Tulsa City Hall: January 2006 Archives

Copycat Christiansen?

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At Thursday's City Council meeting, District 8 City Councilor Bill Christiansen read a proposed resolution concerning the south Tulsa toll bridge. The resolution outlined a compromise position that would allow a bridge to be built, but not under the current arrangement between Tulsa County and Infrastructure Ventures, Inc. (IVI).

It sounded very familiar to me. That's probably because it was nearly identical to a plan that Cliff Magee, Christiansen's opponent in the Republican primary, put forward on January 23. Dave Schuttler linked to it on Our Tulsa World at 4:41 that afternoon. The Tulsa Beacon featured a story about Magee's plan in this week's issue, which went to press on Tuesday. Christiansen's plan first saw the light of day on Thursday's Council agenda.

It's an annoying reality in politics -- you can put forward a great idea, and your opponent can rip it off and claim it for his own. If your opponent has the support of the local power structure, he may even get away with it.

Magee's plan is better than Christiansen's copy in one important respect. Both plans involve setting up a public trust, but Magee would have the City of Tulsa as the only beneficiary of the trust, while Christiansen would include the county and other municipalities.

I am hoping that south Tulsa voters who are concerned about the bridge are also concerned about the bigger political picture that makes deals like IVI's possible, that they won't settle for someone who backs them on their pet issue, but will support candidates who will work with other reformers for positive change at City Hall.

My wife worked for American Airlines for a number of years, before the airline spawned the SABRE Group as a separate business. It was a good company, she liked her job, and we appreciated the flight benefits. I have no axe to grind with Tulsa's largest private employer, but I don't see the point in spending another $4 million in taxpayer dollars for the special benefit of one company.

Mayor Bill LaFortune has proposed adding a little over $4 million to his "Third Penny" sales tax plan, extending the duration of the tax by another month. The money would pay to build temporary hangars at Tulsa International Airport for the use of American Airlines' maintenance operation.

AMR, American's parent company, lost over $600 million in the last three months of 2005. Over the course of 2005, AMR lost $861 million. The loss in 2004 was $761 million. The company will be paying out an estimated $78 million in bonuses to upper management. AMR has $3.8 billion in unrestricted cash on hand.

The money LaFortune proposes to spend on AA is a drop in the bucket from the airline's perspective. So why this last minute push to add it to the Third Penny package?

Reason #1 is to try to salvage his plan to put a six-year renewal on the ballot for the general election. A majority on the City Council is leaning toward passing an 18 month extension of the current tax, to pay for projects approved in 2001 that haven't yet been funded. If that happens, LaFortune looks ineffective, and he loses the ability to sell his reelection based on the new projects in his plan. The AA subsidy creates a sense of urgency -- the claim will be made that if we pass only an extension to pay for already-approved projects, it may cost our city jobs.

Reason #2 -- it's a response to the story that he cost Tulsa jobs by snubbing the airline. He sent a deputy to a meeting with AA officials about bringing new maintenance work to Tulsa, while he went off to Mississippi with ORU students and members of Guts Church to help rebuild the hurricane-damaged town of Long Beach and to shore up his support for re-election with a segment of Tulsa's charismatic community. Kathy Taylor has said LaFortune being AWOL in this situation is the main reason she decided to run for Mayor.

Reason #3 -- he's hoping for the endorsement of the Transport Workers' Union (TWU) and the help of their membership with his campaign. LaFortune was heard today saying that the Firefighters' Union (which was early to endorse his re-election) would be helping him put out campaign signs, and he was hoping to get the TWU's help with that, too. (How will Republican voters feel about re-nominating a mayor whose primary base of support is the labor unions?)

Whatever LaFortune's reasons for wanting this, it's not wise to include the money in the Third Penny, which ought to be for basic infrastructure improvements. Nor should we be putting all our eggs in one basket; we need to cultivate other sources of jobs. And it shouldn't be the City of Tulsa paying for this alone. Many AA employees live in Owasso, Broken Arrow, and elsewhere in the region, and all stand to benefit from any growth in AA's local workforce.

This proposal ought to stand separately from any other ballot item. Mayoral candidate Don McCorkell has suggested using a general obligation bond issue to pay for the hangars. Others have suggested that the suburbs chip in their fair share.

Chris Medlock has pointed out that direct government subsidy of business is a losing game in the long run, and why should we single out one company and ignore other businesses that may leave the city? I think the subsidy is a bad idea, but even if it weren't, it still has no business being part of our city's essential capital improvements program.

Who's anti-development?


One of the baseless charges tossed at Tulsa City Councilors Jim Mautino and Chris Medlock during last year's recall attempt was that the two were anti-growth and anti-development. The reality is that both are boosters of quality new development in the two underdeveloped sections of the city that they represent -- far east and west Tulsa respectively. What has put them at odds with the development lobby is that Medlock and Mautino believe the City ought to prioritize its resources and infrastructure to encourage new development within Tulsa's city limits.

Both councilors have worked with developers to encourage and facilitate new developments in their districts. Medlock helped shepherd Tulsa Hills, a major retail development at 71st and US 75. Mautino has worked with developers interested in the I-44 corridor for mixed use projects and other locations around east Tulsa that would be prime locations for new housing.

What Mautino and his constituents don't want is to turn east Tulsa into a dumping ground for all the uses that aren't wanted in other parts of the city or metro area. As a neighborhood activist, he made some enemies by insisting that the concrete batch plant on 11th Street west of 145th abide by the rules for screening and stormwater management. East Tulsa has a dramatic north-south ridge with views of the city to the west and the Verdigris River valley to the east. There are hills and streams and woods, and historic Route 66 runs through the middle of it. The four-mile-long section of I-44 where it is joined with US 412 is the busiest segment of highway in the State of Oklahoma, and with some infrastructure improvements it would be an excellent location for retail.

Unfortunately, the area has been overlooked for most of the 40 years it has been within the city limits of Tulsa. Most areas still do not have water or sewer service, making development even more risky and expensive. Worse, the negative perception of Tulsa Public Schools and East Central High School in particular are deterrents to new housing developments. To my knowledge, the last subdivision built in that part of the city was Indian Hills (legally Rolling Hills IV) in the mid-70s.

Recently, a new 400-home subdivision proposed for the southeast corner 11th and 161st East Avenue fell through apparently because of financial demands made of the developer by the head of the City of Tulsa Public Works Department. The developer was just seeking a sewer connection to make the development feasible. At this point, I am going to hand you off to Tultellitarian, writing at MeeCiteeWurkor's site, who has a detailed summary of the situation, what happened, and who seems to be at fault for losing a development that would have been good for the City of Tulsa and Tulsa Public Schools.

Last Tuesday, December 27, Councilor Jim Mautino notified City Clerk Mike Kier that Mayor Bill LaFortune appears to be in violation of the city's ethics ordinance, because he is a member of the board of the Tulsa Metro Chamber, which is a contractor to the City of Tulsa. While a member of the Chamber board, LaFortune has approved and signed contracts on behalf of the City with the Chamber.

Two days after Mautino's letter, City Auditor Phil Wood sought City Attorney Alan Jackere whether a violation of the Ethics Code has occurred. Wood points out that LaFortune, as a board member of the Tulsa Metro Chamber, "appears to have an Organizational interest," which is defined by section 601 of the ethics ordinance as existing when "a City official is a director or member of a board which establishes policy and/or budgetary decisions for the entity." Wood goes on to cite section 603, which states that "no City official shall participate in any City business in which they have an organizational interest." Wood then cites an contract renewal between the City and the Chamber, worth $1,901,000, which the Mayor approved on August 29, 2005, saying, "This appears to be City business in which he has an organizational interest." (The City Auditor is designated by the ordinance to handle ethics complaints regarding the Mayor.)

The following day, December 30, the Mayor's Office issued a press release requesting a "clarification" of the ethics ordinance. In the release, the Mayor's membership on the board of the Tulsa Metro Chamber is compared to his membership on the Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority, the Tulsa Airport Authority, and the Indian Nations Council of Governments. The difference is that the Chamber is a private organization with its own interests, while the two authorities are public trusts established to own property and enter into multi-year contracts for the benefit of the City of Tulsa. By law, the Mayor is an ex officio member of the two authorities and appoints the other members, subject to Council approval. INCOG is a "voluntary association of local governments," established by agreement of the governments involved. The City of Tulsa is a member of INCOG.

The Tulsa Metro Chamber and its defenders seem to think of the Chamber as an official branch of City Government, but it is a private organization, established to serve the interests of its members, which sometimes may coincide with the best interests of Tulsa's city government, but sometimes may not. That's why it's a conflict of interest for an official approving City contracts for the Chamber to also sit on the Chamber's board. It's revealing that this press release issued on LaFortune's behalf doesn't distinguish between governmental agencies and the Chamber.

Below are links to PDF files of the relevant documents, each about 30 KB in size:

Councilor Mautino asked the City Clerk's office for a copy of Bill LaFortune's ethics disclosure statement, which is required by the ordinance. Mautino was told that LaFortune had not filed such a statement. Mautino has asked for a letter from the City Clerk confirming that fact, and he was told it would be forthcoming.

Up ahead

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As I get time over the next couple of days, I'll fill you in on Councilor Jim Mautino's ethics complaint against Mayor Bill LaFortune, who (until yesterday) was a board member of the Metro Tulsa Chamber and while serving as a board member, he also approved and signed contracts on behalf of the City of Tulsa with the Metro Tulsa Chamber. Turns out the Mayor hasn't filed an ethics disclosure statement, which is required by law.

Councilor Mautino has also been speaking out about the way the city's Public Works Department mishandled extending sewer to a new housing development proposed for 11th and 161st East Ave, which would have been one of the first new developments in the Tulsa Public School district in years, maybe more than a decade. Our city departments and boards seem to be more eager about extending infrastructure to the suburbs than to unserved areas of our own city.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa City Hall category from January 2006.

Tulsa City Hall: December 2005 is the previous archive.

Tulsa City Hall: February 2006 is the next archive.

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