Tulsa City Hall: September 2009 Archives

It's rare that I say this, but I agree with the Tulsa Whirled editorial board. In a Wednesday editorial, they urged the defeat of a proposed charter amendment to have the City Council elected to staggered three-year terms, so that only a third of the council is up for re-election in any given year. The amendment will be on the November general election ballot.

Here are their objections:

First, it would perpetuate the current silliness of holding some municipal elections in odd-numbered years, when voter turnout will be low.

Further, it would shotgun the races over three years, meaning there will be less publicity about elections. Councilors will be able to run for re-election below the radar of public scrutiny.

And it would give councilors three-year terms instead of the current two years, making them less responsive to voters.

Finally, it would mean it would take three election cycles for voters to flush out a corrupt or inept council.

On the whole, it wouldn't be unreasonable to conclude that the change is designed to make the council more powerful and less accountable to voters.

I disagree with their disdain for municipal elections in odd-numbered years. Municipal issues deserve attention that they are unlikely to get in the midst of a presidential or gubernatorial campaign. Nevertheless, they are correct to point out that staggered terms make it harder to clean house and make it more difficult for voters and potential candidates to plan for the next opportunity to replace their councilor.

By the way, those very same factors are at work in our school board election process, but worse. In Tulsa, school board members serve four year terms, with two seats up each year, except for one year out of four when only one seat is on the ballot. In the suburbs, terms are five years, with only one seat open to change each year. The filing period, right after Thanksgiving, is in the midst of the Christmas season and always catches people unawares, a fact that likely explains the small number of candidates who file each year. Worse still, school board elections are non-partisan, which further depresses turnout; the lack of labels of any sort on the ballot is a deterrent to many voters. I look forward to the editorial board's endorsement of two-year terms for school board members, with all board members on the ballot at each election.

There's a theory that school administrators and bureaucrats like the staggered terms, because if a firebrand reformer should sneak through the defenses and get elected, the other members, having already been tamed and enculturated to The Way Things Have Always Been Done Around Here, will throw a wet blanket on his zeal. Staggered terms seem to have the same effect on authorities, boards, and commissions.

The same dynamic would be at work with staggered terms on the council. Far from making the council more powerful, it would make them less likely to challenge the Way Things Have Always Been Done at City Hall. From that perspective, it's surprising that the Whirled editorial writers would object to the idea.

The editorial goes on to note the legal problems with holding a September election in an even-numbered year, at a time when, it says, state law says "that during even-numbered years cities can't use the state voting system for elections in September." (Actually, state law -- 26 O.S. 13-101.1 -- says the county election board isn't required to run an election on a date other than those specified in 26 O. S. 3-101.) If the county election board wouldn't cooperate, as they probably wouldn't, given the expense, the city would have to staff polling places and either buy machines or else conduct a hand count of ballots.

On a related issue, a number of people have complained about this year's primary being the day after Labor Day. The city charter amendment that moved elections to the fall tied the primary and general election date to "the day specified by the laws of Oklahoma" in the months of September and November respectively. The relevant section of state law is 26 O.S. 3-101. This situation will occur two years out of every 28, when September begins on a Tuesday in an odd-numbered year. The next time is 2015, at which council and auditor are up for election, but not the mayor. After that, it won't happen until 2037, a mayoral election.

But to eliminate even those few occasions It would be a simple amendment to state law to change the September date from the second Tuesday to the Tuesday after the second Monday, thus avoiding the Labor Day problem altogether. The change would not only help Tulsa, but would benefit the whole state. No jurisdiction should be holding a special election the day after Labor Day.

From Rocky Frisco's Tulsa Metro Chamber questionnaire. Nail, meet hammerhead.

The more the city government has tried to "develop" the downtown, the worse it has become. I firmly believe that if had been allowed to develop naturally, without all the wild ideas for "development," it would still be an exciting, successful part of the city. I would like to see the city government stop meddling with the downtown area, re-synchronize the traffic lights and stop killing the area with excessive revenue generation based on parking tickets, fees and fines. The first fatal blow was the loss of the Ritz, Orpheum, Majestic and Rialto Theaters; the second was the ill-advised "Downtown Mall." It has gone downhill from there. The time to stop "fixing" a thing, even when it's broken, is when every attempt to fix it breaks it worse.

See my May 13, 2009, column for the 53-year-long list of attempted fixes and Downtown Tulsa Unlimited's role in promoting same.

RELATED: I have received a tip that the Tulsa Metro Chamber is seeking to take over DTU's former role handling downtown marketing in exchange for a share of the cash from the Tulsa Stadium Improvement District assessment. I was unable to find an RFP online, but if this treated as a personal services contract the City may be able to award the contract without a bid process. It should still, however, come through the City Council. The tipster speculated that the Chamber is trying to push this through quietly, before the advent of a new Mayor and City Council that may not be as friendly.

Mautino-20040814.jpgI grew up in far east Tulsa (and beyond, in Rolling Hills in what was then unincorporated Wagoner County). My parents still live out there in District 6, and they've got a Mautino sign in their yard.

In the 19 years we've had a Tulsa City Council, for only two years has far east Tulsa had a representative at City Hall who was devoted to the district's best interests. During his 2004 to 2006 term, Jim Mautino worked for improved infrastructure to make attractive new development possible. He fought against those who wanted to treat east Tulsa as a dumping ground, who refused to respect our zoning laws and stormwater regulations. His service on the council was a natural extension of his many years of volunteer service as a neighborhood advocate.

He also worked closely with councilors from north and west Tulsa to ensure that city government paid attention to the needs of these long-neglected areas. This too was an extension of his pre-council work in organizing a coalition of neighborhood associations from around the city. Cooperating with councilors from different parties, socioeconomic backgrounds, and parts of the city, he worked for more considerate treatment of homeowners in the zoning and planning process, for stronger ethics standards, and for identifying and developing major new retail centers -- trying to capture more suburban retail dollars within city boundaries.

Long before the bribery scandal in the Public Works Department came to light, Mautino pushed for a top-to-bottom audit of the department.

For his devotion to his job, his district, and his city, Mautino was vilified by the mainstream media and officials of the metro-wide chamber and homebuilders association, and he was the target of a recall effort in 2005. He beat the recall overwhelmingly and in 2006, won renomination, despite a primary challenge well-funded by the Money Belt establishment. But he fell short of re-election, as his Transport Workers Union brothers betrayed him and campaigned instead for Dennis Troyer.

Troyer, who considers Crocs to be appropriate footwear for City Council meetings, has been a cipher on the council -- a reliable vote for Mayor Kathy Taylor and the Money Belt establishment, a reliable vote for zoning changes to permit more haphazard, ugly industrial development along our city's eastern gateway.

While Mautino is a conservative Republican, his honesty and integrity have won him fans across the political spectrum. Here's what Greg Bledsoe wrote about Jim back in 2006:

A little over a year ago I had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know your City Councilor Jim Mautino. Since that time, it has become clear to me that Jim is the most hardworking, dedicated and selfless public servant I have ever known. He is the salt of the earth. His tireless commitment to the improvement of District 6 and the whole City of Tulsa is without limitation. He has worked long hours for better sewers and streets (including a dramatic increase in funding for District 6), balanced economic development and transparent government at City Hall.

Here's what I wrote about Jim Mautino back during his first run in 2004:

Jim Mautino... is by far the best choice for the District 6 seat. Jim has been a tireless advocate for his part of town, working on zoning and planning issues to protect property values and the quality of life. Jim has persisted and more often than not prevailed because he knows the rules and does his homework, and he won't give up without a fight.

Here's what Steven Roemerman wrote about Jim Mautino during his 2006 re-election campaign:

If you spend 5 minutes with Jim you'll hear a lot of sewer talk. Not foul language but talk of sanitary sewer lines, then you'll hear a lot of talk about water lines, followed by a lot of talk about improving streets. He is passionate about improving the infrastructure in East Tulsa because Jim knows that infrastructure spurs development, and development spurs economic growth. Despite stiff opposition Mautino's hard work has paid off. Jim has brought sewer lines to East Tulsa businesses that were threatening to leave because they were still operating on sewage lagoons. When Jim is not working on acquiring water or sewer he is working on our streets. Jim drives all over District 6 taking pictures of poor road conditions, dangerous intersections, and car wrecks.

All that hard work has paid off. It is Jim Mautino's tenacity that has brought 28 million dollars of new project dollars through the 2006 Third Penny Sales Tax.

There were several close votes where Jim's voice and vote would have been decisive in favor of good government and careful management of taxpayer dollars. There were several close votes where Jim's voice and vote would have been decisive in favor of good government and careful management of taxpayer dollars. East Tulsa and the city at large need Jim Mautino back on the Council. To make that possible, Jim Mautino first needs your vote in the Tuesday, September 8, 2009, Republican primary, and again in the November general election.

MORE: After the jump, a video (by David Schuttler) of a 2006 council speech by Jim Mautino on problems in the Public Works Department, and a second video about BOK's efforts to get the City of Tulsa to pay off the Great Plains Airlines loan. And here's my column from January 28, 2009, about his proposal for a SCARE audit of the city's largest department -- he learned this kind of wide-ranging, independent, well-funded, top-to-bottom audit during his years working for American Airlines.

About this Archive

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

Tulsa City Hall: August 2009 is the previous archive.

Tulsa City Hall: October 2009 is the next archive.

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