Tulsa City Hall: February 2011 Archives

Rodger Randle, a Democrat, was the last Mayor of Tulsa under the old city commission form of government and the first under the mayor-council form of government. When he defeated incumbent Mayor Dick Crawford in 1988, a new city charter was a key plank in his platform. He has issued a two-page statement of his views on the proposed charter changes currently under discussion. Randle believes that the proposed changes will not fix the problems facing our city government and would actually make matters worse.

(If you're on the home page, you can read it via the "Continue reading" link; otherwise just scroll down.)

In reading his comments, keep in mind that the goal of those shaping the new charter back in 1989 was to produce a representative government in name only. We would have geographically-elected councilors but only with just enough power to avoid a federal Voting Rights Act lawsuit. As much power as possible would be concentrated in the mayor's office. Councilors were to be kept in line. That attitude seems to explain some of Randle's comments, e.g.:

The rationale in the 1990 charter placing council members up for re-election every even-numbered year was to provide the Mayor, who has a four year term, an opportunity to attempt any necessary housecleaning on the Council on the off-year when all the members of the Council were up but the Mayor was not....

Nine Council members are a lot for the mayor to try to look after already. Making that number bigger will only increase the amount of time that the Mayor will have to spend lobbying and politicking them....

In addition, the more counselors there are, the more difficult it will be for voters to keep track of who is who and who deserves to be reelected and who does not....

I had thought mayoral contempt for the City Council was a Susan Savage innovation, but evidently it was there from the beginning.

It seems to me that the more councilors there are, the fewer constituents per councilor, the more likely a constituent is to have regular, direct access to his councilor and the more likely he is to know whether his councilor deserves to be re-elected or not. Randle's comment makes more sense if you replace "voters" with "special interest groups like the Chamber and the homebuilders."

Randle worries that adding councilors would create the kind of dysfunctional legislative dynamics at work in Chicago city government. But Chicago has 50 aldermen, which is a far cry from 13, a number small enough to seat everyone around the same table. Care to guess how many members serve on the city council of Detroit, the poster child for urban dysfunction?

Although Randle's central concern -- protecting the mayor's power and prerogatives against legislative encroachment -- is misguided, he makes some good points. Randle is right that moving city elections to the state/federal dates would put a heavy burden on voters and reduce the scrutiny given to candidates for city office. He is right in saying that partisanship hasn't been a significant factor in City of Tulsa politics:

Since the adoption of the new form of government, on the other hand, we have not seen much mischief at City Hall that appears to have been purely produced by partisanship. Members of the City Council that form alliances seem to do so totally independently of partisan affiliation.

And, as he says, "we should be cautious of making permanent structural changes simply in response to temporary personality issues that may affect current relations between the Mayor and Council."

In general, and at every level of government, we should be cautious of making a structural change because it seems to solve a current political problem. In the 1970s and 1980s, when the Republicans dominated the White House but couldn't win a majority in Congress, Republicans wanted a more powerful executive branch. In the 1990s, when we had the majority in Congress but the Democrats had the presidency, we wanted to rein in the White House. Political types seem prone to think that today's circumstances will obtain forever.

Randle is also right that it's the mayor's job to lead, to work to gain the councilors' cooperation and support for his initiatives.

But the mayor shouldn't regard the City Council as a smelly flock of sheep in need of herding, but as peers and partners who can complement his strengths and weaknesses. A mayor is one person, with one set of friends and influences and experiences -- and blind spots. City councilors bring nine more sets of friends and influences and experiences to the table, and, if the mayor is wise, he'll make use of those resources to compensate for his weaknesses and blind spots.

(There is an area where the mayor does need more power than he currently has -- in the executive branch of government. The civil service rules make it difficult if not impossible for the mayor to appoint department heads and other key decision-makers in city government. I would support a charter change that would allow the mayor to hire and fire department heads, with new appointees to be approved by the council.)

That said, here are former Tulsa Mayor Rodger Randle's thoughts on the proposed charter amendments:

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa City Hall category from February 2011.

Tulsa City Hall: November 2010 is the previous archive.

Tulsa City Hall: March 2011 is the next archive.

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