Tulsa City Hall: August 2009 Archives

The Whirled editorial board says, regarding the news that the new Tulsa City Hall at One Technology Center will cost $1.4 million more to operate than projected this year, draining Tulsa's general fund budget, that "the old I-told-you-so refrain isn't going to help anything."

On the contrary, a healthy dose of IToldYouSo Political Purgative is exactly what Tulsa politics needs. It might stimulate some needful skepticism in our city leaders. It might encourage councilors to ask more questions and to dig in their heels when the answers aren't forthcoming. It might act as a vaccine against the establishment's PR machine.

(Funny how the Whirled makes excuses for and warns against holding officials accountable for the bad decisions that they editorially encouraged. I seem to recall a similar editorial when the Great Plains deal came unraveled. Heaven forfend that those who encourage us to make expensively bad decisions should lose credibility when their folly comes to fruition.)

So here, in chronological order, is what I said about the City Hall move.

In my March 28, 2007, column, I praised the idea of relocating to One Technology Center as a planning concept, but with a big IF:

But as appealing as the move is, aesthetics and urban design aren't sufficient reasons to spend millions of public dollars. There has to be a net cost savings in the near term. City officials need a business plan that will give them a realistic picture of how much the current City Hall block and other city buildings would be worth.

(A business plan for the cost of operating the BOk Center might be a good idea, too. Before we go buying new buildings, we need to know if one we're already building is going to blow a massive hole in the city budget.)

They also need a conservative estimate of energy and maintenance cost savings. They shouldn't underestimate the monetary cost and lost productivity involved in a move, along with the need to support duplicate facilities for a time.

There ought to be a look at alternatives, too. A group of two or three of the historic buildings in Maurice Kanbar's inventory might serve well as a new City Hall.

Tulsans have already committed all our special projects money for the next six years; it's tied up in the Third Penny, Four to Fix the County and Vision 2025. Redirecting Third Penny funds away from existing projects to pay for a new City Hall would be possible, but politically hazardous. (The City might get away with diverting money for other downtown projects.)

It would be a good thing to do, but only if the move could be done without straining the already-constrained city budget. At the very least, it's worth the due diligence that city officials are now pursuing.

After some of that due diligence had been done -- from my June 20, 2007, column:

There are plenty of subjective reasons to like the idea of moving City Hall. The old building is ugly and sits in the middle of an ugly plaza. It was constructed in view of the projected needs of the City of Tulsa in 1985. The new location puts City Hall at the crossroads of streets that tie directly to the expressway system. It also puts City Hall closer to the center of new development activity on the east side of downtown. The newer building ought to be more energy-efficient.

None of that changes the fact that the move will cost $67.1 million, of which (according to the daily paper) $52.25 million is the purchase price of the building. That money has to come from somewhere, and we've already been told that the City budget won't allow for a net increase in the number of police officers, repairing and opening more pools than last summer, or operating the golf courses, even with an increase in utility rates....

In all the material that has been publicly released, there doesn't seem to be anything that says how the City will pay for the new building. It's one thing to claim, as the Staubauch report does, that moving to OTC will save the City $15.2 million over the first 10 years. That claim assumes operating costs to go up at a certain rate and that the City would have to fund $12 million in deferred maintenance costs that are currently unfunded.

(One of the charts that illustrates the asserted savings is a year-by-year graph comparing the costs of different scenarios. The first year estimate that the OTC option will cost less than $2 million vs. about $5 million for the status quo is clearly erroneous. The move to OTC has to be more expensive in year 1 than staying put because the City will be paying duplicate operating costs and additional one-time moving costs. One also has to wonder about the straight line on the graph estimating the cost of the status quo. Surely a thorough accounting of projected capital costs would show some variation from year to year.)

From Brian Ervin's story in the same issue:

Following the conclusion of the feasibility study, [Mayoral economic adviser Don] Himelfarb said operating out of OTC would save the city $15.2 million over the first 10 years by consuming 30 percent less energy and allowing for more efficient use of space.

"This is basically $15 million that is freed up that the city would not otherwise have to spend on police, roads and other services," he said.

The move would also get the city out from under $24 million in deferred maintenance costs to existing facilities, $12 million of which is unfunded.

Here on BatesLine, on the night of the vote, July 12, 2007 (emphasis added):

This deal should be measured by one standard: Will it leave the City with more money or less money available to fund the basic functions of city government?

Based on the numbers in the Staubach Company's report and the analysis of those numbers by Councilor Bill Martinson, there is a high risk that the move will leave the City of Tulsa with less money for police and parks and streets. If one of the current tenants leaves or even reduces its presence, if we are unable to find a replacement tenant who will pay the same price, if rental revenue is less than debt service on the loan, the City will have to make up the difference out of its operating budget. This deal would make the City of Tulsa a competitor in the commercial real estate industry, rolling the dice in a risky business, and using our mortgage money to place the bet.

To shift metaphors, this deal is a house of cards, and if any one of several contingencies fails to occur, the whole thing collapses.

The only facts that matter are these numbers -- how much it costs to operate our current facilities, how much it will cost to operate One Technology Center, how much it will cost to repay the loan on OTC, and how much we are likely to be paid in rent from third-party tenants.

The Council has not been given a full and detailed accounting of the cost of operating our current facilities. This information is surely available in our accounting system -- how much we pay custodial staff, how much we spend on utilities, the cost of repair projects -- based on actual expenditures over the last few fiscal years. Instead, Staubach prepared a sheet estimating cost per square foot for broad categories -- utilities, repairs, security, etc. -- and then multiplied by the sum of those per square feet numbers by the size of our buildings. The $24 million claimed as deferred maintenance costs are buried somewhere in Staubach's per-square-foot figures.

The Council has not been provided with a list of deferred maintenance items, the cost of each one, and the likelihood of needing to fund those items in the near future. Each such item should have a basis of estimate, explaining the work to be done and the manpower and material required. Instead, in response for their request for a detailed list, the Council was given the names of the items and a single number covering the cost of all of them.

With this lack of detail, it would be easy for Staubach to pick numbers for estimates that would make staying in the existing facilities seem to be more expensive than moving. And don't forget that Staubach gets paid more if the deal goes through, so they'd have an incentive to make the existing facilities look as expensive as possible.

The Council should not approve this deal without an accurate apples-to-apples comparison of costs showing that the move will be less expensive in the near term.

That night, here's what I told the City Council (thanks to David Schuttler for the video):

The morning after the eight-to-Eagleton vote, July 13, 2007:

Needless to say, I'm disappointed with last night's results, but I'm going to save most of my commentary for my column, and I've got some family-related entries I want to post. I'm not so much disappointed in the vote to buy OTC as in the reasons the councilors gave for voting yes. In the end, costs only mattered to one councilor: John Eagleton. In this vote, and in previous votes on the budget, he seems to be the only one who thinks through the full financial implications of his decisions. Councilor Cason Carter's solution only protects the City on the income side, and that not completely, as a master leaseholder could very well go bankrupt, leaving the City holding the bag. Councilor Bill Martinson's worse-case (not worst-case) estimate still uses Staubach's S.W.A.G. for the cost of current operations, not the City's actual expenditures, which would be a findable number that would have given them a firm basis for knowing the bottom-line impact on the City's general fund. It is disturbing that they would go ahead without those numbers.

From my column the following week -- Believe in the Cube:

Prior to the 8-1 vote to allow the Tulsa Public Facilities Authority (TPFA) to incur $79 million in debt to buy the shiny symbol of Tulsa's fall from high-tech glory, Taylor read a speech that appealed to anything but hard financial facts. Councilor John Eagleton was the only one able to resist the Mayor's siren song.

I'm not so disappointed that the eight councilors voted for the purchase (it may turn out to be a good deal) as I am in the reasons they gave for their decision. They switched off their B. S. detectors, set aside logic and any concern about cost, and set the City up for a repeat of the Great Plains Airlines debacle.

Although the Council made a show of reducing the risk involved in finding tenants to fill the Borg Cube's excess space, they proceeded to a vote without using the best available information to determine whether the move would leave the city with more money or less money for police, streets, and parks over the near term....

The decision to go into debt to buy OTC for a new City Hall should have come down to this question: Will this deal leave us with more money or less money to spend on government basics?

One would hope that that question would be uppermost in the minds of our city councilors, who had just been through a grueling budget process, unable to open more pools, unable to fund enough new police officers to outpace attrition.

What did the Whirled have to say? A commenter called TCB wrote this comment under their "don't say 'I told you so'" editorial (hyperlinks added):

Based on their recent track records, maybe editorial board and the Chamber of Commerce shouldn't be so quick to hurl insults at city councilors for asking questions about large, complex transactions involving taxpayer assets.

Editorial quotes:

Great Plains:

"There is no taxpayer money involved . . . ." (2-27-00) [actually 7-22-2000]

New City Hall:

"The new building, One Technology Center, would be a perfect fit for city offices. It would require little renovation . . . . the decision to go ahead should be a quick and easy one for the Council." (6-8-07)


"The plan to fund a new baseball park . . . has the backing of . . . the owners of the majority of the property affected. Delaying the Thursday vote will accomplish nothing, other than stalling progress and driving up costs." (7-10-08)

Over on TulsaNow's Public Forum, there's a link to this front page feature story in the June 7, 2007 Whirled, which used big bold red type to call attention to the projected financial benefits. I think they would have made the ink on the page blink if it were possible. (The print version is even more dramatic.)


Relocating to downtown tower projected to cut costs by $15 million over 10 years

In other news, for possibly the first time ever, I laughed at a Bruce Plante cartoon. Queen Kathy's crown is a lovely touch. Bruce had better update his resume, maybe check into adult education classes for a career change. Wasn't he instructed always to draw Mayor Taylor in a serious and deferential manner?

ONE MORE THING: A friend phoned to wonder if the Whirled is playing up this issue now to try to hurt three councilors -- Westcott, Martinson, and Christiansen -- who voted the Whirled's way in 2007 but have since defied them and Mayor Taylor and now have well-funded (albeit, in two cases, troubled) opponents. The one councilor who voted the right way -- Eagleton -- is safely back in office whether they like it or not.

Earlier today District Judge Jefferson Sellers ruled that an initiative petition seeking a charter amendment to make Tulsa city elections non-partisan is invalid.

The petition, circulated in 2008 by the group Tulsans for Better Government, was challenged by City Councilor John Eagleton on two grounds: That the petitions lacked a warning against false signatures that is required by state law to be on all initiative petitions, and that the number of signatures submitted fell short of the requirement of 25% of the vote in the last general election.

34 O.S. 3 requires (emphasis added):

Each initiative petition and each referendum petition shall be duplicated for the securing of signatures, and each sheet for signatures shall be attached to a copy of the petition. Each copy of the petition and sheets for signatures is hereinafter termed a pamphlet. On the outer page of each pamphlet shall be printed the word "Warning", and underneath this in ten-point type the words, "It is a felony for anyone to sign an initiative or referendum petition with any name other than his own, or knowingly to sign his name more than once for the measure, or to sign such petition when he is not a legal voter". A simple statement of the gist of the proposition shall be printed on the top margin of each signature sheet. Not more than twenty (20) signatures on one sheet on lines provided for the signatures shall be counted. Any signature sheet not in substantial compliance with this act shall be disqualified by the Secretary of State.

Only one of the signature sheets submitted to the Tulsa City Clerk had the copy of the petition attached and that copy lacked the required statutory language. There was no evidence that any of the other pamphlets had a copy of the petition with the required language. Eagleton, in his filing, cited Community Gas and Service Company v. Walbaum, 1965 OK 118 (case citations omitted):

The warning clause is just as essential to guard against and prevent fraud, deception or corruption of the initiative and referendum process as are such other indispensable requirements of the statute as (1) the pre-circulation filing of a copy of the petition required by 34 O.S. 1961 § 8 ; (2) timely post-circulation filing of the petition in compliance with 34 O.S. 1961 § 8 ; and (3) the execution of a circulator's verification prescribed by 34 O.S. 1961 § 6 .

Eagleton's second point, involving the number of signatures, is a bit complicated: City Clerk Mike Kier used the April 1, 2008, voter turnout as the basis for the required number of signatures, which he determined to be 3,427. 12,985 votes were cast for Prop. 1. 13,065 votes were cast for Prop. 2.

Eagleton argued that the last general election at which every voter in the city was allowed to vote was on April 4, 2006. 77,341 votes were cast in the mayor's race, so that an initiative petition would require 19,336 signatures to make it onto the ballot. Only 6,675 valid signatures were submitted by Tulsans for Better Government.


While voters in every precinct could vote on two charter change proposals in 2008, that was a special election; only the voters in five city council districts had a general election. The distinction is backed up by the ballots distributed to voters: If you lived in council districts 1, 2, 5 or 7, your ballot was headed "SPECIAL MUNICIPAL ELECTION" and had only the two propositions. If you lived in districts 3, 4, 6, 8, or 9, your ballot was headed "GENERAL MUNICIPAL ELECTION" and had the city council race followed by the two propositions. (Click on the images above to see a full photographs of the ballots for districts with no council race and for District 3. These photos were taken of the ballots that are stored along with the certified results in the files of the Tulsa County Election Board. Many thanks to Patty Bryant and her great team at the Election Board for their assistance in accessing records of past elections.)

By contrast, on April 4, 2006, every voter in the city received a "GENERAL MUNICIPAL ELECTION" ballot. (Click the image below to see the ballot that was used for voters in council districts 1, 2, 7, and 8, where there was no council general election. There was a general election for mayor and auditor, as well as a special election to decide six charter change propositions.)


Eagleton's arguments won the day. Eagleton's filing in the case cited Neidy v. City of Chickasha, a 2008 Oklahoma Supreme Court case in which the Court ruled that special elections could not be used to determine the number of required signatures. (Emphasis in the original.)

The use of a special election to determine the sufficiency of signatures on a referendum petition offends the Oklahoma Constitution.

What constitutes a qualifying general municipal election was addressed by the Oklahoma Supreme Court in Belisle v. Crist, according to Eagleton's petition:

The Court also determined that a preceding general municipal election in which all voters were not eligible to participate should not be considered, only the last general municipal election where all qualified municipal voters could vote and only qualified municipal voters could vote. (Emphasis added.)

Rick Westcott responds

| | TrackBacks (0)

Tulsa District 2 City Councilor Rick Westcott is using his blog to provide detailed rationales for his positions on some controversial issues, one of which resulted in him and other councilors being denounced by Mayor Kathy Taylor on a live CNN interview.

The latest entry addresses the concern that Westcott and other councilors have that accepting Federal money to hire police officers will cost the city money it can't afford. Taylor has accused these councilors of acting out of a desire for partisan advantage. Taylor claimed on the CNN interview that the City wouldn't be out any money by having to continue to fund the 18 positions in the fourth year, following the federal three year grant, because it would have to hire that many officers to replace retiring officers anyway.

Westcott has read through the Federal government's documentation for cities seeking the grant and finds that Kathy Taylor is wrong and gives chapter and verse to back up his finding:

One of the arguments in favor of accepting the grant money is that the City of Tulsa loses about 36 officers per year through normal attrition. Over the next three years, if we don't fill all of those positions, we will save enough money to pay the fourth year for the grant-funded officers.

But, the federal government's "Owner's Manual" says that we can't do that. If we do, we'd be in violation of the terms of the grant.

Section 5 of the "Owner's Manual" is called "Retention." The first paragraph says:

"At the time of grant application, your agency committed to retaining all sworn officer positions awarded under the CHRP grant with state and/or local funds for a minimum of 12 months following the conclusion of 36 months of federal funding for each position, over and above the number of locally-funded sworn officer positions that would have existed in the absence of the grant. Your agency cannot satisfy the retention requirement by using CHRP-funded positions to fill locally-funded vacancies resulting from attrition."

In earlier entries, Westcott has discussed his vote on the downtown ballpark assessment and his vote to delay the final vote on the city budget. (It wasn't a vote to layoff dozens of police officers and firefighters.)

To help you keep up with his latest entries, I've added Westcott's blog to my BatesLine Oklahoma headlines page.

If you missed it, CNN interviewed Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor live regarding the $3.5 million in federal stimulus money granted to the city to fund 18 police positions for three years.

The catch: Tulsa would have to provide funding for a fourth year and would also have to find $840,000 to provide equipment for the officers. Taylor is proposing to take the money from the Tulsa Authority for the Recovery of Energy, the trash trust that ran the now-defunct trash-to-energy plant. Taylor told CNN that "we" (the City, evidently) gave TARE $10 million "about 20 years ago."

Off the top of my head, I'd guess the City has given hundreds of millions, via the Third Penny, to fund capital projects for the Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority. Maybe some of those funds now for general fund purposes.

Taylor says the fourth year of funding isn't an issues, as we'd have to fund replacements for retiring officers anyway. On the face of it, that doesn't seem like that would meet federal conditions. Wouldn't Tulsa need to maintain the current number of positions through the fourth year? She seems to be saying that it doesn't matter how many officers retire or are let go, as long as we hire 18 more and keep those 18 on staff through the fourth year.

When asked about City Council concerns over whether Tulsa could afford the strings attached to this money, Taylor replied, "I think a few councilors are playing politics with this money." This is Taylor's standard answer when a councilor doesn't bend to her will. But what political gain would come from refusing federal funds for police officers? Why would you risk the political hit from opposing the money unless you felt it was important? Anyway, didn't Taylor eliminate politics from the budget process when she decided not to run for re-election?

(Video posted at My Tulsa World.)

Kathy Taylor's decision to denounce city councilors on a national news network is just one more example of her contempt for the legislative branch of city government. It certainly would be welcome to have a mayor that treated the City Council with due respect, as partners instead of pests.

MORE: Here's Councilor Rick Westcott's interview from last Thursday's Pat Campbell show on why accepting the stimulus money is a bad idea for Tulsa.

Still too swamped for a detailed analytical post, but I must at least point out the misstatements at the end of last Friday's story in the daily about the initiative petition filed by Tulsans for Better Government in support of a charter change for non-partisan elections. The original web story was more accurate than the version published on July 31. Tulsans for Better Government existed before the Citizens' Commission on City Government was formed, and the City Council did not ignore all of the commission's recommendations -- one of the three recommendations (fall elections) has already been approved by the voters and a second (appointed city auditor) will be on November's ballot. The third -- non-partisan elections -- did not have the unanimous support of the commission.

Tulsans for Better Government was actually formed in 2005 to promote the idea of at-large councilors -- reducing the number of districts from nine to six and adding three at-large seats. The effort was a reaction to a City Council with a majority of councilors who actually sought to represent the interests of their districts. It was seen as an attempt to boost representation for the wealthier sections of Tulsa -- under the old at-large commission system, nearly all city officials came from the Money Belt -- and to strip political power from the north, east, and west Tulsa. Dewey Bartlett Jr. and Mayor Kathy Taylor lent their names to the cause as members of the advisory board. The group circulated an initiative petition in support of their proposal.

Tulsans for Better Government suspended its petition effort when Mayor Bill LaFortune announced the formation of a "Citizens' Commission on City Government," assigned to study the City Charter, including terms and number of councilors, partisanship, etc. In their final report, the commission strongly rejected Tulsans for Badder Government's at-large councilor idea. The report made three recommendations, two of which have already been sent to the voters by the City Council, as noted above.

The third recommendation, non-partisan elections, did not enjoy as strong a level of support:

It should be noted that this recommendation is not made unanimously. Some suggested that no change should be made while others embraced an idea advanced by local commentator Michael Bates, known as multi-partisan elections. Still others recommended that the system simply needed technical changes to enable higher participation levels. For example, one thoughtful suggestion was a response to the situation where candidates of only one party file for a council race in a particular district. In those situations, a few task force members recommended that such an election be converted from a primary election to a general election.

More info at the following links:

About this Archive

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

Tulsa City Hall: June 2009 is the previous archive.

Tulsa City Hall: September 2009 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.



Subscribe to feed Subscribe to this blog's feed:
[What is this?]