Tulsa City Hall: October 2007 Archives

Last week, Tulsa City Council researcher Jack Blair gave a presentation on Tulsa's streets and how we could fund their ongoing maintenance. The presentation puts the cost of street maintenance in the context of Tulsa's decline from one of America's most densely populated cities to one of the least densely populated, the fiscal constraints on the city, and the city's historical spending patterns on streets. One of the most interesting sections had to with the $615 million from third-penny and general obligation bond issue funds used to pay for utility projects. The utility projects (water, sewers, stormwater, solid waste) might have been funded with revenue from those utilities instead, freeing up that $615 million for street improvement.

The Tulsa World has Blair's 122-page PowerPoint presentation on Tulsa Streets on its website. It's in PDF format and about 22 MB. If for nothing else, it's worth a download to see the historic and present day photos of what were country crossroads and are now high-traffic intersections.

The hive-mind that writes the unsigned editorials from its Totalitarian-Moderne bunker on Main Street had this to say today about a suggestion made Tulsa Councilor John Eagleton regarding a proposal to make city elections non-partisan:

OK, this one is simply too easy so we're going to let you fill in the blanks with the joke of your choice. And we rarely, if ever, pass up the opportunity for a cheap joke.

In the debate over changes to the city charter, in particular making elections nonpartisan, City Councilor John Eagleton, while supporting the nonpartisan issue, also wants each candidate to be able to add a word or phrase to the ballot that would describe each candidate's political philosophy.

Now, this is where you add your joke. We'll wait a second.


At best, whichever drone wrote this editorial on behalf of the Whirled Collective decided to "phone it in," rather than exert the effort to lampoon Eagleton's suggestion effectively.

But I think it's more likely that the AverillDelCourJonesNealPearson doesn't understand the idea well enough to explain why the hive-mind doesn't like it. Otherwise, they would have set out a cogent argument against it.

The Whirled editorial puts me in mind of a type of adolescent ridicule. The ringleader of the popular bunch points at poor, unpopular Poindexter and says, "What a loser! Poindexter is wearing a black belt on a Thursday!" The ringleader begins laughing. All of his toadies have no idea why wearing a black belt on a Thursday is ridiculous, but they know to take their cue from the ringleader, so they point and laugh, too. The Whirled knows there is a certain constituency (declining in number) that will laugh if they say "laugh." (These are the same people that believed the Whirled when it claimed that non-Councilor Randy Sullivan was intelligent.)

Eagleton's suggestion is similar to one I made in my column in the April 6-12, 2006, edition of Urban Tulsa Weekly:

Would stripping party labels entirely be helpful to voters? In fact, it gives voters even less information to work with. Labels are helpful aids to memory. You may have trouble remembering the name of the candidates you plan to support, and knowing that you decided to vote with your party in the mayor's race and with the other party in the council race gives you an extra hook to recall your decision....

So how do we change Tulsa's system to expand both choice and information for voters?

Instead of non-partisan city elections, let's have multi-partisan elections. Put all candidates for a city office on the ballot, but instead of stripping away the party labels, let's let candidates apply the label or labels of their choosing. Maybe that would be a major party label, maybe that would be the name of a political action committee (PAC), or even both.

There are a couple of different ways to implement this. In the column I suggested that parties and PACs could register with the city and endorse candidates, and then each candidate could choose which endorsements to note next to his name on the ballot, in place of or alongside national party names. The least complicated method, suggested by Eagleton, would allow each candidate to supply his or her own description, up to some number of lines, words, or characters.

That description wouldn't have to be "liberal" or "conservative" as the Whirled editorial hive-mind seems to believe. It could identify the candidate's position on a current issue or describe the candidate's approach to city government. A citywide group might run a slate of candidates, all using the same ballot description. It might just be a catchy slogan. Councilor Roscoe Turner, for example, might use, "Voted Tulsa's Most Believable Councilor." Since candidates are required by charter to use their full legal names on the ballot, a candidate might use the description to identify his nickname to the voters. Some possibilities, in 40 characters or less (about one line on the ballot):

  • Back to Basics: Cops, Streets, Parks
  • Conservative Republican
  • Progressive Democrat
  • Endorsed by Republican Assembly
  • Endorsed by Just Progress
  • No New Taxes
  • Higher Taxes Coalition
  • Preserve Midtown
  • I love surface parking lots
  • Citizens for Responsible Government
  • Tulsa Alliance for Neighborhoods
  • Homeowners for Fair Zoning
  • Tulsa Real Estate Coalition
  • Pimp This Town
  • By George, It's Nigh Time
  • Official Monster Raving Loony Party

Some descriptions would be sensible, some would be frivolous, all would add some color to an otherwise antiseptic non-partisan ballot. (Requiring all candidates to submit a nominating petition, as independent candidates are already required to do, would keep the frivolity within reasonable bounds.)

There's another possible explanation for why the Whirled didn't defend their opposition to Eagleton's idea: They oppose it for selfish reasons which they don't wish to reveal to the reader. A candidate's brief self-description on the ballot constitutes a media bypass. Without depending on the favor of the monopoly daily newspaper, without needing a pile of campaign cash, a candidate would be able to communicate something about himself, albeit very briefly, to every voter, in words of his own choosing.

If the Whirled editorial hive-mind gets its collective way, a city election ballot would comprise lists of bare names, with no other identifying information. As the still-dominant media outlet in Tulsa, the Whirled would define for many voters what emotions and opinions they should hold about each of those names. No wonder they don't care for Councilor Eagleton's suggestion.

One of the proposed Tulsa City Charter amendments on tonight's City Council agenda would eliminate party primaries and put all candidates on a non-partisan ballot. If no one receives 50% of the vote, the top two vote-getters in the primary would face off in the general election.

I wrote a column in March 2006 explaining the flaw in a two-candidate runoff, particularly in a non-partisan election or Louisiana-style all-party primary, using historical examples. It's too easy in such a system to wind up with a winner who is unacceptable to the majority of the voters. (That same column explains why Instant Runoff Voting is a better system.)

I've been trying to come up with a simple way to explain the problem, an explanation that doesn't involve real-world political loyalties. Here's my latest effort. I'd appreciate your suggestions for improvement:

In Council District 10, the most important concern among voters is having a city councilor who supports their favorite college football team.

Polling has shown that, of the 1000 voters in District 10:

550 are rabid OU Sooner fans
250 are diehard OSU Cowboy fans
200 wear hog hats on their heads and holler "woo, pig, sooie!"

City Council elections are non-partisan, with a primary, followed by a runoff between the top two vote getters.

Because there's such a strong base of support for the Sooners in the district, five Sooner fans filed for the seat, but only one Cowboy fan and one Razorback fan filed. (These fans are so fanatical, they've changed their names to match famous head coaches.)

Here's the primary result:

Jimmy Johnson
OSU 250
Lou Holtz
U of A
Bud Wilkinson OU
Bob Stoops OU
Barry Switzer OU
Chuck Fairbanks OU
Gomer Jones OU

If Chuck Fairbanks and Gomer Jones hadn't entered the race, any of the other three OU candidates could have had enough votes to make the runoff by beating Lou Holtz for second place. In a head-to-head runoff, an OU candidate would have no trouble winning in District 10. But because the OU vote was split five ways, there won't be an OU candidate in the runoff.

Instead, in the runoff, the 550 voters who voted for OU candidates -- the majority of those voting -- will be forced to hold their noses and pick between Jimmy Johnson and Lou Holtz.

In a party primary system, the OU voters would have chosen one candidate to represent them in a general election, and given that OU fans are a majority in the district, the OU nominee would likely have won the general. The OSU and U of A voters in the district, despite constituting a significant minority, would ultimately have no influence on the outcome.

In an instant runoff system, where all voters cast a preferential ballot ranking all the candidates, one of the OU candidates would win the election, but each voter, regardless of affiliation, would have an equal opportunity to influence the final result.

UPDATE: XonOFF asked me to elaborate on how instant runoff voting would solve this problem. I've done so in the extended entry, after the jump.

More later, but for now just a brief note: Tonight's Tulsa City Council agenda includes a vote on whether to move forward with nine proposed amendments to the Tulsa City Charter. Many of the amendments came from the work of the Citizens' Commission on City Government in 2006.

Here's a quick description of the items being proposed:

Non-partisan elections
Council attorney
Appointed city auditor
Three-year staggered terms for city councilors
Four-year terms for city councilors, with elections during the non-mayoral year
Fall elections
Setting Councilor salaries to half the mayor's salary
Clarifying the term "qualified elector" to refer to the definition under state law

Tulsa City Charter proposed amendments (3 MB PDF)

I'm fully supportive of moving city elections to the fall of odd-numbered years.

I'm utterly opposed to doing away with electing the city auditor, to non-partisan elections as proposed (but I support multi-partisan elections with instant runoff voting), and to longer terms for councilors, particularly the three-year staggered terms, which would prevent the voters from cleaning house in a single election. (Staggered terms are used for school boards, and they don't work well for keeping the elected officials accountable to the public.)

On the other proposals, I need to know more.

About this Archive

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

Tulsa City Hall: September 2007 is the previous archive.

Tulsa City Hall: November 2007 is the next archive.

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