Tulsa City Hall: March 2007 Archives

Move City Hall?

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I've gotten really sloppy about posting blog links to my Urban Tulsa Weekly column. In case I forget, you can always go directly to the urbantulsa.com home page and find a link under Columns. Articles from the new edition are posted on the website Wednesday morning. I will be adding retroactive links to previous articles so that you'll be able to find a complete archive listing here.

In any case, this week I consider the idea of moving City Hall to the Williams Communications Group building, aka the Borg Cube, aka One Technology Center. Our existing City Hall is inadequate and, to say the least, homely:

A couple of years ago, I was giving a tour of the city to a friend from New York. Despite her love of '60s pop music and fashion, the poorly-executed '60s architecture of City Hall left her cold. When I pointed out the place that occupies so much of my attention, she declared, "That is the ugliest city hall I have ever seen."

As you'll read, even Weird Al dissed our City Hall when he filmed a movie here. (In the service of researching this article, I had to watch UHF again. In the commentary track, Weird Al misidentifies the ersatz City Hall as the Christian Science church at 10th and Boulder -- it's the First Christian Church across the street at 9th and Boulder.)

The real City Hall entrance is gloomy and subterranean, beneath the Civic Center Plaza. In place of grand steps, there is a curb cut leading up a few inches from the main driveway through the parking lot. A set of automated sliding glass doors are framed by white-painted cinder blocks, on which is mounted the words "CITY HALL" in original-series Star Trek block lettering.

Also in this week's issue, Brian Ervin has a story on the anti-illegal-immigration proposal currently before the Oklahoma Legislature. Ervin does an excellent job of setting out the details of the bill, how it differs from last session's bill, what influences shaped the bill, and how changes in the balance of power have changed the prospects for passage. He spoke to proponents Rep. Randy Terrill and Sen. Jim Williamson and opponents Victor Orta and Ed Martinez and is very fair in representing both perspectives. (UTW has a real gem in Mr. Ervin.)

No, not me, darn it. Michael S. Bates, Human Resources Director for the City of Tulsa, is stepping down after nearly 12 years in the post and 34 years as a city employee. He's one of the reasons I have made a point of using my middle initial here, in my Urban Tulsa Weekly column, and in my two runs for City Council.

I've only met him once, probably in 1999 or 2000, at a breakfast hosted by Mayor Susan Savage on "smart growth." He mentioned (in jest, I think) that if I had a letter to the editor in the paper, Savage would stop by his office to ask about it.

Citeewurkors have told me that the other Michael Bates isn't beloved within their ranks. I don't know why that is -- perhaps just because he's the guy that has to enforce the rules, the guy sitting on the other side of the table during salary negotiations. When I ran for office, I won over a few voters by assuring them that I wasn't him, so I assume I lost a few votes from city employees who didn't get that message. Then again, I may have gained a few votes from people who assumed the head of personnel for the city would have something substantial to offer as a councilor.

He says he plans to be a consultant, so the need to disambiguate our names isn't going to go away any time soon.

But it turns out that a middle initial isn't enough to set me apart from all other Michael Bateses. I know of another registered Tulsa County voter with the same three names as me who is six months older than I am. And according to the city payroll spreadsheet released recently by the Tulsa Whirled, there's an "equipment operator II" in the Public Works department named Michael D. Bates.

Then there's Michael W. Bates, a former Member of the British Parliament and a leader of the Conservative Christian Fellowship; Michael Bates, the late British actor (Clockwork Orange, Bedazzled, and, on TV, "It Ain't Half Hot, Mum" and "Last of the Summer Wine"); Michael Bates, prince of the unrecognized micronation of Sealand; Chicago area political columnist Michael M. Bates. (The latter's bio concludes, "As a lad, he distributed Goldwater campaign literature and since then has steadily moved further to the Right.")

I guess this sort of confusion is bound to occur when you have a surname in the top 250 by popularity and a first name that was number one through most of the Baby Boom and Baby Bust years.

Maybe I should follow TAFKAP's lead and change my name to an unpronounceable symbol.

Here's to a happy retirement for any and all Michael Bateses.

Tulsa City Council Chairman Bill "Landslide" Martinson is not one of my favorite city councilors, but I've been told by other Martinson non-fans that he does have a good mind for numbers and financial analysis, which could be an asset as the city confronts with its budget problems.

Recently Martinson presented to his colleagues a thorough and impressive summary of the financial box the City finds itself in. Municipal Revenues and Fiscal Constraints is available for your perusal on the City Council's website. Every citizen ought to read it and digest it.

Some highlights:

  • Charts showing how much of the general fund is used for personnel costs, particularly public safety personnel costs.
  • A chart on page 12 showing the city budget adjusted for inflation over the last 10 years. The budget grew faster than inflation during Susan Savage's tenure, didn't keep up with inflation in the wake of the telecom crash during LaFortune's term, and with last year's budget returned to the same level as 1996-7 in constant dollars.
  • Why less than half of the city's revenue is available for operations.
  • How the city balanced its budget during the lean years -- cuts to parks, street maintenance, street lighting, code enforcement, graffiti abatement, right-of-way mowing -- all areas that affect the city's "curb appeal" and quality of life.
  • Why the same percentage of sales taxes (2% for operations) hasn't been sufficient for maintaining the same level of service.
  • The impact of federal policy shifts -- reduction in direct federal aid to cities since the 1970s, reduction in Medicare reimbursements for ambulance service, increased environmental mandates on cities, failure to deal with illegal immigration.
  • Why the state has a surplus, while cities struggle to provide services -- the state has multiple, complimentary revenue sources, including income taxes, sales taxes, and oil and gas production taxes.
  • Why only one of those three options is available to the City of Tulsa.
  • Restrictions on the use of property taxes by cities.
  • The impact of sales tax exemptions.
  • Tulsa County government's discovery of sales tax as a source of operating revenue.
  • Tulsa County government's refusal to restore a share of property tax to Tulsa County municipalities.
  • The impact of suburban flight on the city's finances.

Again, every active citizen needs to read this. So do all of our state representatives and state senators and county officials. This is what Chris Medlock was talking about when he called for Tulsans to reject the county's attempt to renew Four to Fix the County and when, as a candidate for state house, he called for adoption of an urban policy at the state level -- how do we finance Oklahoma's cities, the state's economic engines, and protect them from a spiral of decline?

Veteran Oklahoma political analyst Mike McCarville has been keeping a close eye on one aspect in particular of Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor's administration: Her involvement as a charter member of the Mayors' Coalition against Illegal Guns, a group of pro-gun-control mayors led by New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino.

The coalition has claimed that its focus is on enforcement of gun laws, but its real agenda has been exposed by mayors who were involved at the outset but later withdrew. In February, Mark Begich, the Mayor of Anchorage, Alaska, announced his withdrawal from the coalition:

"I do support the efforts to strengthen laws and prosecute individuals who dispense or use illegal guns, and getting them out of the hands of criminals. However, upon further review of the coalition, it appears they may have a different agenda than I anticipated.

"I am concerned the coalition is working on issues that conflict with the beliefs we share in Alaska about legal gun ownership, and I'm also concerned gun ownership advocates are not part of the full discussion within the coalition. We cannot afford to risk protecting our Bill of Rights and the rights of legal gun owners.

Earlier, Idaho Falls mayor Jared Fuhriman withdrew for similar reasons:

He told a local newspaper that he was originally told that Bloomberg's coalition was only going after "illegal guns." But after doing his own research he said, "I could see there was a conflict with the NRA and with some of the beliefs we have here in Idaho." ...

Bloomberg won't be sending out any press releases, of course, but it's important to point out when mayors dump Bloomberg's anti-gun group because they've been told the same lie Bloomberg's telling the public.

This isn't about going after criminals with guns. This is about criminalizing gun ownership. Mayor Fuhriman, a former police officer, did the right thing after his constituents helped him see the truth about Bloomberg's group.

Taylor is the only Oklahoma mayor to join the coalition. Her nearest fellow members are the mayors of Fayetteville, Arkansas, North Little Rock, Arkansas, Dallas, and Irving, Texas. There are very few dots on the map in the plains and mountain states.

Most recently, McCarville is noting speculation about Taylor's involvement in this group and her decision to reject three qualified internal candidates to replace Dave Been as Tulsa's Chief of Police. The three internal candidates are working with the local FOP chapter to file a grievance under the city's civil service regulations.

I'm sympathetic to the idea that the city's chief exec should have the authority to hire the best candidate for the position (with the advice and consent of the Council), and the maneuvering in the upper echelons of the TPD when Been was placed on leave suggests that an outside candidate might have a better shot at unifying the force under new leadership. Still, I'm concerned that Taylor might hire someone who doesn't respect the rights of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms. I think it would be appropriate for city councilors to ask the Mayor to appear before them and answer questions about this group, about her involvement, and about how this issue is shaping her search for a police chief.

This entry from December features a photo showing Taylor at the organizing meeting of the coalition at New York's Gracie Mansion and includes a quote from the New York Daily News describing Bloomberg's gun record: "He mounted a national gun control crusade, and he scored unprecedented court victories against firearms dealers...."

The initial meeting of the group included a briefing on New York City's lawsuits against gun manufacturers, an effort that makes it harder for law-abiding citizens to obtain weapons for their own protection, and a Jersey City gun-buyback program, which encourages the handover of legal weapons but does nothing to slow the use of weapons by criminals.

Bloomberg even used private investigators posing as gun buyers to try to entrap gun dealers in other parts of the country, endangering several federal investigations in the process.

The coalition's main purpose appears to be repeal of the Tiahrt Amendment, a rider on the appropriations bill for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (BATFE). The Tiahrt Amendment exists to protect the privacy of lawful purchasers of guns. When a person buys a gun and passes the required instant check, the law forbids the government from retaining a record of that purchase. (Dave Kopel wrote an article explaining the Tiahrt Amendment for National Review Online in 2004. The NRA fact sheet on the law explains why it should be retained and strengthened, not eliminated.)

You can read all of McCarville's entries about Kathy Taylor at this link.

Congratulations to fellow Tulsa blogger Steven Roemerman on his confirmation as a member of the City of Tulsa Sales Tax Overview Committee. It's a sign of his manifest intelligence and civic-mindedness that he was nominated by the man whose election he tried to prevent. Roemerman was a fervent supporter of former Councilor Jim Mautino, who was defeated for re-election by Dennis Troyer.

The Sales Tax Overview Committee monitors the spending of the "third-penny" sales tax fund for compliance with the list of projects promised to the voters. I know that Steven will be a diligent watchdog, and he should have some interesting insights into city finances to share with us on his blog.

This week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly is about the latest developments in the City of Tulsa's move to annex the Tulsa County Fairgrounds (aka Expo Square).

Related to that topic, UTW reporter Brian Ervin has a cover story profile of City Councilor Roscoe Turner, the leading proponent of annexation.

There were a couple of developments in the story that I didn't get to in my column: Mayor Kathy Taylor's bizarre entrance into the debate with her set of bargaining chips and County Commissioner Randi Miller's passive-aggressive raising of the white flag. But Ervin does a great job of covering them in his news story on annexation.

If you're interested, here's a link to the
state law that governs a city's annexation of an enclave -- 11 O. S. 21-103.

This is just nuts. Saint Francis Health System has decided to close its hospital near 101st Street and 161st East Ave (New Orleans and Elm) in Broken Arrow and move those operations to the Saint Francis Heart Hospital at 91st & Garnett, just west of the Tulsa - Broken Arrow boundary.

Now Tom Neff, strategic planner for St. Francis Health System, is saying that the cities of Tulsa and Broken Arrow are negotiating to swap land so that the St. Francis Heart Hospital would be transferred to the jurisdiction of the City of Broken Arrow, in exchange for some other land.

I guess the point is that this would let Broken Arrow claim that it still has its own hospital, even though the actual location of the hospital wouldn't be any different. And since Owasso is getting two hospitals, Broken Arrow might feel left out if it hadn't any.

Tulsa has already conceded land to Broken Arrow in recent years, giving 480 acres northeast of 51st and 145th East Ave. so that the entire Battle Creek development could be within the City of Broken Arrow. That was a very valuable concession -- Tulsa gave up a big chunk of its land which lies within the Broken Arrow school district, which is more valuable for residential development than land within the Tulsa school district.

The City of Tulsa can't afford to give up any of its territory to booming suburbs. We annexed this land 40 years ago to make sure Tulsa wouldn't wind up like landlocked inner cities in the midwest and northeast.

Here's an idea: Instead of saying, "Broken Arrow has one hospital," the Broken Arrow Chamber of Commerce could say there are two excellent hospitals (Saint Francis and SouthCrest) within a few miles of Main Street. After all, suburban officials are fond of telling us (when it suits them) that we're all one big happy metro area.

Retailers have been relocating from the core city to the suburbs for business reasons. Now an institution is relocating from a suburb to the core city for business reasons, strategically located to serve Broken Arrow, Bixby, and southeast Tulsa. The City of Tulsa needs to tell the City of Broken Arrow, firmly but gently, to live with that reality.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa City Hall category from March 2007.

Tulsa City Hall: February 2007 is the previous archive.

Tulsa City Hall: April 2007 is the next archive.

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