control of the old city establishment. The petition gained some ground thanks to sleight of hand: They hired the same petition circulators who were collecting signatures for the Taxpayers' Bill of Rights (TABOR) petition and another popular petition which would limit the use of eminent domain condemnation for economic development. Circulators, paid by the signature for all three petitions, would attract signers for the popular TABOR or eminent domain petitions, and then would quickly ask the signer if they'd also sign a petition "for better city government," hoping the voter would sign one more time without looking too closely.

Opinions are divided as to whether the supercouncilor petition was shelved because it wasn't on track to get the necessary signatures, or out of fear that, if it were on the ballot for next spring's city elections, it would create a backlash that would leave the petition's supporters with even less power than they now have.

So the petition is dead, or at least hibernating, and this "Citizens' Commission" has risen in its place, evidently to accomplish the same goal by means of a "blue ribbon" panel.

Here's how a blue ribbon panel usually works: Appoint to the panel prominent people who don't really have time to devote to the effort. These people are accomplished in their fields, but not engaged in the issue to be studied. They come into the process with an open mind, with no predetermined conclusions. To help guide them to the appropriate conclusion, lend the panel your own staff to gather and organize data, helpfully arranged to point in one clear direction. Add to the mix a couple of panel members who are passionately committed to the desired conclusion, but make sure no one passionately committed to another point of view has a seat at the table.

After the requisite number of meetings, the advocates for the desired conclusion and the staffers will make a convincing case for their position, and no one on the blue ribbon panel will be strongly committed enough to an opposing position to make a rebuttal. The panel will make the desired recommendation, which the daily paper's editorial board will hail as tablets from Mt. Sinai. The pressure will then be on the legislative body to adopt the recommendation, even if they disagree with it.

LaFortune seems to be following this recipe. He created this panel without any input from any other public official, and he alone controls who will sit on the panel. Two members, Howard Barnett and C. S. Lewis III, were members of the advisory board for Tulsans for Better Government, so you know they'll be pushing for at-large seats on the Council to be part of the commission's recommendation. So far, no women have been named to the panel. Neither has anyone involved with Tulsans Defending Democracy.

As a bonus (for him), some of LaFortune's choices seem desired to bolster his reelection campaign. One of the co-chairmen is Hans Helmerich. Hans's brother Jono Helmerich is the chairman of LaFortune's reelection committee, but it's rumored that he is shopping around for a better candidate to back. Michael Covey, spokesman for the South Tulsa Citizens' Coalition, represents a group that will wield a lot of influence over next March's Republican mayoral primary; Covey's inclusion may be an attempt by LaFortune to win his support or at least neutralize him.

If LaFortune were serious about creating a broad-based, diverse group of citizens to study this issue, he should have given each of his fellow elected officials the chance to name a committee member. If he were serious about keeping politics out of it, he would have consulted with his fellow elected officials before setting the rules, and he would have delayed doing anything until after the election. The Council asked LaFortune to speak on the issue at their December 8 meeting, but he claimed a prior engagement; he has promised to show up on the 15th. We'll see.

There are some good and thoughtful people on LaFortune's commission, but it will take a lot of determination and time and energy on their part to keep the process honest, if that's even possible.

As we bid good riddance to the at-large councilor petition, while training a wary eye on the Mayor's "Citizens' Commission," let's pause to note two oddities about Tulsans for Better Government:

Oddity 1: TBG insisted that Tulsa needs an elected city official who would advocate effectively for the needs of the entire city, not just a single district. Don't we already have such a position? Known as "Mayor"? Ah, but the key word is "effectively," isn't it? The obvious solution is to have an effective Mayor, but since many of the members of TBG are supporters of LaFortune's re-election effort - Chip McElroy, the chairman of TBG, hosted the Mayor's reelection launch - the obvious solution wouldn't have occurred to them.

Oddity 2: While many long-ago-former elected officials were members of TBG, the only currently-serving official on TBG's board was County Commissioner Randi Miller. This was surprising, since the at-large proposal would have rendered her home base of West Tulsa politically insignificant, too small to influence even a district council race. LaFortune's backers are talking about Miller as a tag-team substitute for the him in the Mayor's race, but her support for this proposal isn't going to endear her to grass-roots Republicans. (Her political future has already been damaged by her admission under oath that she didn't review any supporting information before voting to approve the IVI toll bridge contract.) There are rumors that she didn't intend to support the at-large proposal, but to date her name is still on the TBG website as a board member, and she has yet to issue a public statement withdrawing her support for the plan.

More blogging elsewhere


I encourage you, as always, to explore the links on the right side of the page, as well as the linkblog above. (And note, too, that there's an archive of all previous linkblog entries.)

If you're a Tulsan, be sure to check out the TulsaBloggers.net aggregator. And MeeCiteeWurkor offers the convenience of the same set of blogs combined into a single set of links, in reverse chronological order.

Beyond our city limits (well beyond, in one case), you will find a couple of blogs that always have something new and interesting: Dustbury and Mister Snitch!

Tulsans for Badder Government halted their petition for at-large councilors on Monday, and Mayor Bill LaFortune announced formation of a new "Citizens' Commission" to study Tulsa's form of government. The Mayor says he doesn't want any politicians involved in the process, but he's handpicking all the members. Council members weren't consulted, nor have they had the opportunity to recommend members of this task force. Bobby's got details at Tulsa Topics.

Updated Tulsa Topics link October 28, 2017. The direct link to city press release is dead, but the Tulsa Topics article reproduces it in full.

I really did hear Tulsa Mayor Bill LaFortune say this tonight:

"More police officers mean more arrests mean a higher crime rate."

Here's the audio of my question and his answer (500 KB MP3), at a "Mayor's Night In" meeting for neighborhood leaders. (Thanks to Bobby of Tulsa Topics for capturing it.)

I always thought crime rate was based on crimes reported, not arrests.

Also, LaFortune seems to say that it's just fine for Tulsa to be a donor city on the "4 to Fix the County" tax. (If the tax passes next week, Tulsa sales will generate $50 million of the tax, but only $40 million will pay for projects in or near the City of Tulsa. The rest will go to the suburbs.)

The good news is that Tulsans for Badder Government has decided to drop its petition effort for dismembering three Tulsa City Council districts and replacing them with three elected city-wide. The bad news is that, word has it, Mayor Bill LaFortune is going to set up a blue-ribbon panel to study the form of government headed up by the same wealthy Utica Square types who supported the petition. Either way, their goal is the same -- dilute the influence of citizens from the outlying parts of Tulsa at City Hall.

Bobby at Tulsa Topics went by to sign the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) state initiative petition at a storefront near 51st and Harvard today, and he learned that the same company was soliciting and paying for signatures on TABOR, the eminent domain reform petition, and Tulsans for Badder Government's petition. Go read what Bobby learned when he visited the office and returned again later. Then go visit politicalactivists.org and learn about the world of professional petition signature gathering.

MORE: On the home page of politicalactivists.org, the first sentence says, "At politicalactivists.org we are a non partisan organization dedicated to putting conservative issues on the ballet for voter approval." But they go on to say that they've done work for the Kerry for President campaign and the Democratic National Committee and an anti-Bush 527 called America Coming Together.

And here's one of politicalactivists.org's proud accomplishments on behalf of "conservative issues": "We were directly responsible for rallying over 5,000 people to attend our promotion of John Kerry with Michael Moore (Producer of Fahrenheit911) and Carl Pope (Executive Director of Sierra Club) on the Portland State University Campus."

The deal fell through?


MeeCiteeWurkor was at last night's City Council meeting for the last item on the agenda: Whether to extend the right to unionize to more city employees. The proposal failed at the previous meeting: Turner, Henderson, Baker, and Mautino voted yes; Sullivan, Medlock, Neal, and Martinson voted no; Christiansen was absent, effectively a no vote, since five votes were required for passage. Councilors Turner and Henderson put a motion to reconsider on this week's agenda, but someone who voted against the proposal would have to make the motion to reconsider. And no one did.

MeeCiteeWurkor reports much anger at Councilor Randy Sullivan after no motion to reconsider was made. He writes about what he was told in trying to understand the cause of the anger, and he writes about his disgust, if what he was told is true.

Here's what I found shocking: If what was said is true, Randy Sullivan is raising campaign money. Will he run in the district he currently purports to represent, District 7, or will he run in the district in which he lives, District 9?

My column in the current Urban Tulsa Weekly is a review of the City Charter amendment proposals Tulsans will vote on next spring, as well as a few that didn't make the cut, along with a look at the politics behind what passed and what didn't.

There were a couple of new developments tonight. Illegitimate Councilor Randy Sullivan tried to move the zoning protest petition amendment from the March primary election ballot to the April general election ballot. He tried to make the case that voters would be disenfranchised by having the vote on the primary ballot, when turnout would be lighter.

Councilor Chris Medlock pointed out that homeowners were promised back in 2004, when the courts ruled that the protest petition ordinance was in conflict with the charter, that the amendment to restore that protection would be on the next citywide election ballot. That would have been the December 2004 library bond issue, but the Council held off at the request of library officials. The next opportunity was the city bond issue in April 2005. The Council called the election, but something happened -- the dog ate Bill LaFortune's homework -- and the required public notices weren't placed in the Tulsa Legal News. The March 2006 is the next available citywide date to vote, and because there will be a mayoral primary, every precinct will be open anyway.

The other councilors were apparently persuaded by Medlock's argument -- Sullivan's motion died for lack of a second.

Councilor Roscoe Turner brought the recall amendment up for reconsideration, as I was hoping he would. The original proposal was modified by two complementary amendments proposed by Councilor Tom Baker. The requirement for signature comparison for the recall petitions was dropped (by a unanimous vote). Added in its place was a requirement for each signer to provide a valid contact phone number. That passed by a 5-4 vote (Baker, Henderson, Mautino, Medlock, Turner in favor; Christiansen, Martinson, Neal, Sullivan against). The amended amendment was sent to the voters by a 7-2 vote -- Martinson and Sullivan voted against. Although it isn't my ideal, the proposed amendment would require that recall be for cause, provides a consistent standard for number of signatures across all offices, and requires that signature gatherers be residents of the district. If we pass it in April, it will help ensure that a recall only happens when genuine constituents have a genuine and grave complaint against an elected official.

Finally, a District 7 resident (and a friend of mine), John Eagleton, protests that he did raise the issue of Randy Sullivan's non-residency with members of the City Council when it was publicly acknowledged in February 2005. Eagleton asked the Councilors to seek the City Attorney's opinion on the effect of filing a bogus declaration of candidacy; he believes it would render the election null and void and cause the office to become vacant. That was never done, apparently, perhaps because everyone was distracted by the recall effort underway at the time.

I remember, too, that there were District 7 residents who wanted to recall Randy Sullivan, but they restrained themselves at the request of Councilors Medlock and Mautino, who were themselves under threat of recall at the time.

Here's a link to all the articles in the current issue. Don't forget -- just a few more days to donate gifts for children in the DHS foster care system. Pick up a copy of the dead-tree version of UTW for a list of kids, ages, and the gifts they'd like for Christmas.

About this Archive

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

Tulsa City Hall: November 2005 is the previous archive.

Tulsa City Hall: January 2006 is the next archive.

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



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