Tulsa City Hall: October 2008 Archives

An open letter from Tulsa District 5 City Councilor Bill Martinson, explaining his decision to vote against the two streets propositions on Tuesday's ballot:

Dear Tulsa Voter,

November 4th is just around the corner, and the citizens of Tulsa will be voting on two street propositions. Councilors Henderson, Christiansen, Bynum, Patrick, and ultimately Troyer, voted to place these propositions on the ballot. I, along with Councilors Gomez, Eagleton and Westcott voted against these proposals because we supported a comprehensive approach that would actually fix the streets. Out of respect for the process, (i.e., respecting a majority vote of the Council) I have kept a low profile. To this point, my comments have been limited to direct responses to direct questions concerning my opinion of the ballot proposals.

However, as Election Day nears, I feel obligated to make my opinions better known. This is for two reasons, both based on the increasing calls, conversations, and e-mails I have been receiving. First, there seems to be a wide spread impression that my relative silence on the propositions is an unspoken endorsement. Not only do I NOT endorse the propositions, I intend to vote NO on both on November 4th. Second, the public has received limited information from those supporting the propositions as to the long-term impact their passage would have on Tulsa and its citizens. I hope that the following will help explain my position and provide a basis for those interested in making a fact-based decision at the polls.

As Chair of the City Council's Streets Sub-Committee, I was intimately involved in studying Tulsa's street deficiencies. We consulted with external experts, former elected officials, and the Public Works department. We found that years and decades of neglect have created a multi-billion dollar problem; the magnitude of which, no one disputes.

The Sub-Committee, working closely with Public Works and other City departments, spent months developing a comprehensive approach to address the problem. That effort led to a proposal that would have ensured the long term commitment necessary to restore and maintain our infrastructure. Unfortunately, that proposal is not on the ballot thanks to some last minute maneuvering by the Mayor and Chamber of Commerce.

In the early 1980's, Tulsa had over 220 employees assigned to street maintenance; today we have 69. Yet, we have doubled the number of lane miles in the City during that time. As a point of reference, there are enough lane miles in Tulsa to take you from New York City to Los Angeles and back to Tulsa with miles to spare (you would also encounter a signalized intersection every 10 miles along the way). Expecting 69 employees, 50 of which are actually in the field, to provide reactive maintenance (e.g., filling pot holes), much less routine and preventive maintenance, on that much pavement is absurd. The proposal that I supported provided restoring 100 of those positions over time. In addition to these positions that would have enabled us to effectively and efficiently extend the life of our streets, we also provided additional funding for right of way maintenance, graffiti abatement, and traffic engineering in order to address dangerous intersections and improve traffic flow. Furthermore, we had included $120 million for street widening in south Tulsa.

The Mayor in a matter of weeks, if not days, developed the propositions on the November 4th ballot. The propositions provide minimal resources for street maintenance, no additional funding for right of way maintenance, graffiti abatement or traffic engineering and have NO funding for widening. While the ballot propositions may hold the pavement condition relatively steady, the backlog of work will increase by $64 million. In addition to increasing the backlog, the limited funding for routine and preventive maintenance will mean that our streets will deteriorate more rapidly than necessary and ensure that our cost will be much higher in the end.

The Mayor and the Chamber of Commerce are promoting the propositions on the ballot as the first step in a master plan. Yet, no one has developed, or is developing, the next step, which means there is no plan. That burden will fall on a future Mayor and future City Councilors. Not only will those officials face a massive street need (even the advocates of the ballot propositions admit this), they will have to fund several years of deferred capital requirements that are being ignored in the current ballot propositions. If these propositions pass, the additional costs to the taxpayers once these ballot propositions expire will be enormous.

Some argue that the comprehensive approach would have tied up our funding sources for too long and that the current ballot proposals would provide Tulsa with flexibility to address future needs. I personally cannot envision a future need that would surpass our immediate need to fix our deteriorating streets (again, no one disputes the financial magnitude of the problem). As to the comprehensive approach tying up future funding sources, I believe the exact opposite is true. In order to reach the same pavement condition in the same timeframe as the longer comprehensive approach, two shorter initiatives will cost hundreds of millions dollars more - hundreds of millions of dollars going to streets that could have been saved and dedicated elsewhere.

Others argue that since Tulsa is updating its Comprehensive Plan and modes of transportation may change, a shorter plan makes sense. Regardless of any changes to the Comprehensive Plan, Tulsa will need adequate streets. People will live in houses and will need to get to work and go to stores. Unless we all begin walking or bicycling where we need to go, and expect visitors to Tulsa to do the same, I cannot see a fundamental shift away from needing a reliable street system, especially over the next twelve years.

Some have said that the comprehensive approach would never pass because it would cost too much money. To put things in perspective, the difference in cost to a taxpayer living in a $100,000 house between the comprehensive plan that I supported and the plan on the November 4 ballot is approximately $8 per year, less than a $1 per month.

I doubt that anyone in Tulsa wants to see our streets fixed more than I do. In my opinion, the street propositions on November 4th ballot will not fix the fundamental problems relating to our streets. Furthermore, they will ultimately cost the taxpayers of Tulsa hundreds of millions of dollars more than necessary. Accordingly, I will be voting NO on both propositions.

Some contend that the current ballot proposals are a start, or at least better than nothing. I disagree. I believe that kind of approach and mentality has put us where we are today. Until Tulsans and their elected officials acquire the courage and discipline to actually solve the problem, the streets in our City will continue to decline. The City Council's Streets Sub-Committee spent many months conducting a complete analysis and developing a comprehensive plan that would fix Tulsa's streets. If the ballot propositions fail, that plan can be placed on the first legally available ballot following November 4th election.

Bill Martinson
Tulsa City Councilor, District 5

There is so much happening and so little time to comment, so here are a few local links of interest:

Bubbaworld has questions about the $135 million in unspent funds from past City of Tulsa sales taxes and bond issues:

In what bank(s) are these surplus funds deposited?

Are the taxpayers of Tulsa earning a reasonable interest on these surplus tax revenues, some of which have apparently been "laying around" since the 1970's?

Who has ultimate control of this $135 million "slush fund"?

And most importantly, why when this much surplus tax revenue was available have Tulsans been asked time and again to approve new and additional tax increases for a variety of purposes?

We learn today that Tulsa County Commission candidate Karen Keith is indeed a member, as we suspected, of the JBS. That's the Jim Burdge Society. The campaign consultant is on Keith's payroll, along with former District 6 City Councilor Art Justis. As I wrote in last week's UTW:

Keith's decision to hire Jim Burdge as her campaign consultant further undercuts her squeaky-clean image. Burdge is renowned in political circles for his slimy, underhanded, and often clumsy attacks on his clients' opponents. As the consultant of choice to the development industry lobby, Burdge led the disastrous 2005 recall campaign against Councilors Jim Mautino and Chris Medlock and the even more disastrous opposition to the [zoning protest] petition charter amendment.

Keith's selection of Burdge, like her enthusiastic embrace of Bob Dick's endorsement, doesn't speak well of her judgment.

Keith also got two big checks from the development industry: $5,000 from the Realtors PAC and $2,000 from a group associated with the state home builders association.

Jenn at Green Country Values reports that a Gold Star mom named Angelia Phillips is upset at Andrew Rice, Democrat candidate for Senate. Rice has a "tribute" on his website to her son Michael Phillips and other Oklahomans killed in action in Iraq. Mrs. Phillips considers it an insult, not a tribute, because of Rice's stand against the war. She wrote:

My husband and I believe strongly that if you do not support the troops AND their mission then any "tribute" you might make on their behalf is hollow and nothing more than a scoreboard.

She has asked the Rice campaign to remove her son's name from the website, and the campaign has refused. She intended to ask Rice personally today at a scheduled campaign appearance, but he was a no-show.

Steven Roemerman does a fact check on U. S. Rep. John Sullivan's latest ad about his carpetbagging opponent and finds it factual.

As always, Mike McCarville is the go-to guy on Oklahoma politics. His latest stories include an item on all the money trial lawyers are dumping into Nancy Riley's SD 37 re-election campaign. A Riley win is needed for a continued Democratic majority, which in turn would mean no tort reform. McCarville also reports a last minute $100,000 surprise attack by the Democrats on State Sen. Jim Reynolds, who is being challenged by someone named David Boren (not the David Boren).

The Peregrine Falcon has three reports from the first Ice Oilers game at the BOK Center, one about the game, one about Mayor Kathy Taylor getting booed, and one about the frustration of buying tickets. After going downtown to try to avoid a $9 per ticket fee at Homeland:

So, I get downtown, I stand in line; of which there are only two. That's right, two-lines for the single largest venue in Tulsa; TWO LINES!!! While I am waiting the person operating my line, (1 of 2) walks away. Four minutes later, I find that the section that I want is not available for this game; BOK isn't selling cheap seats (cheap at $10.00 per seat - not that cheap). However, they are willing to sell me seats twice the price. Begrudgingly I bought the tickets. Again, a fee was attached. Two dollars per ticket, to have the privilege of paying for a center that I am already paying for.

The Peregrine Falcon also links to a debunking of Barack Obama's alleged middle-class tax cut, showing that Obama's plans include four tax increases for people earning less than $250,000.

Joe Kelley has a picture of the unspeakably cute new resident of the Oklahoma Aquarium.

(I was on air with Joe this morning, about my question, "Are we really about to elect a far-left president?")

Lynn reminds us that Oklahoma's favorite son, the Anti-Bunk Party nominee in 1928, was born on Election Day and his 129th birthday will fall on Election Day 2008.

Down the 'pike, Steve Lackmeyer checks the Bricktown parking situation during the OKC Thunder's first regular season game and finds plenty of spaces.

OCPA gets a salute from Illinois for their work to let the sun shine in on Oklahoma government expenditures.

Today I received via GT Bynum some responses from the Tulsa Public Works Department to the questions I asked in my October 15 column on the street sales tax and bond issue vote. It will take me some time to process all this, but in the meantime I wanted you to have the chance to read it. It's long, so you'll have to click below to read the whole thing. Here are the questions that were answered:

1) Question: Will the City aggressively advertise contracting opportunities to out-of-area firms so we can have a more robust competition for road work?

2) Question: Will the City do a better job of coordinating projects with ODOT, so the City doesn't snarl alternate routes while ODOT is working on a freeway?

3) Question: I see money in the package for rebuilding streets, as we've been doing. But where is the money for paving, crack sealing, milling and overlay? Is there adequate money in this package for the preventative maintenance we haven't been doing?

This week in Urban Tulsa Weekly, I return to the topic of the November 4 City of Tulsa street sales tax and bond issue vote, raising some questions I hope can be convincingly answered between now and election day.

In an extra op-ed, I explain why voters of all political orientations should choose the eminently qualified Dana Murphy for the two-year term seat on the Corporation Commission over appointed incumbent Jim Roth, whose personal connections and campaign finances indicate a far-too-cozy relationship with Chesapeake Energy, one of the businesses he regulates. For good measure, here's my editorial endorsing Dana Murphy in the Republican primary.

This afternoon at 2, City of Tulsa Finance Director Mike Kier, Assistant Public Works Director Paul Zachary, and City Councilor G. T. Bynum will be on the Chris Medlock show on 1170 KFAQ to talk about the sales tax and bond issue for street funding that will be on November's ballot. Earlier this week, the three were interviewed by KFAQ's Pat Campbell. (Click this link to listen to the podcast.)

Here's where I am: I would like to be able to support this package enthusiastically. I need to be persuaded, however, that this isn't just more money to spend on the same old failed approach to maintaining streets. I need to be convinced that Public Works is changing the way it does business.

Will the City aggressively advertise contracting opportunities to out-of-area firms so we can have a more robust competition for road work?

Will the City do a better job of coordinating projects with ODOT, so the City doesn't snarl alternate routes while ODOT is working on a freeway?

I see money in the package for rebuilding streets, as we've been doing. But where is the money for paving, crack sealing, milling and overlay? Is there adequate money in this package for the preventative maintenance we haven't been doing?

If I'm not persuaded, I'll vote yes on the sales tax proposition and no on the bond issue proposition. The overall sales tax rate doesn't go up if the sales tax proposition passes, and I want the city to call dibs on the 2/12ths tax when the County's Four-to-Fix sales tax expires. Also, allocation of the sales tax could be changed to spend money on paving and sealing, while a bond issue cannot be reallocated and cannot be spent on preventative maintenance.

About this Archive

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

Tulsa City Hall: September 2008 is the previous archive.

Tulsa City Hall: November 2008 is the next archive.

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