Tulsa City Hall: September 2008 Archives

Showdown at the county jail

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My latest article in Urban Tulsa Weekly is about the soon-to-expire agreement between the City of Tulsa and Tulsa County regarding jail operations. Under the existing contract, the county's jail system uses several city facilities rent-free -- including the old city jail, which provides holding cells for the adjacent county courthouse, and a property room -- in exchange for the city being allowed to hold up to 116 prisoners, in jail only on municipal charges, at no cost to the city.

The latest volley in the war of words between the two sides comes in a sharply-worded letter from Assistant City Attorney Christine Benediktson to County Commissioner John Smaligo, which accuses county officials of not negotiating in good faith and advises that the city is prepared to go it alone when the contract expires:

Over the last several months I have listened carefully to your issues, spent considerable time in researching issues and solutions and in meeting with City officials and employees in an effort to reach a compromise and, ultimately, to avoid a protracted legal dispute. Your response to these efforts makes a mockery of the negotiation process and constitutes bad faith. As a resident of Tulsa County, I am extremely disappointed in you as a public official. It is most unfortunate that you do not appear to respect or honor your fiduciary duty to the citizens of Tulsa - who comprise one of the largest communities within the County that you serve.

I have been authorized to inform you that if the County persists in refusing to negotiate properly, the City is prepared to change the way we conduct municipal court business. We will be prepared to deal with our municipal prisoners independently on October 1st. We will contemporaneously move forward to analyze our legal options against the County. Further, if this occurs, the Sheriff will be required to handle all administrative services previously provided by the City and to vacate all City owned premises, including the municipal court building, the holding cells and the sally port. Additionally, the County will need to make arrangements for the property located in the City Property Room currently held by the City on behalf of the County. Despite your representations to the contrary, approximately 80% of that property is being held in relation to cases currently pending in State Court.

The letter also advises that some misdemeanors that are both municipal offenses and state offenses -- assault and battery and DUI are specifically named -- will be booked as state violations, rather than municipal, as they routinely are booked today. This would allow Tulsa to avoid being billed for these prisoners, but it would move the case from Municipal to District Court, adding to the workload of the District Attorney and the District Court.

The jail sharing contract between the City of Tulsa and Tulsa County is due to expire in less than two weeks, and negotiations are stalled. Mayor Kathy Taylor issued a memo to the City Council last Friday reviewing the origins of the current contract, created in 1995, and the county promises that persuaded city officials to work with the county to pass the jail tax.

(Here is the memo from Mayor Taylor to the City Council and
the attachment to the memo, including documents and statements made when the original city/county jail contract was signed in 1995 (5 MB PDF).)

In a nutshell, Tulsa County had failed to pass a bond issue to replace the overcrowded jail on the top floor of the County Courthouse. One attempt to pass a sales tax for a new jail was blocked by District Judge Jane Wiseman, who said the proposal, which bundled funding for crime prevention programs with the cost of building and operating the jail, was unconstitutional logrolling. (Eight years later, Wiseman turned a blind eye to far more blatant logrolling on the Vision 2025 ballot. She now sits on the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals.)

In an effort to win the City of Tulsa's support for a new, properly divided sales tax vote, county officials agreed to house up to 116 purely municipal offenders -- people in jail on a city charge, but with no state charges pending -- in exchange for county's use of the city's municipal jail and booking area for housing prisoners appearing at the courthouse and the county's use of the city's adult detention center near Newblock Park. The county's argument to the city was that combining operations would save the city more than $2 million annually that it was spending to run its municipal jail. The city would reimburse the county at a rate of $16.44 per prisoner per day for any municipal prisoners in excess of 116.

The county's proposal for the new jail contract redefines what constitutes a municipal prisoner and triples the cost per municipal prisoner per day. Previously, prisoners counted against the city's allowance of 116 only if they were in jail solely on municipal charges. If they were in jail on state charges, they were the county's responsibility under state law, even if municipal charges were also pending. The county's new proposal would eliminate any allowance to the city -- charges would begin with the first municipal prisoner -- and the city would be billed for every prisoner with a municipal charge pending, even if the prisoner would have to be in jail anyway on state charges.

Taylor's memo includes the assertion that Sheriff Stanley Glanz has been able to operate the jail for $2 million a year less than the money generated by the 1/4-cent jail operation sales tax.

City officials are right to resist this contract and to explore alternatives, such as letting the agreement lapse using the adult detention center as the city lockup. It would be better if the county reconsidered its position and worked with the city on continuing combined operations. The county should agree to the old, sensible definition of municipal prisoner and should grant the city an allowance of purely municipal misdemeanor prisoners in consideration for the sheriff's use of city detention facilities.

Bill Kumpe, an attorney who lives near the site of the planned homeless facility at Admiral and Yale, has posted a long and eloquent exposition of the point of view of homeowners in the nearby neighborhoods.

(It's worth reminding: The White City neighborhood gets its name from the White City Dairy farm that preceded the subdivision on that site.)

The older, usually well built and well maintained homes in White City are one of the few places in Tulsa where blue collar, gray collar, white collar and professionals can live in an economically diverse neighborhood and all still stay within the economic goal of paying no more than a third of their total household income for housing including maintenance, utilities, necessary upgrades, etc. It is an old fashioned mixed class, mixed income neighborhood that should be the model for future developments instead of the dumping ground for city problems....

At its most basic, the proposed Admiral and Yale homeless shelter appears to be a giant rip off to the average White City resident. Joe Sixpack, Susan Secretary and Ernie Engineer see nothing more than an attempt to handle a downtown problem by exporting it to their neighborhood. Combine that with the fact that the proposed downtown "baseball" trust is aggressively trying to control the property values and development around THEIR investment and the whole deal appears profoundly hypocritical. The downtown elites are using all of their political and legal power to prevent the very type of development risk that THEY THEMSELVES are forcing down the throats of the White City residents. Taken at its most basic they are saying that their for-profit investment in a ball park deserves the city's protection while the White City residents investment in their homes does not....

Taking the homeless from a place where they were within walking distance of all their needed services and placing them in another where they are miles away on an infrequently served bus route doesn't make much sense at all. As a matter of fact, to Joe and Susan and Ernie it seems like a formula for having a lot of people walking through their neighborhoods and hanging around the neighborhood bus stops and parks....

We've been told that this facility is intended to help mainstream the mentally ill into normal society. Bill's neighborhood, bordering White City, has seen the impact of "mainstreaming" firsthand:

After several years, the "mainstreamed" neighbor is still there. But, the previously occupied homes on both sides of his are boarded up as is the previously occupied home one house down on one side. The home next to the boarded up home on the other side sold at one point on a contract for deed but the buyer cancelled after a few weeks because of the problems with the "mainstreamed" neighbor. It became a Section 8 rental unit. One of the houses across the street went vacant after the young couple who lived there couldn't take it anymore. They tried for months to sell their home with no luck. It is now a rental unit. That's five homes whose values have been severely degraded due to one property. The character of the whole neighborhood changed. And, it's not as though the homeowners were passive. Far from it. Over the years, there were at least fifty calls to the police. Many of them went unanswered. There were petitions to the police department and DA which resulted in no determinative action. The fire department answered dozens of calls about trash fires and made arrests for illegal burning more than once....

Unless their aim is to drive everyone who can afford it to move to the suburbs, our city leaders need to understand the perspective of residents of neighborhoods like those around Admiral and Yale.

I've been seeing e-mail traffic urging people to show up at tonight's City Council meeting in support of the Tulsa Stadium Trust. I understand that Bank of Oklahoma and other downtown employers are trying to pack the council chambers tonight. Those who show up should remember that the vote isn't about building a ballpark, it's about authorizing a public trust. I support putting the ballpark downtown, but I'm concerned what powers and scope of action this trust will have.

While the trust indenture has been improved significantly, there are still objectionable features, and there still appears to be some confusion, even among the trust's promoters, about what this trust will be authorized to do.

I am happy to see the the trust limited in its acquisitions to a geographical area, but the area (Detroit Ave., BNSF right of way, I-244) is too broad, and there is still the possibility of pressuring the City Council to allow them to make acquisitions outside that area. As I wrote previously:

Any stadium trust should be limited in the indenture to improvements to blocks 23, 24, and 45, and lots 4, 5, and 6 of block 46 of Tulsa's Original Townsite -- the area between I-244 and Archer, Elgin and the buildings on the west side of Greenwood which survived urban renewal.

There shouldn't be an escape clause. There should also be explicit language in the indenture forbidding the use of eminent domain to acquire property for the trust.

Here's the version of the Tulsa Stadium Trust indenture showing markups made following Tuesday's Council committee meeting:

2008-08-21 Trust Indenture (v39) (Marked).pdf

Here's the same version, but without the markups visible:

2008-08-21 Trust Indenture (v39).pdf

At Tuesday's council committee meeting, trust promoter Fred Dorwart claimed that the trust wouldn't just be building a ballpark:

Fred Dorwart, an attorney for the donors, said the trust also is charged with providing services within the Inner Dispersal Loop such as street cleaning. A portion of the downtown assessment fee helps fund the ballpark, and the rest pays for downtown services, he said.

(You can hear audio of an exchange between Bill Martinson and Fred Dorwart on Chris Medlock's Tuesday afternoon show, within the first 20 minutes of the first hour.)

I've looked through the trust indenture, and I can't find any reference to that in Article III -- Purpose and Powers of the Trust (or anywhere else). If that's true, it opens the door to replace the city's year-to-year contract with Downtown Tulsa Unlimited for downtown services -- which seems on the verge of being opened to competition -- with a trust's multiyear contract with Downtown Tulsa Unlimited.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa City Hall category from September 2008.

Tulsa City Hall: August 2008 is the previous archive.

Tulsa City Hall: October 2008 is the next archive.

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