Tulsa City Hall: December 2011 Archives

KRMG ran a story recently contrasting the approach that outgoing and incoming members of the Tulsa City Council take to their jobs. The story features outgoing councilor Jim Mautino and incoming councilor Karen Gilbert.

When asked about controversy over the trash contract, Gilbert demurred:

"I'm not going to talk trash," Karen Gilbert quipped when KRMG began to ask her about ongoing issues.

"That's kind of a touchy subject right now," she added, and she says until the trash board finalizes its presentation to the council, she's not ready to state an opinion.

As for the water issue, Gilbert says she and the council will address that question when the trash question has been put to bed.

So despite the fact that the trash service issue has been under discussion for more than a year, during which time she was a candidate for office and presumably asked about the issue once or twice, despite the fact that radical changes are proposed to a system with which most Tulsans are quite pleased, Gilbert hasn't formed an opinion, at least not one she's willing to share, and won't until, apparently, the untouchable TARE board tells her what to think about the plan they devised.

Meanwhile Jim Mautino was proactively researching issues of concern to his constituents right up until the end of his term:

On the trash issue, he said it's a "done deal" and that the city will award a contract that will force residents to go to once-a-week service, which he says is less efficient and more expensive than the twice-a-week service which 80 percent of the city currently receives.

The other 20 percent of the city in the northwest part of town currently gets service only once a week and that service is provided by the city, Mautino says, not a private company.

And in that area, the city is losing money, he maintains, because the bins get overfilled, the trucks have to make more trips back and forth rather than staying on their routes because they get full so much faster and the workers tire more quickly.

Despite the evidence available right at hand, he maintains the city plans to award its contract to a company that will institute once-a-week service.

As for water treatment, Mautino is among several Tulsans who fear the city's plans to go to a chloramine-based treatment system is also a done deal, despite the fact that the Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority has a meeting set for December 14th to hear arguments on the issue.

One of the things that seemed to annoy City Hall bureaucrats about the old council was their habit of raising new issues to be discussed, explored, and acted upon. From the bureaucrats' perspective, this meant more work and their own priorities displaced by the councilors' pet issues.

Nearly all of the outgoing councilors had certain priorities that were inconvenient or outright obnoxious to the administration, the authorities, and special interests. Jim Mautino was concerned about animal control, food truck sanitation, chloramines in water, and encouraging new, high quality development in east Tulsa. John Eagleton pushed for computerization of municipal citations and court records, limiting the growth of the city budget, and integrity in the Mayor's and City Attorney's office. Maria Barnes was particularly interested in protection of midtown neighborhoods from commercial encroachment and inappropriate redevelopment. Roscoe Turner's key issues included the impact of airport noise on nearby neighborhoods and possible pollutants from a burn facility at a cement plant. Fiscal matters, such as the rapid growth of the public safety budget, were a major focus for Rick Westcott. Bill Christiansen led a task force about improving communication between the city and neighborhoods in the zoning process. Chris Trail was concerned about prostitution and human trafficking that might be taking place in Tulsa's massage parlors.

(Trail's noble but ultimately futile attempt to require massage parlor owners to be accountable for criminal activities in their facilities is the topic of a news story by Jennie Lloyd in this week's Urban Tulsa Weekly.)

Although the specific issues varied, in each case these councilors were willing to spend time outside the scheduled meetings to read, to talk to citizens, to commission research from the council staff (and actually read it), and then to keep pushing for action. That's pretty much a recipe for annoying city officials.

It won't be necessary for Burt Holmes or Ben Latham to sit in the front row of the audience and hold up "YES" or "NO" signs to tell their city councilors how to vote. These councilors won't need to attend secret meetings with Chamber lobbyists.

WhatMeDewey.jpgIf Gilbert is representative of the new crop of councilors, they'll be content to be spoon-fed information from the mayor, the department heads, and the members and staffers of authorities, boards, and commissions. The string-pullers need only work behind the scenes to manipulate those who are generating the information that the councilors are consuming. The Complacent Councilors won't seek out alternative perspectives, and they'll be inclined to dismiss any alternative points of view that are brought to them by citizens, because those citizens aren't "experts." They'll vote the "right" way every time, and the department heads, authority members, and mayoral assistants won't have to answer any questions that make them uncomfortable. Never mind that the result may be uncontrollable spending and a decline in our quality of life -- at least those councilors won't be bickering!

And these new Complacent Councilors won't need to devote as many hours as the old Council did. Committee and council meetings will be shorter. There will be no need to read all the backup material, to meet with interested parties, to seek out in-depth research. All they'll need to read is the recommendation at the bottom of the "Request for Action" cover sheet and vote accordingly.

Despite the massive turnover on the City Council, I'm hopeful that the four members who weren't part of the Cockroach Caucus push to take over the Council -- two old, two new -- will continue to ask questions, seek alternative sources of information, look at practices in other cities, and bring new ideas to the table. But proactive councilors should expect to endure the same kind of strident pushback from the mayor, ABC members, bureaucrats, and the Cockroach Caucus that their despised predecessors suffered.

MORE on complacency:

An excellent article on strategies to overcome complacency on the Leadership and Management website identifies nine "forces that reinforce complacency and help maintain the status quo." Here are a few:

  • A lack of sufficient performance feedback from external sources.
  • A kill-the-messenger-of-bad-news, low-candor, low-confrontational culture.
  • Human nature, with its capacity for denial, especially if people are already busy or stressed.
  • Too much happy talk from management.
  • Internal measurement systems that focus on the wrong performance indexes, or no systems at all.

Tulsa certainly has a low-candor, low-confrontational culture, and the defenders of the status quo exploited that negative character quality in their campaign to paint the old City Council as a bunch of counterproductive bickerers. The councilors and their allies in the community (including me) did not succeed in countering the "bickering" meme. It was so universally accepted that two different colleagues congratulated me on the day after the city primary, assuming incorrectly that I would be happy with an outcome that fired four incumbents.

The Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority (TMUA) is working hard to rebut concerns that Tulsa citizens have about the addition of ammonia, in the form of chloramines, to our drinking water, in advance of the final discussion on the issue at today's (December 14, 2011) 2:30 pm TMUA meeting at Tulsa City Hall. Here are the some of the latest statements from TMUA chairman Rick Hudson, as reported by KRMG:

He told KRMG, "We have to do this," or else "we'll be subject to very severe fines."

He notes that the EPA has approved the use of chloramines and calls it "safe and effective." (See link below)

He also says studies by the city and an extensive study by the City of San Francisco "debunk" several objections that have been raised regarding health and environmental considerations.

The San Francisco chloramine "study", it appears, is not research specifically about the impact of chloramines on humans or the environment, but a bibliography of articles that may have some bearing on the topic. I found only two papers on the list that appeared to involve tests on human subjects, and it was limited to a particular kind of impact, as you'll see:

Wones RG, Deck CC, Stadler B, Roark S, Hogg E, Frohman LA. Effects of drinking water monochloramine on lipid and thyroid metabolism in healthy men. Environ Health Perspect. 1993 Mar;99:369-74.

Wones RG, Deck CC, Stadler B, Roark S, Hogg E, Frohman LA. Lack of effect of drinking water chlorine on lipid and thyroid metabolism in healthy humans. Environ Health Perspect. 1993 Mar;99:375-81.

The EPA penalties to which Hudson refers have to do with a relatively new EPA regulation governing disinfection byproducts (DBP), the Stage 2 Disinfectants and Disinfection Byproducts Rule, which was finalized in late 2005 and is tied to the passage of the 1996 amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The aim of the rule is to reduce certain byproducts of chlorinated water -- trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids -- which may be linked to an elevated risk of bladder cancer and possible developmental and reproductive risks. The rule is expected to reduce the number of bladder cancer cases by 280 per year (of which 26% would be fatal), at a projected nationwide cost of $79 million for implementation. Opponents of the use of chloramines say that other disinfection methods, such as activated charcoal filters, would be safer and just as cost effective.

Tulsa has a Schedule I system (serving more than 100,000 people), and it must begin compliance monitoring of the Stage 2 DBP Rule by April 1, 2012.

Jeannine Kinney sent along an email from water system consultant Bob Bowcock, who will be speaking about chloramine risks and alternatives at the TMUA meeting this afternoon. Bowcock addresses the San Francisco study and his passionate concern about the use of chloramines. Bowcock says that we have information about chloramine DBPs today that was not available when he oversaw the chloramination of the Los Angeles water supply in the mid-1980s.

You are correct... [the San Francisco study] is not a study it is CYA. I will be bringing factual information about real studies; chloramine DBP are significantly more toxic than Chlorine DBPs.

That is a simple fact... accepted by USEPA, CDC and AWWA. They have the information... the big question everyone is struggling with is... now that they have the information what will they do with it? Drinking water regulations evolve... the regulation of DBPs has been an ongoing process since 1979. If Tulsa... armed with this new information chooses to add ammonia knowingly to their drinking water they do it with knowledge we didn't have last year, three, five ten or twenty years ago... they do it with the full and complete factual knowledge that they will be harming people and causing property damage. If they can do that and sleep at night... God Bless them.

Remember, I personally turned on the ammonia feed pump in Los Angeles, the largest chloraminated system in the United States in 1984. I did not know what I was doing then would cause the harm I know it does now. I will fight, not just today, but everyday to right the wrong I know I contributed to.

They know that what they are about to do is wrong; they can however make a choice to do what is right. A choice to add ammonia to the drinking water in Tulsa in 2011 is a sin beyond reproach.

Drinking TapTulsa's water authority is planning to replace chlorine with chloramine as primary disinfectant this coming February. In response to growing concern about the harmful effects of chloramine on people and plumbing, tomorrow, December 14, 2011, the Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority (TMUA) will hear a presentation about the hazards of chloramine and better alternatives by Bob Bowcock of Integrated Resource Management.

If you're concerned about health, environmental, and plumbing problems caused by chloramine, tomorrow is the most effective opportunity to demonstrate that concern, by showing up at the TMUA meeting, Wednesday, December 14, 2011, 2:30 p.m., 10th floor of Tulsa City Hall, 175 S. Cincinnati.

Before founding IRM, Bowcock headed water utilities in Azusa and Huntington Park, California, worked for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and designed and built water treatment and distribution systems in South America and southeast Asia. Bowcock made a presentation on chloramine to the Tulsa City Council in October, at the invitation of Councilor Jim Mautino. You can watch that presentation online -- the item begins at 1:30:10 and ends at 3:02:00.) According to Jeanine Kinney, a citizen who has been watching this issue closely:

Mr. Bowcock is dedicated to help the TMUA realize that using Chloramine in Tulsa's water, as a secondary disinfectant, is not in the best interests for Tulsa's water consumer's. Mr. Bowcock is perplexed because Tulsa can use a safe alternative and DOES NOT need to go to Chloramine. Mr. Bowcock stated that Tulsa has by far some of the best water in the country and that it would be a shame for the TMUA to ruin it with Chloramine.

The contract for the conversion was awarded at the November 16, 2011, TMUA meeting, but it could still be cancelled.

It's my understanding that the chloramine conversion is being driven by new EPA mandates, but that there are safer alternatives that will meet the new mandates. I'm wondering why Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr. hasn't asked Senator Jim Inhofe, ranking Republican and soon to be chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, to push for the EPA to back off these new regulations that are forcing cities to make costly modifications to their water systems for no gain in water quality.

You can read more about chloramine and its hazards in this earlier BatesLine story,which has links to other web resources on the topic.

Photo, "Drinking Tap" by TounoTouji, on Flickr. Creative Commons license.

About this Archive

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

Tulsa City Hall: November 2011 is the previous archive.

Tulsa City Hall: January 2012 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?]