Tulsa City Hall: April 2007 Archives

Wherein I try to figure out what I need to talk about tomorrow morning on KFAQ:

Tuesday night at 7 p.m. the South Tulsa Citizens Coalition will hold a town hall meeting to discuss the state of their lawsuit trying to stop Jenks and Bixby's deal with Infrastructure Ventures Inc. to build a toll bridge across the Arkansas River. The meeting will be held at Christ Church, 10901 S. Yale. The lawsuit suffered a surprise setback when Judge Gordon McAllister ruled that the 75-year contract between a trust established by the two cities and IVI was not a franchise. Will they appeal or give up and see if the city will step in?

Yard signs all around Woodward Park are advertising a website called stopthechop.net. The petition effort is working to save trees in Woodward Park which have been marked for removal when trimming of branches would be sufficient to protect public safety and the trees' health. One of our city's greatest but underappreciated assets is our canopy of trees. Seen from the air or a tall building, the extent and density of our urban forest is amazing. These trees reduce summer temperatures and cooling costs, improve air quality, act as a wind break, and improve property values. Councilor Cason Carter has taken some ribbing for his proposal to raise private dollars for an urban forestry program focused on city rights-of-way (there already is one for the city's parks), but I think it's a good idea. Expanding our urban forest and maintaining its health is important to the city's "curb appeal" and quality of life.

I also like Carter's proposal to amend the Tulsa City Charter to move city elections to the fall of odd-numbered years. It's a move I've championed for a long time -- it gives new elected officials time to find their feet before the budget process begins, and it helps grassroots candidates by enabling door-to-door campaigning in the summer and fall, rather than the winter when early sunset and inclement weather can interfere with a candidate's efforts to meet the voters.

The State Senate has yet to vote on whether to override Gov. Brad Henry's veto of SB 714, which would have put Oklahoma taxpayers out of the abortion business. The bill passed with a veto-proof majority, but pressure is on eight Democratic senators who voted for the bill to reverse and vote to sustain the veto. Oklahomans for Life is asking us (click to read the action alert in PDF format) to write the Democrats who voted for SB 714 and thank them for their past and future support for the bill. They provide a simple method to e-mail all eight of them at once via this address: Pro-LifeDemocrats@OkForLife.org

A bill designed to bypass anti-charter-school obstructionists on the Tulsa School Board passed the State House last week. SB 661 would expand which governing bodies could grant a charter to create an independently governed but publicly funded school. Cities of over 300,000 population and public universities could also oversee charter schools. The effort was led by Democratic State Rep. Jabar Shumate, who represents part of north Tulsa. His constituents are fed up with being trapped in sub-par schools, and they cannot afford private school tuition. One charter elementary school, the Deborah Brown School, serves the near northside, but the school board is unwilling to let them expand enrollment and unwilling to charter additional schools. When a student enrolls in a charter school, state funding (about $5,000) would follow him from his public school to his charter school.

While SB 661 has passed both House and Senate, there were some legislative maneuvers which mean that the bill is not yet able to go to the Governor. Shumate was the only House Democrat to support SB 661, the only Democrat to put the interests of schoolchildren and their parents ahead of the interests of the education union and the school board association. The bill passed with only 51 votes because a number of Republicans were absent. The bill had passed the Senate by a vote of 34-9 with bipartisan support.

Jeff Shaw also brings news of a hot dog vendor who set up shop next to the daily paper's building on Main Street. I don't know if I've ever heard of someone selling hot dogs in downtown Tulsa in my lifetime, although I've seen them crop up in front of Lowe's and Best Buy stores. (A long time ago, my grandfather would buy tamales from a man who sold them in downtown Bartlesville.)

Another good piece of legislation is waiting for Gov. Brad Henry's signature. SB 507 is a serious, comprehensive tort reform bill that bears a striking resemblance to the recommendation put forward in 2004 by the Oklahoma Council for Public Affairs. The OCPA blog lists the key features:

  • $300,000 cap on rewards for non-economic damage;
  • Reforming joint and several liabilities rules (eliminate the ability to collect from defendants a award percentage that is much larger than the percentage at which the defendant was at fault);
  • Limits and uniformity on prejudgment interest;
  • Requiring expert testimony for medical liability cases;
  • Collateral source rule reform, (defendants can now take into account how much plaintiff has already been awarded from other sources); and
  • Strengthen evidence required in court to prove liability and negligence to be awarded punitive damages.
  • In the final Senate vote, the bill passed by a vote of 25-23, along party lines except for a lone Democrat, Susan Paddack of Ada, voting in favor.

    Me, Svengali?

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    One of the goofiest accusations made in the course of the Fairgrounds annexation debate is that some councilors, specifically John Eagleton, voted for annexation just to make me happy, out of some misguided sense of loyalty.

    (Other goofy debating points: I'm for annexation because I have "a bone to pick with the county," and my opinion doesn't matter because I'm not a businessman. Both are ad hominems and neither address the merits of my arguments or the arguments of other annexation proponents. I'll deal with the "bone to pick" in depth some other time, but I will say this: I have never suffered any personal or financial loss or significant inconvenience as a result of a county action -- with one exception. My skepticism about certain aspects of county government is not at all personal, but is grounded in nine years of watching the County Commissioners' actions, particularly the addiction of certain commissioners to non-competitive contracts.)

    (The one exception? As a dad, I'm disappointed that my kids won't have an amusement park in town any more.)

    There are five members of the Council whom I knew and with whom I was friendly before they became city councilors. If they always did what I wanted, then I would be the uncrowned King of the City Council, a modern-day Robert S. Kerr. But that doesn't happen.

    I can think of one vote in particular that was important enough to me that I took the time to come to the Council meeting and speak. It was a zoning case near I-44 in east Tulsa, the part of town where I grew up and where my parents still live. I was there with other east Tulsa residents to ask the Council to deny the zoning request, which would have perpetuated the trashy first impression Tulsa gives to those who arrive by car from the east and northeast. Our side lost, with a couple of my councilor friends voting contrary to my wishes.

    If any city councilor listens to me it's not because I can finance their climb up the political ladder. I can't use my massive economic and social clout to ruin them if they crossed me. I can't provide make-work jobs for their relatives. I can't take them to dinner at the Summit Club or for a round of golf at Southern Hills. And to borrow an old blues lyric that Bob Wills borrowed a few times, "I'm not good-lookin'. I don't dress fine. The way I whip it is a hangin' crime."

    As was evident last Thursday night, I don't have masses of mind-numbed followers ready to obey my every command. It was pretty much just me and, amazingly enough, Greg Jennings, with whom I have often disagreed in the past, speaking in support of annexation. If the decision Thursday night was a matter of pull, there was a lot more pull on the other side of the issue.

    If any of these councilors pays me any mind, it's only because I try to be precise and thorough in what I say about an issue, and sometimes I do a decent job of translating a concept from bureaucratese to plain English.

    Bill Martinson certainly didn't communicate with me in composing his rationale in support of annexation. I opposed his first run for office and didn't endorse him in the Republican primary last year. I didn't feed information to the Council staff or the city finance department staff for their thorough research and analyses. Council Attorney Drew Rees did the legal research on the issue of security for the Tulsa State Fair, not me. I had a few conversations with John Eagleton, but I didn't come up with a copy of the Arabian Horse Show contract, or even have the foresight to suggest it to anyone.

    If anything, the thoughts I've presented here and in my column owe more to the research and analysis that others did than the other way around. The only original point I contributed to the conversation had to do with the non-financial benefits of annexation, a point that didn't seem to carry a lot of weight in Thursday night's debate. (Which is why my business background is irrelevant to the discussion.)

    I guess it's more comforting to annexation opponents to believe that I mesmerized the City Council into bending to my will than to believe that five independent, intelligent councilors came to their own conclusion based on facts and logic, in the face of heavy pressure to set those facts aside.

    It took a while, and everybody got to speak that wanted to speak, but the City Council voted 5-4 to approve the ordinance to annex the Tulsa County Fairgrounds. Voting in favor were Henderson, Turner, Barnes, Martinson, and Eagleton; voting against were Westcott, Troyer, Christiansen, and Carter. The emergency clause vote broke the same way, which means it failed -- two-thirds vote would be required to put the annexation into immediate effect. Without the emergency clause, it will go into effect sixty days after the Mayor signs the ordinance.

    I'll be on KFAQ at 6:10 in the morning to talk about the debate and the vote, so tune in to 1170 and listen.

    I was especially impressed with Councilor Martinson's comments. I've had plenty of disagreements with him on various issues, but his analysis of the pros and cons of annexation was flawless, just as impressive as his analysis of the city's financial constraints. His business and accounting experience is a real asset to the council.

    As are the legal expertise and fearlessness of Councilor Eagleton. A highlight of the meeting was when he called fair board member Clark Brewster (the banty rooster) on Brewster's bluffing claim that the increased sales tax rate resulting from annexing the Fairgrounds would constitute a breach of contract with the Arabian Horse Show. Eagleton had the contract in hand, demanded that Brewster cite the paragraph to back up his claim, and then read the clause that clearly contradicted Brewster's claim. Eagleton's diligent digging for facts has diffused several of the bogus arguments leveled against annexation.

    UPDATE 4/11: There are two complementary accounts of the City Council debate on annexation in the latest Urban Tulsa Weekly: Brian Ervin's news story on the debate, with details on why various councilors voted the way they did; and my column, on the factors that may influence Mayor Kathy Taylor's decision to sign or veto annexation.

    UPDATE 4/18: David Schuttler has posted video on YouTube (thanks, David!) of the exchange between Clark Brewster and John Eagleton regarding the Arabian Horse Show's contract. I had forgotten that it was actually Bill Martinson who interrupted Brewster to ask him how a city action could cause a breach of contract between the fair board and the Arabian Horse Show. Brewster's reply, "The terms of that contract provides [sic] very specifically what their vendors would pay as a matter of tax," led to Eagleton's question, "Clark, which paragraph are you referring to?"

    This week in Urban Tulsa Weekly, I take a look back at the decision of the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority last fall to evict Bell's Amusement Park from the Tulsa County Fairgrounds. Although it's not a new story, the way the eviction was handled sheds some light on the question of the City of Tulsa's annexation of the Fairgrounds (to be decided this Thursday night by the City Council), currently an unincorporated enclave surrounded by the City of Tulsa. Expo Square management and TCPFA members have made a number of claims about the effects of annexation, and those claims need to be weighed in light of the board's credibility and transparency -- particularly the credibility of the three TCPFA members who were on the board prior to 2007.

    Here's another doubtful decision: Last year the Tulsa State Fair reached the one million attendance mark for the first time in four years. In December, the 2006 Fair won six awards for Marketing and Competitive Exhibits at the International Association of Fairs and Expositions (IAFE) in Las Vegas. Amber Phillips, who was manager of the Tulsa State Fair in 2004, 2005, and 2006, overseeing increased attendance each year, didn't get to enjoy the fruits of her hard work and creativity, because Expo Square CEO Rick Bjorklund had fired Phillips a week earlier. (Officially, her position was eliminated in a "reorganization," but it's not as though they're going to stop having a Tulsa State Fair, and someone has to manage it.)

    You can read more commentary and background about the Bell's eviction here (including an interesting look at Bjorklund's career trajectory). And this website has a number of articles on Bell's and other amusement parks in this region, including Frontier City and Joyland in Wichita. Here's his evaluation of what was done to Bell's.

    About this Archive

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

    Tulsa City Hall: March 2007 is the previous archive.

    Tulsa City Hall: May 2007 is the next archive.

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