Tulsa City Hall: June 2013 Archives

WhatMeDewey.jpgOne of Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr's principal attacks against his rival, former City Councilor Bill Christiansen, is that Christiansen agreed to then-Mayor Kathy Taylor's plan to borrow $67 million in revenue bonds to buy the One Technology Center building to serve as a new City Hall, with the bonds to be repaid by the sale of the old City Hall and other buildings and by rent from tenants in the new building.

Bartlett Jr has numerous radio ads attacking Christiansen on this point and a mailer with a picture of Christiansen looking like a vampire and the text, "He [Christiansen] put taxpayers $67-million in debt to move City Hall into new office space.... Paying off the debt created by Christiansen will leave Tulsans strugging for operating cash for many years. The lavish spending cost Tulsa critical dollars for needs like police and fire protection."

But three years ago, Bartlett Jr was praising and defending the purchase of One Technology Center.

In January 2010, video of my 2007 speech to the city council opposing the One Technology Center deal went somewhat viral, circulating by email and on social media. At the time, there was a battle over falling revenues and budget cuts, with Bartlett Jr's administration talking about a layoff over 100 police officers. (On January 22, 2010, Bartlett Jr laid off 124 police officers.)

What grabbed people's attention about the video, I think, was how close my calculation of the extra annual operating expenses had been to the actual City Hall overrun that had been announced in August 2009. The video was used to make the point: City officials were told that the deal would cost more money, they plunged ahead anyway, and now they were paying for their shiny new toy by laying off cops and making Tulsans more vulnerable to crime.

Emily Sinovic, then a reporter for Fox 23, called to ask for my comment on the ongoing interest in the speech. She also contacted the office of Mayor Bartlett Jr. Here's a link to the January 15, 2010, Fox 23 story about the cost of operating Tulsa's new City Hall

Dewey Bartlett Jr could have taken the opportunity to denounce the City Hall purchase as a bad deal and to cast some blame at Kathy Taylor and several city councilors for adding to the city's budget woes by supporting it.

But Dewey didn't do that. Instead the Bartlett Jr's spokesperson defended the City Hall purchase using arguments similar to those Taylor used three years earlier in support of the One Technology Center deal. According to the Fox 23 story, "A spokesperson in the Mayor Bartlett's office issued an emailed statement in response to the youtube video."

Here's the statement from Bartlett Jr's office to Fox 23.

No additional taxes on citizens were required to purchase OTC. The purchase of the building was financed through the sale of $67 million in tax-exempt revenue bonds to fund the purchase, moving and modification costs. To protect Tulsa taxpayers from risk, the City negotiated a 10-year lease with Bank of Oklahoma, which guarantees $28.7 million in rent revenue over 10 years. The guarantee covers leases with Level 3 Communications and Deloitte-Touche, which continues to lease space. The leasing of vacant office space has been impacted by a downturn in the economy and less demand for Class A office space, but we are aggressively marketing and have recently shown office space to potential tenants.

By vacating the five other City buildings (old City Hall, 707 S. Houston, TFD Headquarters, Francis Campbell Council Room, Hartford Building) that were consolidated into One Technology Center, the City avoided millions of dollars in maintenance costs and capital expenditures required for those buildings.

There also are many other benefits to having the consolidated office space: improved efficiencies, reduced travel between remote sites and better energy-efficiency with lighting, healing and cooling than the former City Hall and other buildings. City offices occupy 30 percent less total space than before.

The City of Tulsa purchased the building, along with the garage and furnishings and fixtures and technological features, for $52.25 million, or about 23 percent of the building's original cost to build.

It's true: The new City Hall has been a drag on city finances. Kathy Taylor was wrong to push for it, and Bill Christiansen was wrong to vote for it. But Dewey Bartlett Jr was wrong not to stand up and object at the time of the vote and wrong to defend the idea three years later. Bartlett Jr's ads denouncing Christiansen on this issue are hypocritical, cynical politics.

MORE: Here's what I said to the City Council about the proposed purchase of One Technology Center:

auditor_lewis_yardsign.PNGOvershadowed by expensive campaigns for Tulsa mayor and county commissioner, the other race on next Tuesday's ballot is for the crucial office of Tulsa City Auditor.

The city auditor was envisioned by the drafters of Tulsa's 1989 city charter as a counter-balance to the power concentrated in the mayor's office. The auditor has full organizational independence to build a team of auditors and to pursue investigations into the operations and spending of city departments, authorities, boards, and commissions.

But all that power does no good if the auditor refuses to use it or can't manage his own team effectively. While good things can be said about each of three men who have served as auditor under the '89 charter, it can't be said that any of them made full use of the job's authority to save the taxpayers money. Phil Wood, who served for over 20 years, was a pioneer in putting city government information on the web, using his own personal website until the city's official web presence caught up. Wood assembled a well-regarded team of internal auditors. But Wood was reluctant to call public attention to his team's findings for fear of seeming too political.

Preston Doerflinger defeated Wood in 2009 with a promise to do better, and he was slated to head the effort to implement the KPMG efficiency study, but he only stuck around for two years before being called up to serve as State Finance Director.

The current auditor, Clift Richards, was appointed by Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr in 2011 to fill Doerflinger's unexpired term. A Wednesday, June 5, 2013, story in the Tulsa World paints a statistical picture of poor performance under Clift Richards's leadership. The number of improvement recommendations produced by the auditor's office have plummeted from 43 in fiscal year 2008-2009, Wood's last full year in office, to 7 in FY 2011-2022. Under Richards, the office's budget is 25% higher than the average for offices of 6 to 10 auditors, and only 49% of the auditors time is spent on actual audits, compared to a national average of 72%.

Richards's analysis of his department's shortcomings doesn't exactly inspire confidence in his leadership:

He attributed productivity shortfalls mainly to high employee turnover, saying the office often serves as a stepping-stone for better-paying private auditing jobs. He said that forces the office to spend more time training workers while losing progress on audits being conducted by outgoing employees.

An effective city auditor has to be able to counter the lure of the private sector with a sense of mission and cameraderie. If salary is a stumbling block, he has to be willing to go to the City Council and argue for the budget to build and keep a good team together -- not as much money as the private sector, but enough to keep good people on board. Wood managed that much; Richards, by his own testimony, has not.

Meanwhile down the turnpike, State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones and his team have cleared a massive backlog of required audits and have uncovered misdeeds and shoddy financial practices at every level of state, county, and municipal government. Jones is what Oklahoma has always needed in our State Auditor -- he's persistent, he's efficient, he takes the initiative to protect the taxpayers, and he's unafraid to step on toes, even if those toes belong to a member of the same party.

One of the Jones team's blockbuster audits uncovered extravagant and questionable spending at the Emergency Medical Services Authority (EMSA) which serves Tulsa, Oklahoma City, and a number of other municipalities. A leading member of the EMSA audit team is now seeking to bring that same spirit to the Tulsa City Auditor's office.

Josh Lewis, CPA, graduated summa cum laude in accounting from the College of the Ozarks, worked five years in private sector accounting, and for the last two years has worked as the most senior member of the State Auditor's Tulsa office. According to his campaign bio, Lewis has audited "county governments, federal grants, emergency medical services, and perform[ed] multiple investigative/fraud engagements."

Josh Lewis points out that he is the only candidate without close ties to a mayoral candidate. Clift Richards was appointed by Bartlett; Kathy Taylor appointed Cathy Criswell as Chief Risk Officer in the Mayor's Office and has given $1,000 to Criswell's campaign. We need a City Auditor who is not beholden to the mayor or anyone else whose work his team will be scrutinizing.

Tulsa taxpayers need an energetic, assertive team leader to protect our interests at City Hall. His record, his experience, and his vision for the role indicate that Josh Lewis is the best choice to be Tulsa's City Auditor.

MORE: The State Auditor's audit of EMSA and a News on 6 story about the EMSA audit. From the report:

During the period examined, Mr. Williamson was reimbursed for a number of expenditures that the general public would consider unwarranted and extravagant such as spa goods and services, an American Airlines Admirals' Club membership, and multiple lifetime subscriptions to Sirius Satellite Radio. However, these expenditures are merely indicative of more serious Board inadequacies that allow abusive expenditure patterns and negatively impact public confidence in EMSA's performance, such as a disregard for the organization's fiduciary responsibilities, deficient financial oversight, and insufficient performance assessments.

It is incumbent on the Board of Trustees to aptly govern EMSA. Policies in support of the Authority's mission must be implemented and consistently followed to ensure effective oversight and accountability. Without proper policies involving purchasing, expense reimbursement, and conflict-of-interest disclosure, the Board has unintentionally fostered a culture of acquiescence in which officers and employees are permitted to establish inappropriate patterns of expenditure behavior and fail to disclose potential conflicts of interest, unbeknownst to members of the Board.

American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 1180, which represents non-sworn employees of the City of Tulsa, has filed a petition for declaratory judgment against the City of Tulsa for the City's failure to comply with the union's request for public financial information in a timely fashion, as required by Oklahoma's Open Records law.

The petition was filed in Tulsa County District Court on June 5, 2013, case number CV-2013-00690. It has been assigned to District Judge Linda G. Morrissey.

Here are the allegations in the petition:

5. On or about February 5, 2013, Plaintiff requested written records from Defendant pursuant to the Oklahoma Open Records Act 51 OKLA STAT. § 24A.1 et seq. See Exhibit "A" attached hereto and made part hereof.

6. To date, Plaintiff has not received the documents requested on February 5, 2013 from Defendant.

7. On or about April 23, 2013, Defendant requested a copy of an audio recording of a telephone call from Defendant pursuant to the Oklahoma Open Records Act 51 OKLA STAT. § 24A.1 et seq. See Exhibit "B" attached hereto and made part hereof.

8. On or about April 26, 2013, Defendant responded to Plaintiffs request of April 23, 2013, stating that Defendant is not required to produce the requested audio recording in response to an Open Records Request.

9. On or about May 28, 2013, Plaintiff requested time sheets, overtime forms, leave reports, lists of employees, and emails containing certain words from Defendant. See Exhibit "C", attached hereto and made part hereof.

10. To date, Plaintiff has not received the documents requested on May 28, 2013, from Defendant.

11. As to the remaining records, Defendant has not produced them to date and despite the length of time that has passed since they have been requested has not provided a date certain that they will be produced in a reasonable amount of time.

12. Plaintiff seeks these records to be fully informed about their government, to obtain documents to adequately seek justice, to plan for future contract and benefit negotiations, and to efficiently and intelligently exercise their inherent political power and rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

The union local is asking the court to find that they are "entitled to the requested records pursuant to the Oklahoma Open Records Act," to award them attorney's fees and costs, and "such other and further relief as the Court deems just and proper."

Among the documents being sought are financial documents that have, in the past, routinely been published to the city website, but which have been available only sporadically in recent years. The online archive of City of Tulsa monthly financial reports goes back to February 2002, but the most recent three posted to the site are from February 2013, September 2012, and May 2012. The Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012, was delivered to the mayor on November 29, 2012, but (based on the Internet Archive's holdings) it doesn't appear to have been posted to the website until Februrary 1, 2013. (See the City of Tulsa's archive of Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports here, going back to 2003.)

AFSCME has scheduled a 10:00 a.m. Thursday press conference to discuss the petition.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa City Hall category from June 2013.

Tulsa City Hall: May 2013 is the previous archive.

Tulsa City Hall: July 2013 is the next archive.

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