Tulsa City Hall: May 2009 Archives

Tulsa City Councilor Rick Westcott emailed me a short time ago to point out the bind into which downtown property owners have been put by Mayor Kathy Taylor's administration's insistence that owners had only limited rights to protest the assessment for the new Tulsa Stadium Improvement District, which will finance a new ballpark for the Tulsa Drillers. Now that the Oklahoma Attorney General has contradicted the Taylor administration, it's too late for property owners to file a protest, according to Taylor's timetable for getting the assessment roll approved.

There are a couple of points that no one seems to be making about the ballpark assessment and the Attorney General's advisory letter.

Since last July, the Mayor and the City Attorney have repeatedly said that the assessment on a piece of property does not need to have a relationship to the benefit which the property will receive from the ballpark. They have said that all downtown property can be assessed at the same rate, no matter how near or far it is from the ballpark. I have disagreed with the Mayor and the City Attorney on that issue since last July. I believed that state law was clear, that there must be a relationship between the assessment rate and the benefit which a piece of property will receive. The less the benefit, the less the assessment rate.

Now, the AG's letter says the Mayor and the City Attorney are wrong. The AG says that the assessment rate for a piece of property must bear a relationship to the benefit which the property will receive. The further away a piece of property is from the ballpark, the less the benefit and the less the assessment rate. Or, if the County believes that the jail will not receive any benefit from the ballpark, then the jail should be assessed as a lesser rate.

In April, the City Council was preparing to conduct a hearing on the assessment roll and approve the assessment for all downtown property. The Mayor and the City Attorney told property owners that, if they had not objected last July at the formation of the assessment district, then they could not object at the hearing on the assessment on their property. In fact, the City Attorney provided a lengthy, written legal opinion justifying her position on that issue.

The AG's letter says they are wrong. The AG says that a property owner could object to the amount of the assessment on his or her property, even if they hadn't objected to the formation of the assessment district.

But, based upon the assurances by the Mayor and the legal opinions by the City Attorney, most property owners did not file objections in April. They were told that they couldn't object, so they relied on that advice and they didn't object.

Now, the AG says that the Mayor and the City Attorney were wrong. The AG says that the property owners could have objected at the April hearing. But, since they relied on the Mayor's statements and the City Attorney's opinion, they didn't object. Now, the deadline has passed and they can't object.

And, now, the assessment roll may proceed.

The Mayor and the City Attorney misinformed people as to what the law was and what their rights were. The property owners relied on that advice. Now, the time to file an objection has expired.

But, the Mayor is spinning this as, "The AG says there's nothing wrong and the assessment can go forward."

I am not against the ballpark. I have never been against the ballpark. But, I have a duty to protect the citizens of Tulsa and make sure that all aspects of it are done legally and properly.

The City of Tulsa has been scolded once more over its management of federal Community Development Block Grant funds. On April 30, the director of HUD's local Office of Community Planning and Development notified the City's grant administrator that Tulsa is not spending its federal grant in a timely manner. (Last August, the City of Tulsa was dinged by HUD for being unable to support $1.4 million in CDBG allocations for FY 2006 and FY 2007 and for another $115,215 spent on ineligible activities.)

April 30, 2009

Department of Grants Administration
City of Tulsa
175 East 2nd Street
Suite 15-051
Tulsa, OK 74103

Subject: CDBG Program Timeliness Notice

Dear Ms. Pharis:

The purpose of this letter is to remind you that as required by 24 CFR 570.902 of the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) regulations, this office will review the City of Tulsa for compliance with the requirements for carrying out a CDBG program in a timely manner. A grantee is considered to be in compliance, if 60 days prior to the end of its program year, there is no more than 1.5 times its annual grant remaining in the line-of-credit. Tulsa has an October 1 program year start date. Pursuant to our letter to the city dated October 10, 2008, the last 60-day test was conducted on August 2, 2008, and it was then calculated that your community had a balance in its line-of-credit of 1.65 times its annual grant. Accordingly, the city was in non-compliance with the timeliness performance provision at 24 CFR 570.902. As of April 21, 2009, the city had a ratio of 3.13 times its annual grant plus program income.

As discussed in our monitoring letter dated August 29, 2008, it is apparent that the City will not be able to move forward with its $1.5M acquisition, relocation, and disposition project until it has developed its relocation plan pursuant to the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act (URA). This delay has further hindered the City's ability to reduce its 1.65 ratio by the end of September 2008 as initially discussed with the office. Additionally, as a result of HUD returning the city's repayment of $1.49 Million in ineligible costs to the city's line of credit and Tulsa's apparent inability to thus far commit and disburse these and FY 2009 CDBG Program funds in a more timely manner, the city's drawdown ratio has further deteriorated.

The City of Tulsa should take all appropriate actions to improve the drawdown rate, including, but not limited to the development of a workout plan, timetables and schedules in order to comply with the timeliness standard. The workout plan should be submitted to HUD for review and approval within 30 days from the date of this letter.

For your information, you may download from HUD's web site a copy of the CDBG timeliness guidebook entitled, "Developing and Implementing a CDBG Workout Plan: Guidelines for Putting Your Community Devleopment Block Grant Program on the Road to Timeliness." The guidebook provides a detailed description of each element required to be included in the workout plan. The 14-page document can be downloaded from the following site:


Please submit your workout plan and any additional informatoin concerning the failure to comply with 570.902 to this office within 30 days from the date of this letter. My staff and I remain available to assist you in any way possible in your goal to reach the 1.5 threshold. Should you have any questions regarding thisletter or th eDepartment's timely performance policy, please feel free to contact Mr. Hillard Berry, CPD Representative at (405) 609-8568, Ms. Trina Tollett, Financial Analyst, at (405) 609-8426, or me at (405) 609-8569.


David H. Long, Director
Office of Community Planning and Development

cc: Honorable Kathryn Taylor, Mayor, City of Tulsa
Mr. Ronald Miles, HUD, Tulsa Area Field Office Director
Amy Polenchek, Chief of Staff, City of Tulsa
Mike Bunny, Economic Development Officer, City of Tulsa

Two notes and some questions:

  • The whole point of the Feds giving you money is so that you'll spend it.
  • Evidently this problem is common enough that HUD made a booklet about it.
  • Why did HUD give Tulsa back the money Tulsa repaid for ineligible CDBG spending?
  • If they give us money back unexpectedly, why should we be scolded for not having spent it yet? Or is HUD giving it back to us with the command to spend it on eligible programs?
  • What is the "$1.5M acquisition, relocation, and disposition project" that the letter mentions? And is it just a coincidence that it's nearly the same amount that Tulsa paid back to HUD?

Last fall, Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor asked the International Downtown Association to send a team to study our downtown, and in particular to look at the city's arrangement with Tul-Center, Inc., the arm of Downtown Tulsa Unlimited (DTU) that has handled downtown services since the current business improvement district was established in 1981. (The DTU executive committee serves as the board of directors for Tul-Center, Inc.)

Here's what the City asked the IDA team to do:

The City of Tulsa seeks to create an organization that can coordinate, plan, direct and manage a wide range of downtown revitalization functions, including the integration and implementation of downtown plans, management of downtown public/private partnerships, support for downtown business groups, and support and management of programs as designated by the City. Possible functions include parking management, management of downtown business improvement district programs, event functions, and other downtown operations.

The IDA Advisory Panel will examine and assess the current organizations, agencies and programs focused on the revitalization of downtown Tulsa, including the relationship between the City of Tulsa, Downtown Tulsa Unlimited and various stakeholders; discuss and compare best practices and successful strategies employed by other similar business districts in terms of organizational structure, functions, and programs, particularly with regard to functions within the scope of a downtown management organization; review and make recommendations regarding any appropriate organizational development strategies; examine advantages and disadvantages of collaborative planning and funding strategies, especially in business improvement districts; and recommend ways that programs, if initiated, can be sustained.

The team of four, including Oklahoma City planning director Russell Claus, came to Tulsa, Nov. 15 to 18, 2008, right before the Tulsa Run. A 27-page report was released in February 2009. (Click here to read the IDA Advisory Panel Report on Tulsa (PDF format).

The IDA team's report begins:

A first-time visitor to downtown Tulsa may be somewhat mystified. Streets and sidewalks are clean and well-lighted. A collection of handsome, even extraordinary art deco buildings adorn the office core. A strikingly designed arena stands dramatically on the edge of downtown, complemented by perhaps the most attractive new City Hall in America. Here and there, a café or coffee house lights the street. And yet...where are the people?

As a visitor spends more time in downtown Tulsa, other impressions emerge. There are few street level establishments of a retail nature. Windows facing the street are far too often dark. The hustle and bustle that today characterizes many downtowns across North America is simply absent. It feels like a time warp - as if it's 1988 in downtown Tulsa, not 2008.

Here's the IDA report's description of the current arrangement:

According to the DTID (Downtown Tulsa Improvement District) Summary Sheet, the downtown Tulsa district "was created to provide public improvements and maintenance beyond normal City services to help sustain, increase, and re-attract businesses as well as entertainment activities to downtown." According to the Summary Sheet, the City is the governing body and Tul-Center, Inc., a non-profit organization of Downtown Tulsa Unlimited, manages the daily services provided by several subcontractors."

The 2008-2009 contract of approximately $952,000 between the City of Tulsa and Tul-Center, Inc. comes from two roughly equal sources: assessments on property owners in downtown and the City of Tulsa itself. The current contract, approved by the Tulsa City Council in 1999, is in effect through June 30, 2009.

Part of the report deals with criticisms of DTU:

With more than 50 years of history, DTU is one of the oldest downtown organizations in the US. It has a track record of accomplishments during its existence. It has a board of directors composed of some of Tulsa's most prominent corporate citizens. And, through Tul-Center Inc., it has managed the business improvement district since it was established.

Like many downtown organizations today, DTU relies on the BID assessment for its very existence. BID revenues constitute about 9 out every 11 dollars passing through DTU each year. With the BID assessment, DTU manages a fairly standard menu of "clean and safe" services, and also promotes downtown with events like Mayfest and by installing , removing and storing holiday decorations.

The recommendations and observations are well worth reading. One highlight is the strong interest among young people in downtown and their desire to protect buildings that may not be "architecturally or historically significant, [but they] represent adaptive re-use possibilities for residential development, office space for small companies, and street level space for restaurants, clubs, and retail shops."

DTU President Jim Norton responded to the team's visit in DTU's December 1, 2008 newsletter:

One of their first recommendations was that the current custodial responsibilities, which DTU performs, are done as good as or better than anyone in the country. That's very encouraging news for us, and it tells us that what we've been doing for the last 30 years has been a tremendous success. They were very impressed with the cleanliness of Downtown and with the efficiency of our operations. They made suggestions that DTU needs to reach out to the surrounding neighborhoods and to other interest groups to include them in creating a vision for Downtown that everyone buys into. They also made other recommendations regarding the marketing of our Central Business District in creating lively activities throughout the year. These are items which we have totally embraced and look forward to making the future better for everyone.

The Downtown Tulsa Improvement District expires on June 30 and is being replaced with the Tulsa Stadium Improvement District. The City of Tulsa has issued an invitation to bid (TAC 843) on providing the public property maintenance services (Microsoft Word document) currently being provided by DTU/Tul-Center. The deadline for submissions is 5 p.m. on May 20, 2009. The base bid includes maintaining 215 miles of sidewalk (daily), 18 miles of alleys, 1320 trees, and 80 trash containers. Bidders also have to quote a price for sidewalk cleaning per square yard, sidewalk snow and ice removal per mile, special event sidewalk sweeping per foot, brick sidewalk paver replacement per square foot, general labor per man hour, mowing/landscaping per square yard, and additional trash service per can per month.

The specification is precise in requiring particular fertilizers and lawn treatments, and there are some other interesting provisions:

Personnel must be fluent in English, as they will be expected to provide information, directions and help to the public.

All paved sidewalk and plaza surfaces must be swept daily (with a complete cycle each week) using mechanical sweepers and/or manually. Mechanical sweepers, blowers, or power vacuum equipment will not be operated during the lunch period or at other times when large crowds of people are present. The paved sidewalk surfaces shall be inspected weekly and specific trouble spots, INCLUDING CHEWING GUM, cleaned with a power scrubber, high pressure sprayer or other means as needed. The standard of maintenance for this service shall be to provide litter free, clean sidewalks and alleys.

Water usage specifically for this area will be metered and recorded by a portable water meter obtained by the landscape contractor from the City of Tulsa Water and Sewer Department. CONTRACTOR shall pay the required deposit and all other costs associated with obtaining such metering device.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa City Hall category from May 2009.

Tulsa City Hall: April 2009 is the previous archive.

Tulsa City Hall: June 2009 is the next archive.

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