Tulsa::County Category

If you take time to read the Vision Tulsa ballot resolutions and ordinances that define the new city sales tax rate and control how the new city sales taxes will be spent, the barrage of changing tax rates and effective dates may make your head swim. That's why I put together an infographic to help me visualize those changes. This infographic revealed a trap, a hidden tax hike that Dewey Bartlett Jr., G. T. Bynum IV, and the rest of the City Council hope you overlook.

Proponents claim that Vision Tulsa won't increase the overall sales tax rate, but there's a hidden trap in Proposition 3 that will force voters in 2021 to accept a hike in the overall tax rate in order to continue the longstanding "Third Penny" for streets and other basic infrastructure.

This chart shows the current allocation of City of Tulsa and Tulsa County sales taxes, with the proposed changes on the April 5, 2016, ballot highlighted with a heavy black boundary. Blue regions are permanent taxes for operations, orange regions are temporary taxes primarily for basic infrastructure capital improvements like streets and sewers, purple regions are "vision" taxes primarily for amenities and "economic development." City taxes are shown with darker shades, county taxes with lighter shades.

Tulsa_Sales_Tax-Rate_Shifts-Timeline.png

Tulsa County's "Vision 2025" 0.6% sales tax expires at the end of 2016. The City of Tulsa is proposing a combination of temporary and permanent taxes that begins at 0.55% for 4½ years, climbs to 1.15% for 4 years, shrinks back to 0.65% for 6½ years, and then leaves a permanent increase of 0.345%. Tulsa County is proposing a 0.05% increase for 15 years.

Starting in 1980, Tulsa citizens have approved a series of temporary sales taxes, earmarked for streets, reservoirs, sewers, stormwater system, and other fundamental city infrastructure. Because the original tax was an additional 1% levied on top of the 2% sales tax for the city's general fund, it became known as the "Third Penny."

The current "Third Penny" is 1.1% and it expires on June 30, 2021. If Vision Tulsa passes, it will grab a half-penny from that expiring "Third Penny" and put it toward Proposition 3, which includes building two new low-water dams in the Arkansas River. Another 0.1% from the expiring tax will go to increasing the permanent tax for public safety operational costs. That leaves only a ½ penny for a new streets package.

That four-year bulge in the Vision Tulsa tax amounts to $160 million that won't be going to rebuild our crumbling streets. Instead, that's just about what it will cost to build two new dams in the river.

If we VOTE NO on APRIL 5, the Council can eliminate the dams and a couple of other wasteful projects, and thus eliminate that four-year, ½-penny bulge in the Vision Tulsa tax, before sending it back to us for another vote. That would leave room for our traditional "Third Penny" for streets and basic infrastructure to be extended as usual in 2021 without an overall tax increase. To make that happen, we have to VOTE NO ON APRIL 5.

MORE:

Here is a PRINTABLE VERSION of the Tulsa sales tax timeline that you can download and hand out to your friends.

Infographic and text Copyright 2016 by Michael D. Bates. Limited license granted to opponents of Vision Tulsa to copy and distribute without alteration prior to April 6, 2016.

Tomorrow morning (Friday, September 19, 2014) at 8:05 am, I'll be on 1170 KFAQ with Pat Campbell to discuss "improvements" to the Arkansas River, the broad prairie stream that flows through the western and southwestern parts of the city of Tulsa. The "improvements" would involve renovating the Zink Lake dam, built in 1980, and building three new dams to fill the river to its banks, for a total cost estimated at $240 million. (UPDATE: Here's the audio of my KFAQ interview with Pat Campbell.)

Earlier this month, friends and fans paid their final respects to comedian Joan Rivers. She was a groundbreaker for women in stand-up comedy, Johnny Carson's long-time backup host on the Tonight Show and then his competitor, a survivor of personal and financial tragedy who made an impressive comeback, and a staunch supporter of Israel's right to exist.

But Joan Rivers may be best known, particularly among the younger generation, for her frequent trips to the plastic surgeon. Rivers demolished her natural beauty in pursuit of an elusive ideal and spent a fortune only to end up looking harsh, alien, and artificial.

What drives an attractive woman to undergo one expensive and risky elective surgery after another? The obvious cause is insecurity, low self-esteem. She must have been convinced that she could only be attractive if she drastically altered her appearance, and evidently no one could convince her otherwise.

JoanRivers-before-after.jpg

You could ask the same question about cities. Why would a beautiful city pursue risky and expensive plastic surgery in pursuit of artificial enhancements that ultimately fail to increase the city's charm and appeal?

Whether Hollywood star or Midwestern city, the drive for extreme surgical makeovers betrays a lack of self-confidence and a break with reality. Many a city tore down charming Victorian or Craftsman homes for brutalist public housing towers. After World War II, owners of Art Deco and Romanesque Revival commercial buildings were persuaded to cover their facades with metal cladding, in order to look "modern" and "up-to-date." Decades later, building owners are tearing off the cladding to put the unique elements of each building on view once again.

Our consumption-driven economy thrives on insecurity and discontent. An unscrupulous plastic surgeon could boost his bottom line by persuading potential patients that they're hideous without his help. Heavy construction companies, civil engineering firms, and bond advisors and attorneys can benefit financially by persuading voters that their city is too ugly to attract residents and visitors, but paying them hundreds of millions of dollars will make the city presentable -- at least until it's time for the next nine-figure tax package.

Conventional wisdom is conventional, and the conventional wisdom about the Arkansas River is that it's ugly and no one wants to be around it because it isn't filled with water from bank to bank. If we want to have development along the river, the conventional wisdom goes, we need to ensure that there's water in the river by building new low-water dams and fixing the one we already have. And we have to have development along the river if we want to attract the kinds of young hipsters that pick where they want to live and then look for a job.

We have water in the river. What seems to annoy people is that we also have sandbars and shelves of shale that are visible when the water level is low. If only we would spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build dams, we could raise the water level by a few feet and spare visitors the hideous sight of our sandbars. They they will like us and spend money here -- or so the deluded, insecure thinking goes.

But some of Tulsa's visitors really like our sandbars.

Wildlife in the river bed more interesting than a river full of water

On a frosty morning twenty-five years ago this January 21, I took my girlfriend to the Audubon Society's bald eagle watch. (Later that day I proposed to her.) At the time, we were amazed to realize that just 20 miles from downtown Tulsa you could watch our once-endangered national symbol in the wild. Earlier this year, in commemoration of that auspicious day, I took my family to the Audubon Society's bald eagle watch.

In 1989, the Audubon Society set up their eagle watch just below Keystone Dam. The eagles seemed to prefer the shallow waters below the dam to the deep and broad expanse of the lake above the dam.

In 2014, the Audubon Society set up their eagle watch in Helmerich Park, on the east bank of the river south of the 71st Street bridge. Over the years the eagles had extended their range downriver and into the City of Tulsa itself. We watched bald eagles come and go from a nest across the river on the west bank, notwithstanding the proximity of Jones Riverside Airport.

Click on the photos to enlarge.

Bald eagle nest on the west bank of the Arkansas River near 81st Street in Tulsa, January 2014

We saw bald eagles, both white-headed adults and black-headed juveniles, soar above the river and dive down in search of a meal. And we saw hundreds of white pelicans.

White pelicans on a sandbar in the Arkansas River at Tulsa, January 2014

As you can see from the photos, the pelicans preferred to roost in the shallows where the sandbars met the river or in shallow places where the sandbars were barely submerged.

Hundreds of white pelicans on a sandbar in the Arkansas River at Tulsa, January 2014

The bald eagles liked the sandbars as well. We watched one mature bald eagle eating a fish on a sandbar, not far from a rivulet that crossed the sandbar to connect two branches of the main stream.

A bald eagle perches on a sandbar, eating a fish he grabbed from the Arkansas River at Tulsa, January 2014

A bald eagle perches on a sandbar, eating a fish he grabbed from the Arkansas River at Tulsa, January 2014

A gull tried to snatch the eagle's catch.

A gull approaches a bald eagle perched on a sandbar, eating a fish he grabbed from the Arkansas River at Tulsa, January 2014

But the eagle waved him away.

Wings flapping, a bald eagle perched on a sandbar defends his catch from a gull, in the Arkansas River at Tulsa, January 2014

A little while later, the adult was replaced by a juvenile, working on the same fish on the same sandbar.

Immature bald eagle perches on a sandbar in the Arkansas River at Tulsa, with a fish caught by an adult eagle, January 2014

This was the view of the Arkansas River from Helmerich Park on January 25, 2014, looking northwest toward the 71st Street bridge and Turkey Mountain. This is boring? This is ugly?

Immature bald eagle and hundreds of white pelicans perch on a sandbar and in the shallows of the Arkansas River at Tulsa, January 2014. Looking northwest from Helmerich Park toward the 71st Street Bridge and Turkey Mountain.

But instead of the shifting patterns of water and sand and the variety of wildlife, some Tulsans are adamant that we need a flat, monotonous expanse of water from shore to shore so that we can feel pretty.

What do we think "water in the river" will do for us?

When Tulsans enthuse about the impact of water in the river on tourism and economic development, they inevitably mention San Antonio's River Walk. The San Antonio River, as it bends through downtown, is about 40 feet wide -- about the width of a two-lane street. You can easily cross from one side to the other. You can easily spot someone you know on the other side and call out and wave. The Arkansas River through Tulsa ranges about 1000 to 1600 feet wide -- twenty-five to forty times wider.

In 2006, Canadian architect Bing Thom, hired by Tulsa's Warren family, proposed a way to create the River Walk feel: Excavate much of the west bank between 11th and 21st Streets, build an island with shopping and high-rise housing near to the east bank, with a little channel about the width of the San Antonio River separating it from the east bank. Price tag to the taxpayers would have been at least $600 million. Building housing in the river's floodway was unlikely to get Corps of Engineers approval. Excavating the west bank, once the site of oil refineries, might mean dredging up toxic materials now buried and settled.

If you want a street's-width River Walk, a better bet might be to follow OKC's lead and actually replace a street with a canal. Or tame one of our larger creeks and put development alongside. Combining the two ideas, the Elm Creek Master Drainage Plan includes a canal running down the middle of 6th Street east of Peoria. Many years ago, an architect proposed exposing the lower reach of buried Elm Creek, near 18th and Boston, for a creekside promenade.

Perhaps the water-in-the-river fanatics are thinking about the pleasures of watching the sun drop into the Pacific at nightfall. You really need at least 20 miles of open water to get that effect. That would mean excavating a lot more than the River West Festival Park. We'd have to flood Red Fork and turn Lookout Mountain into an island.

Maybe it's a reflecting pool that they want, so that motorists crossing the river on I-44 can spend some of their 15 seconds on the bridge looking north to see the skyline reflected in the river, just like that Ken Johnston painting. But even in that painting the water is rippled by the wind, as tends to happen with a broad, open expanse of water.

Do they think more dams on the river will bring about more recreation on the river? It's doubtful. Zink Lake has been around for over 30 years. The ferry boats and sailboats in mid-'70s "artist's conceptions" never materialized. Silt and sand don't let the water get too deep. We haven't even seen paddle boats on Zink Lake. Some number, probably not more than 100, participate in rowing on the river. I suspect more Tulsans had been on the river during the 1970s heyday of the Great Raft Race, prior to the completion of Zink Dam, than in the years since.

For a few years, Steve Smith ran airboat tours and then occasional guided canoe trips on the Arkansas River between Zink Dam and Keystone Dam. If I recall correctly, he tended to attract more out-of-town visitors who saw his brochure in the rack in the hotel lobby than locals. His descriptions of his tours, which you can find various places around the web, emphasize the variety you can see from the river -- wildlife, shoreline, little islands. But as far as I can find, he's no longer in that business.

Oklahoma City, Austin, and Wichita all have dammed, brimful rivers, but none of them have attracted vibrant riverfront development. The excitement in those cities is to be found in walkable neighborhoods of historic buildings away from the river.

We have a beautiful river. It needs some cleanup in places. The levees may need repair -- but that's a public safety and stormwater control matter, and we shouldn't let city leaders logroll elective cosmetic surgery in the same tax issue as a necessity. Let's stop listening to the hack plastic surgeons who want us to feel insecure enough to pay them hundreds of millions of dollars to "make us pretty." Let's appreciate the God-given beauty we already possess and the wildlife that enjoys it, in its changing variety.

MORE:

The BatesLine archive of stories about the Arkansas River.

David Schuttler has some beautiful wintertime video of pelicans and herons from the stretch of the river west of Sand Springs:

John Eagleton writes to inform me that, after my appearance on KFAQ, all the "tax-and-spend hooligans" are angry with me. Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saeculi saeculorum. Amen.

Charles Hardt, former City of Tulsa Director of Public Works, opposes building dams and encouraging development along the river. He says the 100-year-flood standard isn't stringent enough when it comes to the damage a river flood can do. Hardt's training is as a hydrologist, and he led the city's massive stormwater mitigation efforts following major floods in 1984 and 1986.

"We are talking about adding more things to the river banks — and potentially in the river — that could make the flooding worse and create the potential for a lot more loss of life and more property damages," he said.

Hardt said development in and along the river can act as a "plug" that impedes the natural flow of the river —-- a flow that in times of heavy rainfall scours the river's bottom and banks to increase the river's capacity.

"You're encouraging development that is not compatible with the river's function, and that is to carry the water from upstream to downstream," he said....

Hardt's not just worried about the dams that might be built in the river. He's concerned about one that already exists --— Keystone Dam, and he would like to see a major push to study and repair Corps infrastructure projects.

"Its effectiveness and the maintenance of it and what its capabilities are needs to be well understood before we put other things downstream from it —-- other things meaning low-water dams, development along the river," Hardt said.

ken_yazel.jpgTulsa County Assessor Ken Yazel, recently re-elected to a fourth four-year term, provides a wealth of information on ad valorem property taxation in Oklahoma. For some time now, he has posted slide presentations online, under Statistics and Analysis, that cover basic and advanced property taxation topics and are chock-full of statistics about Tulsa County. They are updated annually.

Property Taxation 101 covers the history of ad valorem taxation in Oklahoma and what it funds, reforms to the system approved over the last 25 years, how lower valuation affects tax rates, the impact of the recent decision to exempt intangible personal property, the annual timeline for assessment, exemptions, taxation, appeals, and payment, valuation methodology, the relationship of fair market value to capped taxable value, the role of the boards of equalization, excise, and tax roll correction, and the appeal process.

Property Taxation 102 includes the net valuation over the last five years for all cities and school districts in Tulsa County, statistics on all tax increment financing (TIF) and incentive districts in the county, comparisons to other counties in Oklahoma and to surrounding states, and diagrams illustrating the different factors that go into calculating ad valorem tax rates.

Property Taxation 103 includes more statistics over the last five years: Combined sales tax and property tax burden per capita by city, sales tax and use tax growth, weighted average mill levies by county, median household incomes, counts of homestead properties, sheriff and marshal deeds by year, and new parcels by year.

The last part of that third presentation is a breakdown showing current assets by taxing entity, employees by taxing entity, and change over the last five years. The four fixed-millage entities -- library, health department, Tulsa Community College, Tulsa Technology Center -- had a combined $163 million in current assets as of 2013-2014, more in reserve than they receive annually in revenue ($143 million). County operations have $161 million in reserve, triple the annual ad valorem revenue of $52 million.

MORE: In case you missed it, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled in favor of Assessor Ken Yazel, affirming that he does have the authority under state law to hire counsel to represent him in appeals of tax-exemption rulings.

Former Tulsa County Republican Party Chairman J. B. Alexander has announced his endorsement of Brian Pounds, Republican candidate for Tulsa County Commissioner District 1. Pounds is challenging two-term incumbent John Smaligo. The district covers northern and eastern Tulsa County, including Owasso, Skiatook, Sperry, Collinsville, north and east Tulsa.

In his endorsement, Alexander points out that Brian Pounds has been endorsed by the Tulsa County Deputy Sheriff FOP and the Owasso FOP. Alexander reviews Smaligo's record and explains why Smaligo needs replacing and why Pounds should be the one to take his place. I agree.

The state of Oklahoma has the lowest taxes of any of the surrounding states. Yet Tulsa County has the second highest taxes of any county in the surrounding states. That's just not right.

Over the past 7 years John Smaligo has a proven track record of wanting to keep our taxes high. In 2012 he led the county commissioner's support of the failed Vision 2 tax increase.

If you will remember Vision 2 was a thirteen year, $748 million tax package (the amount was based on a zero percent growth. Using the past ten year growth rate the amount would have been close to $1 billion).

This tax package included borrowing money FOUR years before the revenues would be coming in. Since we would have been borrowing the money yearly payments would be required. So this package also included borrowing the yearly payments for those four years until the revenues started coming in. That's like charging something on your credit card knowing you couldn't make the monthly payments until next year so you take out a loan to make the monthly payments...paying interest on all of this. Sounds like Washington, DC, tactics.

John Smaligo also is claiming credit for getting 1,000 new jobs with the Macy's warehouse development west of Owasso. What he is not telling you are most of those jobs are part-time, no benefit positions. And taxpayers are paying Macy's to move here at the upfront cost of $2 million.

If Tulsa County is going to work to attract new businesses who are looking for lower taxes we need someone who is not a career politician and understands working class folks.

Brian Pounds is just that person. Brian has worked in the Tulsa County Assessor's office for the past thirteen years and is a reserve deputy for the Tulsa County Sheriff's office. He is married to Judy Pounds who is an 18 year veteran of the Tulsa County Sheriff's office. Brian and Judy live in Owasso and have two daughters, Tabitha Wood and Ashley Pounds. Tabitha is a five year veteran of the Tulsa County Sheriff's office and a Senior Airman with the 138th Fighter Wing of the Oklahoma Air National Guard. Brian is also a veteran of the US Army.

Brian has received the endorsements of the Tulsa County Deputy Sheriffs Fraternal Order of Police and the Owasso Fraternal Order of Police.

Brian is a person who has spent his life serving those in need and will continue that dedication once elected as a Tulsa County Commissioner. He believes that tax dollars should be spent on Public Safety and Infrastructure needs first and would work hard to lower our high tax rate.

If we are going to get Tulsa County recognized as a low tax county that will attract small and large businesses then we need Brian Pounds as our District 1 county commissioner.

Next Tuesday vote for Brian Pounds for County Commissioner.

Steve_Kunzweiler-Tulsa_County_DA.jpgAfter 16 years in office, Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris is stepping down. Three Republican candidates filed to replace him, but one candidate quit the race because of a constitutional impediment to his election, and a second candidate should stand down for the same reason, but he refuses to do so, risking a protracted legal battle should he win. Our next district attorney will be chosen by voters in the June 24, 2014, Republican primary.

Happily for Tulsa County citizens, the one candidate in the race who is unquestionably eligible to serve is Assistant District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler, who is the most qualified, by experience and temperament, to serve as District Attorney.

There are three aspects to the District Attorney's job: Prosecuting criminals, mentoring and managing a team of prosecutors, and partnering with public officials and community leaders to advance the cause of justice. Steve Kunzweiler is the only candidate with extensive and current experience in every aspect of the DA's job.

With 24 years of experience as a prosecutor, Steve Kunzweiler is the Chief of the Criminal Division in the DA's office, mentoring 35 assistant DAs and overseeing the prosecution of thousands of criminal cases every year, over 12,000 in 2013 alone. Beyond the courtroom, Kunzweiler works with legislators, police departments, victims, and community leaders to provide training and improve the process so that bad guys receive their just punishment and Tulsa County residents are safer.

One example of Kunzweiler's innovative approach to his job is his advocacy for the use of therapy dogs to accompany child abuse victims when they testify in court. A courtroom can be a frightening place to a child, particularly when arguments get heated and voices are raised. In the past, an adult counselor has sometimes been allowed to sit with a child witness, but that raises concerns that the adult might prompt the child's testimony. That could open the door to exclusion of the child's testimony and the acquittal of an abuser or to the conviction of a wrongly accused defendant.

Tulsa County Assistant District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler with a therapy dogSteve Kunzweiler's solution is to have a therapy dog accompany the child in the witness box. The dog can't offer any prompts. These dogs are selected for a calm temperament and trained to remain calm in the midst of commotion. They reassure the child that all is well, even in this strange environment. Kunzweiler writes on his website:

When a child witness is accompanied to court by a dog that he or she has bonded with in pretrial preparations, the effects are immediate and profound. The trust, acceptance, and tactile comfort of a friendly dog changes the physiology of the nervous child. Human heart rate decreases and blood pressure falls in the presence of therapy dogs. The child may simply feel safer to recall past events, even with an audience of strange adults in the courtroom.

During the just-ended legislative session, Steve Kunzweiler worked with State Rep. Pam Peterson to pass a law authorizing the use of therapy dogs statewide. Kunzweiler has also successfully worked with legislators to add many other reforms to criminal law: expanding the statute of limitations for the reporting of child abuse, increasing the range of punishment for drunk driving offenders who seriously injure their victims, allowing the introduction of hearsay evidence for developmentally delayed children, allowing repeat child abusers to be impeached with their prior crimes.

While Kunzweiler works effectively with the legislative process, he is new to electoral politics. He is a Republican and a conservative, but his focus has been his calling as a prosecutor and a leader of prosecutors, rather than partisan politics. Some politicians have sought the DA's office as a platform for running for governor or congress, but Kunzweiler has no ambitions beyond being able to continue to pursue his vocation as a prosecutor. Steve Kunzweiler sees himself as the next DA in a long line of non-politician DAs, like Buddy Fallis, David L. Moss, and Tim Harris.

Steve Kunzweiler's family life underscores his conservative temperament. He has been married for 25 years to Dr. Christine Kunzweiler, a veterinarian. Steve, Christine, and their three daughters are active members of Christ the King Catholic Parish. Steve earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Missouri then came to Tulsa to earn his law degree at the University of Tulsa Law School in 1988. He's been here ever since.

A recent article about Kunzweiler gives you a sense of his heart for his vocation:

He has an old, ragged file in a desk drawer, labeled "This is Why I Do It!" The folder is bursting with pictures of people he's fought for in court - a 10-year-old girl in her cheerleader uniform. An 18-year-old in a baseball uniform with a bat on his shoulder. A proud tuxedo-clad papa walking his daughter down the aisle in a wedding gown.

The photos depict happy, smiling people enjoying life, often on some of the most important days of their lives - graduation, weddings, family celebrations. The photos
are reminders to Kunzweiler that the victims had dreams and goals and active lives that were stolen from them and from their families.

"Too many times, the criminal justice system is all about the defendant. We don't hear much about the victim. I am the victim's voice in court, and I want to know as much as I can about who they were and what was happening in their life," Kunzweiler said.

Steve Kunzweiler has been endorsed by outgoing DA Tim Harris, the Tulsa Area Republican Assembly, and FOP chapters in Owasso and Glenpool.

It's necessary to say a few words about Kunzweiler's opponent. The same constitutional prohibition that caused State Sen. Brian Crain to withdraw applies equally to State Rep. Fred Jordan, but Jordan has invented a rationale to dodge the clear language of the Oklahoma Constitution. It is worrisome that the man who wants to be our county's chief legal officer isn't willing to abide by the plain meaning and spirit of a constitutional provision that has been in place since statehood. Setting that issue aside, there is still the matter of Jordan's lack of preparation for the job he seeks. Jordan's brief experience as a prosecutor is over a decade old, in a very different legal context than Tulsa County.

But I'd rather focus on Steve Kunzweiler, the highly-qualified man of character who has served the people of Oklahoma as a prosecutor for nearly a quarter-century and has the servant's heart and preparation to step up one level from his current job to serve as our District Attorney. I urge you to elect Steve Kunzweiler for Tulsa County District Attorney on June 24 and to encourage your friends to do the same.

ken_yazel.jpgSeveral important elections will be settled in the June 24, 2014, Republican primary. Between now and then, I will be posting endorsements, starting with an enthusiastic recommendation that I can make without hesitation.

Tulsa County Assessor Ken Yazel is one of those rare elected officials who has remained true to the principles on which he was elected and to the voters who elected him, despite heavy pressure from special interests and their media mouthpieces. At the same time, Yazel has fulfilled his assigned duties diligently, leading the top-rated assessor's office in Oklahoma. Tulsa County taxpayers are blessed to have Ken Yazel in office. Republicans need to vote on June 24 to keep Ken Yazel as our assessor for another four years.

Detractors call Yazel a contrarian, but to Tulsa County taxpayers, Yazel is a trusted ally, friendly, accessible and ready to help. We need more elected officials like him.

When there's a bandwagon pushing toward higher taxes and more difficult access to public information, when the other elected officials take an "us vs. them" attitude, in which their fellow officials are "us" and the taxpayers are "them," we need at least one contrarian at the county courthouse who is pushing in the opposite direction, toward fiscal sense and government transparency. Ken Yazel has been there for Tulsa County taxpayers, standing firm and taking flak on our behalf.

Yazel has done an outstanding job with public access to information and keeping properties fairly and consistently valued, and he's often been the lone voice at the Tulsa County Courthouse speaking on behalf of the taxpayers.

In Oklahoma, a county assessor's primary job is to ensure that properties are fairly valued and that every property is reviewed at least once every four years. The State Auditor's office has given Ken Yazel's office the highest rating of any county assessor's office in Oklahoma -- 265 points out of a maximum score of 275. That means that under Yazel's leadership, the office carefully and consistently follows the rules to ensure a fair valuation for every property -- even if means stepping on the toes of some powerful people.

As one of the eight members of the County Budget Board, Yazel has been pushing to have Tulsa County follow Oklahoma County's good example and account for every penny under county control in the annual budget. Tulsa County's practice has been to budget only new funds that have to be appropriated, but to exclude earmarked money or carryover funds. Sadly, the other county elected officials have opposed him on this point and have even lobbied against legislation that would require full county budget transparency.

Notwithstanding a dubious "transparency" award, most Tulsa County departments make it hard to find the info you want online. I spent some time looking for the 2014-2015 budget that was approved this week. I don't give up easily, and I tried several different approaches, but ultimately did not find what I was looking for. I found plenty of notices, agendas, and minutes, but not even a draft of the new budget book.

Another example of Tulsa County's typical approach to web access: If you want to look at filed deeds, plats, and other land-related records, you have to go to the County Clerk's office during their office hours and go through a metal detector. Just to look at metadata for those records requires you to go to a library during the library's regular hours.

Under Ken Yazel's leadership, Tulsa County assessor records are easily accessible from home any time day or night. You can search by name, by legal description, or by clicking on Google Maps. From your own property's record, a click of a button lets you see recent sales in your subdivision and comparable properties that influence the assessed value of your home. Beyond property information, Yazel's county assessor website has a wealth of detail on ad valorem taxes and how they are calculated and all the information you need to file for exemptions and valuation freezes to which you may be entitled.

Yazel's outreach to the public isn't limited to the web. He speaks to neighborhood associations, civic groups, and other gatherings all over the county to help people understand ad valorem taxes, and he brings his team along to help property owners get their specific questions answered. During the period for filing homestead exemptions and valuation freezes, Yazel sets up "sub-offices," taking the process to where people live all across the county, rather than make taxpayers come down to the courthouse and go through the metal detector. Yazel sets up the assessor's office booth at the Tulsa State Fair, home shows, and local festivals where taxpayers can ask questions and get information on exemptions.

Yazel is a voice, too often the only voice, for the taxpayers at the Tulsa County Courthouse. When other county officials pushed the poorly conceived river tax and Vision2 tax plans, Yazel was the only county official with the courage to speak out in opposition. By doing so, he gave a big boost to the underfunded but ultimately successful campaigns to defeat those corporate welfare and pork barrel boondoggles. Those who benefit from county tax programs and revenue bonds no doubt would like to see Yazel gone, because they want all county elected officials singing the praises of the Vision 2025 replacement tax when it comes to the voters in 2016.

When other county officials proposed increasing taxes to fund criminal justice facilities, Yazel proposed alternatives to pay for the facilities without raising taxes.

You may have noticed, as I have, that certain property taxing entities which receive a fixed millage always have an abundance of funds, some to the point of being able to build a new building without blinking an eye. While it would not be a simple matter, if the political will existed at the county courthouse, a vote could be scheduled to reduce millages for overfunded entities to make room, say, for a bond issue for more critical capital improvements, at no net increase in property taxes or sales taxes. That is the sort of process that Yazel has been advocating and that his detractors have mischaracterized. No one is saying that you could simply take funds from one entity and give it to another.

Other county offices derive a considerable amount of revenue from statutory fees, but these fees are not included in the county budget, although Yazel believes that they should be. Even the carryover funds from the previous year are not included in the county budget, even though they are available for the elected official to spend. In his plan to fund criminal justice needs without raising taxes, Yazel suggested that, because of their considerable cash reserves, the County Clerk and Treasurer's offices could receive less money from the general fund and that the money saved could be used to fund competitive salaries and technology upgrades for the Sheriff's office.

Likewise, if county commissioners were willing to pledge Vision2 funds four years before they would be collected, it was surely possible to allocate funds from the remaining Vision 2025 collections to have paid for the juvenile justice facility and jail expansion. It would not have been a simple matter, and it would have required some combination of public votes to authorize the change in use, but it could have been done if the political will had existed.

Given the choice between (1) a rearrangement of public funding that required some effort and coordination but kept tax levels the same and (2) proposing a tax increase, county commissioners opted for the tax increase, while turning Yazel's plan for public improvements without a tax increase into a straw man and mischaracterizing it as impossible. Even if there had been minor flaws in his proposal, his fellow elected officials could have proposed adjustments and alternatives in keeping with the spirit of the idea. Instead, the other Tulsa County officials refused to cooperate with Yazel's taxpayer-friendly proposal.

Yazel is committed to ensuring that no one pays more property tax than is legally required, but he is also committed to ensuring that everyone is assessed in accordance with state law. State law makes the assessor the gatekeeper for property owners claiming that their property is tax exempt. That includes the responsibility to ensure that a previously granted exemption is still valid under the law. Like many assessors across the US (here's one example), Ken Yazel is finding some properties with exemptions don't meet the strict requirements of the Oklahoma Constitution and statutes. On occasion, a property owner disagrees with the assessor's interpretation of the law, and the matter goes to court.

When a property is undervalued or receives an exemption to which it is not entitled, every other taxpayer has to pay higher property taxes to make up the difference. Much of your property tax burden is used to repay general obligation bonds or court settlements. Each year, the excise board determines how much money each taxing authority (cities, schools, the library system, etc.) needs to cover its obligations. That amount is divided by the assessed value of all properties in the jurisdiction, and the result is the millage rate applied to every property. Your property tax rate is a fraction, and when a large, expensive property is undervalued or unjustly exempted, the denominator shrinks significantly and the millage goes up, raising everyone else's taxes.

It would be easy to give in to the erroneous tax exemption claims of the rich and powerful, just because they have the money to make trouble for you in the next election, but to do so means raising taxes on everyone who can't raise as big a stink. Ken Yazel is doing his duty on behalf of the taxpayers by strictly applying the law and, when necessary, pursuing questions of interpretation through the state court system. (UPDATE: More about a specific case here.)

As they have in previous elections, interests that don't appreciate Ken Yazel's advocacy for the taxpayer are backing an opponent. The race will be decided in the Republican primary.

The daily paper's editorial board endorsed Yazel's opponent, as it has done over the last several elections. The Whirled editorial writers' biggest beef with Yazel seems to be that he wanted to fund new facilities without raising taxes. A commenter on the Whirled editorial noted: "Also notice that the TW makes no mention whatsoever of actual professional qualifications, certifications, etc. [of Yazel's opponent]. The main selling point of [Yazel's opponent] seems to be that he will shut up and do what he is told. Not good qualifications for my vote."

I appreciate Ken Yazel, because he will speak out when taxpayers need a friend at the County Courthouse. I appreciate the high professional standards to which Yazel holds himself and his staff at the assessor's office. I appreciate an elected official who sets the standard for transparency and public access to public records.

I urge you to join me in voting to re-elect Ken Yazel as Tulsa County Assessor on June 24, 2014.

MORE: Former State Rep. John Wright gives ten reasons why Ken Yazel should be re-elected. Prominent in his reasons is that Yazel has built a well-educated professional staff, with very little turnover. Every member of Yazel's staff, even those not engaged in assessment, have gone through certain professional classes on assessment to ensure that anyone speaking to the public has a proper understanding of the property tax system and the role of the assessor's office.

UPDATE: Detailed analysis of some of the criticisms leveled against Ken Yazel

Tulsa County Clerk Pat Key says she is tired of Tulsa County Assessor Ken Yazel's annual push for budget transparency.

Yazel has repeatedly voted against the county's budget, saying it does not provide a complete accounting of all county revenues and expenditures. He made the same argument Monday, and again, other Budget Board members were not buying it.

"I, for one, am tired of revisiting this same issue over and over again," County Clerk Pat Key said. "I don't know how many more opinions or court cases that we have to give before we don't discuss this same thing over and over again."

While state law only requires the county budget to cover money that must be appropriated (principally property tax revenues that go into the county's general fund), Assessor Ken Yazel believes that taxpayers deserve a full accounting of every penny under the control of county officials, and he points to Oklahoma County as the example to follow.

Oklahoma County's total budget for Fiscal Year 2013-2014 covers $180.7 million: $132,019,665 in revenues, $48,712,216 in beginning fund balance, $149,331,246 in expenditures, and $31,400,635. Tulsa County's budget for the same year was $83.6 million. Why is Oklahoma County's budget twice as big as Tulsa County's budget? Because Oklahoma County budgets all funds, all sources of revenue, and all expenditures, even if they involve earmarked revenue sources.

Tulsa County's budget includes only the bare minimum required by law. Previous year surpluses in non-appropriated funds, some of them under the sole control of an elected official, can be kept off-budget and out of the budget book. (I would link to the newly adopted budget, but I can't find it online.)

State Rep. David Brumbaugh (R-Broken Arrow) filed a bill (HB1986) in the first session of this Legislature to raise the budget transparency standards for county governments. It's my understanding that Tulsa County elected officials (other than Yazel) successfully lobbied the legislature to keep the bill from coming to a vote.

One of the lovely features of Oklahoma County's budget book is that you can see when an elected official spends an unusually big pile of money from a designated fund under her control. Maybe it was for an important upgrade that will benefit taxpayers and other citizens. Or maybe the big expenditure was the result of poor judgment. If taxpayers can easily see all of the county's financial information where they expect to find it -- in the budget -- they can ask questions about these sorts of expenditures. Maybe that's why the non-Yazel elected officials at the Tulsa County Courthouse are fighting this idea.

Maybe it's because they've shown such poor judgment in other respects -- like appointing to the juvenile justice authority a woman who plotted to frame her ex-husband as a child porn collector and molester and then hiring that same person as the County Clerk's chief deputy -- there's some poor financial judgment that they'd like to make as inaccessible to the public as they are legally able.

Counties are required by law (19 O.S. 444) to publish an annual payroll report. Oklahoma County posts its report, as well as a monthly payroll report, on the county clerk's website, and the files are in Excel format -- easy to search and process.

I'm sure Tulsa County complies with the letter of the law, but I have been unable to find the required annual payroll report on any county website. In fact, when I used a search engine to look for it, I find Oklahoma County's report instead. Perhaps I need to go downtown to the courthouse and go through the metal detector to be able to look at the report.

Tulsa County Clerk Pat Key has done an impressive job of hindering public access to public records. If you want to look at a plat of your subdivision -- a drawing that shows the streets and lot lines and easements and sometimes also lists applicable covenants -- you have to drive downtown to the County Courthouse during office hours, pay for parking, and go through a metal detector. If you want to look at a title deed or a lien or some other legal document that has been filed with the County Clerk, it's the same routine -- office hours only, pay for parking, get magnetometered and have your wallet x-rayed. Just to see the metadata for deeds and other documents -- buyer, seller, date, parcel, document number, etc. -- you have to go to a public library during library hours and use a special computer. That's just so you can plan your trip to pay for parking and go through a metal detector to see a digital image of the actual document.

The Oklahoma County Clerk's office makes land records and UCC filings -- including images -- available online, any time day or night, from anywhere on the internet. It's my understanding that the Tulsa County Clerk's system is capable of that, from which I infer that Pat Key chooses not to make these public records available for convenient public review.

So no one should be surprised that Tulsa County Clerk Pat Key would oppose Assessor Ken Yazel's efforts to make complete county revenue and expenditure information readily available to the public in the budget.

By contrast to Pat Key's limited public website, Assessor Ken Yazel's website is well-organized and provides easy access to information on every parcel in Tulsa County, any time day or night, from anywhere on the Internet. You can search by name and address, and if you don't know the address you can click on a Google map.

Ms. Key, if you want to stop revisiting the issue of full budget transparency over and over again, do the right thing. Go above and beyond the letter of the law to provide the public with the information it ought to have. Instead of fighting with the one county elected official who has demonstrated a commitment to governmental transparency and fiscal conservatism, work with him. Follow Ken Yazel's excellent example instead of sniping at him.

MORE:

There is a way to get internet access, of a sort, to County Clerk records. It costs $30 a month, and the Board of County Commissioners has to vote in one of its regular meetings to approve your application for access. So to review: Oklahoma County offers free, anonymous access from anywhere to public land records. Tulsa County, under Pat Key's leadership, offers $30 a month, subscriber-only access and only to those subscribers approved by the County Commissioners.

One more thing: It seems like there was a time when you could access Tulsa County land records metadata at home and could see the images if you went to the library. Anyone else remember when that changed?

MORE on HB1986:

Here is the language that Rep. Brumbaugh's bill would have added to the County Budget Act, 19 O.S. 1408, 1411, 1412, 1414. This is the level of disclosure that Oklahoma County provides and that Assessor Yazel had hoped his fellow Tulsa County elected officials would support, even if the law doesn't require it. Strikethrough is deleted text, underline is added text:

Section 1408. The county budget board shall prepare for each budget year a budget for each fund whose activities require funding through appropriation from the budget board for which there is a reasonably anticipated fund balance or revenues. The county budget shall include each fund for which any department head or elected official has spending authority, irrespective of the fund type or whether or not the fund is, either by law or accredited budgeting standards, subject to appropriation.

Section 1411. A. On or before a date set by the county budget board, the county excise board shall provide a tentative estimate of anticipated revenues from all sources, classified by funds, for the succeeding fiscal year. For the purposes of this section, "all sources" means any reasonably anticipated revenue for any fund of any department or elected office within the county. For the purposes of the County Budget Act, fund balances shall be treated as revenue. The county excise board shall arrive at the tentative estimates independently. In furtherance of this requirement and the other requirements of the county excise board, the county excise board is authorized to hire appropriate staffing on either a permanent, full-time, part-time, temporary, or contract basis. The county budget board shall include in its annual budget sufficient funds for these purposes.

Section 1412. The county budget board shall hold a public hearing on the proposed budget no later than fifteen (15) days prior to the beginning of the budget year. Notice of the date, time and place of the hearing, together with the proposed budget summaries, shall be published in a newspaper of general circulation in the county not less than five (5) days before the date of the hearing.... Budget summaries shall be grouped by department or elected office and shall include beginning fund balances for each department or elected office and for the county as a whole.

Section 1414. A. In addition to any other powers and duties granted to the county excise board in this act, the board shall act in an oversight capacity with respect to the county budget. The county excise board shall examine the county budgets.

Prisoner_McGoohan_Bars.jpgOn April Fools' Day, next Tuesday, April 1, 2014, Tulsa County voters have a special election to raise taxes to pay for an addition to the Tulsa County Jail and a brand new juvenile justice facility. I will be voting no on both questions.

Ronda Vuillemont-Smith of the Tulsa 9/12 Project has run the numbers and says we could meet the claimed needs from expected Vision 2025 surplus funds.

Tax-increase supporters are saying we can't commit the Vision 2025 surplus until the final penny is collected, but that's not so. There's a clear precedent: On July 18, 2006, the Tulsa County Vision Authority met to authorize the allocation of $45.5 million of the projected Vision 2025 surplus to fund completion of the over-budget, starchitect-designed BOK Center arena. That was a full 10 years before the tax expires. Now the expiration date is only 2.75 years away; surely the county financial wizards know exactly how much principal and interest we owe on bonds, what's held in reserve, what's committed on any remaining projects. The only unknown is exactly how much more tax we're likely to take in on sales between now and December 31, 2016 (with the final payment from Oklahoma Tax Commission in February 2017), and we can make a pretty good estimate of that for such a short term.

Tax-increase supporters are saying we can't use the Vision 2025 surplus for anything except economic development projects. But surely the creative minds that crammed an arena, school books, a health clinic, and college buildings under the "economic development" ballot heading (Prop. 3) in 2003 can find an economic development rationale for a juvenile justice facility. And Prop. 4 of Vision 2025 was "capital improvements for community enrichment" -- surely a jail pod and juvenile justice facility would qualify. And if there were any doubt about whether they'd qualify, a public vote to abolish and re-enact those taxes for these new purposes would take care of the legalities.

Tax-increase supporters are saying that we promised the suburbs $45.5 million of the surplus for "fun money" because Tulsa got $45.5 million extra for the arena. But in 2007, during the debate over the River Tax, officials denied that any such commitment was made:

Miller claims that we can't predict if there would be enough surplus, and if there is any, it's already been promised to the suburbs for unspecified projects.

But I'm told that no such projects have been approved by the Tulsa County Vision Authority and no such commitment was made. Mayor Taylor denies that any such promise was made.

The Tulsa County Vision Authority is the only body authorized to repurpose Vision 2025 funds, so where are the meeting minutes where these reallocations to suburban projects were made?

Is there enough money left? Page 48 of the February 2014 Vision 2025 report (Funding Report as of 3/4/2014, p. 4 of 4) says that the current funding for all projects totals $573,458,804.20. Page 43 of the report has the total tax receipts as of February 9, 2014, at $547,256,173.29. At the current rate of collection of about $5 million per month, we will reach full funding in about five months. From that point forward, everything else the tax collects should be gravy, unless some important facts have been left out of the report. That means, using the county's very modest growth estimate, $157,068,231.53 remaining and uncommitted. That's enough to fund the suburbs' special projects and the jail and juvenile justice facility.

In 2005, Tulsa County officials said if "4 to Fix the County II" passed, they'd fix the juvenile justice center for about $2.5 million. In 2012, they asked for $38 million as part of Vision2 to build a new juvenile justice center. Now they want $45 million, plus who knows how much interest to finance that amount over 15 years. Should we trust them? What is the basis of estimate? Are there less expensive alternative locations?

Sometimes it seems that we have exactly one county elected official that puts our interests above the empire-building impulses of some county officials. County commissioners who were looking out for our best interests would first give us the choice to repurpose expected surplus funds and use a tax hike as a fall back, not the other way around.

Two arguments in favor of these tax propositions puzzle me, One is the sheriff's argument that the jail has effectively become a mental health treatment facility for many inmates, so we need a special pod for people with mental illness. Maybe we just need to work with social service organizations to keep such people supervised and appropriately medicated.

The other puzzler is the complaint that, in the current juvenile facility, juvenile offenders and juvenile victims are waiting in the same waiting rooms, Why would you send juvenile victims of crime or juveniles in family transition to the same facility of juveniles that are accused of committing a crime?

tulsaNow-logo.pngThe April 1, 2014, election to increase Tulsa County sales tax rates to fund a new juvenile justice facility and expansion of the Tulsa County Jail (aka VisionPrison) is the topic of a forum tonight, Tuesday, March 11, 2014, hosted by TulsaNow. The forum will begin at 6, end at 7, and will be held at Foolish Things Coffee, 10th and Main in downtown Tulsa. Speakers will include Tulsa County Commissioner Karen Keith, Deputy Commissioner Mike Willis, and Sheriff Stanley Glanz. Attendees will have a chance to ask questions of the speakers. If you're wondering why Tulsa County voters aren't being given the opportunity to repurpose the Vision 2025 surplus to pay for these requests, this would be a good chance to ask.

Today is the birthday of Tulsa County Assessor Ken Yazel, and it seems as good a time as any to salute him for his hard work on behalf of Tulsa's taxpayers these past 12 years. Ken is running for re-election to a fourth four-year term, and I encourage you to give him your full support. You can "like" his Facebook page and get updates on opportunities to volunteer for his campaignken_yazel.jpg

A couple of weeks ago, at the Oklahoma Growth and Opportunity Summit, Steve Anderson, the former budget director for the State of Kansas, explained how the state went from a prospective $500 million shortfall to a $500 million surplus under the leadership of Gov. Sam Brownback, while still cutting income tax rates. One of the keys was to bring all money under the control of state agencies through the budgeting and appropriation process, including leftover money from previous years. Another important step was to eliminate many of the earmarks that siphoned off state revenue before it ever reached the budget process.

Ken Yazel, who, as County Assessor, is a member of the County Budget Board, has been fighting for those same reforms in Tulsa County. Rather than ask the citizens for more tax dollars to pay for needed projects, Yazel wants to fund those projects from money the county already receives. He wants all county money come through the budget process to be prioritized, rather than allowing each elected official to have his own pot of money outside the scrutiny of the budget system. Yazel has called for the people to decide whether to allocate surplus Vision 2025 funds (the tax will be collected through 2016) for jail and juvenile justice facilities, rather than allowing it to be spent on lower-priority projects.

What I wrote about Ken Yazel during his last run in 2010 still holds true today:

Yazel has at times been the lone voice at the County Courthouse raising concern about wasteful spending and deceptive budget numbers. He has been one of the few elected officials to speak publicly against tax hike initiatives like the River Tax.

Yazel has also defended taxpayer interests by insisting on fair property assessments for everyone, even the very wealthy. If someone builds a $25 million house, they ought to pay property taxes on the full amount; otherwise, property taxes go up for the rest of us to make up the difference. Because Ken Yazel stands up for all taxpayers, the very wealthy have made him a target. We need to stand up for him.

Ken Yazel has also been a great friend to public access to public records. Public means online, and Ken Yazel added to the county assessor website the ability to search the Tulsa County assessor property database online. You no longer have to go to the library to find out who owns a piece of property or how much it's worth. You no longer have to ask the County Commissioners permission and pay a monthly fee to access this public information. My story on where the named members of Save Our Tulsa live and the median value of their homes would not have been possible without this valuable research tool. Oklahoma County has had this sort of tool for many years, while most Tulsa County officials resisted. Yazel's leadership on this issue alone is enough to earn my heartiest endorsement.

The County Assessor's website now includes an interactive map to find information about parcels of interest. You don't have to know the address -- you just navigate through the map and click. It puts a great deal of power in the hands of ordinary homeowners or home buyers trying to figure out what a piece of property is worth, and it's available anywhere, any time, day or night.

(By contrast, you can't search the County Clerk's land transaction records without going to a library, and you can't see the image of the transaction without going to the clerk's office during working hours.)

I encourage you to get involved in Ken Yazel's re-election campaign. Your next opportunity is a volunteer day tomorrow, February 28, 2014, 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 pm, at the campaign HQ at 909 B South Lynn Lane in Broken Arrow.

Today, August 13, 2013, the polls will be open in southern Tulsa County, including the southern part of midtown Tulsa, for the special general election to replace retiring Tulsa County District 3 Commissioner Fred Perry. On the ballot are former State Rep. Ron Peters, who heads a public relations firm, and Tulsa County field construction supervisor John Bomar. The Tulsa World and the political arm of the Metropolitan Tulsa Regional Metro Chamber of Commerce have endorsed Peters. The winner will face a run for re-election next year when Perry's term expires.

In a May forum at TCC, both candidates indicated support for additional county sales tax propositions.

Rogers County voters will be asked to renew a one-cent county sales tax. 7/8ths of the cent will go to roads and bridges; 1/8th will go to help pay down a hefty legal judgment against the county. Here's how the Tulsa World's Rhett Morgan described the judgment:

Material Service Corp. filed the action against the county in 2000. The company wasn't seeking monetary damages but wanted a determination by the court that the county had improperly annexed the property leased by Material Service, preventing it from mining there, an attorney for the company said.

After a change-of-venue request was granted, the inverse condemnation case went to trial in Mayes County in 2009, with the jury awarding Material Service $12.5 million. Prejudgment and post-judgment interest, attorneys fees and costs since the 2009 jury verdict pushed the amount to more than $32 million.

Annexation? I am pretty sure that Oklahoma counties cannot unilaterally change their own boundaries by annexation. Rogers County lost territory to Tulsa County about 100 years ago, but its boundaries have been utterly stable for the last century.

What appears to have happened is that the City of Claremore-Rogers County Metropolitan Area Planning Commission added the land that Material Service Corp. had leased for limestone quarrying to the unincorporated land subject to county zoning, followed by county zoning to prohibit the quarrying that MSC wanted to do. This was done without proper notice, and MSC sued the county for the economic damages they suffered for misusing their zoning power. Looks like a case of trying to close the barn door just as the horses were escaping, if the horses had a high-powered trial lawyer to argue their case.

Consider these options for putting a county-wide tax proposition on the ballot this fall:

1. Convince at least two of the three county commissioners to support the idea.

2. Collect 18,000 petition signatures in six weeks, early enough to make the November ballot.

If you could do either, which would you prefer? Which would be easier?

Would you pick option 2 if there were any possibility of accomplishing option 1?

Tulsa County Commissioners put five sets of propositions for county sales taxes on the ballot from 2000 to 2012. Why didn't Sheriff Stanley Glanz and Commissioner Karen Keith ask them to move forward with a sixth proposal to enact a new 1/6th cent sales tax to fund jail expansion and a new juvenile justice facility?

When Republican Party precinct leaders censured the two Republican county commissioners for putting the ill-considered Vision2 corporate welfare and pork barrel proposal on the ballot in 2012, the commissioners and their defenders argued that they had a duty to put the plan to the voters for the voters to decide. Opponents replied that commissioners had a duty to screen proposals and send forward only sound proposals that they deemed worthy of passage. I wrote at the time:

6. Putting a tax on the ballot is not a neutral act, as Commissioners Smaligo and Perry would like you to believe. I don't recall either of them ever putting forward a ballot measure to cut TCC's millage rate or end the Vision 2025 sales tax as soon as sufficient reserves exist to meet all outstanding obligations, although both ideas are worthy of discussion. They haven't given us a choice between spending three-quarters of a billion dollars on Vision2 vs. a short-term G. O. bond issue to, say, rebuild the levees. No, they picked one particular proposal -- a particularly bad proposal, vague, hastily assembled, and packed with corporate welfare and pork barrel, heavy laden with interest and fees -- to put before voters, and they blocked any alternative from coming before us. They've only given us a yes or no option. They have therefore endorsed this proposal by putting it on the ballot.

7. Furthermore -- and this is what makes their vote particularly deserving of censure -- this is now the second time that they have forced the grassroots fiscal conservative Republicans who got them elected to spend their personal time and treasure trying to counter a "vote yes" campaign with hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend on ads and consultants.

The fact that the easy route to the ballot -- two commissioners out of three agreeing -- is not being pursued suggests strongly to me that only one of the three, Democrat Karen Keith, supports the idea, and Republicans John Smaligo and Mark Liotta (acting commissioner until Fred Perry's replacement is elected) do not. If you can't convince Smaligo, who voted for putting the 2007 river tax increase and the 2012 Vision2 tax on the ballot, how are you going to persuade the general public?

I'm surprised that the newspaper and TV coverage that I've seen have failed to make this connection for their readers and viewers.

The good news for taxpayers is that at least two county commissioners now believe that they have a duty to screen tax propositions before they go to the voters. District 3 voters should be asking Ron Peters and John Bomar, the candidates to replace Fred Perry, what their criteria are for allowing a tax proposition to go before the voters.

Realtor Darryl Baskin has interviewed all four Republican candidates for Tulsa County Commissioner District 3, and you can see the interviews on his TulsaLiveEvents.com LiveStream channel.

Baskin asked insightful questions of each of the candidates and elicited thoughtful responses. I was particularly impressed with the answers from John Wright, which you can see below. He understands some of the details of county government that may not make for exciting radio commercials but make the difference between honest, open government that serves the public interest and cozy insider dealing that favors special interests.

Some highlights:

On revenue bond funding for capital improvements (starting at 10:30): Wright points out that pay-as-you-go, spending the tax revenue only as it comes in, as Oklahoma City did for MAPS, allows all revenues to go toward projects, while Tulsa County's approach of borrowing against future tax revenues diverts funds from projects to pay interest. If Tulsa County issues bonds in the future, Wright says that when the county issues revenue bonds there should be a request for proposals and competitive bidding for the sake of transparency, to avoid any appearance that someone has a special deal for the placement of the bonds.

On county government reform (starting at 12:30): Wright argues for a separate First Deputy for each County Commissioner, in order to comply with the spirit as well as the letter of the Open Meetings Act. Because there are only three commissioners, any two comprise a quorum, and they cannot legally discuss county business except in properly called public meeting. At the moment, two commissioners share a deputy. Wright says that makes it possible for a majority of the commission to "have a meeting of the minds" and come to agreement on an issue outside of an open meeting. "The Open Meeting law is designed to ensure that public business is conducted in a public forum."

Wright also says there should be more transparency with regards to successful bids on county contracts. Right now, you have to go to the County Courthouse in person to get the information, which you should be able to get over the internet.

Another of Wright's reform aims is to have separate votes on distinct issues, rather than grouping large numbers of issues together and passing them with a single vote. Separate votes provide accountability -- you can find out how your commissioner voted on each issue.

In his final comments (starting about 16:30), Wright mentioned that Tulsa County is in the top third of the country in ad valorem (property) tax burden and has the highest ad valorem burden in Oklahoma. Ad valorem doesn't only affect real estate -- businesses pay ad valorem tax on their equipment. He noted that the County Commissioners can put issues on the ballot to allow voters to change the level of tax for entities with fixed millages, possibly reducing the tax burden.

MORE: This map illustrates where the two ongoing current county commissioners live (red district numbers 1 and 2) and where the four Republican candidates for District 3 live (green first and last initials). If either Ron Peters or Brandon Perkins wins, all three County Commissioners will reside in the City of Tulsa; no other municipalities will be represented. If Ron Peters is elected, all three county commissioners will live within a three-mile radius of Utica Square. If Brandon Perkins is elected, all three county commissioners will live within a four-mile radius of Brookside. Click the picture to see a larger version of the map.

TulsaCoCommissioner-2013-Residences.png

There are four candidates in Tuesday's Republican primary for Tulsa County Commission District 3, to fill the unexpired term of Fred Perry, who is resigning with a year and a half to go.

This is the ideal situation for Instant Runoff Voting (ranking your candidates in order of preference), but in this case, because of a quirk in state law, we don't even have a regular two-man runoff primary. (You may recall that Perry was first elected in 2006 thanks to a runoff, in which he defeated Bill Christiansen.) This race is first-past-the-post, and the candidate with the most votes wins the nomination, even if his total is far less than a majority.

Ordinarily, in this kind of election scenario I would be encouraging you to vote tactically, to consider not simply which candidate is your top choice, but which acceptable candidate is in a position to finish first.

But this time, even if I wanted to recommend a tactical vote, I couldn't. My crystal ball is too murky. There are no poll numbers to consult. The biggest spender in the race may be so far ahead that it doesn't matter. Then again, there may be several candidates neck-and-neck to finish first. So let's just vote for the right choice.

I urge District 3 Republicans to vote for former State Rep. John Wright, the best qualified candidate in the race, the candidate who best understands how county government works, the candidate with the core principles and the tenacity to protect taxpayer interests against the predations of special interests.

John_Wright_yard_sign.jpg

During his 12-year service in the legislature, Wright was a consistent vote for conservative policies across the board. His voting record earned him a lifetime score of 91% on the Oklahoma Constitution Conservative Index. He was a leader in the House, serving as chairman of the Republican caucus and chairman of the House Administrative Rules and Agency Oversight Committee. Wright has been endorsed by many of his former legislative colleagues, including State Sen. Gary Stanislawski, who says that John Wright "is a man of integrity who researches the facts to make informed decisions."

Since leaving the House, Wright, a Realtor, has served in the Tulsa County Assessor's office. In that capacity, he has attended dozens of County Commission and county board meetings, adding direct knowledge of county operations to his work on county government reform at the State Capitol.

This past Tuesday evening, I attended the League of Women Voters forum and heard from all five County Commission candidates. It confirmed my opinion that Wright is the only candidate thoroughly prepared to serve. He was able to answer every question knowledgeably, with specifics, without hedging.

Regarding the county budget, Wright says that all county revenues, whether from property tax, sales tax, grants, or previous year surpluses, should be budgeted up-front, not just accounted for after the money has already been spent, and he pointed to an Attorney General opinion backing up that view of state law. Sadly, this common-sense view is not the majority view at the Tulsa County Courthouse.

John Wright is soft-spoken, but you should never mistake his soft-spokenness for a lack of spine.

In 2003, Wright was the lone vote in either chamber against HB 1676, which would have removed requirements for counties to follow generally accepted accounting principle (GAAP). Wright's courage to stand alone against the bill caught then-Gov. Henry's attention, and Wright was able to persuade Gov. Henry to veto it.

When asked about what should happen when the Vision 2025 tax expires, Wright said that a lower tax rate generates a higher level of economic activity and results in a higher, more secure revenue stream. Higher sales taxes encourage consumers to defer purchases or divert them elsewhere.

Wright believes that the county's role in economic development is to focus on basic public safety and infrastructure. "The core of economic development is public safety." Funneling tax dollars to private companies (as Vision2 would have done) leads to elections that go to the highest bidder, the sort of thing that happens in Third World dictatorships.

Wright wants to see the county excise board do its job of scrutinizing the budgets submitted to it rather than acting as a rubber stamp. He worked with the legislature to require county board of equalization members (who also serve as the excise board) to take training in their powers and responsibilities under state law.

Ron Peters, another former State Rep., made sure we all knew he was the Tulsa Regional Chamber's endorsed candidate in the race. Peters wants another "Vision"-type tax, controlled by the county, although he wants to take some time to put the next package together and try to get everyone on board. Early in the campaign, I detailed Ron Peters's decidedly un-conservative legislative record on gambling and local control of zoning and his worrisome roster of supporters, led by Bob Dick, former Tulsa County Commissioner.

Brandon Perkins lost me with his answer to a question about the structure of a tax vote to replace Vision 2025 when it expires: "Let the voters decide." That's a cop-out. The voters can only vote yes or no on whatever plan the commissioners send their way. It's up to the commissioners to filter proposals and only let solid ideas go to the voters. Perkins's radio ads suggest that he wants an expansive role for county government, hinting at massive public infrastructure projects and a "legacy." What we need, rather, is a modest county government focused on meeting its statutory responsibilities.

Don Crall was the most confident speaker of the candidates at the LWV forum and was the first to step out from behind the podium. Crall teaches business classes at Southern Nazarene University. On a replacement for the Vision 2025 sales tax, he made a good point -- the cities may claim it before the county gets around to renewing it. Crall is the only candidate who lives in Tulsa County's ever shrinking unincorporated territory and so understands the special role county government plays in roads and law enforcement where city jurisdiction doesn't apply. If Wright weren't in the race, Crall would be my pick.

At the same time, however, there are some worrisome things about Crall. In his interview with Tulsa Beacon publisher Charlie Biggs, Crall characterized the County Commissioner's job as his ideal role in government because it's an administrative post, not legislative, which Crall doesn't find appealing. In fact, there is a strong legislative and policy-making aspect to the county commission, shaping policy with the other two commissioners, picking loan recipients as a member of the Tulsa County Industrial Authority, setting policy for Expo Square as a member of the fair board, and serving with the other elected officials on the budget board. You're making policy choices, not simply administering someone else's policy choices.

While Crall talks a good game on taxes and limited government, it bothers me that he didn't stick his neck out in public opposition to the disastrous Vision2 tax plan. Did he pull his punches on the issue because of his desire to run for County Commissioner? And the current Tulsa County Commission appointed Crall to the Vision 2025 Sales Tax Overview Committee, which he serves as chairman. Does that mean that they believed Crall was tame enough not to stir up any trouble or ask any probing questions? (UPDATE 2013/06/11: Crall reached out with an gracious email on June 7, which has set my mind at ease somewhat on these questions. Unfortunately, it got caught by the spam trapper and I am only now (midday on Election Day) seeing it.)

There's the distinct possibility that the same voters who defeated Vision2 (Prop. 1: 45.9% to 54.1%; Prop. 2: 47.7% to 52.3%) will split their votes so many ways that they'll guarantee the election of a commissioner like Peters who will actively push for Vision2.1. Ronda Vuillemont-Smith, who led the successful campaign to defeat Vision2, saw that danger and stepped aside just after the filing period, pulling her name off of the ballot in deference to John Wright. Given the lack of a runoff, it would have been lovely if Crall and Wright had agreed to make their case to a panel of conservative leaders and then unite behind the candidate that the group thought best suited to the job.

But it's too late for that and the candidates have too much invested to pull out now. So the best the voters can do is make the right choice and live with the results. And the right choice for Tulsa County Commissioner is John Wright.

A candidate forum for the Tulsa County Commission District 3 special election, sponsored by the League of Women Voters and Tulsa Community College will be held tomorrow night, Tuesday, June 4, 2013, at the TCC Southeast campus, 81st Street and U. S. 169, in the studio theater, from 6:30 to 7:30. Written questions will be accepted from the audience. All five candidates are expected to attend.

Because of an oddity in Oklahoma election law, there will be no runoff in the special election to fill the remaining year and a half of retiring commissioner Fred Perry's term. The Republican with the most votes in the June 11, 2013, primary, even if the winning percentage is barely over 25%, will face the lone Democrat, John Bomar, in the special general election on August 13, 2013. Four Republicans are running: Former State Rep. John Wright, former State Rep. Ron Peters, Brandon Perkins, and Don Crall.

MORE: Read the candidates' responses to the League of Women Voters Tulsa Election 2013 questionnaire.

Former Mayor Kathy Taylor should get a "pants on fire" rating for her campaign's ads claiming that she brought BOK Center in on time and within budget.

During my conversation this morning with Pat Campbell on 1170 KFAQ, Pat asked me about Kathy Taylor's claims that, as mayor, she completed the BOK Center on time and within budget. The question Tulsa voters should be asking is, "Which budget?" It's easy to come in within budget when you boost it by a third. Not only was the BOK Center over budget, the overage tied up close to $100 million that might have been used to complete the low-water dams promised in the Vision 2025 sales tax.

As for schedule, the arena was supposed to be complete by late 2007, according to the Tulsa County commissioners' October 2004 Vision 2025 newsletter. It actually opened in August 2008.

(Here's a direct link to the podcast of my segment on Pat's show.)

The original combined budget, as approved by voters in 2003, for the new arena and improvements to the convention center was $183 million. The final taxpayer-funded budget was $228.5 million, and the decision to go over the original budget was made by Kathy Taylor shortly after the beginning of her term in 2006.

Taylor's predecessor, Bill LaFortune, selected star-chitect Cesar Pelli to design the new arena, and Tulsa Vision Builders -- Manhattan Construction and Flintco -- were selected to do the work. In April 2006, Taylor's first month in office, bids for construction materials were opened and came in way over budget. $68.9 million had been budgeted, but the lowest bid was $101 million.

Kathy Taylor had a choice: She could go back to the architects and engineers and asked them to scale back the arena to fit the budget. Instead, Taylor asked the Tulsa County Vision Authority for more money. She got more money, but it came at a high price.

The Tulsa County Vision Authority was defined by the ballot resolutions for the Vision 2025 sales tax. The board consists of the three Tulsa County commissioners, three suburban mayors appointed by the county commissioners, and the Mayor of Tulsa. The authority has the power to "approve any deletion or addition of projects from those listed above and any major change in scope of any such project following a public hearing by such trust." The Authority wasn't called into existence until Kathy Taylor came looking for more Vision 2025 tax money.

A July 18, 2006, news story reported the combined budget need for the arena/convention center as $241.7 million, with about $15.4 million covered by naming rights and other private sponsorships. On July 18, 2006, the newly constituted Vision Authority met and approved allocating an additional $45.5 million (out of an anticipated $104 million surplus) for the arena and convention center.

The price for that money was a commitment that any other surplus Vision 2025 money would fund improvements in the suburban municipalities. This commitment was affirmed by County Commissioner Randi Miller a year later, in July 2007, and last year by John Smaligo on Pat Campbell's May 23, 2012, show, both times in the context of explaining why the Vision 2025 surplus couldn't be used to fund the low-water dams promised by Vision 2025.

While the commitment to use any remaining surplus for the wish lists of the suburbs was not formally adopted, the Vision Authority's structure effectively gives the suburban mayors veto power over any proposal to change the Vision 2025 budget.

Former House District 70 representative Ron Peters has announced his candidacy for the Tulsa County Commission District 3 seat being vacated by retiring Commissioner Fred Perry.

In 2003, Peters was one of six Republicans to support a state lottery, breaking ranks with the vast majority of the GOP caucus. Had Peters and one other Republican voted no, the lottery would have failed. In 2004, Peters was one of only five Republicans supporting casino gaming, and once again, had two of the five defected to the other side, the measure would have failed.

In a 2006 UTW column, I singled out Peters as an incumbent in need of a Republican challenger, mainly for his bills that would have damaged local control and homeowner input into land use and zoning issues. That year, Peters co-sponsored two bills (SB 1324 and HB 2559) to interfere with city policy on special exceptions and historic preservation districts.

Ron Peters, who represents House District 70 in midtown, is one of those who need to go. Off the record, his Republican colleagues will tell you that he is one of the least cooperative, least trustworthy, least principled members of their caucus. They'd be happy to see him go.

Peters was one of a half-dozen Republicans who broke with the party to support the lottery and the introduction of full-fledged casino gambling, with all their accompanying social ills.

SB 1324 and HB 2559 are not his first assaults on homeowners' rights and local control of land use issues. In 2005, Peters and Crain co-authored HB 1911.

In addition to the Board of Adjustment provisions that made their way into SB 1324, the earlier bill would have removed notice requirements for property owners within a redevelopment (i.e., urban renewal) district. Owners would not have had to be notified about public hearings regarding redevelopment plans affecting their property. It also would have removed a requirement for redevelopment plans to be approved by the City Council.

Peters hasn't had a challenger since he first won the seat in the 2000 Republican primary. A conservative Republican challenger could unseat him, if only one would step forward.

Peters' list of endorsers on his announcement press release reads like a who's-who of midtowners who regularly push for higher taxes and less democracy. Don Walker was co-chairman of the failed Vision2 Tulsa County sales tax scheme. Larry Mocha, has an op-ed in the Sunday paper pleading for Oklahoma to implement Obamacare's Medicaid expansion.

Many on Peters' list supported the failed and divisive 2005 recall attempt against Chris Medlock and Jim Mautino; compare his supporters to the list of donors to the pro-recall Coalition for Responsible Government 2004. Or compare the list on Peters' press release to this list of supporters of "Save Our Tulsa" and this list of advisory board members for "Tulsans for Better Government," both groups that pushed for the election of at-large city councilors, a move that would have concentrated power in wealthy midtown neighborhoods at the expense of the rest of Tulsa.

The first name on Peters' list is Bob Dick, the former County Commissioner for District 3. Conservatives were happy to see Dick retire in 2006. In 2005, I wrote a column for UTW cataloging the County Commission's fondness for sole-source contracts under Bob Dick's leadership. In 2002, the Tulsa World reported on Dick's "dear friend" John Piercey and the loans he had obtained through the Tulsa County Industrial Authority (whose board consists of the three county commissioners) to buy apartment complexes.

Based on his record and his list of supporters, I'd suspect that Peters will vote to put another county tax on the ballot, will work against transparency and competitive bidding in county government, for gimmicky approaches to economic development, will support the appointment of anti-neighborhood types to the three county seats on the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, and will subordinate the needs of unincorporated Tulsa County to the wants of Midtown Tulsa's Money Belt. Those of us who believe in limited, transparent, and responsive government will be looking for a better candidate for the Tulsa County Commission District 3 seat.

While putting together the previous entry, I came across a spreadsheet of newly-filed legislation for the 54th Oklahoma Legislature (on the home page of thehouseandsenate.com), and found yet another reform worthy of notice and support.

State Representative David Brumbaugh, a Broken Arrow Republican, has filed legislation to increase county budget transparency and accountability, requiring the annual budget process to include all county revenues and previous year surpluses, not just those subject to appropriation, which is typically limited to the current year's ad valorem revenues. The bill is HB 1986.

In order to gain an accurate picture of all revenues at the disposal of county elected officials and agencies, HB 1986 would give the county excise board the authority and obligation to develop independent estimates of fund revenues and balances "for any fund of any department or elected office within the county." The bill also expressly gives the excise board the duty to "act in an oversight capacity with respect to the county budget" and authorizes the excise board to hire personnel needed to carry out these responsibilities.

County government in Oklahoma is one-size-fits-all. All 77 counties have the same set of eight independently elected and autonomous officials that together constitute the budget board: three county commissioners, county clerk, county sheriff, county treasurer, county assessor, and county court clerk.

Under current law, it is possible for each county official to hoard surplus funds, which are not subject to budget board appropriation. The eight officials might decide to turn a mutual blind eye to one another's surpluses and to appropriate new revenues without regard to cash already on hand. HB 1986 would end any such cozy arrangement by bringing an independent check and oversight to bear on the county budget process and would ensure that all county funds are accounted for at least once a year.

My only suggestion for improvement is to add language that explicitly includes funds held by county trusts, authorities, boards, and commissions, such as the Tulsa County Industrial Authority (which oversees Vision 2025 funds, 4 to Fix the County funds, and conduit funds loaned to private institutions), the Tulsa County Criminal Justice Authority, the Tulsa City-County Library Commission, and the Tulsa City-County Health Department.

Tulsa County District 3 Commissioner Fred Perry announced today that he will resign effective July 8, 2013, about 18 months before the expiration of his second term as a commissioner. (Read the press release at TheOkie.com.) The announcement comes three months after Perry, age 72, underwent a heart procedure; Perry cited "health reasons" as the motivation for stepping down.

Perry's political career will end as it began, with a mid-term resignation. In January 1994, Perry won a three-way, all-GOP special election to fill the House District 69 created by the resignation of David Smith. Perry was term-limited in the legislature in 2006, when he ran for the County Commission District 3 after incumbent Bob Dick announced his decision not to seek re-election. Perry advanced to a runoff in a crowded Republican primary, then defeated Tulsa City Councilor Bill Christiansen in the runoff to win the election, as no Democrat filed for the office.

Perry, who was elected to the County Commission with the support of grassroots conservative volunteers, disappointed many of his backers by voting to advance the 2007 county sales tax for river projects and the 2012 Vision2 county sales tax. Both measures were turned down by voters.

Fred Perry and I have often been at odds during his time as County Commissioner, particularly concerning the sales tax propositions he supported and disputes between the county and the City of Tulsa (e.g. annexation of the Fairgrounds and the jail agreement). To his credit, he never hesitated to make his case in writing, whether in the comments here at BatesLine or in the pages of Urban Tulsa Weekly.

During his time in office, a number of improvements have been made to the Tulsa County website. Early in his term, as chairman of the county commission, Perry arranged to distribute ex officio board memberships among all the commissioners, rather than putting the full burden on the person holding the chairmanship, which by tradition rotates annually among the three commissioners.

In his resignation press release, Perry has proposed that the special election to replace him could be held at the same time as Tulsa's mayoral election, with the special primary at the same time as the city's primary on June 11 and the general election at the same time as the city runoff (if needed) on August 13. The special county commission primary could have an impact on the non-partisan mayor's race, driving up Republican turnout in south Tulsa, Bill Christiansen's home turf.

(The latest set of city election dates is so new -- it was approved in June 2012 -- it has yet to be incorporated into the online version of the Tulsa City Charter. Here is the markup version, showing the changes approved in June 2012.)

Here's wishing Fred Perry a long, healthy, and happy retirement.

I was interviewed midday Tuesday by Fox 23's Ian Silver about the fundraising gap between the proponents and opponents of Vision2.

The "vote yes" bunch reports donations of $562,952, and only $450 in contributions of $200 or less.

The opposition group Citizens for a Better Vision has had monetary contributions of $3,859.69, of which only $2,459.69 was in amounts of $200 or less, and has spent $2,977.44, mainly on signs and bumper stickers. Individuals have independently and directly spent money on things like buttons and Facebook ads. (For example, I paid for color copies of my "Better Vision for Tulsa" handout, so I could have something to distribute at the Leadership Tulsa luncheon.) Even with these independent expenditures, opposition spending that we know of is about $10,000.

A ratio of at least 50:1 is not at all surprising. Giving on previous tax proposals has been similarly lopsided. It can be explained by public choice theory -- concentrated benefits vs. diffuse costs. Those businesses who stand to make millions, perhaps hundreds of millions, of dollars if this tax passes have a strong incentive to invest tens of thousands of their own dollars in convincing the public to approve it. Because the tax is broad-based, there's no concentrated benefit if the tax fails, so no one has the same financial incentive to give tens of thousands of dollars to the "vote no" campaign. As I told Fox23's Silver:

The opposition, he said, is made up mostly of individuals digging into their own pockets, and using social media to spread the word.

"It's all grassroots," he said. "It's all individuals digging into their own savings, their own fun money to do something they think is important for the community."

Matt Galloway has put together a very helpful pie chart, grouping contributions to the Vision2 "vote yes" campaign by industry (click to embiggen):

Vision2 Follow the Money pie chart

The Fox23 report was well done, but I need to correct a couple of things:

The story makes a reference to the "Vision 2025 bond package." It may be a losing battle to insist upon the distinction between sales tax votes and general obligation bond issue votes, but "here I stand; I can do no other." The Vision 2025 election was a collection of four sales taxes, one of which never went into effect. The other three sales taxes, totaling 0.6%, went into effect on January 1, 2004, and will run until December 31, 2016. The Tulsa County Commission assigned the revenue stream to the Tulsa County Industrial Authority, then they put on their TCIA hats and borrowed money against these expected sales tax revenues by issuing revenue bonds, but the voters didn't directly vote to issue bonds. "Bond package" or "bond issue," in reference to an election, should be reserved to refer to "general obligation bond issues," in which voters authorize borrowing money for a specific project (bonds) to be repaid by an increase in property tax millage (the general obligation).

Silver says in the story:

Businesses like Bank of Oklahoma and Manhattan Construction Co. could make a lot of money off Vision2 projects, but the county will have to put all contracts for Vision2 projects out to bid. The county can't just award contracts to companies that donated the most.

If the Tulsa County Board of Commissioners are under such a restriction, there are ways around it. The Tulsa County Industrial Authority (whose board members are the three county commissioners) can waive competitive bidding on bond underwriting with the approval of two of the three commissioners. About a month after Vision 2025 was approved by the voters, the TCIA board granted sole-source contracts to two financial companies to handle bond underwriting, two law firms to provide bond attorney services, and the company that would handle program management for the tax package. Professional services, as I understand it, are also exempt from competitive bidding. (Can't find the reference right now.) And with the appropriate findings of an emergency, competitive bidding may even be waived on construction projects.

I've been negligent. I did tweet about this brilliant video by Steven Roemerman, but had yet to post it here. Steven tried to call all three Tulsa County commissioners to invite them to speak to a neighborhood meeting on January 2, 2017, the day after the Vision2 tax will go into effect. He spoke to Fred Perry's assistant and to Commissioner Karen Keith.

Best quote goes to Commissioner Keith: "I think you better call back closer to that date, make sure I'm still alive."

So this tax that we'll be voting on in eight days was put on the ballot by one commissioner who will have been out of office for two years when the tax goes into effect and another commissioner who isn't sure if she'll survive until then.

In a recent issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly, Terry Simonson, who left his position as Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr's chief of staff under an ethical cloud, makes a very weak case for de-annexing the Tulsa County Fairgrounds (aka Expo Square) from the City of Tulsa.

Over the history of the Fairgrounds' existence at their current location, various portions have been inside and outside the city limits. In 2007, the City Council voted to annex all 230-some acres of it, to be effective in January 2009. The delay was the result of a deal between then-Mayor Kathy Taylor and the county commission. County commissioners, who double as members of the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority (TCPFA, aka the Fair Board), warned of dire consequences to the prosperity of Expo Square and the city if the annexation went through. Because the City surrounded the unincorporated territory on all four sides, it did not need the consent of the owner -- Tulsa County -- to complete the annexation.

(Note that Simonson neglects to inform the readers that three of the TCPFA trustees are the county commissioners, and the other two members are appointed by the county commissioners.)

As Simonson himself acknowledges, the years since annexation have been good years for Expo Square. The Tulsa State Fair has "come out ahead" the last three years -- all three years the fairgrounds have been completely within the city limits. The Arabian Horse Show renewed its contract through 2017. Gun shows continue to draw big crowds.

Having to collect city sales tax and comply with city regulations hasn't hurt Expo Square's ability to attract trade shows, horse shows, and other special events, and it hasn't hurt the Tulsa State Fair.

Despite the success Expo Square has enjoyed during its time within the city limits, Simonson calls for its deannexation:

Because Expo Square tries to operate free of intrusive government regulations and politics, it's time to turn back the clock and for the city council to de annex the fairgrounds. Some will remember that in an ill-fated and short-sighted attempt to shore up its own failing financial picture, the city believed in 2009 that if it imposed the city's sales tax on sales at the fairgrounds, and charge the fairgrounds city utility rates, it would be a tremendous financial windfall. It was never going to be, and it hasn't proven to be. Instead, Expo now spends over $148,000 on utility charges it didn't have to pay, has to deal with the inspection, permitting, and other city government red tape regulations.

I don't like intrusive regulations and politics either, but if a city regulation is unjustified, Simonson should work for its repeal citywide, not try to get a special exemption for the Fairgrounds. If a city regulation is reasonable, it should apply to everyone.

What Simonson wants, really, is what any landlord would love to have: The ability to lure tenants away from other landlords with the promise of tax and regulatory exemptions. That's hardly fair to landlords who can't offer the exemption, especially when everyone depends on the same public services.

Whether or not collecting city sales taxes at the Fairgrounds has been a windfall, Fairgrounds retail sales now contribute their fair share towards the upkeep of the city streets that allow people to reach the Fairgrounds, the upkeep of the city storm sewers that carry stormwater away from the Fairgrounds (a considerable amount since so much of the 230+ acres is impermeable), and the cost of city police and fire protection for the Fairgrounds and environs.

One of the most important benefits of having the Fairgrounds within the city limits is that the planning of its future development will be done in conjunction with planning for the adjoining neighborhoods, guided by the City of Tulsa's comprehensive plan, with the involvement of City of Tulsa planning staff, and with the final say of the Tulsa City Council. I suspect that eliminating this independent oversight of Fairgrounds development is the real aim of Simonson's push for deannexation.

When the Fairgrounds was outside the city limits, there were no checks and balances over land use changes. The TCPFA, made up of the three county commissioners and two people they appoint, would propose a special exception or variance, and the County Board of Adjustment (appointed by the county commissioners) would approve it. Or the TCPFA (three county commissioners plus two people they appoint) would propose a zoning change or comprehensive plan amendment, the TMAPC would make a recommendation, and the county commissioners could vote for the TCPFA's proposal regardless of the TMAPC's recommendation. There was no one looking at proposed changes to land use at the Fairgrounds to mitigate any impact on the surrounding neighborhoods.

This is the heart of the issue: With Drillers Stadium and the old Tulsa City-County Health Department likely to be redeveloped, just across 15th Street from a residential area, City of Tulsa planning staff and City of Tulsa councilors should evaluate any of the TCPFA's redevelopment plans in accordance with the comprehensive plan and the zoning code. Terry Simonson and his former county bosses don't want that, it would seem.

Simonson makes a very misleading statement near the end of his essay:

The state and local economies have improved enough that the city council should do the right thing by giving Expo Square back to the TCPFA.

The city never took Expo Square away from the TCPFA. The Fairgrounds are owned, as they have been for decades, by Tulsa County. Just like the County Courthouse, the David L. Moss Correctional Center, County Election Board, LaFortune Park, the county road barn at 56th and Garnett -- all owned by Tulsa County, but within the Tulsa city limits and governed by the City of Tulsa's ordinances. Other county properties are within the limits of other Tulsa County municipalities -- Haikey Creek Park, for example. Simonson isn't calling for deannexation of those county properties; why should Expo Square be any different?

MORE: Some past BatesLine articles and Urban Tulsa Weekly op-eds about annexation:

November 2006: Annexing the Fairgrounds

Again, it has to be emphasized that annexation wouldn't change ownership. The fairgrounds would still be owned by Tulsa County and run by the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority (TCPFA, aka the fair board), which consists of the three county commissioners and two other members.... Annexation wouldn't affect the fair board's ability to enter into long-term, non-competitive sweetheart contracts.

But annexation would eliminate the anomalies in law enforcement and tax rates. The fairgrounds and the surrounding land would be subject to the same zoning ordinances and zoning process. The same sales tax rate would apply to businesses on and off the fairgrounds. The same hotel/motel tax rate would apply to the fairgrounds motel and to nearby motels. The same noise ordinances would apply on and off the fairgrounds.

When the fair board considers a lease, they'd have to consider whether the proposed activity complies with city ordinances. I'm sure existing uses would be grandfathered in, but any zoning relief needed for whatever replaces Bell's would have to pass muster with the City of Tulsa's Board of Adjustment (which applies the law as it is; one of Bill LaFortune's positive legacies) or the Tulsa City Council. Currently, anything the fair board (made up mostly of the county commissioners) wants to allow only needs approval by the County Board of Adjustment (appointed by the county commissioners) or the county commissioners themselves. There's no independent check on fairgrounds development.

UTW, March 7, 2007: Annexation Fixation

Typically, unincorporated areas are places with very little development and much open space. When your nearest neighbor lives a quarter-mile away, what he does on his property isn't likely to affect your enjoyment of your property. In such a sparsely settled area, you don't need many rules to maintain peace, safety, and quality of life.

But in a densely developed area, those rules are essential. As Robert Frost wrote, "Good fences make good neighbors." I spent several years of my childhood in a subdivision in an unincorporated area, and I can attest to the problems created by noise, dogs allowed to run free, lots allowed to grow wild.

To maintain quality of life where homes and businesses are packed closely together, the city regulates land use, noise, lighting, and other potential sources of annoyance that may spill over onto a neighbor's property.

But here in the heart of our city is a huge chunk of land that isn't subject to any of those rules, and without those rules in place, the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority has not been a considerate neighbor....

The TCPFA has allowed outdoor auto racing (in violation of a 1984 promise) and the annual Chili Bowl indoor races, both of which create noise in excess of city standards. During the 2004 Chili Bowl race, even with the Expo Building's doors closed, noise was measured at 85 dB nearly a half-mile away. You can imagine the impact on homes right across the street.

If Expo Square were within the city limits, the TCPFA would have to provide better noise insulation for the building or require Chili Bowl participants to muffle their cars. Given the economic impact of the Chili Bowl, I'm sure that the city would make reasonable accommodation on that issue, as well as on the issue of city building permits (another concern cited by annexation opponents). What matters is that the city would be in the loop, not helplessly enduring whatever nuisances the county chooses to harbor at the Fairgrounds.

The Chili Bowl continues to thrive and grow, by the way, notwithstanding the jurisdiction of the City of Tulsa.

Many thanks to KJRH Channel 2 (Cox Cable 9) for a well-balanced story on Vision2 today. I spent a couple of hours with Citizens for a Better Vision, the organized opposition group to Vision2, out on 51st Street where people could pick-up signs, buttons, and bumper stickers.

While I was there a KJRH cameraman came out to get some video for a news story that ran this evening, and he talked to me for a few minutes, part of a story on the efforts of the "vote yes" and "vote no" campaigns. The result was a well-balanced and accurate story, and I commend the KJRH news team for their good work: "Vision2 vote nears, both sides step up campaign efforts." I thought they did a good job of picking out quotes that represented the two campaigns.

Michael Bates is a blogger and a staunch opponent of the tax plan.

"It doesn't make sense for us to commit money that we don't begin collecting for four years and to spend almost $100 million just on interest to carry debt for 17 years," said Bates, who believes much of Vision2 amounts to corporate welfare.

Bates said he believes Vision2 was put on the ballot too quickly.

"The Vision2 plan is too rushed, too soon, and too sloppy the way it was put together," said Bates....

For his part, Bates believes it would be a better idea for cities to pass a six-tenth sales tax to replace the current Vision 2025 tax when it expires. He said the cities would be able to spend the money on whatever projects they think are necessary, without a say from the county.

"The city of Tulsa, for example, would raise $150 million more than we get from the Vision2 program," said Bates.

I made it clear that I wasn't speaking for all opponents of Vision2, and notice that KJRH was careful to qualify that statement with "For his part." They did a good job of summarizing my alternative proposal.

BetterVisionForTulsa.png

According to county employee Michael Willis, however, no one in the opposition has submitted anything better than his bosses' scheme.

"They've not participated in public input meetings. You have two different kinds of people in that campaign --people who are promoting themselves for individual public office and the people who are always on the 'no' side of just about every issue," said Willis.

Several opponents did go to public input meetings. I spoke at the meeting where the Tulsa City Council voted on how Tulsa's tiny cut of the funds would be allocated. But it's true that opponents did not line up demanding money for our pet causes. We wanted more than a slight rearrangement of the distribution of the $750 million. We disagree with fundamental aspects of the Vision2 county tax scheme that were set in stone before the public meetings were held.

Perhaps, from Willis's perspective, my proposal isn't worth considering because it doesn't include corporate welfare for a bankrupt airline that may well not exist by the time we begin paying back the money we borrowed to bail them out. Maybe he dislikes my plan's lack of an uncapped corporate welfare fund under the guidance of the same folks who gave us Great Plains Airlines. Maybe it's no good because it doesn't let the county's favored bond underwriters, bond attorneys, and program management contractors "wet their beaks." Maybe my idea is lousy because it cuts his bosses, the county commissioners, out of the decision-making process.

The vitriol from the "Vote Yes" side is disappointing, particularly coming from a Republican. You'd hope a Republican would see the inefficiency in passing tax dollars destined to be used by city governments through county government. You'd hope a Republican would have qualms about incurring debt that we'll still be paying off when my 6-year-old son is working on his doctorate.

And of course, Willis is wrong to believe that only opponents of past tax plans are opposed to Vision2. Many supporters of Vision 2025 and the River Tax are among the most vocal opponents of Vision2. For example, see recent Urban Tulsa Weekly columns by Ray Pearcey and Bill Leighty, and the statements of opposition from TulsaNow and former Tulsa Councilor Bill Christiansen, who served on the committee that put together the Vision 2025 package.

Here's a direct link to a one-page PDF that explains my alternative to Vision2 and why it's a better vision for Tulsa. (It's a better vision for Broken Arrow and other cities and towns, too.)

MORE: Tulsa County GOP chairman J. B. Alexander called my attention to this story about the Poway, California, school district which is borrowing $105 million for a total cost of $1 billion, because they don't begin paying on principal or interest for 20 years and won't finish paying it back for 40 years.

The bonds are a "kick the can" move to avoid dinging taxpayers now with higher property taxes.

Oh, and the bonds are not callable -- they can't be paid off early or refinanced.

School administrators appear to have looked around at the sluggish economy and property tax revenues and figured, 'Heck, why not defer now and pay nothing at all for decades? We'll be dead by then.'"...

The underwriters for the nearly $1 billion Poway bond deal, Stone & Youngberg, a unit of Stifel Nicolaus, and financial advisor Dolinka Group of Irvine, Calif., will get a sweet $1.4 million in total fees, says FOX News analyst James Farrell.

Citigroup (C), Goldman Sachs (GS), Bank of America/Merrill Lynch (BAC), among others, will split a cool $2.1 million on San Diego's $164 million bond where taxpayers will eventually pay a billion dollars, Farrell notes. ...

In two decades' time, taxpayers in the Poway district will have to start paying about $50 million a year towards the loan -- one-fifth of its current $250 million budget. However, right now, the district only receives about $11 million a year from homeowners towards paying off its bonds.
One estimate says the total assessed value of property within the taxed area would have to quadruple just to cover the eventual $1 billion bill for this one bond alone.

"I think the worst thing you could do is promise you are going to build something and then not have enough money to build it." -- then Tulsa County Commissioner Bob Dick, July 2003

I had been looking at these items in isolation, but I'm beginning to see a pattern emerge. There are several instances with Vision 2025 and with Four to Fix the County Part 2 where the county allocated a small amount of money -- not enough to complete the project, but enough to use the project as a selling point to pass the tax. They're doing the same thing in Vision2. It's bait-and-switch.

American Indian Cultural Center: Vision 2025 included $2 million for this project, which was to be built north of 71st Street along the west bank of the Arkansas River. But according to this 2007 story in Indian Country News, a non-profit group called the National Indian Monument and Institute (NIMI) would have to raise $22 million in private funds to qualify for $2 million in county funds for infrastructure. A further $35 million would be needed for the final phase. It hasn't happened, and it looks like it never will. IRS Form 990 filings for NIMI show only $1,209,279 raised from 2004 to 2010, most of that between 2004 and 2007. NIMI is headed by Monetta Trepp, a Perryman family descendant who owns the Perryman Ranch south of Bixby. Their major annual project seems to be the Tulsa Indian Art Festival, which is listed as DBA on NIMI's 990 forms.

The Vision 2025 county contribution was about 8% of the cost of the first phase, not enough to bootstrap the project toward completion. Had the Tulsa County allocated enough funds to build the facility, they would have had to eliminate or shortchange other vote-getting projects. (The Vision 2025 surplus allocated to complete the BOK Center in high style would have been enough to build the Phase 1 of the AICC and make a good start on Phase 2.)

Tulsa County juvenile justice facility: As documented on BatesLine last week, 4 to Fix the County II included $2,446,625 that was sold to the voters as sufficient to renovate the existing juvenile justice facility and build a four-story addition. But instead of carrying out the promised work, the money was repurposed (six years after the tax was approved by the voters) to buy land on which a more expensive facility would be built. The new facility, with a price tag of $38 million, is on Tulsa County's Vision2 wish list.

Arkansas River low-water dams: Vision 2025 was sold to the public as putting water in the river, with promises that federal money would provide the rest of what was needed to build two new dams and fix the Zink Dam. That never happened. Instead the 2007 Tulsa County river tax was proposed to pay for the dams, and it was claimed (falsely) that Vision 2025 was only intended as seed money. Here's the actual language in the Vision 2025 Proposition 4 ballot resolution:

Construct two low water dams on Arkansas River the locations of which will be determined in the Arkansas River Corridor Plan -- $5.6 million

Zink Lake Shoreline Beautification -- $1.8 million

Design and construct Zink Lake Upstream Catch Basin and silt removal -- $2.1 million

Not planning funds, not engineering funds, not seed money -- "construct two low water dams."

This blog entry from 2007 has a timeline of claims made by Tulsa County officials about the dams and the proposal to use surplus Vision 2025 receipts to complete the dams if other funds are unavailable. My July 25, 2007, UTW column specifically rebuts claims made by county officials that the dams were never promised in Vision 2025. As with the other projects mentioned above, surplus Vision 2025 surplus funds likely would have been sufficient to complete this project, but we used $45.5 million of the surplus to pay for a fancier arena, which committed a similar amount for unspecified suburban projects so the 'burbs would go along with extra money for the arena. (Tulsa County Commissioner John Smaligo acknowledged that these commitments had been made in a May 2012 interview with KFAQ's Pat Campbell.)

This pattern continues with the Vision2 plan. The City of Tulsa's allocation includes $5 million toward the completion of the western legof the Gilcrease Expressway and its crossing of the Arkansas River, a project that the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority estimated would cost $857 million to build. The feasibility study itself cost just shy of $1 million. But putting a token amount toward the project allows the Vote Yes people to claim the Gilcrease Expressway on the list of projects and to claim the endorsements and votes of the expressway plan's biggest fans. Although the amount is a drop in the bucket of what will be required to build the project, it seems to have been enough to win Councilor Jack Henderson's support for Vision2.

The only way to break the county of the bait-and-switch habit is to tell them no.

MORE: A post on Yes to Vision2's Facebook page links a video about KRMG's Great Raft Race, a popular Labor Day weekend event in the '70s and '80s, using it to suggest that Vision2 would make such events possible again. ("I think we can all agree that making some river improvements would help support recreation events!") I replied with a comment that the construction of Zink Dam was the beginning of the end of the Great Raft Race. You need flowing water, not dammed-up water, to have a raft race. The offloading point had been on the east side of the river, just south of the pedestrian bridge, an area now below the dam. The race adjusted after the dam was completed, but it never worked as well after the dam was built, and within a few years they stopped entirely.

NOTE: I'll be on the Pat Campbell Show on KFAQ AM 1170 this morning to talk about Vision2.

It's not right for government to use the same project to sell two different taxes to the voters seven years apart. It's double-dipping. But that's exactly what Tulsa County's commissioners appear to be doing with Vision2.

If you have a long memory, you may recall that improvements to the juvenile justice facility (price tag: $2,446,625) were promised to us if we voted for "4 to Fix the County II," a five-year Tulsa County sales tax extension on the December 13, 2005 ballot, which was approved and went into effect on October 1, 2006.

Seven years later, a juvenile justice facility, with a price tag of $38 million, is at the top of Tulsa County's Vision2 wish list.

At their regular September 10, 2012, meeting, the Tulsa County Board of Commissioners voted for a resolution allocating the share of the Vision2 Proposition 2 funds the County Commissioners held back for county government's own wants.

It took me a while to find any version of the resolution on the tulsacounty.org website. I found the minutes of the September 10 meeting which mentions that the resolution passed but doesn't relate its contents. I found the backup file linked to the agenda item -- but it just says there will be a resolution, but doesn't include the resolution itself.

On the September 4 agenda, I found a draft resolution attached to the agenda, but that agenda item was deferred to the following week's meeting. It's entirely possible that the resolution was amended at the September 10 meeting, but for now this is as close as I can find to an official statement of how the Tulsa County Commissioners intend to allocate the $96.5 million they're keeping for county government. (That's my estimate, based on the average of the first eight years of Vision 2025 receipts -- 53,426,185.35 per year average Vision 2025 receipts / 0.6 cents Vision 2025 tax rate) * 13 years * 0.29 cents Vision2 Prop 2 tax rate * 28.74% allocated by Proposition 2's ballot resolution) )

The top item on the list is $38 million for "Acquiring, designing, constructing, improving or rehabilitating installations, buildings, improvements and infrastructure and other capital improvements to be owned by Tulsa County, Oklahoma, in connection with the provision of juvenile detention, justice, rehabilitation and correction facilities, programs and systems."

As news stories at the time attest, the need for an expanded and renovated Juvenile Justice Center was a key selling point for 4 to Fix II in 2005. An endorsement editorial in the Tulsa World (NewsBank link, Tulsa Library card required) summarized 4 to Fix Proposition 1 as follows: "Renovate the Tulsa County Courthouse and provide adequate facilities for the juvenile justice system that operates out of broom closets, $8 million." A story on a poll about the ballot measure offered these descriptions:

Tulsa County voters on Dec. 13 will consider a five-year extension of the two-twelfths of a cent 4 to Fix sales tax. The tax would generate an estimated $62 million for a four-proposition package designed to expand the Juvenile Bureau, make courthouse complex renovations and improve county parks, roads and Expo Square.

Proposition 1 on the ballot would direct $7.79 million to the juvenile justice center and courthouse complex renovations....

Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed in Tulsa County said they approved of Proposition 1 funding for the Tulsa County Juvenile Bureau, while 25 percent disapproved and 16 percent had no opinion.

In the run-up to the vote, news stories and editorials focused on the need for expanding and improving the District Court's Juvenile Bureau. (Emphasis added.)

Last fiscal year, 5,000 children passed through the 36-year-old Juvenile Bureau complex west of downtown.

Using the most charitable of terms, the building is a disgrace to the justice system -- overstuffed and unsafe, a poor environment for trying to help kids who've run afoul of the law or who've been abandoned or abused by parents or caretakers.

Finally, with the proposed renewal of the "4-to-Fix the County" sales tax, there's hope that the courthouse and Juvenile Bureau will get the attention so desperately needed.

Voters can make that happen Dec. 13 by approving Proposition 1, an $8 million package earmarked for Juvenile Bureau and courthouse expansion....

There's a reason courthouse and Juvenile Bureau improvements are first on the ballot. Expansion is critical to the efficient and safe administration of justice. Funds would produce a four-story addition at the Juvenile Bureau and a build-out of the fourth floor of the courthouse to include new courtrooms. Proposition 1 money also would remodel and expand first-floor misdemeanor and traffic courtrooms and relocate the jury assembly room from the courthouse basement to the county Administration Building.

Judges and the county bar association urged approval. (Emphasis added.)

Tulsa County judges spoke out Monday in favor of the Dec. 13 "4 to Fix the County" election, especially an estimated $7.79 million in improvements it projects for the county's Juvenile Bureau and the downtown courthouse.

Juvenile crime and child neglect have far outpaced the piecemeal improvements that have been made to the 1968-vintage Tulsa County Juvenile Bureau at 315 S. Gilcrease Museum Road, the judges say....

The Tulsa County Bar Association also is supporting the effort, President Pat O'Connor said.

The group doesn't typically get involved in such measures, but the court's needs are severe, O'Connor said....

The juvenile bureau would get a four-story addition.

[Sheriff Stanley] Glanz said he considers the criminal justice portion of the 4 to Fix vote to be the most important public safety issue of all the propositions.

The vote to renew the 4 to Fix the County sales tax in December 2005 was voted on almost a year before its scheduled expiration at the end of September 2006.

Four propositions and a question were put before the voters. (Here's a link to the December 13, 2005, Tulsa County sample ballot.)

Here is the text of 4 to Fix II, Proposition 1:

"Shall the County of Tulsa, Oklahoma, by its Board of County Commissioners, levy and collect twelve percent (12.0%) of a two-twelfths percent (2/12%) sales tax for the purpose of funding Juvenile Justice Center and Courthouse Complex renovations, improvements, furnishings and equipment, and/or to be applied or pledged toward the payment of principal and interest on any indebtedness, including refunding indebtedness, incurred by or on behalf of Tulsa County for such purpose, commencing October 1, 2006 and continuing thereafter for a period of five (5) years?"

The ballot resolutions no longer appear to be online and were not captured by the Internet Archive.

The "Do the River First" website listed the 4 to Fix II projects and proposed amounts to be spent on each. Here's the list from Proposition 1.

Juvenile Crime Bureau $ 2,446,625
Courtrooms - 4th Floor $ 2,525,000
Jury Assembly Room Addition & Remodel Traffic Ct. $ 2,825,000

All four propositions were approved on December 13, 2005, and presumably the county now would have the money for the needed renovation and expansion. Surely the county would move full speed ahead to meet this urgent need.

But nothing was done.

A January 31, 2007 update about the project on Tulsa County's "4 to Fix" website:

The construction manager has been selected and the architect's contract has been approved. The project program is being developed for improvements which include a combination of additional building space and remodel of portions of the existing interior now in use.

December 24, 2007 update:

The project program is being confirmed in order to develop recommendations for the Facility, which may include a combination of additional building space and remodel of portions of the interior.

And then no updates at all until May 28th, 2009:

The architectural selection is complete with Tulsa County selecting Selser Schaefer Architects for the project design.

So two years and two months after "the architect's contract has been approved" we appear to have a new architect selected.

An August 14, 2009, update indicates that the "architectural programming work" is about to get started. A series of updates mentions visits to key facilities in September 2009, a "draft program document and (very) preliminary plans" in November 2009, "final program and preliminary design concepts are expected to be complete in January 2010" as of December 2009, slipping to February in the January update.

The May 2010 the update merely said "The architectural programming work is nearing completion." The June 2010 update said "The architectural programming work is on hold," and there it remained for over a year.

In the midst of that year-and-a-half gap, county officials began to claim that a future "4 to Fix" package would be needed to fund a juvenile justice facility. In an October 2008 op-ed in Urban Tulsa Weekly, County Commissioner Fred Perry used the state of the county's juvenile justice facilities to explain why Tulsa should leave the county's 2/12th cent 4 to Fix sales tax alone, rather than claim it to fund street reconstruction:

By State Law, Tulsa County is responsible for providing the Juvenile Bureau facilities in this county. The existing facilities are exceedingly small and in poor condition. The City of Tulsa has 80 percent of the juveniles in need of supervision, detention, counseling and court space. In the meetings I arranged with the City Councilors, Judge Doris Fransein, the Juvenile District Judge, and Director Brent Wolfe showed the counselors pictures of the present facilities and explained why a new facility was badly needed.

Eventually, the county changed course, redirecting nearly all of the money allocated by 4 to Fix II for an improved juvenile justice center toward merely acquiring land for a new center, patching the old center in the meantime. The July 2011 update:

Tulsa County authorized approximately $2.0 million from these funds to be moved to the County general fund in order to be re-tasked for use in site acquisition for a future new facility. Temporary work at the existing facility is being developed to address required action and improvements by The City of Tulsa. The Fire Marshall is requiring automatic fire suppression be added in the "courts" portion of the facility.

Why didn't the County Commission spring into action as soon as voters approved the funds in December 2005? Why did they wait until construction costs went up? If the allocated amount wasn't enough, why didn't they allocate more in the 4 to Fix II ballot resolutions? Why not claim a share of Vision 2025 surplus money to address this urgent need? Shouldn't safe and secure court facilities for young people be a higher priority than an iconic glass wall for the arena? Shouldn't court facilities be more important than a golf cart barn at LaFortune Park?

But it seems that there is already more money available in the 4 to Fix II fund.

The Funding Report on page 8 of the 4 to Fix the County June 2012 Program Report (original link at 4tofix.info) shows the three line items above under "Criminal Justice Construction Fund" with the above amounts under both the Budgeted and Current Funding columns.

But there's one more line item in that category -- "17 Criminal Justice Construction Fund" -- no budgeted amount, but $4,796,625 in current funding, none of which has been spent. That money, plus Vision 2025 surplus funds, plus any unallocated 4 to Fix II surplus funds, ought to get us very close to sufficient funds for a basic, functional juvenile justice facility. A general obligation bond issue, earmarked for this project only and which expires automatically when the project is complete, could be used to make up any shortfall.

It was irresponsible for the County Commission to let this project fester for years after selling it to the voters as an urgent need. It's downright despicable for them to now ask for more money to do what we gave them money to do seven years ago and to use the project to sell voters on a three-quarter-billion-dollar debt-riddled, pork-filled, corporate-welfare-stuffed boondoggle.

Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr is holding the first in a series of Vision2 public forums tonight (August 27, 2012, Webster High School, 5:30 to 7:30 pm) to ask what projects should be funded with the money the county would <sarcasm>graciously</sarcasm> allow the city to have. Never mind that no public forums were held before the Tulsa County Commission decided to put the three-quarters-of-a-billion-dollars sales tax extension on the November ballot.

Tulsa voters should ask the mayor why any Tulsan should support a Tulsa County scheme that shorts our city $153 million in funds for roads, parks, and other capital projects, a scheme that gives another government body a say in city-owned airport properties, a scheme that gives the Tulsa County Commission veto power over the City of Tulsa's list of projects.

I've put together a simple chart (PDF format) comparing the Tulsa County Commission's Vision2 tax scheme with a plan that spends the City of Tulsa's money to implement the City of Tulsa's vision. You may find it helpful to print out and share with His Honor and His Honor's staffers this evening as you ask him why he's backing a plan that puts the City of Tulsa at such a significant disadvantage. (More here on the math behind the numbers on the chart -- why the City of Tulsa would be better off going it alone and taking over the Vision 2025 0.6 cent tax as a city tax when the Vision 2025 tax expires at the end of 2016.)

BetterVisionForTulsa.png

IVoted.jpgFor your convenience, here is a list of the candidates I've endorsed, will be voting for, or otherwise recommend in the August 28, 2012, Oklahoma Republican runoff. Early voting is already underway; as this is a Federal election, early voting ("in-person absentee") began Friday and will be available at the Tulsa County Election Board at 555 N. Denver Ave in Tulsa on Monday, August 27, 2012, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (All county election boards offer early voting at those times; click this link for your county election board's location.)

As I have time, I'll add links to endorsements I've already made, brief notes about those I haven't previously written about. Here's a link to the archive of BatesLine posts about Oklahoma Election 2012.

2nd Congressional District: George Faught: The only candidate with legislative experience, a track record of conservative leadership, and long-time residence in the district. Endorsed by major conservative groups and icons like Mike Huckabee, Phyllis Schlafly, David Barton of Wall Builders, Mike Farris, founder of the Home School Legal Defense Fund, Conservative Women for America PAC, Family Research Council Action PAC, Gun Owners of America PAC, and State Auditor Gary Jones. Faught's gaffe-prone opponent, Markwayne Mullin, has numerous political liabilities ripe for exploitation by the Democratic nominee. For example, Mullin claims to live in the 2nd district, but still claims a homestead exemption on a home in the 1st Congressional District. There's also the matter of the BATF raid on Mullin's business premises and questions about facilitating gun acquisition by a convicted felon in Mullin's employ. If Republicans are to have any hope of gaining this seat from the Democrats, we need a standard-bearer who won't stick his foot in his mouth, someone who has the knowledge and eloquence to explain to yellow-dog Little Dixie Democrats why the Republican Party best represents their values and concerns. George Faught, elected three times in a majority Democrat State House district, has what it takes.

Tulsa County Clerk: Dean Martin: Martin's central theme is greater transparency in county records. His opponent, the current deputy, seems satisfied with a public records system that requires monthly fees and the permission of the county commission for full online access. The Tulsa County Clerk's office needs new vision and direction, and that won't happen under a member of the current leadership team.

House 70: Shane Saunders: Shane's hands-on experience with the legislative process, his personal involvement with the oil and gas industry, his sharp mind, his devotion to his Christian faith and his family, and his affable nature will all be valuable assets not only to the citizens of House District 70, but to the majority Republican caucus and to the State of Oklahoma. Shane's also a new dad, married with a one-year-old daughter.

Disclosure: I do computer data processing work for the Saunders campaign.

This is pretty clever: A Tulsa County voter noticed that his signs supporting Dean Martin for Tulsa County Clerk kept disappearing from his yard. After losing several, he put a GPS tracker in one. It disappeared, too, but they found out who had the sign and a bunch of others besides:

When they followed the tracker, they were able to catch the campaign manager of Pat Key, Lee Alan Belmonte, on video stealing signs.

They called Bixby Police who arrested Belmonte for knowingly concealing stolen property. Officers found more than 30 campaign signs in his vehicle.

Lee_Alan_Belmonte-mugshot-20120826.jpgLee Alan Belmonte, a 59-year-old resident of Bixby, was arrested at 7:57 a.m. this morning by Bixby Police and was booked at 10:37 am at the David L. Moss Correctional Center.

A subsequent report from the Dean Martin campaign says that Belmonte isn't the campaign manager for Key, but he is a Pat Key volunteer and his wife works at the County Clerk's office:

We have received word from sources from the Key campaign that Lee Belmonte isn't the campaign manager. However, we have confirmed he is a volunteer. He claims to have 2 other crews helping him. And his wife works at the County Clerk's office under Pat Key. We know he has been paid in the past for putting up campaign signs. We don't know if he has been paid by Pat Key's campaign to do the same.

You may say this isn't reflection of Pat Key. However, people have given her campaign descriptions of the vehicle and the person stealing the signs in the past 2 weeks. And to not shut Lee down immediately, when they had a description of the vehicle and a partial plate number, well that's for the voters to decide if Pat should be held accountable for Lee's criminal actions...

It's worth mentioning that there is no civil service protection for county employees. They serve at the will of the elected official. While I suspect that any newly elected official would retain most of the worker bees from the previous administration, someone in management may reasonably fear being replaced by someone close to the newly elected official -- strong motivation to help your boss get elected.

MORE: Here's video of more than 30 Dean Martin signs being unloaded from Belmonte's van by the Bixby Police:

Another race that will be decided in the August 28, 2012, runoff election is the race for Tulsa County Clerk. No Democrats filed for the open seat, and none of the three candidates received a majority in the June primary, so the runoff between the top two finishers -- Pat Key and Dean Martin -- will decide who will take over this important county post.

Dean_Martin_County_Clerk.jpgAlthough many people I respect are supporting Key, and although Key bought an ad on this site, I believe it is time for a change in leadership at the County Clerk's office, so I am endorsing Dean Martin for Tulsa County Clerk.

Key is the current chief deputy, running to succeed her boss, Earlene Wilson. Wilson was first elected in 2000 to succeed her boss, Joan Hastings. The County Clerk's job is keeping and providing access to public records, including deeds, contracts, agendas, and meeting minutes. As I wrote before the primary, the current County Clerk's office administration, in which Pat Key has been chief deputy, has dragged its feet in providing complete access to the public, and thus Tulsa County lags badly behind other jurisdictions:

The inconvenience of driving to the county courthouse to get complete information about property transactions is no accident, sadly. It's part of the philosophy of the incumbent, a philosophy I assume is shared by Key, the current deputy. The incumbent administration seems to see public access as a problem to be managed, not as an opportunity to serve the public interest. There's a stark difference between the openness and ease of access to be found on the Oklahoma County Clerk's website compared to what you find on the Tulsa County Clerk's website....

Long-time readers will know that I've long been frustrated by the Earlene Wilson/Pat Key administration's foot-dragging on public disclosure. (Here's a complaint from 2004, a response to a March 2009 Journal Record column by Ted Streuli titled "Tulsa County Clerk Earlene Wilson is picking your pocket," and a concern raised this year when Pat Key might not draw an opponent.) Pat Key was Wilson's deputy throughout Wilson's tenure as County Clerk and never raised a public objection, as far as I've found, to Wilson's access-thwarting policies.

Pat Key seems like a decent person and by all accounts a competent manager. It might be very wise for Dean Martin to keep her on as chief deputy if she were willing to stay. But competent management is not enough when an organization isn't moving in the right direction.

The County Clerk's office needs a new direction, a new guiding vision, a change from the leadership of the last twenty years, which seems stuck in the pre-World Wide Web era. I believe that Dean Martin can bring that kind of leadership to the County Clerk's office.

Dean Martin is a lifelong Tulsan, a graduate of Will Rogers High School and Oklahooma State University. Martin has over 30 years of business experience, including the recruitment, training, and management of personnel. He has been endorsed by County Assessor Ken Yazel, former State Senator Randy Brogdon, and former TU football coach and Tulsa County Republican Vice Chairman Dave Rader.

As Tulsa County Clerk, Dean Martin will also give taxpayers another strong advocate for their interests and public transparency on the Tulsa County Budget Board. The County Clerk is one of eight members of the budget board. Right now, only one member of that budget board believes that all county revenues and expendtitures, including those of authorities and trusts, should be included in the county budget. Dean Martin agrees with County Assessor Ken Yazel that the budget should cover all sources of revenue and all county expenditures. Pat Key's boss didn't support that idea in the budget board meeting this year, and Pat Key hasn't expressed any disagreement with her boss on that point.

I'm also pleased that Dean Martin has come out in opposition to the idiotic Vision2 proposal -- the tax, AA corporate welfare, and pork barrel package put forward by the County Commission for November's ballot. Many elected officials may think Vision2 is poorly thought out, but few will have the courage to speak out against it. Hundreds of thousands of dollars will back the vote yes side, much of it from people and companies who stand to make a pile of money if it passes. It's a big help for the opposition when elected officials are willing to speak out against an ill-considered tax, borrow, and spend plan like Vision2. Pat Key has not taken a public stand on the issue.

Dean Martin's vision for greater access and transparency has already encouraged some positive changes in the county clerk's office. The office used to close over lunch hour, and Dean Martin said that as clerk he would have workers stagger their lunch breaks so that the office could remain open. Since so much information is only available by going to the office in person, it's important to keep the office open when people with regular jobs have the opportunity to visit. Sometime recently, this policy was implemented.

Pat Key's campaign has made much Tulsa County's A+ rating from Sunshine Review. As someone who uses government websites to research what I write here, I've always been baffled by that A+, as so much of the information I seek has not been available online. The website's disclaimer page may explain the gap between perception and reality (emphasis added):

Sunshine Review is an online open-content collaborative encyclopedia, that is, a voluntary association of individuals and groups working to develop a common resource of human knowledge. The structure of the project allows anyone with an Internet connection to alter its content. Please be advised that nothing found here has necessarily been reviewed by people with the expertise required to provide you with complete, accurate or reliable information.

That is not to say that you will not find valuable and accurate information in Sunshine Review; much of the time you will. However, Sunshine Review cannot guarantee the validity of the information found here. The content of any given article may recently have been changed, vandalized or altered by someone whose opinion does not correspond with the state of knowledge in the relevant fields.

That means it's entirely possible for a Tulsa County employee to have rated the county's website and given it an A+.

As I look at the criteria by which county records are supposed to be graded, it seems to me the county deserves an "incomplete" in most categories. For example, I don't see a checkbook register or credit card receipts posted online, a requirement listed in the budget category. Minutes of past meetings are there for some boards and authorities, but not all.

Some contracts are posted, but many appear to be missing -- e.g. any contracts for the Tulsa County Industrial Authority (TCIA), the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority (TCPFA, aka the Fair Board) contract for the Tulsa State Fair midway, the TCPFA lease agreement for Big Splash, the County Treasurer's contract with the office's outside legal counsel -- and others are missing appendices and attachments -- e.g. the Arabian Horse Show contract. Sunshine Review says that a vendor's campaign contributions should be posted with the contract, but I don't see any campaign contribution info on the website at all.

With incompletes in at least five of 10 categories, Tulsa County's website should have a C at best from Sunshine Review. While there have been some recent improvements -- making it easier to find minutes from the agendas, hotlinking agenda items to backup information, both at least partly as a result of my feedback -- it is not an A+ site, and it's a ridiculous boast to claim that it is. There is plenty of room for improvement, as you can see by comparison to the county website that the Sunshine Review criteria list points to as a paragon of transparency: Anderson Co., South Carolina.

It's time for an honest assessment of Tulsa County's efforts to gather, preserve, and make government information public, in an age when "public" means "online." We need an honest grade, not grade inflation, and a concrete plan for improvement. I see no reason to believe that someone from the current administration would depart from the current administration's foot dragging.

The Tulsa County Clerk's office needs new leadership devoted to convenient and complete public access to public information. Dean Martin has that aim as his vision, and that's why I'm voting for Dean Martin for Tulsa County Clerk.

I've been told that my name has been mentioned in connection with the decision of the Tulsa County Republican Party County Committee to censure County Commissioners John Smaligo and Fred Perry for their vote to put the Vision2 sales tax on the ballot for November. For the moment, a few disconnected thoughts will have to suffice:

1. I attended the meeting as a precinct chairman and thus as a member of the County Committee, not as a blogger or member of the media. This is why I didn't live-blog or live-tweet the proceedings and haven't written about what individuals said during debate or how they voted. A county committee meeting is not the kind of semi-public event that a party convention is. The press wasn't invited to attend.

2. I was asked by Vice Chairman Mike McCutchin to hold off on publishing anything about the resolution and the censure until the chairman issued an official press release, and I have done so.

3. There was unanimity in opposition to the Vision2 proposal. The debate was over what should be said in a resolution. I argued against one proposal (brought forward by Greg Hill, not "Gary Hill" as the Whirled story had it), which would have incorporated my blog entry that compared Vision2 to President Obama's policies. I argued that language appropriate to an individual expressing his own opinion might not be appropriate to a statement coming from the party as a body. Someone else pointed out that liberal Democrats have often joined conservative Republicans in opposing local sales tax increases, and the term ObamaVision may give unnecessary offense and hinder an alliance to defeat the tax. Greg Hill's proposal was never actually moved for consideration (another error in the Whirled story; to move things along, I moved for adoption of Ronda Vuillemont-Smith's shorter, simpler resolution.

4. Support for censure was overwhelming; there were only three votes against. The topic came up during the debate over the resolution opposing Vision2, and after some back and forth there was a consensus that any censure should be a separate matter, not part of the resolution addressing Vision2.

5. Yes, I made the motion for censure, but I wouldn't have bothered had there not already been a strong consensus in support of the idea, as voiced during the debate on the resolution. I don't recall there being much debate on censure -- people were either for it or against it. I certainly didn't have to twist any arms.

6. Putting a tax on the ballot is not a neutral act, as Commissioners Smaligo and Perry would like you to believe. I don't recall either of them ever putting forward a ballot measure to cut TCC's millage rate or end the Vision 2025 sales tax as soon as sufficient reserves exist to meet all outstanding obligations, although both ideas are worthy of discussion. They haven't given us a choice between spending three-quarters of a billion dollars on Vision2 vs. a short-term G. O. bond issue to, say, rebuild the levees. No, they picked one particular proposal -- a particularly bad proposal, vague, hastily assembled, and packed with corporate welfare and pork barrel, heavy laden with interest and fees -- to put before voters, and they blocked any alternative from coming before us. They've only given us a yes or no option. They have therefore endorsed this proposal by putting it on the ballot.

7. Furthermore -- and this is what makes their vote particularly deserving of censure -- this is now the second time that they have forced the grassroots fiscal conservative Republicans who got them elected to spend their personal time and treasure trying to counter a "vote yes" campaign with hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend on ads and consultants.

I remember primary runoff night in 2006, standing in Fred Perry's living room and looking around at all the conservative activists who had volunteered for Fred. These same people had worked hard to defeat previous tax increases, and they supported Fred for County Commission because they believed he was a limited-government, low-tax, free market conservative who would fight to reign in the growth of county government and oppose new taxes.

Instead, Perry and Smaligo voted to put the river tax on the ballot -- a flawed plan that would have raised the overall rate of sales tax. (Yes, Mr. Smaligo, you have indeed voted for a tax increase.) I suspect at least 90% of the people in that room that night would now express disappointment with Fred Perry, and I suspect that many of John Smaligo's supporters from 2006 feel the same way. Now they've put a second tax on the ballot, and for conservative Republicans it's another slap in the face. Once may be forgivable; twice is not.

8. This Republican county platform took a clear stand in opposition to renewing the Four to Fix the County sales tax. No one dreamed that they'd come after Vision 2025 renewal more than four years before it's set to expire, or I'm certain that a plank opposing Vision 2025 extension would have passed overwhelmingly.

9. To those who think the parties should remain silent on this issue, I agree that this isn't a Republican v. Democrat issue. But the Vision2 proposal violates Republican free market and limited-government principles which are clearly outlined in the party platform, so it's appropriate for Republican activist leaders to oppose it on principle. We don't approve of stimulus packages and bailouts at the Federal level; why should support them on a local level? Liberal Democrats may also conclude that the proposal violates some of their key principles -- for example, the use of a regressive sales tax to funnel money to politically connected companies should be anathema to consistent liberals and conservatives alike, if for somewhat different reasons. I would hope that consistent progressive Democrats would push their party to take a stand opposing Vision2 as well.

10. To the Whirled commenter who accuses me of hypocrisy: I left that company seven years ago for better opportunities, long before Broken Arrow offered to help fund their new facility. I don't live in that city, so I'll leave it to the people of Broken Arrow to judge whether this was an appropriate use of tax dollars.

A possible response to my earlier entry, Vision2 share vs. Tulsa County municipality population, is that it doesn't count the money in Proposition 1 to improve city-owned facilities and to provide "equipment and fixtures and other capital improvements" for businesses in the "Airport Industrial Complex" as part of Tulsa's share.

Even if that were a wise way to spend $254 million -- and it's not -- the City of Tulsa and its citizens would be far better off financially if the City opposed the Vision2 county tax and raised the city sales tax by the same amount.

There's precedent for the idea: Way back in 2008, when we were debating different approaches to fixing our streets, Councilor Bill Martinson proposed that the city take over county sales tax streams as they expired -- adding two-twelfths of a cent when the County's "4 to Fix the County, Part II" tax expired in 2011, and adding 0.6% when the County's Vision 2025 tax expired at the end of 2016. The overall sales tax would remain the same at 8.517%, but most of the county's share would be shifted to pay for city capital improvements that directly affect our quality of life. The plan ultimately adopted by the City Council and the voters captured the "4 to Fix" 2/12ths, but left the Vision 2025 tax untouched.

Over the last 12 months, the City of Tulsa has collected about $71 million per penny of sales tax revenue. Over 13 years at that level of sales tax collection, the 0.6% sales tax under discussion would generate $553.8 million in revenue for the City of Tulsa. Deduct the $254 million AA bailout from that number, and there'd still be almost $300 million that the City of Tulsa could spend on the priorities in its capital improvements process. Better still, that money would be spent under the tighter competitive bidding laws that apply to the city and the city's more transparent approach to picking projects for capital improvements sales tax packages, a process that has its roots in the Inhofe mayoralty and the original 3rd Penny.

So under the Vision2 plan adopted by the Tulsa County Board of Commissioners, the City of Tulsa would get a $400 million share -- if you count the American Airlines bailout in that amount. If instead the City of Tulsa adopted its own 0.6%, 13 year sales tax, the City of Tulsa would get $553.8 million. For the same overall sales tax level, City of Tulsa would be better off by $153.8 million, a nearly 40% increase in money available for capital improvements.

I can't imagine any rational, honest reason for any City of Tulsa official to go along with Tulsa County's sales tax scheme.

AND ANOTHER THING: Under the Tulsa County Vision2 scheme, the City of Tulsa has to get the County Commission's approval on how the city spends it's share of the Proposition 2 municipal pork barrel bribery fund.

Projects shall be identified by the governing body of each Political Subdivision following public hearing and input of public comment, in such form and process as determined by such governing body, and shall be submitted to the Board of County Commissioners of Tulsa County, Oklahoma to determine whether the sales tax collected pursuant to this Resolution may be properly expended for such Project.

The table below compares each Tulsa County municipality's share of the proposed Proposition 2 sales tax -- 0.29% for 13 years -- with the municipality's share of Tulsa County's population. The figures, from the 2010 U. S. Census, include only the population of each city within Tulsa County (all but three of Tulsa County's municipalities overlap into surrounding counties). The population figure for Tulsa County is for the area of the county not within any municipality -- it's a pretty small percentage.

If you're wondering about Sapulpa: The seat of Creek County annexed the area along I-44 just east of the eastern terminus of the Turner Turnpike. Not many people live there, but there are stores, fast food restaurants, and motels. So Sapulpa gets the city sales tax for the retail development at Tulsa's western gateway.

Political Subdivision Percentage of Sales Tax Political Subdivision Allocated to Projects of Political Subdivision Percentage of Tulsa County Population
Tulsa County* 28.74% 5.77%
City of Tulsa 43.63% 63.91%
City of Bixby 3.13% 3.43%
City of Broken Arrow 12.19% 13.36%
City of Collinsville 0.85% 0.93%
City of Glenpool 1.63% 1.79%
City of Jenks 2.56% 2.80%
City of Owasso 3.98% 4.36%
City of Sand Springs 2.79% 3.07%
Town of Skiatook 0.32% 0.35%
Town of Sperry 0.18% 0.20%
Liberty, Sapulpa, Mannford, Lotsee
0.00%
0.03%
Total 100.00% 100.00%

The Tulsa County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Monday morning, to the disappointment of many and the surprise of none, to put a 13-year sales tax extension on the ballot this coming November, more than four years before the tax is scheduled to expire. The package is being called Vision2 by its supporters. I call it ObamaVision for reasons described in a previous entry. The tax plan is a sort of Keynesian stimulus, much like the Obama stimulus package, borrowing today against future revenues to spend now.

The proposed taxes will last for 13 years without any provision for early termination. They will go into effect just as the Vision 2025 taxes expire at midnight on December 31, 2016 - January 1, 2017. Note that the resolutions leave certain expenses undefined, such as the amount of revenue that will pay debt service and bond fees, the amount of money in the Economic Development Slush Fund. The current Vision 2025 sales tax fund has raised an average of $53,426,185.35 per year over the first eight years of collections. Assuming no growth, Vision2 Proposition 1 would raise about $359 million, leaving over $100 million for debt service and Slush Fund. Proposition 2, the strings-attached bribe fund for the municipalities would raise about $335 million, again assuming no growth.

Tulsa would be a donor city under the scheme. Based on the last 12 months of tax revenue, the City of Tulsa collects a little over $71 million for each penny of sales tax. If the City of Tulsa were to impose its own 0.29% tax, it would collect about $268 million over 13 years. Under the county tax scheme, the City of Tulsa would only receive about $146 million (43.63% of $335 million), about 54% of what it could collect on its own at the same tax rate over the same period.

Below are direct links to the ballot resolutions on the county website. The ballot resolutions define the language that will appear on the ballot and any constraints on how the taxes received can be spent. While much of the text of the resolutions is boilerplate, Section 1 defines what will appear on the ballot, Section 4 defines the amount of tax increase, Section 5 defines the period for collecting the tax, Section 6 defines the rebate, and Section 8 defines how the money is to be spent.

Ballot Resolution for Vision2 Proposition No. 1: American Airlines Bailout, Economic Development Slush Fund

Ballot Resolution for Vision2 Proposition No. 2: Bribes for the cities (with strings attached)

And here is a summary of each, with the text of Section 8:

Proposition No. 1:

0.310% sales tax, collected 1/1/2017 - 12/31/2029 for "promoting economic development within Tulsa County, Oklahoma."

Section 8. It is hereby declared to be the purpose of this Resolution to provide revenue for the purpose of promoting economic development within Tulsa County, Oklahoma, and/or to be applied or pledged toward the payment of principal and interest on any indebtedness, including refunding indebtedness, incurred by or on behalf of Tulsa County for such purpose, including the following projects:

Acquiring, constructing, improving or rehabilitating installations, buildings, improvements and infrastructure and other capital improvements to be owned by Tulsa County, Oklahoma, or the City of Tulsa, Oklahoma or a public trust or trusts formed for the benefit of either or both, for use by industrial or commercial concerns on locations in and around the Tulsa International Airport Industrial Complex.

Not to exceed $122,000,000.00

Acquiring, delivering and installing of equipment and fixtures and other capital improvements to be owned by Tulsa County, Oklahoma, or the City of Tulsa, Oklahoma or a public trust or trusts formed for the benefit of either or both, for use by industrial or commercial concerns on locations in and around the Tulsa International Airport Industrial Complex.

Not to exceed $132,000,000.00

All sales tax revenues in excess of the amounts necessary to complete the above listed projects (not to exceed $254,000,000.00 in total) plus any advance funding costs associated therewith shall be used to fund land, buildings, infrastructure and other capital improvements for the purpose of promoting economic development within Tulsa County, Oklahoma, including funding job creation programs, as determined by a public trust having Tulsa County, Oklahoma, the City of Tulsa, Oklahoma, the City of Bixby, Oklahoma, the City of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, the City of Collinsville, Oklahoma, the City of Glenpool, Oklahoma, the City of Jenks, Oklahoma, the City of Owasso, Oklahoma, the City of Sand Springs, Oklahoma, the Town of Skiatook, Oklahoma and the Town of Sperry, Oklahoma, as its beneficiaries. Such public trust shall have seven trustees consisting of, ex-officio, the three members of the governing body of Tulsa County, Oklahoma, and the Mayor of the City of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and three members each of whom shall be at the time of appointment the Mayor of a municipality, other than the City of Tulsa, Oklahoma, located in whole or in part in Tulsa County, Oklahoma, appointed by the presiding officer of the governing body of Tulsa County, Oklahoma, and confirmed by a majority of the persons who constitute the governing body of Tulsa County, Oklahoma. In the expenditure of all funds hereunder, preference shall be given to local vendors and contractors to the extent permitted by law. In addition, such public trust shall approve any deletion or addition of projects from those listed above and any major change in scope, following a public hearing by such trust.

Proposition No. 2:

0.290% sales tax, collected 1/1/2017 - 12/31/2029 for "purpose of acquiring, constructing, furnishing and equipping capital improvements to be owned by Tulsa County, Oklahoma, incorporated municipalities located in whole or in part within Tulsa County, Oklahoma, or the State of Oklahoma or any instrumentality thereof."

Section 8. It is hereby declared to be the purpose of this Resolution to provide revenue for the purpose of, acquiring, constructing, furnishing and equipping capital improvements to be owned by Tulsa County, Oklahoma, incorporated municipalities located in whole or in part within Tulsa County, Oklahoma, or the State of Oklahoma or any instrumentality thereof, and/or to be applied or pledged toward the payment of principal and interest on any indebtedness, including refunding indebtedness, incurred by or on behalf of Tulsa County or incorporated municipalities located in whole or in part within Tulsa County, Oklahoma for such purpose. All sales tax revenues received shall be used for such purpose, as determined by the following provisions:

"Capital Improvements" as used herein shall mean all items and articles, either new or replacements, not consumed with use but only diminished in value with prolonged use, including but not limited to, the purchase, lease or rental of machinery, equipment, traffic control devices and street lighting systems, furniture and fixtures; the acquisition of all real properties; the construction, reconstruction and repair of buildings, appurtenances and improvements to real property; the construction, reconstruction and repair of roads, highways, streets, alleys, overpasses, underpasses, bridges, trails, sidewalks, and other public ways, including the acquisition of rights-of-way and other real property necessary for such construction; the construction, reconstruction and repair of water systems and facilities, sanitary and storm sewer systems and facilities, drainage improvements, data transmission or processing systems and facilities, and communications systems and facilities, including the acquisition of rights-of-way and other real property necessary for such construction; the costs and expenses related to the aforesaid including, design, engineering, architectural, real property or legal fees.

Sales taxes actually collected shall be used for projects for Tulsa County, Oklahoma, the City of Tulsa, Oklahoma, the City of Bixby, Oklahoma, the City of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, the City of Collinsville, Oklahoma, the City of Glenpool, Oklahoma, the City of Jenks, Oklahoma, the City of Owasso, Oklahoma, the City of Sand Springs, Oklahoma, the Town of Skiatook, Oklahoma and the Town of Sperry, Oklahoma (collectively the "Political Subdivisions") based upon the following percentages of sales tax actually collected:

Political Subdivision Percentage of Sales Tax Political Subdivision Allocated to Projects of Political Subdivision
Tulsa County 28.74%
City of Tulsa 43.63%
City of Bixby 3.13%
City of Broken Arrow 12.19%
City of Collinsville .85%
City of Glenpool 1.63%
City of Jenks 2.56%
City of Owasso 3.98%
City of Sand Springs 2.79%
Town of Skiatook .32%
Town of Sperry .18%
Total 100.00%


Projects shall be identified by the governing body of each Political Subdivision following public hearing and input of public comment, in such form and process as determined by such governing body, and shall be submitted to the Board of County Commissioners of Tulsa County, Oklahoma to determine whether the sales tax collected pursuant to this Resolution may be properly expended for such Project. Any advance funding costs associated with funding a Project prior to the date a sufficient amount of sales taxes is collected for such Project shall be paid by the Political Subdivision from other funds, or shall be paid from such Political Subdivision's allocation of sales tax in such amounts and proportions as determined by the Board of County Commissioners of Tulsa County, Oklahoma.

Don Wyatt of Boondoggle Blog was on KFAQ with Pat Campbell and Eddie Huff recently to discuss his research into the Tulsa County Industrial Authority (TCIA) and the bonds it has issued in support of the privately-owned Montereau, an upscale retirement community near 71st and Sheridan. Wyatt also raised questions about the county's practice of refinancing bonds and how that could provide a financial windfall to the bond advisers and dealers who get the TCIA's bond business without having to compete for it. For all the claims of transparency from county officials, the TCIA's operations are shrouded in mystery, with very little information on the county's website. If I heard correctly, Wyatt learned about TCIA bonds for Montereau through tax filings of the beneficiary entity. I learned about TCIA funding of other private developments through a report on moodys.com.

I hope Don will favor us with a detailed written report of his findings, but in the meantime, please listen to his KFAQ interview.

CassidyTandy.JPGTulsa County Clerk Earlene Wilson is retiring after 12 years in the office. Three candidates are running for the Republican nomination to replace Wilson: Pat Key, Dean Martin, and Cassidy Tandy. It is the only contested county election, and the winner of the Republican primary will win the seat -- only Republicans filed for the office. I will be voting for Cassidy Tandy.

She has eight years experience as a county employee, but Cassidy Tandy, a senior appraiser in the County Assessor's office, is the youngest of the three candidates, which is a distinct plus in this race, as the Tulsa County Clerk's office has long been in desperate need of a new, public-centered approach to maintaining public records. Tandy is of the generation that expects information, especially government information, to be readily available online, and that expectation informs her vision for the County Clerk's office. As she wrote in reply to my question:

I would like to see substantial reform in the manner in which public information is made available to the taxpayers. Currently there are only two methods in which to obtain public documents and information from the Clerk's office. One is to physically drive downtown or to a branch of the public library, and the other is to pay for a subscriber based service at a monthly rate.

In today's fast-paced and business-driven environment, timing can be very important. Easier access to records, without giving up proprietary information, should be made available quickly and without charge. The taxpayers have already paid for the technology, and the infrastructure is in place to allow such a delivery method. Why should taxpayers be burdened with additional out-of-pocket expenses for the cost of a one-time, off-the-shelf software purchase or a program that can be administered in house?

The inconvenience of driving to the county courthouse to get complete information about property transactions is no accident, sadly. It's part of the philosophy of the incumbent, a philosophy I assume is shared by Key, the current deputy. The incumbent administration seems to see public access as a problem to be managed, not as an opportunity to serve the public interest. There's a stark difference between the openness and ease of access to be found on the Oklahoma County Clerk's website compared to what you find on the Tulsa County Clerk's website.

Under Pat Key's leadership at the County Clerk's office, if you want online access to complete Tulsa County land records in the LRMIS system, not only do you have to pay a monthly fee, you have to appear before the county commission and ask their permission.

It's a telling detail: Pat Key's campaign doesn't even have a website. Do we really want a keeper of public records who acts like the internet doesn't exist?

Tandy also wants to make all county expenditures and financial data readily available online. The idea of posting the government's checkbook online, with the ability to search individual transactions, is spreading to state, county, and municipal governments across the country.

She also points out a serious deficiency in the County Clerk's online databases -- the absence of the parcel number, which is used by the County Assessor's office and the County Treasurer's office to track land valuation and taxation. By law this same parcel number should be available for searching County Clerk land records, too, but it's not available in the Tulsa County Clerk system acquired by the Wilson/Key administration.

Beyond the specific responsibilities of the County Clerk, she also serves as a member of the Tulsa County Budget Board. As we saw last week, that's another area where more openness and accountability is required. County Assessor Ken Yazel was the only one of the county's eight elected officials to stand up for a budget that covers all county expenditures, not just the tiny percentage in the general fund. Tandy shares Yazel's commitment to open and complete information to the taxpayer, as opposed to the frustrating resistance to greater and more accessible public disclosure on the part of the Wilson/Key administration.

Long-time readers will know that I've long been frustrated by the Earlene Wilson/Pat Key administration's foot-dragging on public disclosure. (Here's a complaint from 2004, a response to a March 2009 Journal Record column by Ted Streuli titled "Tulsa County Clerk Earlene Wilson is picking your pocket," and a concern raised this year when Pat Key might not draw an opponent.) Pat Key was Wilson's deputy throughout Wilson's tenure as County Clerk and never raised a public objection, as far as I've found, to Wilson's access-thwarting policies.

Land records play an important role in knowing what's going on around Tulsa and are also an important historic resource. As a blogger with a day job, I need access whenever I have time to research and write, which is not during the county clerk's regular business hours. The current system favors those in the real estate and development industry to the disadvantage of the individual citizen.

Another County Clerk responsibility is acting as secretary to the county's boards and commissions. You will look in vain on the Earlene Wilson/Pat Key county clerk's website for meeting minutes or detailed backup material for meeting agendas online. We expect that sort of detail on the Tulsa City Council's website, and we ought to expect it from the county as well.

We need a change in the Tulsa County Clerk's office. We need a candidate who gets the importance of internet access to public records to an informed public. As Tulsa County Clerk, Cassidy Tandy will bring online transparency and accessibility to Tulsa County's public records. Please join me in voting for her in the June 26, 2012, primary.

Boondoggle Blog's Don Wyatt has posted audio of the Tulsa County Budget Board meeting on June 7, 2012.

The Budget Board is made up of the three county commissioners and the five county-wide elected officials: Assessor, Treasurer, Clerk, Court Clerk, and Sheriff. (Although our District Attorney serves only Tulsa County, most DA districts are multi-county, and the office is considered a state, not county, office.)

Wyatt argued very politely, from the law and from the principle of transparency, that the budget being considered by the board should cover more than the roughly $66 million general fund. Another citizen, Naomi Koehn, urged allocating more money to public safety in order to retain sheriff's deputies.

Wyatt said that it seemed to him that the budget as it is, underrepresents the scope of county operations. He compared the $64 million in last year's budget to the amount listed in the Excise Board Appropriated Funds Report and the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, issued following the close of each fiscal year, that puts county spending at roughly $256 to $258 million. Wyatt said it was arguable that the county should go a step further and include in the budget all ad valorem taxes, upwards of $600 million. (I'd go yet another step and include revenues and expenditures of the Tulsa County Industrial Authority, the Tulsa County Criminal Justice Authority, and the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority, and any other county authority handling public money.)

Wyatt pointed out that Oklahoma County's budget is three times bigger than Tulsa County's and includes revenues that Tulsa County excludes -- beginning fund balances (money not spent in the previous year) and special revenues such as federal grants, inmate boarding fees from the state and municipalities, and resale properties. The FY 2011-2012 Oklahoma County budget covers $166.5 million, although the general fund revenues are only $67.8 million, slightly higher than Tulsa County's equivalent figure.

Wyatt also noted a disconnect between the number of employees listed in the budget and the general fund. For example, the sheriff's office budget request is $9.1 million, but the sheriff's office has over 600 employees. That works out to about $15,000 per employee, and obviously that isn't all the revenue the sheriff has available to pay his people and cover other expenses. Sheriff Stanley Glanz said that they used to include other revenues in the budget.

The comment is made -- although at the moment I can't find it again -- that the budget board can't reallocate surplus funds belonging to one of the elected officials. Once money has been allocated to a county official's fiefdom, that official has complete discretion to spend any surplus, and the budget board has no power to reallocate those funds toward more urgent needs. If that's the case, that's yet another example of the lack of checks and balances built into Oklahoma's one-size-fits-all model of county government.

MORE: Further on in the tape, starting about 1:10, there's a discussion of the city's stadium district assessment on county-owned properties, and whether the county budget board ought to protest the assessment. (The general sentiment is to allow big private landowners to carry the water and make the case for a smaller increase in the downtown authority's budget.)

KenYazel.jpgTulsa County Assessor Ken Yazel would like you to focus your attention to how Tulsa County officials are managing your money. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and there's nothing like intense public scrutiny to encourage elected officials to find ways to economize and to discourage them from cutting corners.

One of Yazel's concerns is that Tulsa County's budget doesn't cover all funds that pass through the county's hands. For one example, the conduit loans handled by the Tulsa County Industrial Authority don't even rate a mention. For another example, the county sales tax of 1.017% is not included in the budget, even though it brings in more money (about $80 million per year) than is accounted for in the official budget.

I would copy the text in the Tulsa County 2012-2013 Budget that explains why sales tax revenues are excluded from the official budget, but the PDF is locked so that text can't be copied for pasting elsewhere. How odd is that? So you'll have to read it for yourself -- it's on page 68 of the PDF. You will look in vain for a total amount of sales tax collected this current fiscal year or estimated for the coming fiscal year. My $80 million estimate comes from a line graph on that page, showing monthly receipts ranging from $6 to $8 million a month.

So here's an open letter to Tulsa County citizens from County Assessor Ken Yazel, calling on people to show up at the public hearing this coming Thursday, June 7, 2012, at 2:00 pm.

If you believe we're Taxed Enough Already, if you want all county revenue accounted for in the budget process, if you want to be sure that all county expenditures are transparent, Thursday is a great opportunity to express your concerns to your elected officials.

Dear Citizen,

Remember how much fun you had last year about this time when 20 or more attended a meeting at Tulsa County to observe County Fiscal actions?

This Thursday you can participate at an earlier stage of the budget process; namely, a 'Public Hearing' on the County Budget.

As many as possible to Should attend this Thursday afternoon for the Special Budget Board Meeting. The agenda has not yet been posted for this meeting, but I expect this will be the meeting where the Budget Board hears public input and may on short consideration of any public input approve the Tulsa County Budget for next year (Fiscal Year 2012-2013, beginning July 1, 2012). The input by the public deserves longer consideration so come and voice your concerns.

Remember the outrageous deception in their budget last year...the ones protested by the Tulsa Tax Task Force and which are still proceeding through the Court of Tax Review?

Well, it looks like they're producing the same kind of budget again this year with the same lack of concern for the legal directives and common sense for including 'all' funds managed by the County. They've already published the budget in the paper last week, declaring only about $67 million. We all know that the budget should account for at least 4 times this much, including the carryover funds, the projected taxes and the projected fees that are certain to be paid by the citizens and should be budgeted.

What will it take to pressure or shame our elected officials into following the law?

When: Thursday afternoon, June 7, at 2:00 in Room 119 of the Tulsa County Administration Building, 500 S. Denver.

Please make every effort to be there. Our elected officials need to know we're paying attention.

This past week, Talk Radio 1170 KFAQ's Pat Campbell spoke to a Tulsa County commissioner, the Tulsa County assessor, the mayor, the chairman of the City Council, a former city councilor, and a Tulsa Metro Chamber official this last week about the proposed Tulsa County tax increase to fund airport improvements and to create a $75 million "Close the Deal" fund.

It was interesting to hear County Commissioner Fred Perry respond to County Assessor Ken Yazel's assertions about surplus county funds and Campbell's well-taken point that many of those funds are under the control of boards that have no direct accountability to the voters. Under firm questioning by Campbell, Perry ultimately acknowledged that these officials are mostly beyond the voters' reach.

The members of the Tulsa City-County Library Commission and the Tulsa City-County Board of Health are appointed by the Mayor of Tulsa (confirmed by the City Council) and the Tulsa County Board of Commissioners. The Tulsa Community College Board of Regents are appointed by the Governor of Oklahoma. The seven members of Tulsa Technology Center Board of Education are elected by the voters, but at the low-turnout February school elections, and with seven-year rotating terms, it would take four years to change a bare majority of the board.

Each of these four bodies has a dedicated millage -- a share of the property taxes you pay. The millage appears to be ample to meet each entity's operating needs and then some, even when sales-tax dependent city governments are hurting from economic downturns.

The good news is that each body is insulated from having their funds reallocated for other governmental purposes. When elected officials try to balance priorities across all the different ways government could be spending our tax dollars, the funds controlled by the libraries, the health department, the community college, and the vo-tech school are off limits.

The bad news is that each body is insulated from having their funds reallocated for other governmental purposes. So even if there's a crying need for more police detectives or funds to open the city swimming pools, the surplus for these entities can't be touched to help. Instead, the surplus might be used for facility expansion -- say, a new building.

When these entities run a perennial surplus, when they take in more than they can reasonably spend, it's worth asking the question: How would we go about adjusting the permanent millage for these entities, to make space in the total property tax burden for more pressing needs? Is the governing board (unelected in three of four cases) the only body that can put a millage rate reduction on the ballot? Can the County Commissioners do it? Can it be done by initiative petition?

Or maybe there's a way that these entities could donate surplus monies on a year-by-year basis into a rainy day fund available to level out the dips in revenue for sales-tax dependent cities and towns. Of course, that would likely just give the protected-millage entities the incentive to spend every mill to keep it from going into the fund.

Perry made an interesting point about the way the Vision 2025 ballot was split up, and that some of any Vision 2025 sales tax surplus might not be usable for the airport projects being discussed. But the ballot title categories for each of the three taxes that went into effect are broad enough that I imagine they can fit each proposed expenditure into one or another -- "TO FUND CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS FOR THE PURPOSE OF PROMOTING ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT", "TO FUND EDUCATIONAL, HEALTH CARE AND EVENTS FACILITIES FOR THE PURPOSE OF PROMOTING ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT", "FOR THE PURPOSE OF CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS FOR COMMUNITY ENRICHMENT".

Perry used his last minute decrying a statement by Ken Yazel as "outrageous," "despicable," "irresponsible." According to Perry, Yazel "basically said that commissioners bring these kind of proposals forward -- first of all, we didn't bring this proposal forward, but -- commissioners have these bond issues and bond refinancing and put tax issues out there to benefit their friends, to benefit people that get the fees, that get the fees from the issuing." Perry said people ought to challenge Yazel to prove his allegation.

Here's what Yazel said the day before in a call to KFAQ:

What is driving this is how big can we make the bond issues so we get the bond fees generated so that people who really want to make money can make money, and it has nothing to do with the benefit of the taxpayers; it has more to do with generating these bonds. And by the way, follow the money, but follow the fees. If they go into an authority, they're one step removed from the taxpayers authority, and it's even worse once they do a contract for non-competitive bond fees. Do you know where they're going and who's benefitting? No. It can't be audited, and it's a shame, and they ought to get out of that business.These people, in my opinion, don't care about the project, they care about generating fees.

I raised similar concerns last week.

The Tulsa County Commissioners, as the board members of the Tulsa County Industrial Authority, could easily dispel the concerns Yazel expresses by publishing on the internet a full accounting of the money handled by TCIA, including the funds raised by the Vision 2025 and Four to Fix the County sales taxes, as well as conduit loans that aren't tied to tax revenue. Contracts between the TCIA and their vendors and advisers, etc., should also be disclosed online.

Every dollar has a destination. Some dollars went directly to program costs, for example, the annual payment to the Oklahoma Aquarium. Some dollars are repaying bondholders -- those can be further divided into principal, interest, and fees. The money received from the sale of bonds should likewise Some dollars may have been used to pay support contractors -- perhaps program managers, bond attorneys, bond advisers, bond underwriters. Some dollars may be sitting in an account in reserve -- those can be divided into reserves for specific projects or for future debt service. All of that should be spelled out, online, broken out by payee. And if a payee is an LLC, as taxpayers we deserve to have a list of owners of more than, say, a 5% share. Then let the taxpayers weigh that information for themselves.

MORE: I appreciate Pat Campbell's pursuit of this issue and his willingness to ask pointed questions of these elected officials. You can find all of Pat Campbell's interviews here; here are direct links to the specific interviews:

From the grooveyard of forgotten favorites, here's a song from the summer of 2003 and the run-up to the Vision 2025 sales tax vote, a parody of "All That Jazz," written and sung by then-KFAQ morning show sidekick Gwen Freeman, with patter from morning show host Michael DelGiorno. I came across it tonight while looking for something else, but it was a timely find; since an entirely new set of Tulsa County Commissioners is talking about increasing or extending the Vision 2025 sales tax, even though the original tax still has four more years to run. Click the picture to listen.

KFAQ-AllThatTax.jpg

"Feasibility, schmeasibility! We don't need no stinkin' study!"

Just as they did in 2003, Tulsa "leaders" are preying on anxieties about job losses to justify siphoning more of your tax dollars through county government to favored businesses. Two possibilities are being discussed to raise $340 million: Either a county-wide sales tax increase of 0.4 percent or an extension of the Vision 2025 0.6 percent county sales tax beyond its December 31, 2016, expiration date. The proposal would include $260 million for airport infrastructure improvements and $80 million for a "close the deal fund" -- money we could throw at businesses to convince them to relocate to Tulsa. It all amounts to corporate welfare, with government picking winners and losers, rather than creating a favorable environment in which any business could flourish. (NOTE: More recent reports specify the number as $254 million for airport infrastructure improvements and $75 million for the slush fund, for a total of $329 million.)

The proposal is the wrong approach to economic development, the wrong method to finance it, and the wrong body to oversee it.

They're calling this idea "Vision for Jobs" but that's what Vision 2025 was supposed to be. In 2003, we were told that the Vision 2025 tax would fix our economy, in a slump after the tech and telecom crash of the early 2000s. Evidently, it didn't work, or they wouldn't be asking for more money now. Rather than allowing that $340 million to circulate freely in the local economy, rather than encouraging diversification of the economy, the civic leaders that brought us the Great Plains Airlines disaster want to put an even bigger bet on commercial aviation, a struggling sector of the national economy.

Our Republican County Commissioners ought to be pouring cold water on the idea. That they seem to be seriously entertaining it might lead a cynic to suspect this is a grab by Tulsa County officials to keep the money flowing through the Tulsa County Industrial Authority to its favored vendors -- bond attorneys, bond advisers, bond underwriters, program management firms, construction companies. Vision 2025 is coming to an end in 2016, and in order for the County Commissioners to continue to manage hundreds of millions of dollars, they urgently need to find another pretext for keeping the bucks flowing. American Airlines's Chapter 11 bankruptcy came along at a convenient time.

County Commission Chairman John Smaligo was on KFAQ's Pat Campbell Show Wednesday morning supporting the notion of a Vision 2025 sales tax extension.

Local government can't pull American Airlines out of bankruptcy. It's like trying to put out the sun with a squirt gun. The airline's problems are rooted in labor agreements made when times were fat and in a particular Clinton administration decision in 1993 that undermined AA's leverage to deal with excessive union demands. The airline's survival depends solely on its success in restructuring its costs with the cooperation of its creditors and its unions. Assuming it does survive, AA has a huge investment in buildings, equipment, and -- most importantly -- skilled personnel in Tulsa that it wouldn't be likely to abandon.

And if they decide to go, notwithstanding that investment, plus the state and local subsidies American Airlines has already received ($22.3 million from Vision 2025, plus state Quality Jobs Act tax credits, among others), no amount of additional subsidy will keep them here.

Wichita, Kansas, found that out earlier this year. The World Trade Organization identified $475.8 million dollars in subsidies from Wichita to Boeing, in addition to uncountable withholding tax exemptions, property tax exemptions, and sales tax exemptions. Kansas federal legislators expended a great deal of political capital to help Boeing land the contract to build the KC-46, the US Air Force's next generation aerial refueling tanker, with the expectation that Boeing would bring 7,500 new jobs to the state. For all that public assistance, Boeing announced in January that it was completely abandoning Wichita and Kansas, taking 2,100 jobs -- a net loss of nearly 10,000 jobs, not counting supplier jobs lost. (Here is the home page for the WTO case dealing with Boeing's subsidies.)

There's some question about how much of the proposed $340 million would even go to help American Airlines with its specific needs. News stories hint that some of the money would be used for Tulsa's World War II era Air Force Plant No. 3. And I haven't seen this mentioned in connection with the proposed tax, but I wouldn't be surprised if some of it is earmarked for the multimodal facility discussed earlier this year in connection with transferring city property around Gilcrease Museum to TU. And of course there's that $80 million in walking-around money.

That brings us to the matter of oversight. If past history is a guide, the revenues from a county sales tax would be run through the Tulsa County Industrial Authority, which would issue revenue bonds to finance projects. The TCIA is a trust created under state law whose board consists of the three County Commissioners. As a trust, the TCIA isn't bound by some of the legal strictures that apply to county government.

We ought to be very skeptical of giving more tax money to the TCIA to handle. Few local government bodies are less accountable to the public than the TCIA. They do not competitively bid their bond contracts. Vague agendas for the TCIA's meetings are posted online (here's the latest example), without detailed backup information; meeting minutes are not posted online. (Correction 2012/08/09: I am informed by Commissioner Fred Perry that meeting minutes are online. They're in a separate section of the website from the agendas. They are, however, as vague as the agendas.)

The TCIA lends tax-exempt bond money to private organizations -- over $679 million in outstanding conduit debt as of June 30, 2011 -- but you won't find a list of borrowers or repayment terms on the county's website. You will find, if you go to a bond rating site like moodys.com, that the TCIA has lent money to Saint Francis Health System (over $200 million), St John, Hillcrest, Holland Hall School, University of Tulsa, and a variety of private real estate development deals. The TCIA is able to lend money to private corporations on more favorable terms than the commercial market because the bonds they sell are tax-exempt.

(More links mentioning TCIA's lending to private entities: Summary of Standard and Poor's report on TCIA Saint Francis bonds and an EDGAR filing of an investment fund that has TCIA Saint Francis bonds in its portfolio.)

(Here is the Tulsa County 2011-2012 Budget Book and the Tulsa County Industrial Authority 2011 Audit. I couldn't find any specifics in these documents about the recipients of conduit loans, just the aggregate amount of conduit debt owed by TCIA.)

A couple of those real estate deals involved John Piercey, a close friend of then-County Commissioner Bob Dick, who also has served as the TCIA's bond adviser. The Tulsa World reported in 2002 that the TCIA lent Piercey's company $15 million to buy and rehabilitate several apartment complexes, then five years later lent an
out-of-state entity $30 million to buy and rehabilitate the same complexes from Piercey's company. Perhaps this sort of lending went away as that generation of county commissioners left office, but there's still not enough specific data online about the TCIA's operations to know. (CORRECTED: The time between the two transactions was five years, not 15 years.)

And speaking of transparency, it's a bad sign that, in his interview with Smaligo, Pat Campbell had to rely upon a leaked report provided by a source wishing to remain anonymous in order to know that a $40 million surplus was projected for the Vision 2025 sales tax. Shouldn't we be able to see projected revenues, outstanding debt and outstanding obligations at a glance on the official Tulsa County website?

In 2007, when I tried to find out the projected Vision 2025 surplus, and whether it might be sufficient to finance the Arkansas River dams promised as part of that package, I was shuffled from one county office to another only to find that no sworn county official had that information. Instead, the information was provided by the aforementioned Mr. Piercey, who was by then not under contract to the county, but described himself as an "unpaid monitor of the monthly sales tax receipts and the preparation of a semi annual update of the status of the financial condition of the program."

Campbell's interview with Smaligo contained another fascinating bit of information: When Tulsa was allocated, by the Tulsa County Vision Authority, $45.5 million extra to pay for the super-deluxe-iconic version of the arena, the other Tulsa County municipalities demanded and were promised the chance to split up any Vision 2025 surplus amongst themselves, since the arena was considered a project for the benefit only of the City of Tulsa. So effectively, the arena overrun cost Tulsa County taxpayers $85.5 million that could have been paid for the low-water dams promised as part of Vision 2025.

Tulsa International Airport is a city-owned facility. If it were appropriate to do anything with tax dollars to improve the airport, it should be done by the City of Tulsa and by its Tulsa Airport Improvements Trust, using revenues generated by airport tenants. Even then, such improvements ought to be of general benefit to current and future passengers, tenants, commercial and general aviation, and not specific to any business.

The proposed "Vision for Jobs" is the wrong tax under the wrong supervision to fund an outdated and discredited economic development strategy. I was heartened to read that polling showed the proposal likely to fail at the polls in November. Fiscal conservatives, opponents of crony capitalism, and opponents of regressive taxation should be able to join together to shut this down before it gets on a ballot.

The TEA Party folks say they're Taxed Enough Already, but several of them who might have run against a Democrat Tulsa County Commissioner (with plans to raise our county sales taxes once again) opted instead to run against Republican legislative incumbents who are working to reduce our state income tax burden. Oh, well.

The announcement waited until Commissioner Karen Keith was safely re-elected without opposition: The Tulsa Metro Chamber's "enVision Summit," to be held at Expo Square Central Park Hall, on April 27, 2012, 8:30 to noon, when normal people are at work.

power-grab.jpgThey say they have no preset agenda, but prominent mention of visits to Indianapolis and Louisville, the announcement of a former Nashville mayor as speaker, and a quote from one of the organizers saying "we are much stronger and can have greater impact if we operate as a region versus our independent cities and towns" suggests they plan to push for regional government and the end to the self-determination of those independent cities and towns.

Indianapolis, Louisville, and Nashville don't just have "cooperation" between local governments -- all three have merged city and county governments into a single entity.

And of course, they are already looking for a list of boondoggles they can use to justify a new Vision 2025 county sales tax, to keep the money flowing through the Tulsa County Industrial Authority (TCIA) and to its favored vendors.

Keith and Frank also said it is time to begin the discussion of life after Vision 2025, a county sales tax that ends in 2017 and has funded $530 million in area projects. What does an extension of a Vision initiative look like?

In 2003, they told us we had to "do something." Although the economy recovered long before the Vision 2025 projects were complete, we're to believe that Vision 2025 caused the recovery, which coincidentally happened everywhere else in the US at the same time. And of course, we're supposed to believe that the arena (voted for in 2003, opened in 2008) caused the Blue Dome District to start revitalizing in 2000.

We spent a half-billion dollars to "revitalize our region" and now they say we need to start planning to spend even more to "invigorate" our region. If you need to keep shocking a body back to life, at some point you have to acknowledge that it's actually dead, and "it wouldn't voom if you put 4000 volts through it."

In 2000 they told us they needed money to "fix" the county. In 2006 they needed even more money to "fix" the county. Either the county is fixed, and they don't need any more money, or they money we gave them didn't really fix anything, and the fix is in.

If city officials around the region really care about the good of the municipalities they're elected to represent, they need to show up on April 27 and tell the county to back off. Every penny the county takes for its pork barrel projects is a penny unavailable for each city and town to set its own priorities. This initiative is a threat to cities and towns having the means to fund basic services and infrastructure.

I would guess that Broken Arrow residents like spending their own sales tax dollars to fix their own streets and fund their own police department. I would further guess they'd be upset if Tulsa Money Belt types had the political means to redirect public funding from Broken Arrow's "parochial concerns" (driveable streets, low crime rate, pools open and parks mowed) to the Tulsa Money Belt's preferred projects.

If BA's council and other municipal officials ignore the real threat this initiative poses to local self-determination now, before it gets off the ground, they may find themselves in a year or two trying in vain to stop the idea once it gets buy-in from everyone who can make money or accrue power from consolidation. The only way to stop this foolishness is to follow Barney Fife's advice: Nip it in the bud.

Tulsa's city officials should take this seriously, too: City of Tulsa tax dollars are funding the Tulsa Metro Chamber, and the Chamber is turning around and spending money to promote a plan that would undermine the City of Tulsa's ability to fund local government and infrastructure. Money, don't forget, is fungible.

Maybe the TEA Partiers will stop searching the skies for black helicopters long enough to notice this local grab for taxes and power. I love what you say you stand for -- limited government, free enterprise, individual responsibility, local autonomy. The question is whether you'll stand up for those ideals when and where it really matters.

And wouldn't it be nice if Tulsa County Commissioners would content themselves to paving county roads, managing the finances of basic county government, and keeping their doggone hands out of our pockets?

(POWER GRAB parody image found here.)

Filing for November's Tulsa City Council elections ended at 5 Wednesday. Tulsa District 4 City Councilor Blake Ewing (a Republican) has been re-elected, having failed to draw an opponent. Long-time District 1 Democrat incumbent Jack Henderson is being challenged by fellow Democrat Twan T. Jones, while Republican District 7 freshman Tom Mansur faces a challenge from 25 year old Republican Arianna Rachelle Moore. Because only two candidates filed in Districts 1 and 7, those contests will appear on the November general election ballot.

Meanwhile, three Tulsa County incumbents -- Republican Sheriff Stanley Glanz, Democrat District 2 County Commissioner Karen Keith, Republican County Court Clerk Sally Howe Smith -- have filed for re-election, while deputy County Clerk Pat Key, a Republican, has filed to replace her longtime boss, incumbent Earlene Wilson. No opponents have yet to file.

It's time for a regime change at the County Clerk's office; it remains to be seen whether Key will offer the voters a significant change of direction from Wilson's policies, but we won't find out without a competitive election.

We need a Tulsa County Clerk who believes in the value of online access to public records. Because of Wilson's footdragging and unwillingness to work with fellow officials, we have a "stovepiped" county clerk database that doesn't mesh well with the assessor's and treasurer's databases, and doesn't seem to be accessible through the clerk's website. For many years, Wilson resisted even the current, minimal amount of online information, supporting instead a system that required a monthly fee and the county commission's permission for access. Meanwhile, Oklahoma County has had an integrated system, cross-linking assessor, treasurer, and clerk records, since 2004.

We also need a change in County Commission District 2 We need someone on the Commission who will shutdown efforts to raise or renew expiring special county sales taxes. We need a District 2 commissioner who will put someone sympathetic to homeowner's concerns back on the TMAPC, rather than trying to get rid of a neighborhood-friendly planning commissioner, as Keith did.

For both County Clerk and Commission District 2, we need officials who will work alongside County Assessor Ken Yazel in his often-lonely battle to increase accountability and scrutiny for county government spending. Notwithstanding publicized awards, There's still a problem with transparency at the County Courthouse.

One problem area is the Tulsa County Industrial Authority. While many county contracts are now online, you will look in vain for the TCIA's contracts with bond attorneys, bond advisers, and bond brokers. You won't be able to find out to whom the TCIA is lending money. Google turned up some TCIA audit documents, but these too are short on specifics, long on generalities.

Also not on the county website (as far as I can find): The county fair board's contract with Murphy Brothers for the Tulsa State Fair midway and the Big Splash contract.

County Commission District 2 includes Sand Springs, Berryhill, Jenks, west Tulsa, downtown Tulsa, and parts of midtown, east, and north Tulsa: Everything southwest of the river and north of 121st Street; everything north of the river and west of downtown; 31st to 81st, Riverside to Lewis; I-244 to Pine, Utica to US 169; I-244 to 31st, the River to US-169 & I-44. (Click here for a map of the new Tulsa County Commission boundaries, or click the image below to blow up the District 2 map.)

The voters deserve some competition. Will you run? Do you know someone who would?

TulsaCoCommissionerD2-2012.png

Today, April 11, 2012, is the final day of candidate filing for City of Tulsa elections and the first day for state and county filing.

Last year, councilors in Districts 1, 4, and 7 were elected to a one-year term and should have been up for a three-year term this year. But then Tulsans voted for the third change in election calendar in five years and switched the council to two-year terms in even years. That means Districts 1, 4, and 7 are up for two-year terms instead.

So far only the incumbents -- Democrat Jack Henderson, Republican Blake Ewing, and Republican Tom Mansur -- have filed. The filing period comes only five months after the last election, far too early to be thinking about yet another election.

And despite all of Tulsa's to-ing and fro-ing over election dates, we still couldn't manage to line up the filing periods.

The State of Oklahoma has backed up its filing period from June to April in order to put a full two months each between filing, primary, runoff, and general election, so as to accommodate overseas voters. For some reason, they chose the last half of the week instead of the traditional Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.

This year each of Oklahoma's 77 counties will elect a sheriff, county clerk, court clerk, and District 2 commissioner. All five U. S. representatives, all 101 state representatives, and the 24 state senators with odd-numbered districts will be up for re-election as well. Two statewide offices, seats on the Corporation Commission, will be on the ballot: Bob Anthony is running for a fifth full six-year term in Seat 2; Patrice Douglas, appointed last year to replace Jeff Cloud, who resigned, will seek to remain on the commission for the remainder of the Seat 3 term that expires in 2014. Neither of our U. S. Senators face re-election this year; Inhofe's seat is next up 2014, Coburn's replacement (he says this term is his last) will be elected in 2016.

Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz, County Commissioner Karen Keith, County Clerk Earlene Wilson, and Court Clerk Sally Howe Smith are all up for re-election. As far as I am aware none have drawn an announced opponent, but you have until Friday at 5 to change that.

While Oklahoma voters have closed off most avenues for tax hikes without a vote, there remains one loophole: the sinking fund. As Tulsa County Assessor Ken Yazel explains in the news release below, each taxing entity (a city, for example) presents the county excise board an estimate of the property tax money it will need added to the sinking fund in the coming fiscal year to repay general obligation bonds and judgments against the taxing entity.

The excise board is supposed to analyze the request and determine its validity before approving it, but according to Yazel, the Tulsa County Excise Board has been rubber-stamping requests, resulting in a property tax increase for all Tulsa County property owners once again this year, without any vote of the people.

The property tax increase requested by the City of Tulsa includes money for the final payment of the Great Plains Airlines settlement, a settlement that was thrown out by the Oklahoma Supreme Court well before the Excise Board voted to approve Tulsa's request. Yazel called this to the Excise Board's attention at the meeting on October 19, 2011, but they rubber-stamped the request without any amendments. A motion by one board member, Ted Kachel (appointed by the district judges), to delay the decision until they could learn more about their prerogatives to review and amend requests from the taxing entities died for lack of a second.

Don Wyatt's Boondoggle Blog has a summary and audio of the Tulsa County Excise Board meeting. The apathy on the part of the board's majority (Oklahoma Tax Commission appointee Ruth B. Gaines and Tulsa County Commission appointee Warren G. Morris) is appalling. They don't want to exercise independent scrutiny and judgment to protect the taxpayer.

Wyatt makes an important point: Just because your property value declined doesn't mean that your tax will go down. If the decline in value reflects a general county-wide decline, the excise board will raise the millage rate to keep the same amount of revenue flowing in. It's as if an unelected body had the power to raise sales tax rates to compensate for economic slowdown and a decline in spending.

Here's Yazel's news release:

County Excise Board Raises Tax Rates in Spite of Concerns Expressed by Tulsa County Assessor

TULSA, OK.-- The Tulsa County Excise Board approved an increase in property taxes over concerns raised by Tulsa County Assessor Ken Yazel during its meeting held on October 19, 2011.

The county assessor's job is to appraise the fair market value of property in the county. It is the function of the county excise board to approve the amounts requested for property taxes that will be used in the calculation of the appropriate tax levies.

All of the entities receiving property taxes submit an estimate of needs for property taxes to the excise board each year. It is the board's responsibility to analyze those needs, approve the property tax requests, then apply the approved amounts to the certified property values furnished by the county assessor. It is from this process that the amount of taxes each property owner will pay is derived.

Yazel attempted to make the following points to the Excise Board on behalf of the taxpayers:

1. At its core, the county excise board has property tax oversight responsibility. The board has in fact historically voted on property tax rates with virtually no independent analysis of the various estimates of needs.

2. Instead of analyzing the requests as the statutes dictate, the board merely relies on a county employee to provide them with the millage rates. To properly exercise its oversight responsibility, the excise board needs its own independent analyst to help it fulfill this responsibility.

3. Statutes require the excise board to take into account (for all entities requesting property taxes) cash balances and revenues from all sources. The requirement is there so the excise board can determine whether the requesting entity actually "needs" what has been requested.

During the meeting, one excise board member characterized the board's activity over his eight year tenure as "rubber stamping" the millage rates presented to them. He expressed some regret for this and asked the assistant district attorney for a better understanding of the board's responsibilities. Another member stated bluntly that he is incapable of analyzing the requests.

Yazel's position is not that the excise board or the county employee are doing anything other than what has been the practice for years. Rather, he is trying to help the board understand that in an era where cumulative property values are going down and the demand for money and tax rates are increasing, they have broader obligations and authority to review and potentially modify these requests than they have been exercising.

"As an example, I attempted to point out the situation related to the City of Tulsa sinking fund and the Great Plains $7.1 million judgment," said Yazel. "The Oklahoma Supreme Court recently ruled that payment to be invalid. However, the City of Tulsa put the final portion of that payment into their current request for property taxes, having done so before the Supreme Court made its ruling. I was trying to get the board members to see that they were about to raise taxes on the citizens of the City of Tulsa for a payment that the Supreme Court had invalidated. In the end, they approved the request with no changes. This proves the point, that before raising taxes they need to be more deliberative and analytical and not merely accept what is put in front of them as accurate or complete."

Total property tax revenues collected in Tulsa County have risen over the past 10 years from $397 million to an estimated $621 million for the current year, even though in many communities the population and/or the cumulative property valuations are going down. An increasing number of residences are being converted to rentals, and there is some evidence that businesses are locating in neighboring counties because of the marked difference in tax rates.

"This is a trend that is unsustainable in the long run, and that is my concern on behalf of the taxpayers," Yazel said. "It is much easier for public officials to address it now. It will be exponentially more difficult to deal with in the future if this pattern continues."

Ken Yazel was elected Tulsa County Assessor in 2002 and was re-elected in 2006 and 2010. A retired Major, U.S. Marine Corps, Yazel was also a CPA for many years. During his time in county government he has continually fought to lower taxes and ensure that property values in Tulsa County are fair and equalized.

Tulsa County Assessor Ken Yazel has added a cool new feature to his office's already very useful website.

It's a Google Maps application showing boundaries of Tulsa County subdivision plats filed between 2001 and 2010. A subdivision plat defines blocks, lots, and easements for streets and utilities. It establishes a simple way to define a parcel for purposes of establishing ownership, value, and tax status. Much easier to refer to Lot 5, Block 3 of Shady Acres subdivision than to use metes and bounds as the legal description for a piece of property.

Subdivision plats also serve as a useful proxy for new development. Clicking on the years in sequence reveals where the interest and activity has been -- and what areas have been passed over.

Most of the plats represent brand new subdivisions on previously unplatted land. Some represent resubdivisions of previously developed land -- for example, the gated communities or townhouse developments that have sprung up in the Midtown money belt replacing single-family ranch-style homes on large lots.

The application allows you to pick and choose individual years in any combination and whether to look at commercial, residential, or tax-exempt plats, or any combination of the three. The developer is to be commended for providing that degree of flexibility. Since it's a Google Maps app, you can zoom in and switch between satellite and map view.

Thanks again to Assessor Ken Yazel and his team for this increasingly helpful website.

FURTHER REFLECTIONS:

1. Despite all the development activity in the Midtown money belt over the last decade, and despite the fact that more often than not, new development appeared to be denser than what it replaced, Council District 9 lost population, which suggests that all infill development is not created equal when it comes to maintaining the city's population and sales tax base. My suspicion -- the new Midtown housing is much more expensive than what it replaced, targeted to DINKs and empty-nesters, out of reach for families with kids, particularly families paying private school tuition or homeschool expenses rather than moving to suburban schools. The discrepancy between plats and population could also mean that the new developments simply didn't sell.

Keep in mind that a plat is just a definition of lots; it doesn't guarantee that streets or homes will be built. Max Meyer (Lewis Meyer's "Preposterous Papa") platted part of his land near Kellyville in Creek County, but the imagined subdivision was never built. In the days before ubiquitous satellite map imagery and the Census Bureau's TIGER database, I could always tell the lousy map companies because they showed platted but non-existent streets in east Tulsa. (Some of the map makers even assumed that Mingo went all the way through between 11th and 31st St, likely mistaking the imaginary north-south section line for an actual street.)

2. The year-by-year table of plats and lots shows 2006 as the peak for new residential development, a 50% increase in lots over the previous year's level. The number of lots fell off by 20% sharply in 2007, but was still higher than the 2003-2005 plateau. I wonder if that rang any alarm bells in the development community. It certainly didn't seem to penetrate through to the budget planners at City Hall.

3. Most residential subdivision development in the Twenty-Naughty-Naughts occurred outside the Tulsa city limits, around Broken Arrow, Bixby, Jenks, and Owasso. This explains why homebuilder association support for a Tulsa City Council candidate should be viewed with suspicion. They don't necessarily have the City of Tulsa's best interests at heart. It also explains why homebuilders objected so vehemently to the Gang of Four's (Henderson, Medlock, Turner, Mautino) insistence that City of Tulsa resources should be used to build infrastructure to develop the City of Tulsa.

American Majority will hold a day-long citizen activist training session on Saturday, April 23, 2011, at Tulsa Technology Center, focused on training activists to be effectively engaged with state and local government. As part of the event, I'll be joining Jamison Faught of Muskogee Politico and Peter J. Rudy of Oklahoma Watchdog on a local blogger panel. It should be a great program -- hope you can join us.

Here are the details:

Our nation was founded by ordinary citizen activists desiring a government that was accountable to the people. Today, ordinary citizens in every citizen and in every community are tired of the status quo and are ready to get involved like they never have before to demand accountability.

American Majority's purpose is to address these passions by providing education and resources to help you reach your goals.

To that end, American Majority desires to challenge concerned citizens to turn their focus to state and local issues with the first annual Tulsa Battlefield Training.

This event will provide those in attendance with two things:

First, the Tulsa Battlefield Training will give those in attendance a clear picture of what is happening at both the state level and local level with government spending, waste, and clear explanation regarding how all levels of government got into this mess.

Secondly, the Tulsa Battlefield Training will also provide tool, resources, and specific ways that attendees can get involved in the local government structure - whether as informed citizen activists or candidates for local office.

Confirmed Presenters Include:

  • Ned Ryun, President of American Majority
  • Michael Carnuccio, President of Oklahoma Council for Public Affairs
  • Matt Robbins, Executive Director of American Majority
  • A Local Blogger Panel Consisting of Michael Bates of Batesline.com; Jamison Faught of MuskogeePolitico.com; and Peter J. Rudy of OklahomaWatchdog.org
  • Plus Presentations by the American Majority Oklahoma Staff

The Tulsa Battlefield Training will take place on Saturday, April 23rd at Tulsa Technology Center located at 3420 S Memorial Dr. from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm. Doors open at 8:30 am.

Registration is $20 per person (which includes lunch and all materials) - space is limited.

If you have any questions or would like additional information, call Seth Brown at 405-639-8896 or email him at seth@americanmajority.org

You do not want to miss this event!

American Majority is a non-profit and non-partisan political training organization whose mission is to train and equip a national network of leaders committed to individual freedom through limited government and the free market.

Yesterday, the 2011 Tulsa County Republican Convention unanimously approved the recommendation of the convention's platform committee to be the Tulsa County Republican Party's official platform. The platform includes clear stands on several current city and county issues. Here is the local section of the platform in its entirety:

LOCAL GOVERNMENT

1. We support strengthening protections for Real Estate owners against arbitrary zoning changes, which damage property values.

2. We oppose the use of eminent domain by any government for private benefit.

3. We believe that public safety - police and fire protection - should be a priority in the city budget, using existing sources of revenue. We oppose a special tax increase or Federal Grant to fund public safety.

4. We oppose any tax increase without demonstrated public need.

5. We oppose any public-private partnerships and also use of public powers such as eminent domain granting private for-profit entities the right to use public powers of eminent domain to build and operate toll roads and bridges.

6. We oppose the practice of "land-banking" by any government board within Tulsa County.

7. We support the repeal of Title 11, Section 22-104.1 of the Oklahoma Statutes which enables a municipal corporation to engage in any business it is authorized to license.

8. We do not support any sales tax, either municipal or county, levied for river development.

9. We do not support city non-partisan elections or the current movement to change the Tulsa City Charter to allow such.

10. We oppose the renewal of the "Four to Fix the County" sales tax.

11. We oppose all efforts to add a Charter Amendment which would add at-large Councilors, elected city wide, to the Tulsa City Council.

12. We support the Tulsa City Council having its own attorney, answerable only to the City Council and independent of any other branch of city government.

13. We oppose the use of City of Tulsa municipal tax dollars to fund the Tulsa Metro Chamber of Commerce.

I'll be interested to see if Tulsa County Democrats take equally clear, bold positions on these issues at their convention next weekend.

CORRECTION: I originally began this entry referring to a Steve Lackmeyer tweet about a Tulsa news story making his head hurt. Because the link he tweeted led to a "Latest News" page on the Tulsa Whirled's mobile website -- at least it did on the browser on my smart phone -- and the Tulsa County GOP convention was the top story at that time, I thought Steve was referring to that story. In fact, he was referring to a Whirled editorial about Tulsa mayor Dewey Bartlett's veto of a Council resolution rescinding the election for a charter amendment. My apologies for the misunderstanding, and here's the rest of the blog entry.

"This" was a web story by Whirled reporter Randy Krehbiel about Saturday's GOP convention. I'd love to give you my own report, but work prevented me from attending. Steven Roemerman was there, and I'm looking forward to a report on his blog at some point, but for now, all he had to say was that the 10-hour-long event gave him a headache.

John Tidwell, communications director for John Sullivan, tweeted the election results in real-time. To summarize (links lead to a tweet about the candidate or race):

Chairman: J. B. Alexander (stepping up from vice-chairman), by acclamation

Vice Chairman: Molly McKay (2010 nominee for HD 78, patent attorney), by acclamation
1st Congressional

District Committeeman: Don Wyatt over incumbent committeeman and former county chairman Jerry Buchanan, 180-145
1st Congressional

District Committeewoman: Donna Mills over Virginia Chrisco, 233-93

State Committeeman: Don Little over former State Committeeman Chris Medlock and Jeff Applekamp. First round was Medlock 113, Little 108, Applekamp 79; final result was Little 126, Medlock 121.

State Committeewoman: Sally Bell (stepping down as chairman) over Darla Williams, 221-79.

Many of the victorious candidates had the endorsement of Sally Bell. Bell's new job responsibilities wouldn't allow her to devote the time necessary to serving as chairman; state committeewoman involves quarterly meetings of the Republican State Committee in Oklahoma City and occasional meetings of the county party Central Committee and Executive Committee. (For what it's worth, I served as State Committeeman from 2003-2007.)

Krehbiel characterized the convention as a "move further to the right" and a defeat for the "moderate old guard." I don't think that's the case. The "moderate old guard" is pro-life (the pro-abortion Republicans left the local party 20 years ago), pro-2nd amendment rights, and (mostly) pro-limited government, and pro-lower taxes.

The real dispute is the role of the party organization with respect to elected Republican officials. The prevailing faction at the county convention believes that the party should hold Republican elected officials accountable for governing in accordance with the core conservative principles that they espoused when running for office.

The other side -- the "moderate old guard" -- takes the "stand by your man" approach. They don't disagree with the party's conservative core values, but in their view the party organization's job is to advocate for (or at least not to oppose) whatever policies a Republican elected official decides to pursue and should never publicly oppose something a Republican elected official or major Republican donor supports. For example, if the Republican members of the County Commission want to raise local taxes for a downtown arena or river development, the Republican Party shouldn't denounce them for promoting a tax increase, in their view, particularly if major donors support the tax increase too.

The dispute boils down to this: Principle vs. partisanship. Should the party organization back anyone with an R after his name, or should "protect the brand" by insisting that the R actually mean something?

Krehbiel's report mentions a resolution, to be presented at the state convention as an amendment to the state party rules, that would provide a means to censure Republican elected officials who deviate from the party's core principles. Here's the actual wording of the proposed state party rules amendment presented by newly elected Tulsa County GOP chairman J. B. Alexander:

Rule 10

(n) Party Support of Candidates and Elected Officials

In accordance with the framers original intent of the United States Constitution and in accordance with the Constitution of the state of Oklahoma, the core values of the Oklahoma Republican Party shall consist of:

* Life - Life is the result of an act between one man and one woman and begins at conception and concludes at natural death.

* Second Amendment - The right to keep and bear arms is an inalienable right of the individual citizen and government has no authority to regulate such right.

* Limited/Smaller Government - Government is instituted to oversee the general welfare of the citizens. Local, state and federal governments have reached well beyond that which is needed to carry out the basic functions of a constitutional government.

* Lower Taxes - Taxes and mandatory fees have grown to consume approximately fifty percent of an Oklahoma citizen's income. Drastic tax and fee reductions are needed at all levels of government.

Any member of the Oklahoma Republican Party State Committee shall have the right to present evidence of any elected Republican official who consistently works against and/or votes against these core values or publicly supports a candidate of another party.

After such evidence is presented, and a motion and second are made, the state committee shall take a vote of "NO CONFIDENCE" of said elected Republican official. A two-thirds majority vote of members present shall be required for a passing vote.

I might quibble with the selection of issues, the wording, or the proposed penalties (really should be more specific and concrete, I think), but I commend Alexander for focusing on a few key issues, rather than demanding allegiance by officials to every point of the party platform, as past resolutions have done.

Count me on the side of accountability. I've always believed it was an appropriate role for the party organization to play, but especially now that Republicans have supermajorities in the Oklahoma House and Senate and every statewide office, we've got to make sure our elected officials aren't led astray by lobbyists looking for special favors. Some organization needs to apply the pressure to ensure that GOP campaign rhetoric turns into reality.

There's a good article by Mike Easterling in the brand new edition of Urban Tulsa Weekly about the possibility that the City of Tulsa will establish its own in-house planning capability to replace the work it currently outsources to the Development Services department of the Indian Nations Council of Government (INCOG).

Easterling spoke to Tulsa City Councilors John Eagleton, Bill Christiansen, and G. T. Bynum, INCOG executive director Rich Brierre, urbanist / developer Jamie Jamieson, city Chief of Staff Terry Simonson, County Commission deputy Mark Liotta, TMAPC chairman Bill Leighty, former TMAPC member Elizabeth Wright, and me.

What was striking about the story was how often people who should know better confuse the TMAPC and INCOG, and confuse the various roles that INCOG fulfills with respect to the City of Tulsa. If I weren't a trusting fellow, I might think that those who wish to preserve the city's contract with INCOG for planning services were deliberately trying to confuse the issue.

Last March, I wrote a detailed explanation of INCOG's multiple roles, its relationship with the TMAPC and the City of Tulsa, and how that arrangement differs from the situation in other cities. It's worth reading in its entirety, but here's the gist:

The vital point here is that the City of Tulsa's relationship with INCOG as Metropolitan Planning Organization and the COG for the Sub-State Planning Area, its relationship with INCOG as provider of land planning services, and its relationship with TMAPC are not legally or logically interconnected. The City could choose not to renew its contract with INCOG for land use planning services and instead staff TMAPC and BoA internally. The City could move to a city planning commission like Oklahoma City's, while continuing to contract land use planning to INCOG. The City could even retain INCOG for land use record keeping but give City of Tulsa planners the job of analyzing and making recommendations on zoning applications and comprehensive plan modifications.

All of those choices are independent of each other, and none of them would affect Tulsa's relationship with INCOG as the COG for the sub-state planning area or as the Metropolitan Planning Organization for regional transportation planning.

So keep that in mind as you read the comments of Brierre and Liotta, both of whom make frequent reference to the TMAPC, which is not the organization under discussion.

Both Liotta and Brierre suggest that the current arrangement is a good deal for the taxpayers of the City of Tulsa. But if that's true, it's a rotten deal for the taxpayers of the Tulsa County residents of Broken Arrow, Skiatook, Owasso, and the other municipalities, all of whom are not only paying for their own planning staff and planning commission, but they're paying for the City of Tulsa's as well, with no benefit to themselves.

Liotta said the issue may be worth examining, and he said the county is certainly to open to anything that saves the taxpayers money. He just doubts that would happen in this instance.

"Probably not, would be my guess," Liotta said. "But that's something they need to study before they make that decision."

Brierre believes the city receives great value for its money under the current arrangement.

"If you look at (financial) support, it's a bargain for the city of Tulsa," he said. "The vast majority of the caseload is the city of Tulsa, but at this time, the county of Tulsa is providing the majority of funding to support the TMAPC.

Brierre said the city's share of the funding for the Planning Commission comes to only 40 percent, though approximately 90 percent of the cases that come before the TMAPC concern sites in the city.

If Liotta and his County Commissioner bosses are looking out for Tulsa County taxpayers, they should end this subsidy immediately, and they should be glad that the City of Tulsa wants out.

Tulsa County Commissioner Karen Keith has appointed a new Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (TMAPC) member, but his home and neighborhood are not within the TMAPC's jurisdiction.

Keith's appointee is Ryon Stirling, a City of Sand Springs homeowner. His property is unaffected by the decisions of the TMAPC. The TMAPC's jurisdiction is the City of Tulsa and unincorporated Tulsa County; the City of Sand Springs has its own municipal planning commission "responsible for the administration of planning and zoning ordinances and the comprehensive plan for the City."

Stirling replaces Elizabeth Wright, a City of Tulsa homeowner (and thus a resident within the TMAPC's jurisdiction). Wright's three-year term will expire on January 18. About a year ago, Keith made an ill-considered and unsuccessful attempt to force Wright from office.

In the daily paper's story on the appointment, Keith is quoted as saying she "was just following through with [her] commitment to get someone from west of the river." Stirling lives on N. Main St. in Sand Springs, which is north of the river, on the opposite side of the river from west Tulsa.

UPDATE 2010/01/05: Is Stirling's appointment legal? Yes, because he's a Tulsa County resident being appointed to a Tulsa County seat on the TMAPC. It is, however, an offense to the idea of representative government and self-determination to have a planning commissioner who will be unaffected by the decisions he makes.

The City of Sand Springs has absolutely no relationship with the TMAPC. The same is true of Broken Arrow, Skiatook, Bixby, Jenks, and every other Tulsa County municipality (with the lone exception of the City of Tulsa). Each of the suburbs has its own Title 11, Article XLV, municipal planning commission, which performs roughly the same functions that the TMAPC performs for Tulsa: holding hearings and making recommendations on zoning changes, zoning code amendments, lot splits, subdivision regulations, and comprehensive planning to the city council.

Last year, I posted a list of the eight types of planning commission authorized by Oklahoma statute. The TMAPC is the sole example of a Title 19, Section 863, joint city-county metropolitan area planning commission for counties over 180,000.

The TMAPC was established at a time when most of Tulsa County was unincorporated, the City of Tulsa was completely contained within Tulsa County, annexing land gradually, as new subdivisions were developed. Today only a tiny amount of land is unincorporated, and most of that is surrounded by a city's fenceline as a reserve for future annexation. The City of Tulsa now extends into four counties. It would make more sense for the City of Tulsa to have its own planning commission, like Oklahoma City has, and for a county planning commission to have jurisdiction over the shrinking amount of unincorporated territory. Each entity already has its own comprehensive plan, zoning code, subdivision regulations, and Board of Adjustment; why not separate planning commissions as well?

MORE: Reader "The A Team" sent me a link to Ryon Sterling's 2007 thesis for his OU master's degree in Architectural Urban Studies. The thesis was a study of Tulsa's neighborhood associations based on survey responses. It's an interesting read. Stirling calls for city-defined standards for neighborhood associations:

I am confident that it is necessary for the City of Tulsa to reexamine the current guidelines regarding Neighborhood Associations and proceed by establishing a definition for the Associations to clarify and standardize what it means to be a Neighborhood Association--from boundaries, to membership, to by-laws. I suspect this will be a challenge since the Neighborhood Associations have been able to self define, in some cases for decades, but it is essential if Neighborhood Associations are to be used in a large way for planning purposes in the update to the Comprehensive Plan and are eligible to receive public dollars from Vision 2025 funds or future neighborhood funding measures. It has been suggested by this committee that a tiered system be examined as one possibility to attend to these concerns.

Ken Yazel for County Assessor

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While I'm supporting Republicans across the board, there are a few cases where the GOP candidate has done such a faithful job in serving the taxpayers and/or represents a significant improvement over his Democratic opponent, that I want to underline and emphasize my endorsement a hundred times over. One such public servant is Ken Yazel. I am proud to endorse Ken Yazel, a true friend to the taxpayer, for re-election as County Assessor.

Yazel has at times been the lone voice at the County Courthouse raising concern about wasteful spending and deceptive budget numbers. He has been one of the few elected officials to speak publicly against tax hike initiatives like the River Tax.

Yazel has also defended taxpayer interests by insisting on fair property assessments for everyone, even the very wealthy. If someone builds a $25 million house, they ought to pay property taxes on the full amount; otherwise, property taxes go up for the rest of us to make up the difference. Because Ken Yazel stands up for all taxpayers, the very wealthy have made him a target. We need to stand up for him.

Ken Yazel has also been a great friend to public access to public records. Public means online, and Ken Yazel added to the county assessor website the ability to search the Tulsa County assessor property database online. You no longer have to go to the library to find out who owns a piece of property or how much it's worth. You no longer have to ask the County Commissioners permission and pay a monthly fee to access this public information. My story on where the named members of Save Our Tulsa live and the median value of their homes would not have been possible without this valuable research tool. Oklahoma County has had this sort of tool for many years, while most Tulsa County officials resisted. Yazel's leadership on this issue alone is enough to earn my heartiest endorsement.

Yazel's opponent, Nancy Bolzle, would be dismissed as a perennial, unsuccessful candidate if it weren't for her connection to the Money Belt social network. She's a lobbyist, and the "endorsements" page on her website consists of six lobbying clients -- four of them from other parts of the state -- commending her lobbying skills. She couldn't find anyone to say she'd be a good county assessor. She has no management experience to bring to a job that requires oversight of 90 employees. She has no background in property valuation. It appears that she is running strictly for the purpose of ending Ken Yazel's courageous, faithful service on behalf of the taxpayer.

Her "news" page has two columns, one column devoted to articles about herself, one column for Ken Yazel. Nancy Bolzle's list consists mainly of stories from Danna Sue Walker's society column in the daily paper that tells of parties she's attended. The Ken Yazel list shows him tackling substantial issues, defending the taxpayer's interest.

Bolzle's husband is a developer; it would seem to be a built-in conflict of interest for her to be in a position to set property values for ad valorem tax purposes. Her husband is defendant in a $7.2 million foreclosure action filed by Arvest Bank regarding a development in Glenpool.

This is an easy choice: We need Ken Yazel's experience, his fairness, and his commitment to the best interest of the taxpayer working for us at the County Assessor's office.

The Yazel campaign could use your help in the final 10 days of the election. Contact Ken Yazel through his website to volunteer.

MORE: Back during the primary, Ken Yazel provided a fact-filled response to mudslinging from his primary challenger.

Tulsa County Assessor Ken Yazel's website now has a great new feature: You can search online for Tulsa County property information, including ownership, valuation, physical characteristics (e.g., sq. ft.), and recent sales -- for free, 24/7! Previously you either had to go to a library branch or pay to subscribe online (and only with the County Commission's approval). Some at the county courthouse were resistant to making public information readily available, but Yazel was persistent, and the entire budget board (all 8 elected officials) approved the new online searchable database.

I've been hoping for this for a very long time. Yippee!

From the Tulsa Beacon, in support of incumbent County Commissioner Fred Perry:

Commissioner Fred Perry has made some good decisions in his first four years. He is moving toward more openness and he has helped make progress at Expo Square.

From Dan Hicks via email and in the Beacon's letters section, in support of challenger Drew Rees:

I always enjoy the election season, as we see those creative little yard signs pop up like mushrooms throughout the city. This year we have a new winner. The orange and yellow DREW REES sign is without question the best political yard sign I have ever seen. The sign is good, but the candidate is even better. I had the opportunity to sit down with Drew Rees, and found him to be extremely bright and knowledgeable about issues involving Tulsa County. He is honest and sincere, and he passed the conservative test. What's that? Well, that means he is pro-life, he voted against the River Tax, and he intends get the County out of the sales tax business. Drew also shared with me how he came to know the Lord as a student at OSU. I am enthusiastically supporting Drew Rees as the conservative choice for Tulsa County Commissioner.

The Tulsa Beacon published two letters each in support of Perry and Rees in last week's edition. I have yet to see any endorsement of Michael Masters, the third candidate in the race, which will either be decided on Tuesday, if a candidate gets more than 50% in the Republican primary, or else in the August 24 runoff.

MORE:

Fred Perry's endorsements page
Drew Rees's endorsements page

STILL MORE: District 3 resident Steven Roemerman makes a tough call:

Wow, so Fred Perry DID NOT score points with me with his handling of a recent open records request by Ruth Hartje. (Google it)

Also I really, really do not like how Perry has attacked Tulsa Council's attorney Drew Rees (his opponent), for his counsel to the council regarding the recent open meeting act controversy. (again...Google it) I may not be voting for Drew Rees, but I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. I've always been extremely impressed with Drew's professionalism and dedication to the law. I've been watching him give good advice to the council for may years now; Rees would never give advice to the council that he thought was illegal. I believe that these attacks are unfair and unfounded. On this basis alone I just almost want to vote for Drew Rees.

However, Drew Rees is using Jim Burdge to run his campaign, and if that wasn't enough he is being endorsed by Randy "You're Toast" Sullivan.This is not good! And then if that weren't enough, I was not impressed with how he answered some of the questions from the OK Safe Voter's guide questions. I felt that he was parsing on some of his answers. And really, I like him where he is. He is doing great work for the City!

Click to read Steven's conclusion and the rest of his voting guide.

Pat Campbell interviewed not-ousted Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (TMAPC) member Elizabeth Wright on 1170 KFAQ Wednesday morning. It was an informative interview -- well done to both Pat and Liz. You can listen to the interview on the station's podcast:

TMAPC's Elizabeth Wright interviewed by Pat Campbell, December 2, 2009

County Commissioner Karen Keith's attempt to oust Elizabeth Wright from the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (TMAPC) failed for lack of a second at this morning's Tulsa County Commission meeting. Barring another ouster attempt, Wright will continue to serve on the TMAPC until her term expires on January 18, 2011.

In the course of the ongoing effort by Tulsa County Commissioner Karen Keith to remove Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (TMAPC) member Elizabeth Wright, I've heard and read the TMAPC described as a "quasi-judicial body." Accordingly, these same sources claim that TMAPC members are like "referees," that they are to remain impartial throughout the process, and that they should only inquire about and consider very narrow criteria in deciding zoning applications.

In the specific case of Liz Wright, this perspective says that she is wrong to ask questions about issues like stormwater runoff (technical matters beyond the TMAPC's purview, it's said), was wrong to "counsel" the Holland Lakes homeowners about arguing their case to the City Council (regarding a zoning application that the TMAPC had already heard; Wright says she presented standard TMAPC material on how to be effective presenting your case), and was wrong to vote on a zoning application involving a parcel adjoining the neighborhood where she served as neighborhood association president (even though the neighborhood association didn't support or oppose the application and thus had no interest in its approval or rejection).

Apart from the specifics of Liz Wright's situation, I'm concerned that a false understanding of the TMAPC's function and nature hamstrings its ability to engage in actual planning and reduces the TMAPC to little more than scorekeepers for the zoning process. This idea of the TMAPC as quasi-judicial referees in all respects doesn't square with state statutes and city ordinances that define the TMAPC's composition and roles, nor does it fit what I've heard and observed in the eighteen years I've observed the TMAPC's proceedings.

Let's look at the law. The TMAPC is one of at least eight types of planning commissions enabled by Oklahoma statute (that I've found so far), each with its own section of either Title 11 (Cities and Towns) or Title 19 (Counties):

(1) Municipal planning commissions (Title 11, Article XLV)

(2) Regional planning commissions (Title 11, Article XLVI) -- covering three miles around the city limits

(3) City planning commissions for cities over 200,000 (Title 11, Article XLVII)

(4) County planning commissions (Title 19, Section 865.1 et seq.)

(5) Joint city-county metropolitan area planning commissions for counties over 180,000 (Title 19, Section 863.1 et seq.)

(6) Joint city-county planning commissions for smaller counties (Title 19, Section 866.1 et seq.)

(7) County planning commissions for counties over 500,000 (Title 19, Section 868.1 et seq.)

(8) Lake area planning commissions (Title 19, Section 869.1 et seq.)

The TMAPC is the only planning commission in Oklahoma of type (5). You can read the enabling legislation beginning here at 19 O. S. 863.1, and clicking "Next Section" to read through the whole thing. Or you can click this link to see an index of the subsections of 19 O. S. 863. Most of the statute has to do with the planning commission's role regarding county zoning.

The planning commission's role regarding City of Tulsa zoning is defined by Title 42 of Tulsa Revised Ordinances. Also known as the City of Tulsa Zoning Code, Title 42 requires that amendments to the zoning map and zoning code be submitted to the TMAPC for a report and recommendation. You can search through the document yourself for references to "Planning Commission."

Since the Wright controversy regards applications for zoning map amendments in the City of Tulsa, specifically planned unit developments (PUDs) and a straight rezoning, let me highlight the applicable paragraphs:

Section 1107: TMAPC reviews PUD applications. The TMAPC is to determine:

1. Whether the PUD is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan; 2. Whether the PUD harmonized with the existing and expected development of surrounding areas; 3. Whether the PUD is a unified treatment of the development possibilities of the project site; and 4. Whether the PUD is consistent with the stated purposes and standards of this chapter. The Planning Commission shall forward its recommendation, the application, and the development plan to the City Council for further hearing as provided in Subsection 1107.E.

That's a pretty broad set of criteria, and it doesn't seem to preclude a TMAPC member from asking about a particular technical subject. The City Council has the final say.

Section 1700 requires TMAPC input on zoning code amendments:

The regulations, restrictions, prohibitions and limitations imposed, and the districts created may from time to time be amended, supplemented, changed, modified or repealed by ordinance, but no change shall be made until the Planning Commission, after notice and public hearing, files with the City a report and recommendation on the proposed change. In addition to the procedural provisions hereinafter set out, the Planning Commission shall adopt procedural rules for the conduct of zoning public hearings.

Section 1701 sets out criteria for zoning map amendments:

It is the policy of the City of Tulsa that in the consideration of proposed amendments to this code that:

Amendments will be adopted to recognize changes in the Comprehensive Plan, to correct error, or to recognize changed or changing conditions in a particular area or in the jurisdictional area generally.

Sections 1702 and 1703 deal with zoning text and zoning map amendments respectively. In both cases, the TMAPC is to report to the City Council, which has the final decision.

Nothing in these sections limits the kind of information the TMAPC can gather or consider in making its recommendation.

Nothing in the Oklahoma statutes or the City of Tulsa ordinances describes the TMAPC as a quasi-judicial body. The only explicit use of the term quasi-judicial with respect to the TMAPC is in the TMAPC Rules of Procedure and Code of Ethics. These rules are adopted by the TMAPC, and the TMAPC has the freedom to modify them within the scope of the enabling state and city legislation.

Section II. C. of the most recent version of the TMAPC rules says:

Although not forbidden, per se, ex parte communication has the potential to influence a Planning Commissioner's decision on quasi-judicial matters before the Commission. The Planning Commissioner who receives ex parte communication may, if he or she feels that it is appropriate, disclose this prior to public discussion of the subject matter.

The wording here suggests that there are matters before the Commission that are not quasi-judicial.

A section of the state statutes applicable to the TMAPC, 19 O. S. 863.23, provides a clue as to what matters would and would not be considered quasi-judicial:

Any person claiming to be aggrieved by any act of the [planning] commission in administering this act, or any regulations promulgated pursuant thereto, may as to any matter concerning plats, subdivisions and lot-splits, both as to land situated in the corporate limits of the municipality and as to land situated in the unincorporated area of the county, appeal directly to the district court of the county and the district courts of said counties are hereby expressly vested with jurisdiction to hear and determine said appeals....

There shall be no right of appeal from any act of the commission in its advisory capacity to the [city] council and board [of county commissioners] or from any of its acts which are subject to review, repeal or modification by said governing bodies.

So the TMAPC has the final say regarding lot splits, subdivisions, and plats, and those matters can only be appealed to district court. But that isn't the case when the TMAPC acts in an advisory capacity to the legislative body, as with zoning map amendments.

All the issues raised against Liz Wright have to do with applications for city zoning map amendments, which are not quasi-judicial, but legislative. The zoning map is a part of the city ordinances, and changing involves adopting an ordinance. A zoning change is a change of the rules.

The complaints against Wright disappear if they're considered in a legislative context. We don't expect members of a legislative committee to be dispassionate, to have no prior opinion, to avoid contact with interested parties, or to limit the questions they ask about a proposed change in the law. We don't expect a unanimous vote from a legislative committee, and it's normal for a legislator on the losing side of a committee vote to debate against the committee's recommendation when it reaches the final stage of approval.

So how has the impression spread that the TMAPC is a quasi-judicial body? It may be a misunderstanding based on the reality of a few TMAPC functions (approval of lot splits, subdivisions, plats) that are quasi-judicial. But I suspect that there are those interests who want planning commissioners to believe that their discretion on zoning changes is extremely limited, which would make it easier to drive them as a body to the preferred conclusion.

Tulsa County Commissioner Karen Keith has yet to supply Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (TMAPC) member Elizabeth Wright with a list of specific allegations justifying Keith's call to remove Wright from the TMAPC over a year before her three-year term is due to end, according to an email from Wright earlier today. The County Commission, which appointed Wright in 2008, is slated to vote on her removal tomorrow, November 30, 2009.

Removing a TMAPC member before the end of the term can only be done for cause. Keith's November 2, 2009, petition to remove Wright named two provisions of the TMAPC code of ethics and a general complaint ("conduct which materially and adversely affects the orderly or efficient operation of the TMAPC") which Wright is alleged to have violated but did not provide specifics -- which actions of Wright's on which dates are supposed to have been violations warranting premature removal.

The public hearing on Keith's petition was held at the Tulsa County Commission meeting last Monday, November 23, 2009, but the final vote was delayed a week to allow Keith to present those specifics and to allow Wright time to respond. Even if Wright receives the list today, she will have less than 24 hours to prepare a defense. The public will not have time to provide input to their County Commissioners.

Because public hearings cannot be continued from one meeting to the next, the public hearing on Wright has already concluded, and the public will not be allowed to address the County Commission about Keith's specific accusations.

The third charge was dropped, and the County Commission agreed to use the 2004 ethics rules as the basis for judgment, not the rules adopted on April 22, 2009, after the violations are supposed to have occurred.

The just thing to do would be to kill Keith's campaign to oust Wright because of Keith's failure to present a specific indictment. In fact, the hearing should never have been scheduled without those specifics. Let Keith come back and try again, from scratch, when she is better prepared.

At the very least, Liz Wright and the public deserve at least a week after those specifics are released before a full public hearing is held and a vote is taken.

Via NewsFifty's Oklahoma news page: State Rep. Jason Murphey (R-Guthrie) is considering proposing legislation to reform the structure of county government in Oklahoma. In an Edmond Sun op-ed, Murphey sets forth his concerns. At the heart, the lack of adequate separation of powers when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars:

In the past, I have expressed that I feel it is important for a governing board which approves a budget to not have the ability to specifically direct where that money goes. The chances for politicians to engage in corruption and self-serving political pork appropriations are greatly enhanced when the board's ability to set policy and to specifically direct that spending are combined. In past updates, I have written about how Oklahoma legislators are becoming experts at getting around the constitutional prohibition of this type of conduct.

During the course of my years as a public official, I have observed that county government is a significant area in Oklahoma governance where these two responsibilities are not sufficiently separated. This blurring of the policy and expenditure power results in county governments that are extremely susceptible to "good old boy" politics where county officials can exert strong political influence over employees and vendors in order to create a small political empire funded by taxpayer dollars.

His solution:

County government should operate much like the governance model used in city government. A largely uncompensated board of elected citizen county commissioners should have oversight over a professional county manager who has the same education and qualifications as a city manager. This person would be responsible for hiring the county department heads, thus providing for employees a level of protection from political pressure. Much like a city council, the Board of Commissioners would set policy and budget, but have no ability to direct specific expenditure of funds outside of a competitive bid process.

I approve the idea of limiting the ability of public officials to handpick contractors, but I'll need to be convinced that Murphey's proposal is appropriate for every one of Oklahoma's 77 counties. In fact, the one-size-fits-all structure of Oklahoma county government is a problem that reform should address. In some counties, most of the territory is unincorporated and the few municipalities are small and not in a position to offer a complete slate of basic municipal services. In such places, county government may be the only effective way to deliver those services to residents. In Tulsa and Oklahoma Counties, only a few small areas are unincorporated, and many of those are within the fenceline of a municipality.

During the debates over county home rule in the late '80s and early '90s, there were calls for consolidation of less populous counties. But the relative stability of Oklahoma's county boundaries -- only two new counties since statehood and a handful of boundary adjustments -- is a boon to record keeping and comparisons over time. By contrast, Britain has been tinkering with its local government boundaries for over a century with two major overhauls over the last 35 years. Now there are historic counties and ceremonial counties and administrative counties, which may or may not coincide.

Any county activity that has to do with land records and court records -- county clerk, county assessor, county treasurer, court clerk -- should remain with the 77 counties. But we may want to consider another, more flexible approach to providing municipal services.

One possibility: Create a special class of municipalities incorporating the remaining unincorporated territory in each county. These new entities would be responsible for law enforcement, roads, parks, and other municipal services. They would be governed by some adaptation of the existing "statutory charter" -- the default form of government established by state statute for cities and towns that have yet to adopt a charter of their own. For some services, they may wish to enter into compacts with incorporated cities and towns. Some thought would need to be given to unincorporated areas within an existing municipality's fenceline. i suspect we would want to make it easy for areas within these special county-municipalities to attach themselves to a city or town or to form a new town.

Oklahoma's laws makes it difficult to create new municipalities, particularly anywhere near an existing city or town. Perhaps we should make it easier, so that rural residents could incorporate to protect themselves against annexation, so they can protect their ability to raise livestock, shoot off fireworks, and generally live without the constraints of city ordinances. Berryhill residents might jump at the opportunity.

Whatever the solution, the discussion is worth having, and Rep. Murphey is to be commended afor raising the issue.

I can't attend Monday morning's Tulsa County Commission meeting, so I sent the following letter to County Commissioners John Smaligo and Fred Perry urging them to vote against removing Liz Wright from the TMAPC. (I didn't figure there was any point in sending it to Commissioner Karen Keith, the lead prosecutor and persecutor.)

EARLIER RELATED ENTRIES:

Karen Keith's ex post facto crusade for unfair zoning
Karen Keith trying to bully neighborhood leader off planning commission


Dear Commissioners Smaligo and Perry,

I regret that, due to business meetings, I won't be able to attend Monday's hearing regarding TMAPC member Elizabeth Wright. In lieu of speaking at the meeting, I'm writing to urge you to vote against Commissioner Keith's attempt to have Wright removed from the TMAPC. Removing any board or commission member before his or her term has expired is a drastic action, only justified in cases of corruption or gross negligence. Whatever Commissioner Keith's motivation -- and her stated reasons keep changing -- her prosecution of Liz Wright is completely unjustified.

The "causes" for removal specified by Commissioner Keith involve violations of ethics code provisions that didn't exist when the "violations" reportedly occurred. Retroactive enforcement of laws is not only unfair, it's specifically banned by the U. S. Constitution in Article I, Section 10, one of the few explicit limits placed by the Federal Constitution on state government. It's unconstitutional to be punished for doing something that wasn't against the rules when you did it.

Here's an illustration: Imagine if your former colleagues in the legislature, in this upcoming 2010 session, cut the maximum campaign contribution from $5000 to $500. Then imagine that the State Ethics Commission started proceedings against you because, back in 2006 or 2007, you each accepted $750 contributions from Kirby Crowe, in excess of the new limit but well within the limit that existed at the time. I think you'll agree that this would be unfair to you, but this is exactly what Commissioner Keith is attempting to do to Liz Wright.

As you can see from the TMAPC minutes, the two ethics code provisions cited by Commissioner Keith in her petition against Commissioner Wright were only added to the code on April 22, 2009. (Click the link to view those minutes.)

The subparagraphs of II. E. which Wright is said to have violated did not exist prior to that date. And yet Keith's petition says that Wright should be removed because her appearance at an August 2008 City Council committee meeting violated this April 2009 ethics rule.

II.B.1.b did not exist at all prior to April 2009. Keith's petition doesn't specify when Wright's alleged violation of II.B.1.b. occurred. There are hints that it has to do with a 2008 zoning case on property bordering the neighborhood association which Wright served as president. Here again, the alleged offense occurred before the specified rule existed.

There is one other charge -- "Conduct which materially and adversely affects the orderly or efficient operation of the TMAPC." Commissioner Keith does not specify what this conduct was or when it occurred. I have reviewed the minutes over Commissioner Wright's tenure, and I see no evidence that she was ever disruptive to the proceedings.

Ordinarily, the accused is presented in advance with specific charges -- on what the offense was committed and what actions constituted the offense -- and has the opportunity to prepare a point-by-point rebuttal. In this case however, Commissioner Wright may not even learn about the specifics of the charges until after the public hearing has ended and the County Commissioners discussion commences, too late to prepare a defense.

Commissioner Keith's petition states that the cause is "includes, but is not limited to," the three points discussed above. This opens the door to more charges that may be sprung at the last minute, depriving Wright and the public of the opportunity to prepare a response to the new charges.

It would have been best if you had refused to approve a public hearing until Commissioner Keith provided a complete and specific indictment. In all fairness, you owe the public and Commissioner Wright the time to study and prepare a response to whatever charges Commissioner Keith presents; you should continue the hearing and delay the vote until a later meeting.

Liz Wright's intelligence and her perspective as a small businesswoman and former neighborhood leader are assets to Tulsa and to the TMAPC. I hope the County Commission will see fit to appoint her to a new term in January 2011. But even if you disagree with my evaluation of her performance, I hope you will emphatically reject Commissioner Keith's imprudent and unjust attempt to end her term prematurely.

When I endorsed each of you in the 2006 elections, I had high hopes that you would bring a new spirit to county government, a spirit of openness and fairness that did not previously exist. There have been positive steps in that regard, but how this public hearing is conducted and the decision you make about Commissioner Wright will put those hopes to the test and will weigh heavily as the public evaluates your first term.

Sincerely,

Michael Bates

Tulsa County Commissioner Karen Keith's bizarre and unprecedented campaign to remove Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission member Elizabeth Wright (for bogus reasons, a year before her term expires) reaches its climax on Monday, November 23, 2009, at 9:30 a.m., at a public hearing to be held as part of the weekly County Commission meeting. The venue is Room 119 of the County Courthouse, near the 6th Street entrance west of Denver Ave.

As a candidate for County Commission in 2008, Keith received significant campaign contributions from a number of donors connected to the development industry, including a $1,000 contribution from John Bumgarner. The Bumgarner contribution was received one day after the pre-election reporting deadline, so that it didn't have to be made public, via the State Ethics Commission, until after the election. (Here is Karen Keith's post-general-election contribution report.)

Bumgarner is the developer of the now vacant site southwest of Utica and the Broken Arrow Expressway. His extraordinary deal with the TMAPC -- a straight zoning change plus a deed covenant, rather than the usual planned unit development (PUD) with development standards -- prompted Wright's September 16, 2008, appearance before the City Council's committee discussion of the rezoning. She did not speak in opposition but spoke to advise the Council of the unusual nature of the proposal. While PUD development standards are enforceable administratively, through the city's building permits, certificates of occupancy, and code enforcement, a deed covenant is only enforceable by means of litigation. Here is the summary of Wright's statement in the committee meeting's minutes:

Ms. Wright stated there was no input by public. No terms of covenant were given to citizens. The vote may have turned out differently had there been. The procedure, not the development that is in question.

(Here are the TMAPC minutes on the 14th and Utica zoning case, Z-7102. The contrast is striking between, on the one hand, the concerns expressed by Wright and Commissioner Michelle Cantrell about the precedent being set and, on the other hand, the callous disregard of precedent and the Comprehensive Plan by INCOG development staff and the other TMAPC members. The rezoning was approved with only Wright and Cantrell in opposition.)

LizWright.jpgSeven months after Wright's appearance at the Council committee meeting, the TMAPC amended its code of ethics to require any commissioner wishing to speak to the Council to notify the other commissioners 24 hours in advance. In fact, the two specific ethics code provisions cited in Keith's complaint against Wright were both added by the TMAPC on April 22, 2009, long after her alleged offenses against those provisions were committed.

(UPDATE: Here is archive.org's copy of the December 1, 2004, version of the TMAPC code of ethics. I will continue to look for a more recent version, but in all likelihood, this was the version governing the TMAPC at the time of the alleged offenses. This version was captured by the Internet Archive on September 30, 2006.)

The time of day for the hearing to remove Wright makes it difficult for ordinary homeowners, concerned about fair application of zoning laws and protecting their property values and quality of life, to come downtown to defend one of a tiny number of TMAPC commissioners not tied to the development industry. By contrast, it will be easy for zoning attorneys and development lobbyists to show up en masse to speak in favor of what might be called "viewpoint purity" on the planning commission.

Never mind that Wright's point of view has seldom if ever prevailed in controversial issues; more often she has been the lone vote or one of a few in opposition. Those behind the effort to oust Wright appear to have this goal in mind: The TMAPC must be purged of any member with the intelligence, independence, and courage to contradict the claims of a developer or his attorney. It would seem that winning by a vote of 10-1 or 9-2 isn't enough for the vengeful, scorched-earth branch of the development lobby. Evidently they want to marginalize anyone who might articulate an alternative point of view in the TMAPC's deliberations.

I have been provided with a copy of the petition filed by Karen Keith for the removal of Elizabeth Wright from the TMAPC (1.8 MB PDF). Minus the header and signature, this is the petition in its entirety:

COMES NOW Karen Keith, duly elected Tulsa County Commissioner for District No.2 Tulsa County, Oklahoma and brings this Petition For Removal of Elizabeth Wright as a member of the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission ( TMAPC ).

The specific and general cause and basis for this removal includes, but is not limited to, the following:

1. Violation of the Policies and Procedures and Code of Ethics of the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, as Amended April 22, 2009, specifically section II: Code of Ethics -8. Conflict of Interest 1. b.

2. Conduct which materially and adversely affects the orderly or efficient operation of the TMAPC

3. Violation of the Policies and Procedures and Code of Ethics of the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, specifically section II: Code of Ethics - E. Appearance at City Council in August of 2008.

Believing that these grounds constitute "cause" for removal, Petitioner respectfully request that the Tulsa Board of County Commissioners set a public hearing to consider this Petition For Removal.

No specific charges are attached, nothing to specify the date or substance of any alleged violation. There was, attached to copy of the petition provided to me, a

two-page, undated, unsigned outline of the procedure that may be followed on Monday:

PROCEDURE FOR THE REMOVAL OF A PLANNING COMMISSIONER UPON VOTE BY THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF TULSA COUNTY.

(A) In General

The Tulsa County Board of County Commissioners ("Board") may, upon a majority vote, decide to consider whether to remove an appointed Planning Commissioner from the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission ( TMAPC). Pursuant to Title 19, 0.5. Section 863.5 -Members of Commission Appointment-Term-Vacancy-Removal-Ex Officio Members-Members to Serve Without Compensation, the Board of County Commissioners has the power of appointment to TMAPC. The Board has the additional responsibility and authority to remove a member of TMAPC that has been appointed by the Board. Under this statute, a member of the TMAPC may be removed from office "for cause" after a hearing held before the governing body by which he or she was appointed. "Cause" shall include, but not be limited to, performance, conduct or behavior, whether by acts or omission, or violation of the Policies and Procedures and Code of Ethics as adopted by the TMAPC, which the Board of County Commissioners concludes materially and adversely affects the orderly or efficient operation of the TMAPC.

(B) Procedure

Upon such a vote to consider removal, the Board of County Commissioners shall set a public hearing in accordance with applicable Oklahoma state statutes regarding notice, posting, and setting and provide notice to the Planning Commissioner whose removal is to be considered by certified mail, return receipt requested, or by hand delivery to the Planning Commissioner whose removal is to be considered. The notice shall be in the form of a Notice of Public Hearing from the Board that shall schedule a date and time for such consideration at a public hearing held before the Board of County Commissioners, as well as the reasons for such consideration.

The public hearing before the Board of County Commissioners shall be no less than three (3) weeks after a request for removal has been presented to the County Commission. Said notice of public hearing shall be duly and properly posted.

The Planning Commissioner whose removal is sought may appear at that date and time and shall be given an opportunity to be heard by the Board of County Commissioners as to the reasons why his or her removal is not warranted, and may be represented by counsel at the hearing.

The Board has the inherent authority to determine any necessary rules of conduct in the hearing to maintain decorum and order. Rules of conduct by those in attendance of a hearing before the Board may include the potential of a time limit to the amount of time provided to those who request to speak for or against an item on the Board's agenda, requiring those speaking to stand at the podium and speak loud enough to be audio recorded in order that an accurate recorded [sic] of the proceedings can be accomplished, and others that would fall under the general category of rules of conduct that allow the Board to maintain decorum and order in the meetings.

Upon conclusion of the hearing the Board of County Commissioners shall take a vote to determine whether removal of the Planning Commissioner is warranted. If the decision of the Board is removal of the Planning Commissioner is warranted, the Board shall indicate the effective date of the removal.

As you can see, key elements of the procedure are left vague or undefined. Based on the vagueness of the charges and the description of the process, I am anticipating a kind of kangaroo court: Wright will be allowed to speak in her own defense, followed by members of the public. Only then will Keith present the specifics of the case, followed by discussion among the county commissioners. Neither Wright nor members of the public will have the opportunity for rebuttal. The commissioners' discussion may be quite brief if they have already discussed the matter privately and reached a consensus, by means of the county commission tradition of using a go-between to adhere to the letter, but not the spirit, of the Open Meetings Act.

What should happen is that Keith should be compelled by the other two county commissioners, John Smaligo and Fred Perry, to present the specifics of her charges against Wright, and then they should vote to continue the hearing to a future date to allow Wright and her supporters adequate time to prepare a defense. That would be the fair thing to do.

And something else that should happen: There are developers, real estate brokers, and other members of the development community who understand that all parties deserve a fair hearing in the land use regulation process. They understand the need for collaboration and compromise when it comes to controversial matters like infill development in stable neighborhoods. They need to speak out against the attempt to remove Wright and work to moderate their more volatile colleagues.

After the defeat of the development industry's attempt to recall Jim Mautino and Chris Medlock and the passage of the zoning protest petition charter amendment, it appeared that the development industry was prepared to take a more conciliatory tone. The removal of Liz Wright from the TMAPC would be seen by many neighborhood leaders and members of the City Council as an act of aggression, a power play by a power-hungry industry unwilling to cooperate with other interest groups. But what we need, as we move toward a new comprehensive plan and a new approach to development, is diplomacy and a willingness to cooperate to reach win-win outcomes.

How the commissioners handle this case should be a litmus test issue for every property owner in the City of Tulsa or unincorporated Tulsa County concerned about fair treatment of all parties in the zoning process. If you're concerned about a fair hearing for Tulsa proposed new comprehensive plan, you should be concerned about the outcome of this case. If any county commissioner votes to remove Wright for bogus reasons before her three-year term has expired, the citizens of Tulsa County need to remove that commissioner from office at the next opportunity. For two county commissioners, that opportunity is just a few months away.

MORE: Read Mike Easterling's story on the Karen Keith-Liz Wright controversy in the latest issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly. And for more background, see my earlier entry, "Karen Keith trying to bully neighborhood leader off planning commission."

You can read Elizabeth Wright's own comments on the removal effort at TulsaNow's public forum.

UPDATE 11:40 a.m. 2009/11/02: Liz Wright called earlier this morning to tell me that the County Commission voted to approve the November 23 public hearing. Karen Keith based her call for a hearing on the need for geographical balance and her desire to make her own appointment, neither of which is cause for removing a planning commissioner under state law.

I was disappointed to hear that Keith's two Republican colleagues, John Smaligo and Fred Perry, voted to approve Keith's request without comment. I certainly hope they aren't using county employees to conduct private discussions about commission business, as that would violate the spirit of Oklahoma's open meetings law. They should not have approved the public hearing without Keith supplying probable cause for removal.

Smaligo and Perry have enabled Keith to blindside Wright at the November 23 hearing. By giving Keith the hearing without requiring public statement of the real reason, Perry and Smaligo have prevented Wright and her supporters from having the time to prepare a defense. As a commenter suggested, this is the same underhanded approach we saw in the ouster of Bell's Amusement Park. Although the commissioners involved in the Bell's issue are gone, the rotten political culture seems to linger on.

(And what is it about Karen Keith that she manages to wrap male Republican elected officials around her little finger? She wouldn't have had the resume to run for commissioner if Bill LaFortune hadn't given her a job in his mayoral administration.)

Liz Wright also told me that she was never notified by the county that an issue concerning her would be on this morning's agenda.

At Monday's Tulsa County Commission meeting, District 2 Commissioner Karen Keith will seek a public hearing for the November 23, 2009, meeting to remove Elizabeth Wright as a member of the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission 14 months before her term is due to end. Wright was nominated for the TMAPC by then-Commissioner Randi Miller and approved by the County Commission in April 2008. The Tulsa World's Kevin Canfield had a story on Keith's ouster attempt in the Sunday, November 1, 2009, edition.

Keith's stated reason for removing Wright, according to Canfield's story: "I would like the opportunity to make my own appointment, and I want someone who will be responsive to the needs of the western and southern parts of the county." But under state law, a planning commissioner can only be removed for cause.

So Keith has apparently ginned up some pretext for removal for cause, but she's only hinting at the reasons in menacing tones:

But Keith said Saturday that Wright knows why the county is considering her removal.

"It's unfortunate, but all of the details about her service on the Planning Commission will come out," Keith said. "She knows and she understands why this is happening."

And yet the e-mail traffic between Wright and county mouthpiece Terry Simonson, on Keith's behalf, has focused entirely on the geographical balance issue. Wright has provided me with the e-mail traffic between her and Simonson. After several generic messages attempting to set up a meeting between Keith and Wright, Simonson wrote the following on Tuesday, October 8, 2009:

Liz

Karen tells me she has already spoken with you and that the topic was that she wants to replace you as her appointment with a neighborhood representative from a part of her district that has no representation. Apparently most, if not all, of the TMAPC members come from a fairly compact same area of Tulsa, primarily what some would call the midtown area. No representation from West Tulsa, Sand Springs, or Jenks. Since the appointment is designated for the District 2 County Commissioner, she can make a replacement appointment. So, what I need is either a letter or email from you resigning from the board so she can move forward with her appointment. I'm sure you would agree that if it is truly a metropolitan area planning commission that geographic balance on the commission is a good thing.

(Please note that the cities of Jenks and Sand Springs each have their own city planning commissions and are not under the jurisdiction of the TMAPC.)

In her reply, Wright notes that the geographical imbalance is the result of city appointments. She also states that she is the only small business owner on the commission and represents women-owned businesses.

Simonson's October 12, 2009, reply:

Dear Liz

There is a reason why the county commissioners are allowed to make appointments to the TMAPC. Since it's a metropolitan planning commission, all parts of the county should be represented. The city councilors of course can and will only appoint people from within the city which they have historically done. Same with the Mayor. That leaves the commissioners to appoint people either outside of the city of Tulsa or from parts of the city not represented on the commission.

I think there is a difference between a property owner or business owner who resides or owns property in another part of the county and one who doesn't. I think there can be a different perspective from a visitor to the area versus someone who has roots and a history. Certainly Jenks and Sand Springs and Glenpool deserve some form of representation. I think your points of being a women business owner is important and this demographic could likewise be represented from a selection outside of the city of Tulsa.

So, if one were to compose a profile of a well rounded planning commissioner and take into account a diverse set of criteria ( geography, demographic, business experience, neighborhood and planning knowledge, etc ) I believe a commissioner like that can be found outside of the city of Tulsa.

Terry

Nothing in the correspondence indicates that there is any cause for Wright's removal, but now Keith is trying to move forward with a hearing that only makes sense if some cause will be presented.

Behind the scenes, word is that developers are upset with Wright for raising questions that they would rather not have to answer, and that's the reason they are working through Karen Keith to push for Wright's removal.

It's true that there are too many planning commissioners and too many members of boards and commissions in general that come from what I've labeled the "Money Belt" -- the wealthiest neighborhoods of Tulsa which are clustered along a line from Maple Ridge to Southern Hills and then fans out into the gated communities of south Tulsa. The Money Belt, particularly the portion between Maple Ridge and Southern Hills, is like a small town where everyone seems to know everyone else. My theory is that mayors tend to pick people from this area for boards and commissions because that's where their networks of friends and friends of friends all live.

Florence Park, where Liz Wright lives and where she has served as neighborhood association president, lies outside the Money Belt, even though it is in midtown. And midtown Tulsa is the most populous portion of District 2 that is under the jurisdiction of the TMAPC, which only handles zoning cases for the City of Tulsa and unincorporated portions of Tulsa County. Every other Tulsa County municipality has its own planning commission. (Tulsa should too, with all commissioners appointed by city elected officials, but that's a topic for another day.)

More important than geographic balance on the TMAPC is professional balance. Too many of its members have ties to the real estate and development industry. People in that position would be understandably reluctant to recommend against zoning changes sought by firms that may be their partners or customers in future projects or to recommend against zoning changes that would set a useful precedent for their own projects. Balance will help to ensure that the land use regulation system serves all Tulsans and is administered fairly, even-handedly, and consistently.

Not only do we need neighborhood leaders on the TMAPC for balance, we need those leaders to be intelligent and confident in their own judgment. I've seen it happen in the past that neighborhood and community leaders are appointed to a board or commission, and rather than bringing a new perspective to the body, they are indoctrinated and assimilated into its culture.

Imagine the outcry and editorializing if a county commissioner were trying to force a real estate broker or a homebuilder off of the commission to replace him with a neighborhood association president.

Geographic balance is important, but I would hate to lose a planning commissioner like Liz Wright, who brings a neighborhood perspective to the table, understands zoning, and is able to stand up under pressure. If you believe we need that kind of perspective, particularly as we embark upon adoption and implementation of a new comprehensive plan for Tulsa, please contact your county commissioners and urge them to allow Liz Wright to serve out her full term on the TMAPC.

District 1: John Smaligo, jsmaligo@tulsacounty.org, (918) 596-5020
District 2: Karen Keith, kkeith@tulsacounty.org, (918) 596-5016
District 3: Fred Perry, fperry@tulsacounty.org, (918) 596-5010

Karen Keith received significant campaign contributions from the real estate and development lobby. Keith's campaign consultants included Jim Burdge, who ran the development lobby's ugly recall campaign against neighborhood-friendly city councilors Jim Mautino and Chris Medlock, and Art Justis, who as a city councilor was a reliable vote for whatever a developer wanted to do and who was defeated by neighborhood leader Jim Mautino.

It's a shame that the development lobby is so insecure that they feel it necessary to eliminate someone with a neighborhood association background, just because she is intelligent, articulate, and independent. It's a shame that Karen Keith, who once upon a time was a supporter of neighborhood associations and an opponent of incompatible redevelopment, has apparently decided to carry the development lobby's water on this issue.

The PLANiTULSA draft vision document, which will serve as the foundation for a fully-elaborated comprehensive plan for the City of Tulsa, is online. You can read it online as separate web pages, or download the "Our Vision for Tulsa" PDF. It's only 50 pages long (with lots of photos), so please take time to read it, and then go online to provide your feedback.

Tulsa County Commissioners would like to know what should be done with Driller Stadium or the stadium site after the Tulsa Drillers move downtown. There's an online survey where you can rank possible options for using the existing stadium or for replacing it with some other kind of development.

NOTE: I was able to get to the Journal Record stories below earlier today through links posted in the paper's Twitter feed. As I get ready to publish this, the stories now appear to be accessible to subscribers only.

NOTE 2: Articles are still inaccessible to non-subscribers, but an entry on the Journal Record's blog has summaries of the articles.

In a strongly-worded editorial in the March 18, 2009, Journal Record, Ted Streuli, the paper's managing editor, writes that Tulsa County's "exorbitant, unconscionable fees to view and print public records clearly violate state law, and [Tulsa County Clerk Earlene] Wilson gets away with it because the law doesn't have any teeth."

I encourage you to read the entire editorial as well as two related news stories in the same edition:

Assessor, clerk upgrade to incompatible systems
Tulsa County policies lead to debate on Open Records Act

There are three different sets of public records under consideration:

The County Clerk keeps track of how land is subdivided into parcels (plat maps), who owns which piece of land, and what encumbrances exist -- liens, mortgages, easements, covenants on a given parcel. Records are kept of each transaction affecting the state of a parcel.

The County Assessor estimates the value of each parcel based on fair market value, based on the physical characteristics of the property and factors like zoning.

The County Treasurer collects property (ad valorem) taxes based on the assessed value and then disburses the collected money to school districts, municipalities, the county and other taxing authorities according to law.

In Tulsa County, none of these records are freely available online. You can go to the offices in question to look at the physical records, or you can pay a monthly fee to have access. As Streuli notes, you not only have to pay to access the information, you have to pay $1 a page to print a copy with your own printer, paper, and ink. Streuli says this is a violation of the Oklahoma Open Records Act:

Until recently, you could find all of this information at Tulsa Library branches, using a special IBM terminal emulator that runs on selected library computers. You can still find out who owns a piece of property, what its assessed value is (along with the physical characteristics that determine the value), and the current taxes (including whether those taxes have been paid).

It used to be possible, when looking at the combined display for a parcel, to push a button and see a list of transactions on that parcel over the last decade or so. But the last time I used the system those features weren't available. The options for viewing these County Clerk records had vanished from the main menu as well.

Many smaller Oklahoma counties make their county clerk records available freely online. For many counties you can even view and print images of records for free.

Oklahoma County Assessor Leonard Sullivan (a former Republican state representative) has one of the best public records websites in the country. On his homepage, he writes:

With more than 6 million property searches so far this year we've been recognized as one of the most advanced records search websites in the country where anyone with internet access can spend a few minutes or longer looking up property records in Oklahoma County.

Using the Public Access System you can find information about any property in Oklahoma County. Including the sale price, market value, assessed value, and legal description. Using the interactive Geographic Information System (GIS) Map, you can see a digital aerial color image of your home, find out which school district the property is located within, who represents you in the state legislature or congress, even see if your home or another property could be subject to flooding....

The Oklahoma County Assessor's Office has embraced technology and works hard to make access to public records and information a priority.

I'm happy to read that Sullivan's counterpart, Tulsa County Assessor Ken Yazel, has the same goal in mind:

Former title company operator Yazel spent $953,467 to upgrade the assessor's 262,000-parcel database with RealWare by Colorado Customware, the software behind the award-winning Oklahoma County assessor's Web site.

Seeking to emulate Oklahoma County and promote the economic benefit of free and open records access, Yazel said he hopes to unveil a new Tulsa County assessor's site this year.

If you're gasping at the cost of the software, keep in mind that the Assessor's office has to have it regardless of whether the information is made available over the web. The Assessor needs to keep records of every parcel in the county, with details like square footage and outbuildings and quality of materials and number of bathrooms and with the capability to translate recent sales of comparable properties into fair market value. The marginal cost of making the information available to the general public online is negligible. Same thing is true for the County Clerk's records.

Not only is the marginal cost negligible, it actually saves the county money to make the information available online, as more people can get the information they need without taking the time of a county employee.

Oklahoma County Assessor Chief Deputy Larry Stein said his office achieved those results with its Web site upgrades.

"It saves us from having to have a whole bunch of people streaming into our office every day when they can get that off the Web," said Stein.

Wilson and Tulsa County Treasurer Dennis Semler have both cited privacy concerns along with cost recovery as a justification for limiting access to paying customers and library computer terminals. The cost issue is bogus: The county offices have a legal duty to maintain the records and a responsibility to the taxpayers to tap into the productivity benefits of computerization. The County Clerk even collects fees on each document processed.

The privacy issue is bogus, too: The records are public and are already available. If you have a way to make money off of the information -- whether it's as a lender, an appraiser, or a real estate investor -- you'll spring for the cost of using the online system, or you'll pay an employee to go down to the County Courthouse and collect information. A homeowner who needs to track developments that could potentially threaten his property value or a journalist who is researching a story has to get to the library when it's open, tie up a library computer, and stop when his daily allotment of computer time is used up.

Tulsa County officials aren't protecting privacy if property records are easily accessible for a small number of people and hard to get for the rest of us.

But don't look for anything to change in the near future:

As long as Tulsa County citizens express satisfaction with the service, Semler expects the county budget board to stand pat.

So if you've ever been frustrated by having to drive to the library to look up land records, if you don't think you should have to pay twice for easy access -- once through your taxes and again through special fees -- if you want the County to obey the Open Records Act, contact your County Commissioner, the County Clerk, and the County Treasurer and let them know you want them to work with Ken Yazel to provide free online access to land records. You'll find all the contact information you need at the Tulsa County website.

The Karen Keith campaign submitted a lengthy rebuttal in UTW to my column endorsing Sally Bell for Tulsa County District 2 Commissioner. Here's my reply:

(1) Karen Keith doesn't seem to get the difference between one's philosophy of government and one's conduct as an elected official. I wrote:

"Although Randi Miller is gone, her philosophy of county government is still in the race. The Karen Keith platform is nothing more than the Randi Miller approach to county government with a more appealing façade."

To those who think this is unfair, please give an example of a policy decision that Randi Miller made as a county commissioner that Karen Keith would have made differently. It's noteworthy that nowhere in her response does Keith note any policy differences with Miller.

Keith sets up a straw man with her subpoints, all of which have to do with conduct, not philosophy or policy.

(2) She says that she was "part of the team working for the passage of Vision 2025." Her part was to serve as a spokesperson during the campaign. She debated on behalf of the vote yes campaign at the TulsaNow debate at Harwelden and on KWHB 47. I know because I was there debating on the other side. She also made speeches to civic groups and neighborhoods on behalf of the tax. She debated against Jack Gordon and Jim Hewgley on Fox 23. She may have also been doing work behind the scenes, but her visible role was as someone who spoke on behalf of passing the tax.

Keith is on the record as supporting more local tax dollars for river development, which I consider an amenity, not a necessity. She supported the failed river tax increase last year. She has stated at least by implication that she'd support sending another river tax to the voters:

Keith also said she would not oppose using more public funds for infrastructure projects along the Arkansas River.

[snip]

"We've already made significant public investment in engineering for the river," Keith said, "but more may be needed to make it possible for the private sector to come in and create housing, entertainment and retail that is sensitive to the natural habitat."

After her speech, Keith clarified her remarks by saying residents would have the final say on any tax-increase proposal.

Keith protests at being called a "pro-tax" candidate, but I can't think of any local tax initiative that she's opposed. Someone let me know if I've overlooked one.

Furthermore, would Karen Keith unequivocally commit that she would not send a tax for amenities to the voters? Sally Bell has.

She has danced around this issue, by saying that the final decision belongs to the voters. But the voters can only give a thumbs up or thumbs down on whatever package the County Commissioners choose to send to them. Tax votes are expensive: Expensive for the county election board, expensive for the proponents, and expensive and time consuming for the opponents. Putting a tax on the ballot is not a neutral act. Surely Keith understands that.

At the All Souls debate Keith said that her most important platform plank is "economic development for this region," citing Vision 2025 and Four to Fix the County. Keith appears to believe that government-funded amenities are the key to economic growth.

At the Red Fork debate, Keith blamed the failure of the river tax in part on the delay in announcing that Celine Dion would be performing at the BOK Center.

She also blamed the state of Tulsa's streets on failed tax initiatives. Tulsa has passed every tax initiative for streets since 1980. The only taxes we've turned down have been for amenities. Karen Keith seems to believe money for amenities brings prosperity which brings revenues to pay for streets. In reality, you'd make much more progress on streets if you put the funds directly to that purpose, instead of investing it in amenities and hoping for a marginal improvement in revenues over time.

At the same debate, she said that if the river tax were put back on the ballot, it would be a different package, and it would pass. Who is going to put that tax back on the ballot, if not her?

Over and over again, Keith has cited the Vision 2025 tax package as the model for progress, as the source of our economic growth.

(3) Regarding the Bob Dick endorsement, Keith is either disingenuous or staggeringly unaware of Dick's legacy as a county commissioner. Again, I would challenge her to specify any major decision made by Bob Dick as Commissioner which she would have made differently.

If I were blindly partisan, I would not have been as critical as I have of Dick's record, nor would I have called for someone to step up to challenge Dick for his 2006 re-election bid.

(4) Here Keith contradicts the point she made in item (1)(d). Having the County take over municipal park maintenance is an example of "having the county government act as some sort of metropolitan government service provider."

(5) I stand by my statement. Keith did attack Bell's business record at the Kiwanis debate, and if you listen to what she said (I think you can still find it on the KRMG website), I think you'll agree it was awkward. She stumbled and stammered through it. It was a stark contrast to the smooth way she reads prepared text.

(6) I've written many times about the "Money Belt" phenomenon, for example, in my July 30 column on the Collective Strength survey of 1,000 Tulsans. I was writing about the regional differences on agreement with statements like "City leaders in Tulsa understand my community's needs" and "I do not feel included in the planning process. People like me are always left out."

The gap between Midtown and south Tulsa on the one hand and north, west and east Tulsa is not surprising. Maps of election results showing support for various tax increases, of where appointees to city boards and commissions live, and of those selected to the PLANiTULSA Advisers and Partners reveal a common pattern.

I've labeled it the "Money Belt"--a band of Tulsa's wealthiest neighborhoods running south-southeast from downtown through Maple Ridge, Utica Square, and Southern Hills then fanning out into the gated communities of south Tulsa.

Regarding Keith, I wrote:

Keith and her midtown money belt allies appear to think it was a foolproof recipe for passing funding packages, but as we saw last October, in the failed attempt to pass a countywide sales tax for river projects, its time has come and gone.

That statement doesn't preclude the possibility that she has non-Money Belt allies, but by reason of her geography, mindset, and major contributors, Keith clearly belongs to the Money Belt.

By the way, the Urban Tulsa staff requested copies of both candidates' ethics reports. The Bell campaign supplied her report. The Keith campaign did not even reply to the request.

There is so much happening and so little time to comment, so here are a few local links of interest:

Bubbaworld has questions about the $135 million in unspent funds from past City of Tulsa sales taxes and bond issues:

In what bank(s) are these surplus funds deposited?

Are the taxpayers of Tulsa earning a reasonable interest on these surplus tax revenues, some of which have apparently been "laying around" since the 1970's?

Who has ultimate control of this $135 million "slush fund"?

And most importantly, why when this much surplus tax revenue was available have Tulsans been asked time and again to approve new and additional tax increases for a variety of purposes?

We learn today that Tulsa County Commission candidate Karen Keith is indeed a member, as we suspected, of the JBS. That's the Jim Burdge Society. The campaign consultant is on Keith's payroll, along with former District 6 City Councilor Art Justis. As I wrote in last week's UTW:

Keith's decision to hire Jim Burdge as her campaign consultant further undercuts her squeaky-clean image. Burdge is renowned in political circles for his slimy, underhanded, and often clumsy attacks on his clients' opponents. As the consultant of choice to the development industry lobby, Burdge led the disastrous 2005 recall campaign against Councilors Jim Mautino and Chris Medlock and the even more disastrous opposition to the [zoning protest] petition charter amendment.

Keith's selection of Burdge, like her enthusiastic embrace of Bob Dick's endorsement, doesn't speak well of her judgment.

Keith also got two big checks from the development industry: $5,000 from the Realtors PAC and $2,000 from a group associated with the state home builders association.

Jenn at Green Country Values reports that a Gold Star mom named Angelia Phillips is upset at Andrew Rice, Democrat candidate for Senate. Rice has a "tribute" on his website to her son Michael Phillips and other Oklahomans killed in action in Iraq. Mrs. Phillips considers it an insult, not a tribute, because of Rice's stand against the war. She wrote:

My husband and I believe strongly that if you do not support the troops AND their mission then any "tribute" you might make on their behalf is hollow and nothing more than a scoreboard.

She has asked the Rice campaign to remove her son's name from the website, and the campaign has refused. She intended to ask Rice personally today at a scheduled campaign appearance, but he was a no-show.

Steven Roemerman does a fact check on U. S. Rep. John Sullivan's latest ad about his carpetbagging opponent and finds it factual.

As always, Mike McCarville is the go-to guy on Oklahoma politics. His latest stories include an item on all the money trial lawyers are dumping into Nancy Riley's SD 37 re-election campaign. A Riley win is needed for a continued Democratic majority, which in turn would mean no tort reform. McCarville also reports a last minute $100,000 surprise attack by the Democrats on State Sen. Jim Reynolds, who is being challenged by someone named David Boren (not the David Boren).

The Peregrine Falcon has three reports from the first Ice Oilers game at the BOK Center, one about the game, one about Mayor Kathy Taylor getting booed, and one about the frustration of buying tickets. After going downtown to try to avoid a $9 per ticket fee at Homeland:

So, I get downtown, I stand in line; of which there are only two. That's right, two-lines for the single largest venue in Tulsa; TWO LINES!!! While I am waiting the person operating my line, (1 of 2) walks away. Four minutes later, I find that the section that I want is not available for this game; BOK isn't selling cheap seats (cheap at $10.00 per seat - not that cheap). However, they are willing to sell me seats twice the price. Begrudgingly I bought the tickets. Again, a fee was attached. Two dollars per ticket, to have the privilege of paying for a center that I am already paying for.

The Peregrine Falcon also links to a debunking of Barack Obama's alleged middle-class tax cut, showing that Obama's plans include four tax increases for people earning less than $250,000.

Joe Kelley has a picture of the unspeakably cute new resident of the Oklahoma Aquarium.

(I was on air with Joe this morning, about my question, "Are we really about to elect a far-left president?")

Lynn reminds us that Oklahoma's favorite son, the Anti-Bunk Party nominee in 1928, was born on Election Day and his 129th birthday will fall on Election Day 2008.

Down the 'pike, Steve Lackmeyer checks the Bricktown parking situation during the OKC Thunder's first regular season game and finds plenty of spaces.

OCPA gets a salute from Illinois for their work to let the sun shine in on Oklahoma government expenditures.

Steve Roemerman has a detailed report from Tuesday night's debate between Tulsa County Commission District 2 candidates Sally Bell (R) and Karen Keith (D).

Steve reports that Keith claimed the sad state of Tulsa streets was because of "failed tax initiatives." I challenge Karen Keith to name one street-related tax initiative (general obligation bond issue or sales tax) that has failed in the last quarter-century in Tulsa.

My column in this week's Urban Tulsa Weekly further explores the contrasting political philosophies of Karen Keith and Sally Bell.

The County Commission race was also a topic of conversation in my debate with former Tulsa County Democratic Party chairman Elaine Dodd, the cover story in this week's UTW. We also chatted about the presidential, U. S. Senate, and U. S. House races, and the State Senate District 37 race between incumbent Republican-turned-Democrat Nancy Riley and Republican challenger Dan Newberry.

Monday evening I attended a debate at All Souls Unitarian Church, hosted by the League of Women Voters. I suspect most of the people in the room were supporters either of the Republican nominee, Sally Bell, or the Democratic nominee, Karen Keith. Although I had expected the venue to be a friendlier environment for Keith, judging by the applause about two-thirds of the audience seemed to be there to support Bell, and I thought Keith seemed a bit rattled as a consequence.

Both candidates hit their core themes: Bell focused on basic infrastructure, public safety, and limited government; Keith kept going back to Vision 2025 and Four to Fix the County and the county's role in economic development.

I will be uploading audio, although it will take a while. Watch this space.

UPDATE: Had some Internet problems at home tonight, but here is the MP3 file for the debate It is a 9 MB MP3 file and runs about 75 minutes. I had to hold the recorder, so you'll hear some periodic rustling, but it's better than nothing. There is also a break about 64 minutes in, where I stopped and restarted the recorder out of fear that the battery was about to go.

MORE: There's a rumble in Red Fork tonight, Tuesday, October 21, at 7 p.m. Bell and Keith will debate at the Red Fork Church of God, 3319 W. 41st St.

The downtown Tulsa Kiwanis Club is hosting a debate between the candidates for District 2 Tulsa County Commissioner today beginning at 12:15. Republican Sally Bell will face Democrat Karen Keith. KRMG's Joe Kelley will moderate the debate, and it will be cybercast live online at krmg.com. It will also be broadcast over the airwaves tonight at 6:00 on 740 KRMG.

(Post time tweaked to keep this at the top of the blog until this evening.)

UPDATE: KRMG has posted audio of the debate in four segments.

We spent most of Saturday at the Tulsa State Fair.

Despite my disgust at many of the decisions of of the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority (aka the Fair Board), as I mentioned last year, going to the fair is a family tradition that predates my existence. The fair was here long before Randi Miller and Bob Dick and Rick Bjorklund, and it has already survived their involvement. Within a few months, every member of the Fair Board and Expo Square exec that was around when Bell's was expelled, when Murphy Bros. was granted their exclusive contract, when checks from Murphy's Big Splash were left uncashed for over a year, will be gone.

My grandmother entered crafts in the fair back in the '40s and '50s. Starting in 2004, my wife encouraged our kids to enter some of their artwork. My son has won ribbons for paintings and a Lego car. This year the 12-year-old boy and the eight-year-old girl won ribbons in the pumpkin decorating competition. The girl won a blue ribbon in the creative category for a very cute two-pumpkin snowman, and the boy took third place in the "unusual" category for his volcano pumpkin. (I'll try to get pictures posted soon.) My son submitted several of his photographs, and my daughter entered a pastel drawing.

The kids area was relocated to Central Park Hall, and that was our first stop, after we'd walked the half-mile from home. After seeing how they did in the contests, they wanted to build with Kapla planks while the toddler wanted to drive the Li'l' Tikes police car.

Next stop was the Oklahoma Fiddle Championship. My son had decided not to enter, but we still wanted to watch. We were there in time to see the end of the junior competition and to see Marina Pendleton win first prize and the belt buckle.

My wife stayed to watch the open and senior competition; she says she heard some amazing fiddling. The rest of us headed down to the Coke stage to watch the illusionists (Ridgeway and Johnson) and the hypnotist (Steve Bayner) -- both very impressive. In between, we wandered around the Sugar Art Show and marveled at the beautifully decorated cakes. We stopped by the Republican booth -- located as always at the eastern end of the IPE Building QuikTrip Center -- and signed up for McCain/Palin and Inhofe yard signs.

Just north of the Sugar Art Show, we came across the Fruitfull booth. Fruitfull makes these delicious and nutritious frozen treats. We tried the mango and cream, strawberries and cream, and peaches and cream flavors. The treats are made with no refined sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. They use real fruit and fruit juice. Everyone in the family enjoyed them. They're available in Shell convenience stores in the Tulsa area, and they hope to get them into supermarkets soon.

At 7:30 we went to see the Disney on Ice version of High School Musical. I was thankful that we had free passes. Not only were the tickets expensive, but everything else was too -- $12 for a bag of cotton candy, which came with an official High School Musical plastic trilby. We passed on all the food and souvenirs. The kids enjoyed the show. The music and plot made it easy to overlook the skating skill that was on display. Only half of the Pavilion was open for seating, and only half of those seats were filled.

During intermission, we chatted with a fellow behind us who was at the fair for the first time in 15 years. His folks ran the Don's Chicken Fried Steak cafe in the old Exchange Building for 15 years -- a very popular place to eat at the fair, until the Fair Board decided not to renew their lease. His grandparents owned Don's Chili Bowl in Boman Acres Shopping Center and an aunt owned Don's Restaurant on north Sheridan. It was fun to hear some of his memories of the fair.

After the show we bought some cotton candy and watched the Boogie Bodies booth, where you put a green drape over your body, and a computer merges dancing figures with your head, making it look like you're singing and dancing in a music video.

My wife and the kids will go back again later in the week to see more of the animals and exhibits.

It was a bit melancholy to note the disappearance of more of the buildings that were part of my childhood visits to the fair. The IPE Building, the Armory, the Pavilion, and the Skyride are all that's left. Over the last year, the cafeteria and the Exchange/Youth Building were demolished. The cafeteria was the last remnant of when the International Petroleum Exposition was held in a campus of individual buildings where the IPE Building (QuikTrip Center) now stands. The Exchange Building was once home to the annual KTUL Talent Show and the location of the local segments of the Jerry Lewis Telethon. One year (1980?) the Republican 1st District Convention was held in that room. The Youth Building was home to the 4-H and FFA exhibits during the fair. Once upon a time, I believe the Youth Building also included dormitories that housed young future farmers who were at the fairgrounds to show their livestock.

I still miss the KELi satellite.

You will note that I said nothing about rides. We did not ride any. We aren't going to ride any Murphy Bros. rides ever again. That decision is in protest at Bell's Amusement Park's eviction and Murphy-owned Big Splash's apparent lack of concern over safety (failure to make required repairs before opening the park for the season) and apparent lack of concern over paying their bills on time (lease checks went uncashed by Expo Square management for years). My kids are sad not to ride rides, but they are in agreement that we don't want to give any money to Murphy Bros.

We did notice that the Murphy Bros. midway is littered with sandwich boards featuring a superhero cartoon character named "Captain Murph." Captain Murph utters slogans, often rhyming:

BE POLITE THATS OUT OF SIGHT!!
Be Alert Accidents Hurt!
THINK GREEN KEEP THE MIDWAY CLEAN
Hey Kids have FUN FUN FUN

These signs are just ripe for photoshopping, and Steve Roemerman has some replacement slogans that had me roaring with laughter. He saved the best for last.

Showdown at the county jail

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My latest article in Urban Tulsa Weekly is about the soon-to-expire agreement between the City of Tulsa and Tulsa County regarding jail operations. Under the existing contract, the county's jail system uses several city facilities rent-free -- including the old city jail, which provides holding cells for the adjacent county courthouse, and a property room -- in exchange for the city being allowed to hold up to 116 prisoners, in jail only on municipal charges, at no cost to the city.

The latest volley in the war of words between the two sides comes in a sharply-worded letter from Assistant City Attorney Christine Benediktson to County Commissioner John Smaligo, which accuses county officials of not negotiating in good faith and advises that the city is prepared to go it alone when the contract expires:

Over the last several months I have listened carefully to your issues, spent considerable time in researching issues and solutions and in meeting with City officials and employees in an effort to reach a compromise and, ultimately, to avoid a protracted legal dispute. Your response to these efforts makes a mockery of the negotiation process and constitutes bad faith. As a resident of Tulsa County, I am extremely disappointed in you as a public official. It is most unfortunate that you do not appear to respect or honor your fiduciary duty to the citizens of Tulsa - who comprise one of the largest communities within the County that you serve.

I have been authorized to inform you that if the County persists in refusing to negotiate properly, the City is prepared to change the way we conduct municipal court business. We will be prepared to deal with our municipal prisoners independently on October 1st. We will contemporaneously move forward to analyze our legal options against the County. Further, if this occurs, the Sheriff will be required to handle all administrative services previously provided by the City and to vacate all City owned premises, including the municipal court building, the holding cells and the sally port. Additionally, the County will need to make arrangements for the property located in the City Property Room currently held by the City on behalf of the County. Despite your representations to the contrary, approximately 80% of that property is being held in relation to cases currently pending in State Court.

The letter also advises that some misdemeanors that are both municipal offenses and state offenses -- assault and battery and DUI are specifically named -- will be booked as state violations, rather than municipal, as they routinely are booked today. This would allow Tulsa to avoid being billed for these prisoners, but it would move the case from Municipal to District Court, adding to the workload of the District Attorney and the District Court.

The jail sharing contract between the City of Tulsa and Tulsa County is due to expire in less than two weeks, and negotiations are stalled. Mayor Kathy Taylor issued a memo to the City Council last Friday reviewing the origins of the current contract, created in 1995, and the county promises that persuaded city officials to work with the county to pass the jail tax.

(Here is the memo from Mayor Taylor to the City Council and
the attachment to the memo, including documents and statements made when the original city/county jail contract was signed in 1995 (5 MB PDF).)

In a nutshell, Tulsa County had failed to pass a bond issue to replace the overcrowded jail on the top floor of the County Courthouse. One attempt to pass a sales tax for a new jail was blocked by District Judge Jane Wiseman, who said the proposal, which bundled funding for crime prevention programs with the cost of building and operating the jail, was unconstitutional logrolling. (Eight years later, Wiseman turned a blind eye to far more blatant logrolling on the Vision 2025 ballot. She now sits on the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals.)

In an effort to win the City of Tulsa's support for a new, properly divided sales tax vote, county officials agreed to house up to 116 purely municipal offenders -- people in jail on a city charge, but with no state charges pending -- in exchange for county's use of the city's municipal jail and booking area for housing prisoners appearing at the courthouse and the county's use of the city's adult detention center near Newblock Park. The county's argument to the city was that combining operations would save the city more than $2 million annually that it was spending to run its municipal jail. The city would reimburse the county at a rate of $16.44 per prisoner per day for any municipal prisoners in excess of 116.

The county's proposal for the new jail contract redefines what constitutes a municipal prisoner and triples the cost per municipal prisoner per day. Previously, prisoners counted against the city's allowance of 116 only if they were in jail solely on municipal charges. If they were in jail on state charges, they were the county's responsibility under state law, even if municipal charges were also pending. The county's new proposal would eliminate any allowance to the city -- charges would begin with the first municipal prisoner -- and the city would be billed for every prisoner with a municipal charge pending, even if the prisoner would have to be in jail anyway on state charges.

Taylor's memo includes the assertion that Sheriff Stanley Glanz has been able to operate the jail for $2 million a year less than the money generated by the 1/4-cent jail operation sales tax.

City officials are right to resist this contract and to explore alternatives, such as letting the agreement lapse using the adult detention center as the city lockup. It would be better if the county reconsidered its position and worked with the city on continuing combined operations. The county should agree to the old, sensible definition of municipal prisoner and should grant the city an allowance of purely municipal misdemeanor prisoners in consideration for the sheriff's use of city detention facilities.

Most elections I'm used to a mixed bag of results -- some encouraging, some discouraging. Once in a great while -- 1980, 1994 come to mind -- everything goes the way I hope.

This comes close to being one of those nights.

82% of Republican voters said yes to Sally Bell and "enough already" to County Commissioner Randi Miller. While I expected a win, my guess was 57%. There's a certain constituency who will vote for the incumbent no matter what. Bell's win is certainly due to disgust with Miller, but the size of the win demonstrates that voters see Bell as a credible prospect for County Commission. That ought to help her raise money and volunteers for the November general election, which will be tough, but it's looking more and more feasible.

We're nearly at 100% of the vote, and it looks like Dana Murphy has won a close Republican primary against State Rep. Rob Johnson for the right to challenge appointed Corporation Commissioner Jim Roth, a Democrat. Dana is a wonderful person, she is extremely qualified for this job, and she has the integrity to do the right thing regardless of the pressure from special interests. A cynic would say that combination is political poison, but it's nice to see a good guy finish first for once. Again, it'll be tough to beat an incumbent, but Murphy is more qualified than Roth for the job (she worked for the OCC for five years, he's been there less than one), and she has been in three statewide elections. Roth has never run statewide.

In District 35, we're headed for a runoff, as expected, between Cason Carter and Gary Stanislawski. There's only a 268 vote gap between the two -- Carter 44%, Stanislawski 40%. It's likely that Jeff Applekamp and Janet Sullivan took more support from Stanislawski than from Carter -- Applekamp comes from the southern end of the district, and Sullivan, like Stanislawski, attends Victory Christian Center.

No surprises in the Republican primaries for U. S. Senate and the First Congressional District: Jim Inhofe and John Sullivan prevailed easily over perennial candidates.

I was surprised that the anointed Democratic challengers to Inhofe and Sullivan won by relatively slim margins over very underfunded opponents. Georgianna Oliver beat Mark Manley by only 55% to 45%, and Democratic turnout in the 1st District was half of the Republican turnout, which reveals a lack of enthusiasm for the recently relocated Mrs. Oliver. State Sen. Andrew Rice managed less than 60% against a perennial candidate.

I was pleased, but not at all surprised, to see Dan Newberry win his Senate District 37 primary by such a large margin. He's been walking the district for a year or more. He's got a good headstart on reclaiming the district for the Republican Party.

John Trebilcock won over his primary challenger by a two-to-one margin. I'm told the over-the-top attacks by his opponent turned off a lot of voters.

Elsewhere in Oklahoma, the Chambers of Commerce and the old Cargill machine attempted to defeat State Reps. Randy Terrill and Mike Reynolds. Terrill won renomination with 75% of the vote. Reynolds's race was closer -- 55-45. Disgraced former Speaker Lance Cargill was a consultant to his opponent's campaign.

In Oklahoma County, District 2 County Commissioner Brent Rinehart got a bigger percentage of the vote than Randi Miller -- all of 21%, and that in the face of financial scandal and national notoriety for his amateurish cartoon campaign piece. But he still lost big, and Brian Maughan came close to winning outright with 47% of the vote. Maughan will face J. D. Johnston in a runoff. I know Brian through state Republican Party events, and I'm happy to see him well on his way to a seat on the County Commission.

My take on the two Northside Democratic House primaries: All of the candidates are pretty far to my left on state issues, none of them are pro-life, and none of them will have a Republican opponent in the fall, so in a sense, it doesn't matter who wins. But Christie Breedlove, running in HD 72, has been a tireless worker for Roscoe Turner, one of the good guys on the City Council, and we're often on the same side of local issues, so I'm happy to see her move forward to a runoff.

I was also happy to see Jabar Shumate prevail in a tough primary against Kevin Matthews in HD 73. Nothing against Matthews, but I appreciated Shumate and Sen. Judy Eason-McIntyre taking the political risk to support the New Hope Scholarship program, which would have given partial tax credits for donations to scholarship funds to pay for at-risk students to attend private schools. It was a modest school choice bill, but one opposed by a core Democrat constituency -- the teacher's union and other elements of the education establishment -- so Shumate and Eason-McIntyre deserve praise for putting their constituents' best interests above political expedience.

It's just really nice to know that I don't have to take down any yard signs tomorrow, because all my candidates made it to the next round.

MORE:

I thought I heard a big flushing sound yesterday.

Irritated Tulsan has a career possibility for the soon to be former commissioner.

740 KRMG's Joe Kelley has video of the real reason Randi lost in a landslide.

Michelle is OK with low voter turnout, and she has some advice for John Trebilcock's opponent:

John Newhouse found out tonight that you should run on something besides a mistake your opponent made over a year ago, and has asked forgiveness for. Trebilcock won with about 65%.

Click the link to see a scan of Karen Keith's pre-primary contributions and expenditures filing for Tulsa County Commissioner, District 2. Karen Keith, a Democrat, has no opposition in the primary, but will face the winner of Tuesday's Republican primary between challenger Sally Bell and incumbent Randi Miller.

Karen Keith raised $73,392 between Feb. 28 and July 15, 2008, of which $16,574 was in amounts of $200 or less. She has spent $42,471 -- an astonishing amount given the lack of a primary. Most of that has gone to indirect costs: $17,900 was spent on outside consultants, $5,000 on "copyrighting" [sic -- probably means copywriting], $4,365 on staff labor, $850 for logo and artwork, $900 on a website. (Hosting is relatively inexpensive, so I assume most of that cost is for a consultant to design and launch the site.) Facilities cost -- utilities, rent, phone, water cooler, alarm monitoring, moving -- total about $4,300. Only about $5,000 has gone into direct voter contact -- mail pieces, phone calls, and materials for door-to-door campaigning.

That's a very high overhead operation, and it shrinks her fundraising advantage considerably. A grassroots candidate backed by passionate volunteer workers and advisers could match her voter contact effort with only a fraction of the budget.

Here are Keith's top donors. Spelling as on the form, parenthetical remarks are mine. I will add other donors of more than $200 as I have time, later. All donors of any amount are listed, in alphabetical order, on Keith's C-1 filing.

$3,000 - Amos Adetula (Wilson's BBQ),
$2,750 - Sharon King Davis
$2,500 - Gary Burton
$1,500 - Patrick & Peggy Keith (Bixby), Robert & Roxana Lorton (publisher emeritus, Tulsa World), Danny & Betty O'Brian (Randi Miller's biggest donor)
$1,250 - George & Edwynne Krumme
$1,000 - Tom & Sue Bennett, Pat & Margaret Cremin, John & Kelsy Eakin, Jim & Sally Frasier, Greg Gray & Sharon Bell, Clydella & David Hentschel, Just Progress, George Kravis, David Sharp, Sid Shupack

Mr. O'Brian appears to be hedging his bets.

This post is a reminder to me to write a check to the ethics commission and get it mailed.

When the Oklahoma Ethics Commission called me back about my request for scans of the Tulsa County District 2 Commissioner race contributions and expenditures reports, I was told to mail a check for $1 for each page requested, and when they received the check, they would mail me the copies. I pointed out to Merlyn Rios, the clerk who handles these requests, that the purpose of filing these forms was to inform the public of the contributors to a candidate and to do so early enough to provide the media and the voters time to analyze the list and take it into consideration come election day. Waiting on the US Mail would slow the process down considerably and might mean voters wouldn't get the information in time to make use of it.

I asked to speak to Merlyn's boss about a waiver of fees or e-mailing the information to me. She transferred me to Patti Bryant. Patti agreed to authorize Merlyn to fax the information to me on the promise that I would mail a check. The fact that I am in media did not entitle me to a fee waiver. The fee is set by the Ethics Commission.

Given the history of county courthouse corruption in Oklahoma, I understand why the ethics law doesn't make a county official the repository of ethics filings, although it would be easier for voters to access the information if they could see it at the county election board.

But it seems to me that the purpose of the law is defeated by the way the commission is handling these documents. They should simply scan these documents upon receipt and post the resulting PDF on their website. Better yet, they should include county candidates in the same searchable database used for state candidates. I could see charging a fee for dredging out and copying old filings, but not for filings in current races.

So far, BatesLine is the only Tulsa media outlet to publish the contributions and expenditures reports for the District 2 County Commission Republican primary. (Here is Sally Bell's report and my analysis. Here is Randi Miller's report and my analysis. Tomorrow I should be able to scan and post Karen Keith's report.) The daily paper doesn't seem interested, and the report filing deadline comes too late for Urban Tulsa Weekly's last issue before the election.

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Sally Bell raised $13,321.36, of which $3,021.26 was in amounts of $200 or less. Bell reports spending $10,848.99, of which $10,191.56 was spent on "general advertising," $336.93 on printing, and $320.50 on miscellaneous expenses. Here is a scan of Sally Bell's contributions and expenditures report.

Here's the list of contributors. Spelling is as on the form. Parenthetical comments are mine:

$2,500 - Jeff and Kathy Rogers
$1,500 - Sally and Robert K. Bell, Jr. (the candidate and her husband)
$1,000 - Will and Willma (Wilma) Arnold, Jeffrey A. and Kathryn K. Weaver, Sharna P. and Steven (Stephen) Bovasso (realtor and anesthesiologist)
$500 - Gary and Jan Phillips (owners of Fantasy Island Amusement Park, Beach Haven, NJ), Sandra and Stephen Rodolf, Janis Curry, Greg and Carol Owens (KMO Development Group), Lloyd Noble II trust
$300 - APA (Alphonse Pierre) Vorenkamp
$250 - Donald and Laura Lehman, George S. Sharp (Sharp Mortgage Co.)

Other thank the Bells and Lloyd Noble, I didn't instantly recognize any of these names, and my various search efforts aren't turning up much. I'm guessing that most of these people are personal friends of the Bells. None of them appear to have any dealings with county government or the Fairgrounds. If you have more info, drop a note in the comments.

MORE: I spoke to Sally Bell's son Robby Bell this morning, and he confirmed my impression. Jeff and Kathy Rogers' oldest a child is a classmate of Robby's youngest. Jeff has a medical supply business. The Arnolds are old friends of Bob and Sally Bell. The Weavers have a son who was a classmate of Robby's oldest son; they have a business that makes canopies for businesses like gas stations. Stephen Bovasso has been a friend of Robby's since 4th grade. The Phillipses are long-time friends of Bob and Sally Bell, and they were part of a group of couples who went on motorcycling excursions together. I was out of time to go down the whole list, but that covers all the big donors.

Today I received a call from Merlyn Rios at the Oklahoma Ethics Commission, saying they had the pre-primary contribution and expenditure (C-1) reports for Randi Miller and Karen Keith for Tulsa County Commission District 2. I'll post Karen Keith's report later; since she's not a primary candidate (she's the only Democrat to file for the office), it's less urgent.

Here is Randi Miller's pre-primary C-1 form. Miller raised $39,500, of which $2,700 was in contributions of $200 or less. Miller reports spending $33,935.60, of which $25,500 has been spent on radio and television. Note that the report is incomplete, as Miller did not list the date on which each contribution was accepted.

In this morning's debate on 1170 KFAQ, moderated by Pat Campbell, Miller said, "Every person that is mad at me, they have an agenda." And she referred to this group of people who don't like her as "special agenda citizens."

It's interesting: When Campbell asked Miller to name her biggest contributors, she mentioned Danny O'Brian and Joe Robson, but she didn't mention George Kaiser, who gave the same amount as Robson ($2,500) and has an instantly recognizable name. Nearly every voter would associate the name of the wealthiest man in Oklahoma with last fall's river tax package, for which Randi Miller was head cheerleader.

(You can listen to the podcast of the 1170 KFAQ Sally Bell - Randi Miller debate here. The podcast of this afternoon's round-table discussion of the debate with myself, Chris Medlock and Charlie Biggs is here.)

The list of contributors, people who like her enough to give her lots of campaign money, sure looks like a list of "special agenda citizens" to me. Many have some connection to last fall's failed county sales tax increase for river-related projects. One is a fairgrounds tenant (maybe two). Here's the list, by largest amount first. Spellings are as they are on the form. Parenthetical notes are mine.

$5,000: Danny O'Brian (P. O. Box 698, Sand Springs, executive of Cust-O-Fab)

$2,500: George Kaiser, Joe Robson

$2,000: Chet Cadieux (QuikTrip), Emmit Hahn (Chili Bowl promoter), Larry Edwards (see below)

$1,500: Jay Helm (American Residential Group)

$1,000: Tom Maxwell (Flintco), Brad Smallwood, Mark Tedford, Henry Zarrow, Tom Kivisto (formerly of SemGroup), Stacy Schusterman, Keith Bailey, W. R. Lissau, Walt Helmerich, Dennis Hall, Lynn Mitchell (of the Jenks River District), Stuart Price (Bill Clinton crony and one-time Democratic nominee for Congress)

$500: Hasting Siegfried, Art Couch (roads contractor), John Walker, Scott Morgan, Ray Morgan, Darton Zink, Tom Golden, Albert Kelly, Montie Box (Sand Springs real estate mogul)

$300: Rick Huffman (Branson, Mo.)

$250: Ken Levit (George Kaiser Family Foundation), Mitch Adwon, Jono Helmerich, Guy Berry, John Gaberino, Stephen Franklin, Jim Spoan, Mike Kimbrel (Jenks River District).

I was puzzled about the $2,000 contribution from "Larry Edwards." There is someone by that name who was was chairman of Global Power Equipment Corp., a company that went through Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in 2006, emerging in January 2008.

But then I noticed that "Larry Edwards" is next to "Emmit Hahn" at the very end of the list. I found the following info on the "about" page of the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals (emphasis added):

Two weeks after Christmas, the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals arrives like a gift from Santa Claus. In the Oklahoma metropolis of Tulsa, "Santa" is Emmett Hahn and Lanny Edwards, organizers of the four-night race meet since its 1987 inception.

Hahn and Edwards lease the IPE Building Expo Building QuikTrip center from the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority (of which Miller, as county commissioner, is a member) every January to run midget cars around an indoor dirt track.

Given that Hahn's first name was misspelled or mistranscribed, it's not hard to imagine that a handwritten "Lanny" became a typewritten "Larry." The names on the contributor list are not sorted by name or amount, so I suspect they are sorted in the order the contribution was received. Since Hahn and Edwards are listed together, it may be that they contributed on the same day. If the filing were complete, with a date for each contribution, it would be easier to know for sure.

So instead of getting $5,000 from Big Splash owner Loretta Murphy (who apparently doesn't have that kind of money to throw around any more), Miller is getting money from another Fairgrounds tenant, split up perhaps to make it seem less obvious.

MORE: A reader notes that Jono Helmerich is chairman of the Friends of the Fairgrounds Foundation and Tom Maxwell and Darton Zink are members of the board. The same reader notes that the notary public who notarized Miller's form is Ella McKenzie, Miller's taxpayer-funded secretary. Either she had McKenzie notarize it on county time or on her own time, and I'm not sure which is worse. She already had her chief deputy handle some legal business for her on his lunch hour. (I wonder if Miller has a flower fund.)

Also, in the comments, Tasha points out that contributor Rick Huffman is the fellow who built Branson Landing and proposed a similar development for Tulsa's west bank.

Earlier today I spoke to Merlyn Rios at the Oklahoma Ethics Commission. Merlyn is the person who answers the phone when you "press 1" to request information about a campaign filing.

County elections are governed differently than state and municipal elections. Like municipal elections, they come under the Public Subdivisions Ethics Act. Like state elections and unlike municipal elections, county candidates file their C-1 (contributions and expenditures) reports with the Oklahoma Ethics Commission. Unlike state elections, county elections aren't covered under electronic filing requirements, so you've got to call or drop by the Ethics Commission office at the State Capitol to pick up a copy of a county filing.

So I called the Ethics Commission and spoke to Merlyn. I asked her about the required pre-primary C-1 filings for Tulsa County Commissioner, District 2. Pre-primary filings were due yesterday.

(The law -- 51 O. S. 315 (A)(5) -- actually says the filing is due 10 days before an election, but because that always falls on a Saturday, the paperwork is considered on time if it's submitted by close of business on the next business day, which -- barring a holiday -- is the Monday eight days before election day.)

I asked specifically about filings for Sally Bell and Randi Miller, the candidates in the Republican primary. After putting me on hold to check, Merlyn told me that the Ethics Commission had received Sally Bell's report but had not received the required report for Randi Miller's campaign.

I asked her a second time specifically if Randi Miller's C-1 had been submitted to the Ethics Commission. Merlyn confirmed that it had not.

For the record, here is Sally Bell's pre-primary C-1 filing. If someone wants to mail me a copy of Randi Miller's report, I'll post it here. (UPDATE 7/23/2008: Here's an analysis of Randi Miller's C-1 report, submitted a day late, with a link to a scan of the report.)

MORE: Rick Bjorklund is suing the fair board for wrongful dismissal, Miller for defamation.

Tulsa County District 2 Commissioner Randi Miller was a no-show tonight at the After Five Republican Women's Club debate between her and Republican challenger Sally Bell. Miller committed over a month ago to participate in the forum, but she decided at the last minute to bail. I'm not surprised -- the more Miller opens her mouth, the more votes she loses. Her only hope is that her well-funded campaign consultants are able to craft a new, false image of her using ads.

The media was there to cover the event. KJRH Channel 2 (Cable 9)'s Casey Roebuck was there, but I'm told that the station would only have run a story if Miller had appeared. Without both candidates present, the station won't even run the story that Miller bailed out. I'm disappointed but not surprised. Since Glenn McEntyre's departure from KJRH, KOTV News on 6 seems to be the only TV outlet aggressively covering the County Courthouse. Maybe 6 will run a story about Miller's cowardice. (UPDATE: News on 6 did cover the no-show.)

I've seen that before -- during Vision 2025 and other campaigns, neighborhood groups and broadcast outlets let the more cowardly side dictate coverage: If one side didn't show up, the debate wouldn't happen. To their credit, KRMG insisted that their Downtown Kiwanis Club Vision 2025 debate would happen whether the vote yes side was there or not. The "yes" consultants relented and sent someone to represent their side.

We shall see what happens on Pat Campbell's show Wednesday morning at 8. I won't be shocked if Miller comes down with an acute attack of laryngitis. If she does show up, I think Pat would be smart to invite KFAQ afternoon host Chris Medlock in studio to help ask the questions. Medlock was endorsed by Miller to succeed her on the City Council, and if memory serves Medlock endorsed Miller in her race for County Commission. You have to have dealt with Randi for a while before you can see through her sympathy ploys and spin.

Unfortunately for Randi, I think Pat's already beginning to catch on. After two years, 740 KRMG's Joe Kelley is still a relative newcomer to Tulsa, and he certainly seems to "get" Miller. She's running out of media people to bamboozle.

UPDATE: Pat Campbell took some exception to what I wrote in the fourth paragraph above. He had Elvis Polo give me a call at about 6:30, and we spoke on air at 6:40. I appreciate the opportunity to clarify, and I'll link to the podcast when it's up. (My wife told me it took her two readings to get my point, so I wasn't as clear as I could have been.)

As I told Pat, my remarks were a commentary on Randi Miller's slipperiness, not on his astuteness. She will defend herself in a way that seems reasonable, unless you happen to remember the relevant contradicting fact. As well-studied as Pat is -- and the time he takes to study up on the issues is evident every day -- you almost need an encyclopedic memory to be able to pull out the relevant fact. I have no doubt Pat will be able to build that encyclopedia of local political knowledge over time, but it does take time. I mentioned Medlock as a resource because, having lived through and been politically active through the relevant history, he's already got those facts on tap.

MORE: Here's the link to the podcast of my conversation with Pat Campbell. During the first part of the hour, Pat clears up some misconceptions about how he plans to conduct the debate between Bell and Miller. I take extreme exception to the statement made on the podcast page that my comments above "insinuate that Pat is a little 'slow.'" Once again, the issue isn't Pat's astuteness -- of which there can be no doubt -- but Randi's slipperiness. No disrespect was intended, and I took pains to explain that on air this morning and in my update above.

AFTER FIVE CLUB PRESIDENT RESPONDS to "Steve" who called to defend Miller's absence in the first part of the 6 a.m. hour linked above:

What a turnout we had last night at the After Five Republican Women's Group! I hope everyone enjoyed the forum and welcome everyone back on the 3rd Monday of each month.

Unfortunately, there were some negative comments about our group made on the Pat Campbell radio program this morning by a caller that I feel need to be addressed.

After Five, as a chartered club by the Oklahoma Federation of Republican Women, does not and cannot take sides in a GOP primary. This has been stated in the monthly newsletter as well as announced at each primary forum we have held.

At last night's meeting I thanked Dan Newberry, Jan Megee and Sally Bell for fulfilling their commitment to the group and was disappointed that Randi Miller accepted another invitation canceling her appearance. The invitation for all of these candidates was extended on June 17. They all accepted immediately. We apologize that so many turned out to see the forum only to be disappointed that both commission candidates were not there. We only found out Friday evening (3 days prior). We tried to work with Commissioner Miller on timing to see if she could attend both events, as a couple of the other candidates did, however, it didn't work out.

This group is committed to treating all candidates with respect. Realizing crowd emotions can run high in these types of contested races, the officers of the group wanted to be sure it was conducted in a professional manner. Questions were taken from the audience IN WRITTEN FORM ONLY. The questions were not edited, in fact, one question was critical of my husband's radio station. It was asked as written. There were charges of planted or slanted questions being asked of Sally Bell. That is not true. Club officer & Tulsa County Chair, Joy Mohorovicic asked all of the questions written by the audience. We gave no one instructions except we didn't want speeches, we wanted questions.

We were accused of being a special interest group. Yes, we are! We are a Republican women's group. A diverse group of active Republican women who work in campaigns, fund campaigns and promote Republican ideals. In a primary, we often do not support the same candidate, but respect each other's efforts and come together in the general election to elect Republicans. That's the special interest we serve ... the Republican Party.

Sincerely,

Cheryl Medlock

President, After Five Republican Women's Group

It's worth noting that "Steve," the caller defending Miller's absence from the After Five forum, said that Dan Newberry was at the Tulsa County News forum. He was also at the After Five forum. If he could do both, why couldn't Miller?

Tonight, the two Republican candidates for Tulsa County District 2 Commissioner, incumbent Randi Miller and challenger Sally Bell, will meet in a debate during the regular monthly meeting of the After Five Republican Women's Club, at Marie Callender's on 51st Street east of Harvard. Dinner begins at 5:45; the program begins at 6:15.

Bell and Miller will debate each other on the Pat Campbell show on 1170 KFAQ Wednesday morning at 8:00.

Last night KOTV's News on 6 ran an investigative report into Tulsa County District 2 Commissioner Randi Miller's attendance record. (On that page you'll find a link to the video version of the report.) Among other stats, KOTV confirmed something I reported in my July 9 column: that Miller had missed 29 of 33 TMAPC meetings when she was an ex officio member of the commission.

This morning 740 KRMG's Joe Kelley interviewed Miller, devoting more time than he usually has to ask some probing questions. I like the way Kelley gives her a chance to tell her side of things, but at the same time he politely but pointedly calls her on some inconsistencies and gaps. I think that's the right balance. (Here's a direct link to the streaming audio of the interview.)

Tulsa County District 2 Commissioner Randi Miller has been on the radio asserting her veracity in her dispute with fired Expo Square CEO Rick Bjorklund. He says she told him to get Big Splash water park's problems "off the radar," which he then did by not pressing park owner Loretta Murphy (a Miller campaign contributor) for payment, so that Murphy wouldn't have to seek financial relief in a public meeting. She (Miller) says Bjorklund is lying. (Here's a link to KFAQ's Pat Campbell's July 15 interview with Bjorklund and here's his July 16 interview with Miller. On the July 16 Chris Medlock show, County Commission candidate Sally Bell replied to Miller's statements and also spoke about her platform and philosophy of government.)

Miller is not helping her case with the glossy four-color campaign mailer she just sent to voters in her district. While she doesn't outright lie, she presents the facts in a misleading manner. For example, from the leftmost panel:

A Proven Leader

Randi Miller is an effective and dynamic Tulsa County Commissioner -- elected twice by her colleagues to serve as Commission Chairman.

Technically, that's true, but the County Commissioners rotate the chairmanship each year. Miller has served six years, so, as one of three commissioners, serving as chairman for two of those six years is just the normal rotation of the job. It's no indication of her effectiveness or dynamism.

It's strange that this is the only "accomplishment" this six-year incumbent would cite.

But here's the big whopper, from the rightmost of the four panels:

RandiMillerMarried.JPG

Dedicated to Families

Randi Miller is married and has three children and two grandchildren....

Again, technically, Randi Miller is still married to her husband Gary. But on May 15, 2007, she filed for divorce from her husband, a fact that came to light in a KOTV investigation of her chief deputy, Terry Simonson, and his continuing his private law practice while also drawing a full-time salary as a county employee. Miller's divorce case was listed as one of several, filed after Simonson joined the county, in which Simonson was an attorney of record.

(Simonson said that he entered the case during his lunch hour and only to notify the court that Randi Miller wouldn't be there to make a scheduled court appearance to watch a video about helping minor children cope with divorce. He withdrew formally from the case on March 14. About the rest of his caseload, Simonson explained that he was using his own time on evenings and weekends to complete legal work to which he had already committed himself.)

The divorce is not yet final, so technically, Randi Miller is still married. Her presumably-soon-to-be-ex-husband does not appear in the family portrait on the cover of the mailer, which includes her three children, her grandchildren, and her son-in-law and daughter-in-law, but she is wearing a ring on her left ring finger in all the photos where it would be visible.

The issue is not that she has initiated a divorce or whether she or her husband is to blame for the failure of their marriage. It's that she's trying to sell herself to the voters by creating a misleading image with her mailer.

Why does this remind me of what Miller told KOTV's Emory Bryan about the misleading Our River Yes flyer that went to Broken Arrow voters?

A dispute over advertising for the river tax is heating up in Broken Arrow. City leaders there say their voters are the targets of false advertising. The flyer in question doesn't say Broken Arrow is going to get a riverfront development, though it clearly shows one, and the picture is titled Broken Arrow Riverfront. The News On 6's Emory Bryan reports that flyer was mailed to voters in Broken Arrow.

Some of Broken Arrow's community leaders believe the flyer is a false promise from the River tax campaign.

"And it gave the impression that we are going to get a riverfront development out of the river tax which is not true, it's very misleading," Broken Arrow Mayor Wade McCaleb said.

The flyer went to voters in Broken Arrow last week, and includes a picture titled "Broken Arrow Riverfront." But there is no money in this river tax to build what's shown in the picture.

"There is no plan to do anything after this tax unless we pass another tax," McCaleb said....

Broken Arrow's elected leaders are united against the tax and they believe supporters are trying to fool voters with the flyer. River tax supporters absolutely deny any attempt to mislead, and will not acknowledge the picture could be confusing.

"Do you see how that is misleading?" News On 6 reporter Emory Bryan asked Commissioner Miller.

"No, because it not once says this is what is going to happen," Miller responded.

(Here's the video of the KOTV story about Randi Miller and the misleading Broken Arrow mailer.)

So... the flyer never once said that she wasn't in the process of getting a divorce, so in her mind it's not misleading to say she's married.

Well, OK then.

MORE: Randi must have some big money behind her; now she's running radio ads. One of the lines from the ad nearly sent me through the roof: "Standing strong, even if it means standing alone." If there's one thing that has marked Miller's time on the County Commission, it was her refusal to stand alone. She refused to be the lone vote against the logrolled Vision 2025 ballot or against putting Boeing corporate welfare on the ballot. She refused to be the lone vote against giving insiders sole-source contracts for Vision 2025 management, legal work, and bond sales and managements, contracts that dealt with over half a billion dollars.

The ad also touts her vote (eight years ago on the City Council) against the Great Plains Airlines deal and claims that she said no when "an amusement park" asked the county for a "bailout." There's another distortion. Bell's never asked to be bailed out. Through their final year on Expo Square, Bell's continued to pay more rent and commission to Expo Square than the Drillers and Big Splash combined. Oddly, while taking credit for saying no to Bell's on her radio ad, she was bemoaning the fact, in her interview with Pat Campbell, that she was being unfairly blamed for a decision that was made by the entire Fair Board.

STILL MORE:

Chris Medlock answers Randi Miller's lament.

KFAQ's Pat Campbell asked listeners Thursday morning why Randi Miller was being singled out for blame about Bell's eviction. I e-mailed Pat with a link to the KOTV investigation from last fall. (Here's the text version of the story about Bell's Amusement Park and Randi Miller.) I also pointed him to my column about why Randi Miller needs to be retired, in last week's UTW. Here's the rest of what I wrote to him:

1. She's one of only two fair board members who were on the board when Bell's was evicted who are still on the board. The board consists of the three county commissioners, plus two appointed citizens. Of her two fellow commissioners at the time, one was defeated for re-election (Wilbert Collins) and one did not run for re-election (Bob Dick). One of the two appointed commissioners, Clark Brewster, was up for reappointment and County Commission chairman Fred Perry opted to appoint someone else. The only other remaining fair board member from that time is attorney Jim Orbison.

2. She took a leading and visible role in defending the decision to evict Bell's. She told the media that Bell's wasn't a viable business and was unsafe. (Meanwhile, Big Splash was behind in rent, and, according to Rick Bjorklund, Miller was telling him to keep Big Splash off the radar.) If you go back to stories in the World and on local TV, you'll find Miller speaking on behalf of the county and the fair board about why Bell's couldn't be allowed to stay.

3. She received campaign money from Loretta Murphy, owner of Big Splash. Loretta is the wife of Jerry Murphy, who owns Murphy Brothers, which has a contract to provide the Tulsa State Fair midway. Loretta Murphy made maximum campaign contributions of $5,000 each to Miller's 2006 mayoral and 2004 county commission campaigns. Shortly after Miller received the Murphy donation to her mayoral campaign in early 2006, Miller pushed for granting a new 10-year contract to Murphy Bros. for the midway. The contract was sole-source -- no competitive bidding. Rick Bjorklund, an associate of the Murphys from Wisconsin, was hired by the fair board later that same summer. That fall, Bell's was evicted.

During the state fair, Bell's and the Murphy midway competed for ride revenue. To give you an idea of how much money the fair generated, Bell's received about a third of its annual revenue during the 10 days of the fair. While Murphy had some rides that Bell's didn't, I always steered my kids to the Bell's rides, because they were a local business and the rides were permanently installed, not moved in just for the week. With Bell's gone, the Murphys get all of the fair ride revenue. The Murphys also received, in their new 2006 contract, first right to occupy the Bell's property if it became vacant.

The treatment of Bell's is only one reason people don't trust Randi Miller. While she was a fairly conservative city councilor, as a county commissioner she fell in love with corporate welfare, tax increases, and questionable public-private partnerships with county insiders. She pushed a $350 million corporate welfare package for Boeing, to be funded by a sales tax increase. She was ready to back a $600 million plan to build islands in the middle of the Arkansas River and did back a $282 million river tax which was defeated by Tulsa County voters.

In this week's UTW, I review the record of Tulsa County District 2 Commissioner Randi Miller and endorse Sally Bell as her replacement.

Since writing that piece, fired Expo Square CEO Rick Bjorklund has been pointing the finger at Miller regarding the decision to hold the Big Splash rent check.

According to the daily paper yesterday:

Rick Bjorklund, who was fired as president and CEO of Expo Square, said Thursday that he was instructed by County Commissioner Randi Miller to keep Big Splash Water Park's financial troubles "off the radar."

The fair board last week voted 4-0 to terminate Bjorklund after it was discovered that a check for half of the water park's 2006 rent had gone uncashed for a year and that it had yet to pay its 2007 rent. In addition, Big Splash's outstanding 2007 balance was never listed specifically on the financial reports presented to the fair board.

Bjorklund said Miller, who was fair board chairwoman in 2007, spoke to him about the Big Splash situation in about June of that year.

"The conversation (with Miller) was, 'Ease up on them and get it off the radar,'?" he said.

Bjorklund said he told fair board members about Miller's instructions during the executive session held to determine his fate.

"I turned to Randi and I said: 'You had given me instructions, Randi, to get it off the radar screen, and we did that.'?''

Miller denies Bjorklund's claim, but what he says makes sense. If Big Splash's financial troubles became public, it would show her to be inconsistent, making her look foolish or even evil for using Bell's business plan as a pretext for evicting them from the Fairgrounds. She had a vested interest in keeping Big Splash's financial problems "off the radar."

MORE: Responding to questions and comments from readers here and on the UTW story:

I was asked about my reference to "irregularities in [Miller's] personal life." In my column, I chose not to go into the specifics that the Tulsa World reported in a February 26, 2006, story headlined "Mayoral Mudfight," but you can read them at that link.

William Franklin posted a lengthy comment at UTW claiming that Bell's Amusement Park was in a state of terrible disrepair when it was evicted. His memory doesn't match with mine, and I think the Bell family did a fine job of keeping the park going when so many family-owned amusement parks in this region have closed, and despite the constraints of their location. They made do while continuing to be Expo Square's biggest rent-payer, and never asked for a taxpayer subsidy. (They were granted an extension in paying rent in the late '90s, but they made the payment with interest above prime rate.)

I took my kids to Bell's at least a couple of times each summer, and we steered them to spend their Tulsa State Fair ride tickets there, instead of on the midway. While the park was not up to Disney standards, it was at least as well-kept as Frontier City (which took my 10-year-old to in 2006), and I had no problem letting the kids on the rides or riding them myself.

Bell's had been making annual improvements to the property. The park introduced a new drop ride in (I think) 2005 and in 2006 had finally reached agreement with the neighborhood on adding a new roller coaster.

The possibility of a new coaster and a themed park first came up in 1998, not in the 1980s as Franklin asserts. Robby Bell and then Expo Square CEO Pat Lloyd made presentations to the Midtown Coalition of Neighborhood Associations that year about the future plans for the park and Expo Square as a whole.

The plan had Bell's expand all the way west to Louisville Ave., with parking for Bell's to the north, and a new main entrance on the north side of the park. The westernmost area was to be quieter uses (concession areas, souvenir stands, kiddie rides). We were shown sketches that had been done for Bell's by an amusement park consultant with a boomtown theme.

In December 2000, the Fair Board granted a lease for Bell's to expand to the west and add a roller coaster. The coaster's construction was held up by a lawsuit from the neighborhood challenging the County Board of Adjustment's decision to grant a special exception for the coaster.

It's true that the miniature golf course was no longer maintained. It was to be the site for the new coaster, once a compromise had been reached with the neighbors. There had been two courses when I was a kid. A single course was created out of the western part of both courses sometime in the late '80s or early '90s to make way for picnic pavilions for corporate events and group parties. I loved playing the course as a kid, but at some point, as mini-golf lost popularity in general (I can only think of one surviving course in Tulsa), I'm sure it became uneconomical to keep it open.

I suspect the reason Bell's didn't first think of building a coaster in that part of the property was because they intended to double the park's footprint and were granted a lease to build the coaster on land to the west, so there would have been no need to reuse existing park land.

The Fair Board could have solved the problem much sooner had it allowed Bell's to expand to the interior of Expo Square, rather than forcing any expansion to be toward the neighborhoods. Neighboring homeowner Scott Trizza proposed at the time that a new coaster could be placed north of the IPE Building, screened off by the building from the neighborhoods.

Irritated Tulsan weighs in on the Big Splash rotting timbers & held checks scandal and Expo Square CEO Rick Bjorklund's firing by the Fair Board.

I'm not defending Bjorklund, but I do believe he is a political scapegoat. Instead of creating controversy, it appears Miller wants to create the impression she fights it.

Bjorklund's termination places Miller further from the Bell's and Big Splash controversies.

Connection?

She would probably say "no," but the rest of Tulsans born with heads would disagree.

This years Tulsa State Fair theme is "We're on a Roll."

Bjorklund is out.

Miller is on her way out.

Connection?

[Big Splash owner and Miller campaign donor Loretta] Murphy hopes "no," but the rest of Tulsans ... you know the rest.

Maybe this year's Tulsa State Fair theme should be, "Heads Will Roll." The rolling starts July 29th when Republicans will deny renomination to Miller and choose Sally Bell as their standard bearer for County Commission District 2. Who better to zealously root out cozy, insider deals at Expo Square and the County Courthouse than someone who knows how county government works and who has suffered greatly as a result of county insider deals?

MORE:

Sally Bell was on the radio Wednesday morning with KFAQ's Pat Campbell. Hit that link to listen to the podcast of their conversation.

Sally Bell's son, Robby, was on the Chris Medlock show Wednesday afternoon for the full two hours. Robby talked about the situation at Expo Square, the future of Bell's Amusement Park, and a bit about his mother's campaign for County Commission. The show was packed with callers expressing their best wishes for the park and the family. Click these links to listen to the podcasts of hour 1 and hour 2.

Expo Square CEO Rick Bjorklund was fired today, as the scandal involving special treatment for Loretta Murphy's Big Splash continues to grow. Big Splash's annual rent payment to Expo Square of $130,000 was due last October; it still hasn't been paid. An rent check from 2006 of $68,000 was held by Expo Square and hadn't been cashed. This came on top of Big Splash reopening this summer without replacing rotting structural timbers on its slide tower, as mandated in December by a State Labor Commission inspector.

The Murphy family seems to have been receiving special treatment for years. As I noted when Expo Square evicted Bell's Amusement Park:

You'll recall that a Loretta Murphy gave $5,000 to the Randi Miller for Mayor campaign. Loretta Murphy owns Big Splash water park, another Expo Square tenant. Her husband Jerry Murphy owns Murphy Brothers. Shortly after Loretta's donation to Miller, the Fair Board awarded Murphy Brothers a non-competitive 10-year contract to provide the Tulsa State Fair's midway. Murphy Brothers might be happy just to have Bell's gone, so that all the State Fair-goers will have to ride their midway rides.

We learned later that Murphy Brothers' contract gave them the right to put rides on Bell's footprint if Bell's ever vacated that property.

Some have speculated that Rick Bjorklund's hiring in 2006 was itself a favor done by the Fair Board for the Murphy family. Bjorklund had dealings with the Murphys at some of his previous jobs.

Bubbaworld points out that throwing Bjorklund under the bus doesn't fix the problem. The problem is with the Fair Board (Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority). County Commissioner Randi Miller was on the board when Bjorklund was hired and has received maximum donations from the Murphys for her mayoral and county commission races. She was the lead spokesman when the board decided to evict Bell's Amusement Park. The Fair Board failed to supervise Bjorklund and failed to verify that one of Expo Square's biggest tenants was paying its bills. You'd think someone would notice a $200,000 hole in the receipts.

Firing Bjorklund may have been the first step to cleaning up the mess at Expo Square, but the next step is for District 2 Republican primary voters to fire Randi Miller on July 29.

It's becoming more and more evident that favoritism is at work on the Tulsa County Fairgrounds, and that a tenant's status has more to do with skill at spreading around campaign money than the merits of the situation. The issue of the business plan, cited by County Commisisoner Randi Miller as the reason for evicting Bell's Amusement Park after half a century, always seemed like a pretext; now we can say with certainty that it was.

The Big Splash water park, a Fairgrounds tenant since 1984, had a slide collapse last summer. In December, inspectors from the State Labor Commissioner's office ordered rotting timbers on the slide structure to be replaced before the park opened for the 2008 season. A June inspection revealed that the repairs had not been made, yet the slides were opened anyway. The slides were shut down for repair and are now open again.

Bell's was evicted from the fairgrounds after the 2006 season, just as they finally had the go-ahead to install a new roller coaster. Because the decision was announced after the season, Tulsans never got a chance to say goodbye. The Bell family had to rush to dismantle and salvage as much as they could in hopes of reopening somewhere else; one more season could have made an orderly transition to a new location possible. When asked why Bell's couldn't have been allowed even one more season, Miller responded with claims that the business plan was inadequate, hinting about safety concerns, although there were no inspection reports indicating a problem.

Big Splash has had two documented problems in a single year, yet I don't hear Randi Miller or anyone else on the Fair Board calling for an end to Big Splash's lease.

Miller received maximum $5,000 campaign contributions from Loretta Murphy, owner of Big Splash, for Miller's mayoral and county commissioner races. As far as I know, the Bells never gave campaign contributions to county officials.

Murphy's husband Jerry owns Murphy Bros., which the Fair Board (of which Miller is a member) granted a 10-year contract to run the Tulsa State Fair midway. There was no competition for the contract.

Irritated Tulsan comments on the story, connecting the dots. I.T. also calls attention to comments posted by Loretta Murphy on the KOTV comment board:

I usually do not comment on such ridiculous statements but I cannot pass these by without stating some facts. First and foremost, I cannot believe people can assume such mean and hateful thoughts about other individuals they do not even know. Jerry Murphy, my husband is a kind and caring person who has always tried to help others and be a man of integrity. He was not handed money, he made his by working long hours, day in and day out and making many sacrifices to be a successful businessman. He started out at a young age and earned everything that he has, no one gave him anything. He has been stereo-typed because of the kind of work he chose. The ones who have wrote these mean accusations do not know my husband or neither do they know any thing about who we are. The reason our world is in such turmoil today is because people choose to hate without knowing why.
I am proud of the fact that I have had the opportunity to manage and help grow Big Splash over the past 10 years. My children have grown up here and my daughter Amber now manages the park for me. She and all of our children love and care about Big Splash. Our number one concern is the safety of our customers. We have done so much over the years to protect each and every patron that enters our park. Big Splash is a challenging business because of weather issues which shorten our already limited season. Schools resume session in the middle of August which also hurts our attendance. This makes it difficult to add new attractions, but we have tried to totally revamp a Tulsa favorite. We know that we are here for the families and we receive tremendous support from our season pass holders. It hurts me to feel that people would think that we would jeopardize anyones safety.
This is for everyone that I have not covered in the first two statements. Most of the negative things that have been posted in this forum have been for political gain or are people that support the Bell family. It was no ones fault that Bell's contract was not renewed except for Bell's themselves. Imagine how the county would be run if Sally Bell is elected County Commissioner.

Bubbaworld is on the story, too:

That the folks at Big Splash were, according to the state, content to put at risk the lives of their patrons could and should give those patrons cause for alarm.

Hopefully the state will be keeping an even closer eye on Big Splash and its operators.

And maybe it is time that Tulsa County Commissioner Randi Miller starts demanding to see the "financial plan" of the folks that own Big Splash Water Park which has a history of not paying its water bill on time and of endangering its patrons.

Oops, also forgot.

Commissioner Miller will never speak ill of or demand anything of anyone named Murphy.

It's only folks with the last name of Bell that get that get the "Miller treatment"...

And Bubbaworld comments on Loretta Murphy's excuses for not replacing the rotting timbers earlier:

Of the failure to replace rotten support beams discovered by state inspectors in December and discovered still rotten during a June 3rd follow up inspection which resulted in the state shutting down the attractions Murphy said:

"We had done many things in the park to provide what we felt like was additional safety to our patrons. And, it was a couple of items on the list that we missed. It was an overview on my part."

Murphy went on to say:

"I would say it was just an oversight on my part. It's my fault that I didn't take it as serious as the Department of Labor did and I apologize for that."

At least Murphy eventually managed to sort out the meaning and usage of "overview" and "oversight", however her downplaying the seriousness of the inspectors findings is alarming.

When are we going to hear from County Commissioner Miller about this? Will there be any penalties, any repercussions?

RELATED: During Miller's tenure, Expo Square has been in the process of being purged of attractions for locals in favor of shows and events that mainly draw visitors from out of town. While bringing in outside dollars is good for the local economy, an Expo Square exclusively devoted to that aim will be bad for the fairgrounds in the long term. Evicting Bell's eliminated local visits over the course of the summer and reduced the number of people who attended last fall's fair. The Drillers' departure would get rid of another quarter-million local visits to Expo Square. I'm not sure what the status of the Flea Market is, but if they are operating, I'm sure the moving around has cost them customers.

You could argue that it was Tulsa County voters' first-hand exposure to the state of the fairgrounds that led them to support funding for improvements in two 4 to Fix the County votes and in Vision 2025. They came to go to Bell's or for the Flea Market and saw that we needed new barns and to improvements to the midway and the IPE (QuikTrip) building. With fewer reasons for ordinary Tulsa County taxpayers to visit Expo Square, it may be much tougher to convince them to approve more tax dollars for future improvements.

Stan Geiger has a few blog entries up about next Tuesday's vote on Tulsa Community College's proposed property tax increases. (See my previous entry for links to my column on the topic and sources for additional information.) Here are some excerpts from Stan's latest -- click the links to read the whole thing:

TCC Launches Media Assault:

TCC is pushing the tired notion that more tax money for higher education equals a stronger local economy. Man, if only that were true.

The Tulsa area is up to its butt in public-subsidized higher education. TCC has 4 campuses---plus an office building for executives. We have an OU-Tulsa, an OSU-Tulsa and a Langston-Tulsa. We have a Northeastern State campus in Broken Arrow. And what was once a junior college in Claremore is now a 4-year school called Rogers State University under the auspices of the OU Board of Regents.

If pouring tax money into higher education resulted in economic prosperity, Tulsa would be a freakin' boomtown.

The Hits Keep Coming:

Well, 50 bucks a year might not be a big deal to educators. But to an average working person that has a real job out in the real world and is facing wolves at the door, 50 bucks is a lot of money.

Property Tax: The Ever Growing Tax, referring to an earlier comment by XonOFF, who notes that TCC currently gets almost as much property tax in a year as the City of Tulsa, and if the tax increase and bond issue pass, TCC will receive more property tax annually than Tulsa County government. Stan relates some budget research he did 10 years ago:

In 1997, TCC's budget figures showed property tax revenue of $15.3 million. Reports say the last permanent millage increase voted to TCC came in 1994. So in a 10-year span of time, in the absence of any increase in the tax rate, the amount of property tax revenue flowing into TCC doubled.

The property tax is not a static tax. It grows. If you vote an increase today, whatever it is, 50 bucks, a hundred bucks or whatever, it will be a bigger tax increase next year, and the year after that and the year after that.

Tulsa Chiggers has some TCC facts for voters to weigh:

Did you know that space is available, especially at the Northeast Campus? ...

Did you know that TCC has been operating with a surplus for years?

TulsaNow's public forum has a thread about the TCC tax hike, and it's interesting to see that many regulars there who usually support tax increases are balking at this one.
Commenter "waterboy" writes:

I received one of their calls last night. For the first time in my life I am voting against an education proposal.

TCC is a poor administrator of tax dollars [in my opinion].

I believe they practice age discrimination.

Their human resources dept. is inept. and unresponsive. (I know this has become common throughout the business world but this is tax dollars)

They cannibalized the areas surrounding the downtown facility for asphalt lots.

Wage disparity is embarrassingly out of balance. Read their classified ads.

I told the caller that at some point TCC will have its attitude with the public reflected back towards them. For me, this is that point.

Commenter "swake" replies:

I also am voting no for the first time.

TCC is a poor downtown citizen, works to block 1st and 2nd year classes from being offered by OSU and OU Tulsa and isn't the higher education entity that we need to work to grow.

Not really. But there's a parody news story about Randi Miller sending the big guy packing on a new blog called Irritated Tulsan. Here's how it starts:

The Tulsa County Fair Board continued their un-expansion Tuesday with the eviction of the Golden Driller.

"The Golden Driller was unable to provide us with a solid business plan," said Randi Miller, Tulsa County Fair Board Chairman, "He has to be let go."

With Bell's eviction, the upcoming Driller's move and the renaming of the EXPO center to the Quiktrip Center, the TCFB continues to disappoint taxpayers of Tulsa County....

The bill for the eviction will cost taxpayers $5 million.

"I know that seems like a lot of money," [Expo Square CEO Rick] Bjorkland said, " but a least it's not mine. Seriously, $5 million is nothing compared to what I've wasted."

The construction of the parking lot in the former Bell's location cost $25 million. The glowing lights on top the Quiktrip center cost $600,000, and only worked for one year.

$25 million doesn't seem right to me, but the overall cost to the taxpayers of evicting Bell's Amusement Park was quite high.

Irritated Tulsan also has a couple of funny shopping rants (just be warned that Irritated Tulsan drops the occasional foul word -- not for kids): his own about the horror that is the Admiral and Memorial Wal-Mart and one from a reader about the scooter people.

He has some opinions about our streets, too:

If you don't live in Tulsa, you may not be familiar with our roads. There are six potholes for every square foot. A group of dedicated city employees fills the same holes over and over again. Each time it rains, there's a small breeze, the sun shines, a cat meows or an angel farts, the pothole reappears. I think it's because a mixture of pudding and oatmeal is used for road repair.

How to complete our streets? Borrow a tactic from cash-strapped schools:

The whole "Complete Our Streets Task Force" could bake. They claim more than 150 committee members.

If not a bake sale, how about the "World's Finest Chocolate?"

We sold those candy bars to raise money for our elementary school, why can't the city sell them too. The committee could go door-to-door, stand outside Reasor's and sell candy-bars at work.

We've been pimping out our kids with the "World's Finest Chocolate" for decades, and now it's time to pimp out our city leaders.

If for no other reason, Irritated Tulsan deserves a link here for calling attention to the B-52s' new album Funplex -- you can listen to the whole thing at MuchMusic.

On Sunday, former TV news reporter and anchor Karen Keith announced her campaign for Tulsa County District 2 Commissioner, a seat held since 2002 by Randi Miller.

My desire to see Randi Miller replaced is no secret. While I've applauded her efforts to return the jail to the control of the sheriff's office and her support for County Assessor Ken Yazel's budget and financial reforms, she's been a disaster on sales tax issues, on the Bixby Bridge issue, and on the management of the fairgrounds. She was even willing to lend her name to the effort to dilute democracy by adding at-large councilors to the City Council. On the City Council she had been a fiscal conservative, publicly opposing "It's Tulsa's Time," the 2000 effort to pass an arena sales tax. But since joining the County Commission, Miller has given no resistance to efforts to expand the size and scope of county government. She was even willing to jump into the Arkansas River for a photo op in support of the plan to flood the west bank and build islands in the middle of the river, something that would have cost taxpayers $600 million.

I was called a few days before the announcement by someone who, like me, publicly opposed last October's proposed Tulsa County river sales tax. This person asked if I would be willing to meet and talk about possibly supporting Karen.

I've known Karen for almost 27 years, and I like her. Way back in May 1981, I did my high school's required internship month at KGCT 41, a short-lived attempt at news/talk TV, with studios in the Lerner Shops building, on the Main Mall north of 5th St. I went along with Karen on a couple of stories, and I enjoyed getting to know her.

In 1991, we met up again when she was head of the Brookside Business Association, which was the initial focal point of the effort to stop the 39th & Peoria Albertson's. (The neighborhood was protesting the loss of street-fronting retail to a parking lot and a major commercial incursion into the residential area. That effort spawned the Brookside Neighborhood Association; I was a member of the initial board.)

In 2001, Karen was one of the founders of TulsaNow, an organization that I joined shortly after it got off the ground. Like the other founders, Karen's main focus was, in the wake of two straight defeats for arena sales taxes, to get something passed. (Many of us were more interested in land use and planning issues, which became one of the main focuses of the organization after the passage of Vision 2025.) During the Vision 2025 campaign in 2003, former County Assessor Jack Gordon and I debated Karen on a couple of occasions. More recently, she worked for the Chamber of Commerce during the recent Tulsa County river sales tax vote.

My ideal candidate for County Commissioner would refocus the county on handling the county's responsibilities, instead of trying to turn the county into a kind of metro government. Leave the business of municipal government to the municipalities, and leave them with the sales tax that municipal government depends upon. I live in District 2, and there is a necessary (although not sufficient) condition for my support: A candidate must commit to ending the Four to Fix the County and Vision 2025 sales taxes as soon as all the projects are paid for (including the Vision 2025 low-water dams) and not seeking to renew either of them or to enact a new sales tax.

From the quotes in the daily paper's story about Karen Keith's announcement, I don't think she passes the test.

"I really would like to see us bring back the cohesiveness that we had before, during Vision 2025, with the surrounding areas," she said.

"Things have gotten a little fractured, and I would like to be a part of bringing everybody back together."

A unified front is exactly what's needed to deal with the state Legislature, she said.

"Pushing as a unified body with our Legislature to seek other sources of funding (would) make some pretty dramatic changes in how that's done," Keith said.

She chose to run for a county office because of its potential to be a "big-picture position."

"Its scope is very different from the city," she said.

Driving down 15th St. today, I passed the little sandstone-sided house at 15th and Trenton and noticed a sign in front that said "Karen Keith / County Commissioner." It was a very fancy sign, the sort that would go on a lawyer's office with the intent of staying there for decades, not something you'd put on a temporary campaign headquarters. It appeared to be enamel on stainless steel. A wavy green line appeared on the sign, part of her logo, I guess.

Maybe I'm reading too much into a sign, but it tells me that Karen Keith's campaign has plenty of money to spend, that she's financed by people with deep pockets, and that passing a river tax will be one of her priorities as County Commissioner.

I like Karen Keith as a person, but I hope someone else steps forward to run against Randi Miller.

TulsaNow forums participant cannon_fodder reminds us that on November 15, 2007, at 7:20 a.m. on KRMG radio, Tulsa County Commissioner Randi Miller said:

Whoever came up with the idea the space would just be surface parking was misinformed.

cannon_fodder has photos of the stripey, flat, asphalty-looking thing where Bell's used to be, and he counts the cost:

Keep in mind that in addition to losing the $135,000 a year in rent we also paid $210,000 to take down the Roller Coaster and another $227,500 to clear the land. Figure the annuity is worth $2mil (PV of an annuity at 7%) and we are already in for $2,500,000 before we start building those lovely lots (which cost an additional 2.5mil or so I'd guess) . Not too mention the loss of entertainment, an interesting landscape, and a Tulsa icon.

Whatever it is, it's clearly not a very expensive surface parking lot, because Randi Miller says so.

In related news, Murphy Brothers, the midway operator for the Tulsa State Fair, has signed a letter of intent to buy Wild West World, a bankrupt amusement park north of Wichita. (Hat tip to patric on the Tulsa Now forums.)

Who's in the clink?

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Curious to know who the Tulsa County Sheriff has in custody? The Tulsa County Inmate Information Center lets you search the database of the currently incarcerated. That same page has links to the city and county sex offender lists. The last link on the page -- Inmate Population Report -- produces a PDF file with the complete list of inmates and why they're being held. It's very interesting reading, especially to see how many are being held for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (search for "ICE Hold") and what crimes these alleged illegal aliens are alleged to have committed.

My column in this issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly is about the news that the Tulsa 66ers will be moving to Bixby and what that means for the prospects of luring the Tulsa Drillers to downtown Tulsa. The same factors that make Bixby, Regal Plaza, and the SpiritBank event center attractive to minor-league basketball will be present in Jenks's River District development. Global Development's East End project, with surrounding mixed-use development, would have come closer to the situation the 66ers will enjoy in Bixby (minus the demographic advantages). Can an isolated ballpark in downtown present as appealing a situation to Drillers owner Chuck Lamson as a Jenks stadium surrounded by restaurants and nightclubs? Can Tulsa offer a better downtown location? Is a Tulsa Landing, with a ballpark on the river, still an option? And how do we keep family entertainment in central Tulsa if we can't keep families here? Reader Joe Gaudet posted this comment on the article:

You hit the nail on the head. When me and my wife moved here in 2000 with our two (then) small children we were intent on living in town. We interviewed school principals and studied real estate for six months plus. Our desire was to enroll the kids in Monte Cassino and try to live close by because we wanted our kids to be able to walk or bike to school in safety. The beginning of the school year forced us to make a decision and we selected a home in South Tulsa because there was much more house to be had for the money plus the Jenks school district had a great reputation. Our kids are teens now. One is in college and the other graduates High School in two years. My wife and I are planning to move in town then, that is providing we can find affordable housing to downsize to and public safety still remains an issue for us, especially as we get older. We do not carry concealed weapons and do not choose to. We do enjoy walking to entertainment and right now Brookside or Cherry St. looks to be the best option, except as Bixby and Jenks evolve the idea of a condo nearby starts to become an alternative. I am only citing my personal example but I am sure there are others like myself that would live in town if the key items were not repetitive issues: A) Public Safety B) Affordable Housing and C) Quality K-12 ed. Swanky loft living is attractive for young singles but if the goal is to get residential to support downtown retail and entertainment one must consider the needs of young families.

Also in this week's issue, a column by Tulsa County Commissioner Randi Miller about what might be done with Drillers Stadium when the Drillers move away. After speculating on the use of the ballpark as an outdoor music venue and a soccer stadium, she concludes with this surprising idea:

If there are no feasible ideas for retaining the stadium as a sports/music venue and the stadium has to come down, we could look to the private sector to develop a state-of-the-art family entertainment facility. Along those lines, perhaps there will come a time when the Fair Meadows Race Track is not the best usage of all the real estate currently used for the track, given that there are less than 30 live racing days a year and the rest of the time the property sits largely unused. If a good portion of the Expo Square real estate from 15th Street to 21st Street along Yale was cleared and opened for private development, it could create the perfect economic development climate to compliment the already great improvements happening at Expo Square.

Sounds like she thinks Fair Meadows is already a waste of space. Beyond that, anyone struck by the irony that the commissioner who led the charge to demolish Bell's Amusement Park thinks an amusement park at the fairgrounds would be a good idea? And who do you suppose would build a such a facility between 15th & 21st on Yale? Could it be the people who already lease the southern end of that strip for Big Splash?

A press release today from Fred Perry, recently installed as this year's chairman of the Tulsa County Board of Commissioners:

Commissioner Fred Perry today announced that he will be recommending Daryl Woodard as an appointment to Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority (TCPFA), generally known as the fair board.

"In my opinion, and that of many others, Daryl is one of the top business people in the Tulsa area. During the last three decades he has demonstrated great vision and entrepreneurial skills in the information technology (IT) field while founding and leading several very successful companies in the IT arena. As we continue to upgrade and streamline the fairgrounds, Daryl's entrepreneurial spirit, technical skills and business talents will be of great value to Expo Square." Commissioner Perry said.

Woodard is CEO and President of W.T.I. which is a holding company for several companies he has started or acquired. All are in the information technology field providing Computer System Integration, Wide Area Networks, Electronic Telephone Directories, Electronic Catalogs, Educational and Publishing Services. They are primarily located in Tulsa, Dallas, Houston, St. Louis and Wichita. Woodard has served on a number of boards in the past. He has served as the President for the Tulsa Chapter of YPO (The Young Presidents Organization), was an original member of the Executive Advisory Board of the University of Tulsa, College of Business Administration, was President for all the national MicroAge Franchises and numerous other civic organizations. A 1977 business graduate of the University of Illinois, he is married and has four children.

If approved by the Board of County Commissioners, Woodard will replace Clark Brewster who has served on the TCPFA for the last two years.

"Clark has been an asset to the board. As an owner of race horses himself, he has made significant suggestions regarding the horse racing side of the fairgrounds operations and structure that will be beneficial for years to come. This change is no reflection on Clark's abilities. He is a very smart and capable person. I certainly wish him well and hope he remains involved with the fairgrounds." Perry said.

The TCPFA trust document, allows a newly elected chairman, with the approval of a majority of the Board of County Commissioners, to either reappoint a current member, if the member is up for appointment, or to appoint someone else. Perry said he plans to put the appointment on the January 14th Board of County Commissioners meeting agenda for a vote.

I'm pleased to see the change. While I'm sure that Brewster's knowledge of the horse industry has been beneficial in Expo Square's pursuit of horse shows, he has also been on the board during one of its most controversial periods, with the decision to grant, without competitive bidding, an extension to Murphy Brothers' midway contract, the hiring of Rick Bjorklund as the new CEO of Expo Square, the decision to oust Bell's Amusement Park, and the battle over the City of Tulsa's decision to annex the fairgrounds. Brewster was the leading advocate of the new no-bid Murphy Brothers contract.

Brewster was appointed by Randi Miller to complete Cinnabar and Infrastructure Ventures Inc. executive Bob Parmele's unexpired term. On the positive side, early in his two-year tenure, Brewster put a spotlight on the excessive use of change orders by Expo Square contractors, which seemed to him a reward to contractors for serious errors and omissions. The result was changes in the Phase 4 Expo Square contracts.

You may recall Brewster's speech at a City Council meeting about fairgrounds annexation, in which he was PWNED by Councilor John Eagleton, who called Brewster's bluff on the terms of Expo Square's contract with the Arabian Horse Show:

I'm told that both Fred Perry and John Smaligo made public commitments during their campaigns for County Commissioner last year that they would not reappoint Brewster to the fair board.

Perry's choice for the board, Daryl Woodard, is a frequent contributor to Republican campaigns. He was also a supporter of the Tulsa County sales tax increase for river projects, sending his employees an e-mail urging them to vote for the new tax.

If Woodard's appointment is approved by the full County Commission next Monday, it will mean that three of the five members of the fair board are new within the last year. (Perry and Smaligo are the other two new members.) I'm hoping that will mean positive changes to the way the board does business.

This week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly continues the effort to get our Tulsa County Commissioners to find out for themselves exactly how much Vision 2025 funds are on hand, how much is likely to be on hand in the next couple of years, and how much has been obligated. At the heart of the debate is informal county financial adviser (and frequent bond vendor to the county) John Piercey, to whom county officials defer all questions about Vision 2025 finances. Be sure to read Brian Ervin's news story on the topic from last week's edition, and my column from two weeks ago.

Also in this week's issue: Brian Ervin looks into Rev. Victor Orta's recent flight on Pre-Paid Legal's private jet down to company HQ in Ada. Some think it might have to do with his legal challenge to HB 1804, and U. S. Chamber of Commerce plans to go on the offensive against immigration enforcement efforts like HB 1804.

UPDATE: Fixed all the broken links. I think.

If the Vision 2025 Sales Tax Overview Committee is as diligent and vigilant a watchdog as we're being told they are, how did they miss noticing that the arena was going to go way over budget when there was time to prevent the crisis?

If Hurricane Katrina caused the arena to go more than $50 million over budget, how come it didn't have a similar effect on the cost of any other project?

The Tulsa County Vision Trust decided to allocate extra funding to the arena, because the estimated cost was wrong. Couldn't they have done the same thing for the low-water dams and Zink Dam work promised in Vision 2025? And couldn't they have decided to allocate less of the surplus receipts for the arena and hold some surplus back for the dams?

Some of my fellow Tulsa bloggers are wondering about the river tax, too. First, let's hear from some bloggers that are new to me

Jason Kearney writes that "[n]o one was a bigger supporter of Vision 2025" than he was, but he's voting no on the October 9th sales tax increase. Among some of his many reasons:

For example, developers do not REQUIRE tax dollars to move forward with these projects, they just WANT them. Who wouldn't? I can understand the county giving them a tax break for a few years, but they do not need tax dollars. County Commissioner Randi Miller has proven by her actions that she has much to gain with all of her maneuvering in this. She screwed the Bell family out of their fifty-year family business, and now she wants to stick it to the tax payers.

Jason's entry also recounts the history of Jerry Gordon and the development of Jenks' Riverwalk Crossing. And in his most recent entry, he demolishes the PR spin from the Tulsa Metro Chamber on their economic impact numbers:

My first question was this: "Is it true that the current river development in Jenks, which is wildly popular and financially successful, was built with no tax increase at all?" Her answer: "Yes."

My second question: "Is it true that the majority of the 10,000 jobs she is speaking about are low paying construction jobs, which will only last until the low water dams are complete?" Her answer: "Yes."

My third question: "If Tulsa votes down this sales tax increase, is it true that the commercial developers will still be allowed to build shops, restaurants, and condos along the river?" Her answer: "Yes."

My fourth question: "Isn't it true that the George Kaiser Foundation has already donated $20 million to enhance trails in the Riverparks area, and that work has already begun on these developments?" Her answer: "Yes."

And then there's Jason's take on the media blitz in support of the tax:

Anytime the county and the news media have to engage in a smoke and mirrors game to make the public believe that this tax has the full support of the public, anytime a PR firm has to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to use children to make you feel guilty if you vote against it, there is something wrong.

Cindy Downes, a 57-year-old empty nest mom who is going to college, attended the "debate" last week at TCC, and she had to write a paper on the event as a class assignment. It's a well-written, detailed report, and you should read the whole thing. Cindy says it wasn't really a fair fight:

They had four speakers: Winn Estrada, who was against the River project; Robert Nichols, who was supposedly impartial; and Victor Muse and Randi Miller who were for the project. Winn Estrada had 10-15 minutes. The rest of the time was taken by the other three, with the majority of the time used by Randi Miller.

Victor Muse, the student debater in favor of the tax cited the Three Gorges Dam project in China as a positive example of river development. In fact, Three Gorges is a classic example of totalitarian environmental overreach, damaging the environment, archaeological sites, matchless scenery, and ancient cities, displacing two million people and a way of live dependent on the ability to navigate the Yangtze River. It's an example of the damage a totalitarian government can cause because there is no place for opposition groups that might challenge the government's plans.

Cindy went on to report some classic Randi Miller moments:

I asked about the eagles and she stated that the project would not affect this eagle habitat. I then asked to hear from Winn exactly why he thought it would. She said she did not come to debate her "constituents;" however, note that her whole speech up to this point was a "debate" against her constituent. She did give him the microphone briefly, but she kept talking about not debating her constituent and he was not able to get the "floor" back to adequately answer the question.

Someone then asked about the condition of the roads and why we should not fix them first. Her answer was that there is already $200M set aside for roads in Tulsa. There is some kind of "Bottleneck" that they are trying to figure out why this money is not getting used. They "think" it is because there are not enough companies in Oklahoma to do road repair and she encouraged the students to start a business in road repair as there is a definite need.

She ended with the statement that if this doesn't pass, it will be 20 years before it can come to the table again.

20 years? And has Mayor Taylor investigated this $200 million that Miller says is set aside for roads but isn't being spent?

You might think a blogger called CycleDog would be all for this tax plan, but no:

Some of the arguments in favor of the proposition have been downright silly. The latest was in today's newspaper, arguing that building a new park will attract droves of young people to area businesses, and these new folks will contribute so much money to the economy that the city will be able to rebuild our crumbling roads and road infrastructure. These people must have attended that same voodoo economic course as the Reagan administration.

Don't misunderstand me - I'm not opposed to paying taxes when the money goes to something that provides real, tangible benefits. But when faced with a stark choice - a local school or a distant park - the right choice is very clear.

And commenter Ryan responded:

I have friends that have transplanted from San Diego, for the sole reason of being able to afford a new home, and even they never had to pay such a high sales tax to live in a city with sports stadiums and one of the nicest parks I've ever had the pleasure of visiting. I won't lie, I'm not an expert in city planning or budget, but I do know there's something wrong when this city can't develop without raising our sales tax to something that even ex-California residents scoff at.

Debb at Okie Mom Confessions confesses her reasons for a no vote on October 9th. She asks some great questions:

Vision 2025 addressed some of this already, the 2 low water dams & the shoreline beautification was to be addressed from funds from Vision 2025. Why are we, essentially paying for it yet again? Where did the money go?...

How successful will Glenpool, Skiatook, Collinsville, Broken Arrow, and Owasso be in financing their cities if the county has already pushed the taxpayers to the limit?

If we cannot already support what we have, how will we maintain an even larger expanse of parks & bridges, dams, etc., that will need a lot of costly spending for upkeep?...

MySpacer Ferdinandy gives his top 10 reasons for voting no, including:

6. CORPS of ENGINEERS APPROVAL: We don't even have approval to alter the river from the Corps yet. What happens if we vote to tax ourselves and the Corps of Engineers says "NO!" Do we get our money back?

8. COUNTY GOVERNMENTS SHOULDN'T BE IN SALES TAX BUSINESS: Sales tax is (in most responsible budgeting plans) used by cities to take care of city issues. When counties get in the sales tax business....well...there's just not enough to go around.

Some LiveJournal-ists are talking about tax. dividedjoy writes:

i don't even think they know what they want to do, all the ads and info just keep saying how badly we need this tax...but no good reasons of why besides it being for "Tulsa's future yay!!!"

part of it is that they want to build a series of low water dams - which have not been approved by the corp of engineers AND which the us fish and wildlife service says would very badly screw up the ecosystem in and around the river not just in tulsa, but up and downstream as well...they also want to build a pedestrian bridge down by 61st street...you know, by the stinky water treatment plant...

And lbangs has launched a river tax comment thread on the Tulsa Time LiveJournal community:

I'm all for smart city development, but gee, most of the studies commissioned to study this proposal will not even be finished by the time the vote comes to the public.

I'm sorry, but that is plain idiotic.

Is it too much to ask for some intelligence in our planning? I'm seeing a lot of hype and hoopla, plenty of smoke and mirrors, and precious little facts or truth.

And just who exactly is paying for all these moronic television ads trying to make you feel like you hate cute little children if you vote against this potential city-wide folly?

Somebody with deep pockets has a lot to gain from this project.

But don't look now; it ain't you or me.

And now let's turn to some of our long-time blogpals:

Jeff Shaw is pondering the magic formula:

Underestimated costs + Overestimated benefits = Project approval

And he finds this nugget of wisdom in a report called How Optimism Bias and Strategic Misrepresentation Undermine Implementation:

Lawmakers, investors, and the public cannot trust information about costs, benefits, and risks of large infrastructure projects produced by promoters and planners of such projects.

More recently, Jeff is wondering about the latest wild claim of 10,000 new jobs if the river tax passes, and he puts that big number into perspective.

Steve Roemerman is wondering how a fiscally conservative congressman can endorse a tax increase, and he wonders whether the congressman had certain facts in front of him when he made his decision. Steve's readers have been pondering the same question, as have some of Jeff Shaw's readers.

"Mad Okie" uses Google Maps to illustrate the differences between the waterside developments in Indianapolis, San Antonio, and Oklahoma City and what's being proposed in Tulsa. Hint: Note the width of the relevant body of water. And he takes issue with an unnamed state rep, quoted in a KOTV story saying that the river plan "would bring more entertainment options for everyone."

The people of the North Side, West Side, East Side, and South side dont care about "entertainment options", especially when the people pushing these "entertainment options" are the same people that evicted BELLS, a real entertainment option!

Bobby at Tulsa Topics (back to blogging again!) has a similar concern:

Thanks to the same people who want you to give them more money via the upcoming River Tax vote.... you will not be seeing the Zingo or the rest of Bells at the state fair this year.

I find it ironic, the flagrant use of kids on all the hack ads that the vote yes camp has been running on the tube lately, when the same group killed a long standing family tradition here in Tulsa.

MeeCiteeWurkor has ideas on protecting your "No River Tax" sign from getting stolen, and a guest contributor has been following developments in Sand Springs, including the Sand Springs City Council's vote to endorse the tax hike.

Those are two questions about two major thrusts of the campaign for the proposed Tulsa County sales tax increase for river-related projects. In this week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly, I ask whether this river tax plan is what we need to do for the sake of Tulsa's children and young adults.

In response to the first question, I deal in passing with one river tax cheerleader's active involvement in destroying a place of fun and happy memories for Tulsa's children, and pass along a suggestion, made by my wife, for how you could protest Bell's eviction from the Tulsa County Fairgrounds, should you decide not to boycott this year's Tulsa State Fair entirely:

In addition to the obvious -- don't spend money on the Murphy Brothers midway -- here's a homemade idea for those who go to the fair but wish to protest Bell's eviction: Wear bells to the fair. You can buy a big bag of jingles at a craft store for a few dollars. Thread a bunch on a ribbon to wear around your neck. Bring extras to give to friends or fellow fairgoers.

And if you want to make the point explicit, stick a nametag on your shirt with the slogan that's been spotted around town: "No Bell's. No fair."

Bells3-web.pngAccompanying that suggestion on page 7 of this week's UTW is the first published work by a budding young cartoonist named Joe Bates, depicting a weeping Bell. He's got some more political cartoons in the work. The demolition of Bell's is something my two older kids saw happening on an almost daily basis, and it saddened them both greatly. I'm proud to see my son express his sentiments so eloquently in art. He's already working on some more cartoons.

I mentioned in the column that skipping the fair entirely is hard for a lot of people from Tulsa and the northeastern Oklahoma. Going back to the '40s my great-grandmother and grandmother would enter the craft competitions, and in recent years my two older children have had fun submitting their own creations. Joe has won two blue ribbons, one in 2004 for an acrylic painting and one last year for a convertible built with Legos. Both he and his little sister plan to enter some items again this year. To us, and to a lot of families, the Tulsa State Fair was here before Randi Miller and Clark Brewster and Rick Bjorklund, and it'll be here when they've all moved on to other things. But I can certainly understand those who plan to abandon the fair altogether.

Regarding young professionals, in my column I mention a recent visit to Orlando and a Saturday evening spent on lively Orange Avenue, between Church Street and Washington Street in that city's downtown:

Downtown Orlando has shiny new skyscrapers, a basketball arena, and a beautiful 23-acre lake with a fountain. But I didn't find the crowds around any of those. There were only a few people walking the path around the lake, and the sidewalk along Central Boulevard next to the lake was empty except for me.

Instead, the throng of twenty-somethings was promenading up and down four blocks of Orange Avenue, a street lined with old one-, two-, and three-story commercial buildings. The storefronts of those buildings were in use as bars, cafes, and pizza joints. The same kind of development stretched for a block or two down each side street. There were hot dog stands on every corner. Pedicabs ferried people to and fro. The numbers of partiers only grew larger as the little hand swept past 12.

An observation from that visit that I didn't include in the column: The block of Orange between Pine and Church Streets has these old commercial buildings crowding the sidewalk on the west side and a spacious plaza framed by two modern, round, glass and steel buildings on the east side. Where do you suppose people chose to walk? 90% of the foot traffic stayed next to the old storefronts and avoided the big modern plaza.

As I mentioned in last week's Urban Tulsa Weekly, a few weeks ago I began my search for the source of the numbers being cited in defense of the need to raise taxes to build the two low-water dams and the Zink Lake modifications promised in Proposition No. 4 of the Vision 2025 sales tax.

The debate over this issue has two prongs:

(1) Did Tulsa County officials promise to build the dams during the Vision 2025 campaign? And did they promise that they'd have the money to build them even if Federal matching dollars weren't available? Despite word-parsing efforts by Commissioner Randi Miller and others, the clear answer to that question is yes, as I've demonstrated from the official ballot resolution, the official project map used during the campaign, and quotes from Commissioner Bob Dick and others during the campaign, and even after the campaign, when Federal funding was once again in doubt.

(2) Is there enough money in projected Vision 2025 revenues to cover the cost of the new dams and the Zink Lake modifications? County officials, citing numbers developed by John Piercey, the county's bond adviser, say that the answer is no. Based on revenue projections, remaining projects to be funded, and debt service, there isn't enough money, they say to fund the low water dams beyond the specific amounts listed in the resolution, much less fund any other project on this October's ballot.

That second point set me off on a search to find out for myself. I combed through the five big binders of monthly Vision 2025 reports in the fourth floor Government Documents department of the Central Library. (The most recent three binders are in the work room, so you need to ask at the reference desk if you want to see them.)

Having looked at the sales tax summaries and project summaries in the monthly reports, I had a simple mental model of how it all fit together. You had two pots of money: A pot of sales tax revenue and a pot of bond proceeds.

Sales tax receipts come into the sales tax revenue pot, and from that pot comes bond repayment (debt service: principal and interest) and cash expenditures (e.g., money to pay down the Oklahoma Aquarium debt, fees to PMg and attorneys).

The bond proceeds pot is fed by proceeds from revenue bond sales, and that money is spent on expenditures for most of the projects.

So what I wanted to know was this:

(1) How much money was in each pot as of, say, the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2007?

(2) How much money was likely to be added to the sales tax pot between now and the last sales tax check in February 2017? (There's about a month and a half delay between collection and the resulting check from the Oklahoma Tax Commission back to the cities and counties.)

(3) Of the money in the sales tax pot, how much is committed to debt service, and what is the repayment schedule?

(4) Of the money in the sales tax pot, how much is budgeted but yet to be spent for projects and for overall program expenses, and what is the schedule for spending that money, and for which projects?

(5) Of the money in the bond pot, how much is budgeted but yet to be spent for projects and program expenses, and what is the schedule for spending that money, and for which projects?

I figured that, with all the talk about how we wouldn't have enough money to build the promised dams, that somebody must have all this worked out, at least on a year by year basis. If you had the answers to those five questions, you could make decisions about borrowing against future revenues or the likelihood of additional money that could be spent on a pay-as-you-go basis or possibly even reprioritizing the sequence in which the remaining projects (including the dam and Zink Lake projects) would be funded.

I wrote about my quest a few weeks ago:

I asked Kirby Crowe by phone if he had a copy of this plan. I'm not sure if I made my meaning clear, but I came away from the conversation with the impression that he did not have a copy of Piercey's financial plan.

I called Jim Smith, the County's fiscal officer, and asked if he had a copy of the financial plan. I thought he might, since his name is on the monthly memo in the Vision 2025 report listing tax receipts, the monthly wire transfer from the sales tax fund to the trustee, and the interest earnings on the sales tax trust account.

Smith said he didn't have the financial plan, but suggested I call John Piercey. Mr. Smith could tell me what the payment to the trustee would be for the next six months, at which point it would be recalculated, but couldn't tell me anything more about future expenses.

I called Capital West, and they gave me John Piercey's number. I called John, and he was very gracious. He said he'd e-mail it to me that evening or the following morning. He said something about recalculating based on more recent tax receipts. I'd really be happy seeing the most recent version, whatever he's been using as the basis for his statements about Vision 2025 surpluses.

That was a week ago Monday, the 20th. I gave him a reminder call on the 28th -- got his voicemail and left a message. Haven't heard back yet. I'm sure he's quite busy.

Can anyone suggest somewhere else I could find this information?

That was on August 30. Eight days later, on September 7, I left another message for Mr. Piercey. I also, on a whim, called County Commissioner Fred Perry's office to see if they have a copy of this rumored financial plan. The administrative assistant didn't know, but she took my message, and about an hour later, Commissioner Perry called me. (Part of that conversation found its way into the update to this entry about the Republican Women's Club's exclusion of the opposition from a discussion of the county river tax.)

Perry told me he would ask Piercey to get me the information, and not long after I heard from Piercey. The following Tuesday afternoon, September 11, he dropped the three-page Excel printout, entitled "Vision 2025 Financial Summary" by UTW's offices. (Clicking that link will open a PDF file, about 300 KB.)

Off and on over the following week, I crunched through Piercey's numbers covering the next nine and a half years and tried to fit them together with the numbers in the Vision 2025 reports covering the past three and a half years, trying to meld them together into a consistent set of answers to my questions.

Finally, I sent Piercey an e-mail, attaching a snapshot of the financial spreadsheet from the June 2007 Vision 2025 report:

John,

Thanks again for providing me with that spreadsheet printout last Tuesday. I'm still looking at it and trying to understand how your numbers line up with the ones I observed in the Vision 2025 monthly reports from PMg.

The most puzzling thing is the gap between previous years debt service numbers and the numbers in your projections. Attached is a photo of the Vision 2025 sales tax report from PMg's June 2007 Vision 2025 report, which includes all receipts and expenditures through the end of FY07. It shows the following amounts transferred to the bond trustee:

FY
Transferred to Bond Trustee
2004
15,213,697.60
2005
34,394,424.51
2006
33,402,757.79
2007
34,645,690.81

I take those numbers to represent what has been paid to debt service to date. So it's puzzling that for FY 2008 that the debt service jumps up to $46,977,024 plus $396,500 for Series 2006 B. Did the debt service payments just jump up at the end of FY 2007, or is something else on that PMg spreadsheet that should be included in debt service to date?

Put another way, what are your numbers for debt service through FY 2007?

(I'm also surprised that the debt service number doesn't tail off in 2017, since there are only eight months of revenue from the tax in FY 2017.)

Another apparent difference between PMg's numbers and yours: PMg shows, after May 2007, $45,362,099.18 in the sales tax trust fund, and in June all of it is transferred to a new cash projects trust account, in addition to about $2 million transferred to this cash projects trust account back in February. You show $39,093,695 as sales tax revenues held by County. I don't understand how those two numbers line up.

Another question has to do with when various expenses and funds might be realized. You show a balance to be funded of $104.5 million and about $69.3 million of cashflow from bond fund reserves ($39.4 million), net earnings on bond funds ($13.7 million), and net earnings on cash flow ($16.2 million). Has anyone mapped out, to the fiscal year, when these expenses and earnings will be realized?

Thanks again for your assistance,

Michael D. Bates

Here is Piercey's reply in full, clarifying the nature of his report and his role with Vision 2025 and Tulsa County:

Capital West Securities, Inc. official involvement with raising additional funds for Vision 2025 ended in the third quarter of 2006 with the completion of the funding of $31 million in parity and subordinate bonds which partially funded the $45.5 million approved by the County for the Arena and Convention Center. The balance of the funds for the projects increased budget will come from cash flow through the end of calendar year 2008.

My current involvement is as an unpaid monitor of the monthly sales tax receipts and the preparation of a semi annual update of the status of the financial condition of the program. The day to day management of the Program is performed by PMG and the funds administration is performed by the Bond Trustee in cooperation with Jim Smith, the County's fiscal officer. The summary that was given to you is the most current semi annual Update that I have done and is not a "financial plan".

The monthly PMG report provided to the elected officials and the Sales Tax Overview committee will differ from my evaluation simply because they are looking primarily at projects implementation and monthly cash flows provided to them by the Trustee and PMG. They will also differ as a result of the time frame that I used and the in and out of money that occurs weekly.

As I pointed out to John Eagleton in a prior correspondence, the debt service payments that are shown in the PMG reports are what the Trustee requires from sales tax receipts on a monthly basis. The difference between the receipts and the payment goes into sales tax trust fund. The sales tax trust fund is being used to fund Vision projects not funded by bond proceeds. It builds up over time as a results of primarily the City of Tulsa budget process which requires all funds to be in place and appropriated before project contracts can be signed.

The Trustee's debt service requirements given to the County differ from the debt service requirements on the bonds are a results of interest earnings on the construction funds held by the Trustee as well as interest earnings on the Bond Fund Reserve account of $39.09 million. Given the amount of proceeds raised early in the program those earnings were substantial in the early years of the program and decline as projects are completed. This will also be the case with the County's sales tax trust fund as the Arena and Convention Center is completed between now and the end of fiscal year 2008.

As for specific answers to your questions:

1. Debt service has risen annually since 2003 as a results of additional bond issues being done as projects became ready for implementation. Debt service has also risen as the amount of investment earnings have declined as moneys are spent.

2. The PMG debt service numbers are net of investment earnings.

3. All the bond issues, except series 2006B, are rated AAA. In order to get a AAA rating, a cash reserve of $39 plus million was funded early in the program and is held by the Trustee. The purpose of the reserve is have sufficient funds on hand to pay debt service in the event that sales tax receipts at any one time or length of time is insufficient to pay the debt service. The Reserve is released in the final year (2017) to pay most of the final year's debt service. This final payment assumes that no short fall has occurred.

4. The Series 2006 B bonds of $10 million are subordinate bonds and are unrated. The reason being that the requirements to issue more bonds on a parity basis could not be met. The $14.5 million in cash flow for the Arena and Convention Center was also the results of not being able to issue more debt without increasing the costs of the debt and the risk that other projects would have to be postponed or possibly eliminated if sales tax receipts declined.

5. The Vision 2025 program included $575 million in specific projects with specific dollar allocations. Of that total 83% were funded by bond proceeds or in the case the Aquarium annual payments were contracted for. The balance of approximately $100 million (excluding the rebate) are being funded by sales taxes and investment earnings remaining after debt service is paid monthly. With the exception of the River Projects which were matching funds, cash flow schedules have been reviewed and PMG schedules those projects as they become ready and/or funds are available.

6. As I have noted in the past, I see no excess funds being available for new projects or increases for approved projects until after 2012-13. I hope that my forecast is too low. The bulk of any future surplus will occur in 2017 as the $39.1 million in bond fund reserve is released.

John Piercey

There's a lot to digest here. I'm putting it all here for anyone who cares to analyze it and comment on it.

One of the discoveries in all this is that there are actually four pots of money. In addition to the bond proceeds and the sales tax receipts, there is a bond repayment trust fund held by the bond trustee (the Bank of Oklahoma). When Jim Smith tried to explain to me how it worked, I compared it to an escrow account for paying taxes and insurance on a mortgaged house, which Smith thought was a good analogy. The bond trustee then repays the bondholders from this trust fund. Every six months, the bond trustee recalculates the payments they need from Tulsa County's sales tax receipts to enable them to pay the bondholders.

Here's my paraphrase of Piercey's explanation of the difference between the payments to the bond trustee (found in the Vision 2025 monthly reports) and his schedule for repayment to the bondholders: The county began paying money into the bond fund as soon as the tax began to be collected, but well before they had to begin to repay the bonds. Those early funds earned interest, which reduced the amount the county had to pay to the bond trustee in order to keep the bond trustee's fund at the required level.

Without the details of the ins and outs of the fund being managed by the bond trustee, there doesn't seem to be any way to correlate the sales tax payments to the bond trustee (in the Vision 2025 monthly reports) with the payments to the bondholders (in Piercey's financial summary). The Vision 2025 monthly reports don't cover the balances and transactions in the bond repayment trust account or in the bond proceeds pot of money. (It just now occurs to me that those two pots may actually be a single pot of money.) There are individual monthly project expenditures in the report, which you can infer are payments from the bond proceeds, but it isn't explicit, and transactions like interest earnings are either not reported or perhaps just not obvious to me. It would be good to have a spreadsheet for the bond proceeds fund that spells things out as clearly as the sales tax spreadsheet does for that fund -- the balance at the beginning of each month, all the income and the outgo, and the balance at the end.

I mentioned that there's a fourth pot of money. The June 2007 Vision 2025 monthly report shows that in February, $2,093,676.40 was transferred to the Cash Projects Trust Account, and in June, $45,961,778.85 -- pretty much the entire sales tax reserve being held in the county's accounts -- was transferred to the Cash Projects Trust Account. A memo included in one of the monthly reports says that this account is also being managed by BOk.

I still don't see a way to answer my five questions from the information available. If I were a County Commissioner or a member of the Vision 2025 Sales Tax Overview Committee, I would insist on putting that information together and updating it on a monthly basis to serve as Tulsa County's financial plan for the Vision 2025 program.

It looks to me that John Piercey, PMg, and BOk each possess different pieces of the puzzle, but that no one has actually put all of it together into a complete picture, a complete plan that would permit exploring different scenarios that would allow the use of Vision 2025 funds to complete the dams that were promised as a part of that package.

There's another aspect of this that needs to be explored, but it's late and I'm tired. I'll just point you in the general direction. On the front page of Piercey's summary are three columns: "Pre-Request," "Arena Increase," "Revised Totals." The difference between the first and third columns tell quite a story.

Both sides now

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From an email about the upcoming Republican Women's Club of Tulsa County's luncheon (Tuesday, September 11, 11:30 p.m., Holiday Inn Select, I-44 and Yale -- the old Hilton) (emphasis added:

Commissioner Perry will present the Proposed River Plan/Tax in an educational format. He will be aided by an engineer who played a key role in the development of the 42 mile River Corridor plan from which the proposed plan was derived.

Commissioner Perry will present arguments which have been made both for and against the Proposed River Plan and the associated county sales tax to fund it. The matter is scheduled for a county wide vote on October 9th.

If you're a Republican woman and think it's egregiously unfair for a proponent of higher taxes to represent both sides of this debate (a debate where the county Republican party platform comes down solidly in opposition), you might politely encourage the RWC president, Nancy Rothman, to allow an actual opponent to argue the case for the opposition. (I won't reproduce her contact info here; if you're a club member, you have her phone number and email address in the meeting notice.)

UPDATE: I just spoke to Commissioner Perry, who wanted to emphasize that it was Ms. Rothman's choice, not his, to have him present both sides of the argument. He says he's going to have to walk quite a tight rope and that neither side is likely to be satisfied that their argument was fully presented. He also took issue to my characterization of him as a proponent of higher taxes, that there are things that make him uneasy about the river tax plan (the tax increase, Broken Arrow's opposition) and he's not cheerleading for it, but on balance he thinks it's good thing, and he is a proponent of letting the voters decide. He also pointed out that in the legislature he sometimes opposed sending an issue to a vote of the people: the lottery, casino gambling, certain tax increases.

Regarding the RWCTC event, Perry told me that Ms. Rothman is a professional mediator who feels that the Republican Party is too divided and contentious, so she didn't want to have a debate. I would think that, as a mediator, she would understand the importance of each side feeling that their concerns were fully aired and given a fair hearing. Perhaps her mediation sessions consist of her picking one side to argue both sides of a dispute.

To be fair to Ms. Rothman, there are political parties that do a much better job than Republicans of maintaining unity and harmony. For example, the Workers' Party of Korea presents a united front on every issue. You never hear a dissenting voice on any issue, or if you do, you never hear from it again. Perhaps she has the WPK in mind as a model for the Republican Party's future.

I just watched a lengthy investigative piece by KOTV about the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority's decision to boot Bell's from the Fairgrounds. If you've been reading about the issue here and in Urban Tulsa Weekly, there won't be too much that you haven't already heard, but they do a good job of pulling it all the pieces together for the viewing audience -- including the connection with Murphy Brothers, the aggressive marketing campaign by Bell's that got Jerry Murphy angry, and the fact that Bell's, even in their tough last two seasons, paid more in their lease than Big Splash and the Drillers combined.

The piece includes interviews with Robby Bell, Expo Square CEO Rick Bjorklund, and County Commissioner Randi Miller, TCPFA chairman, who pushed for Bell's removal.

I did learn a few new things. I learned that the Murphy family not only gave $5,000 to Randi Miller for her futile campaign for mayor, but they also contributed the same amount to new County Commissioner John Smaligo after he was elected.

Also, Miller admitted that she did NOT ask Murphy Brothers for a business plan when they granted the company a new 10-year midway contract. No competitive bidding was done.

In the piece, you'll see where the ride equipment is stored, you'll get a glimpse of the business plan that Randi Miller said was inadequate (looks professionally done to me, anyway), a certification from a ride vendor that Bell's was approved for financing for a new ride, sketches of the new coaster that was finally approved when the county pulled the plug, and concept sketches for a new park.

If you have Cox Cable, you can catch the replay on channel 53. KOTV's website has the full text of the Terry Hood's story about Bell's Amusement Park, plus photos, including images of excerpts from Murphy Brothers' 1989 and 2006 contracts with the TCPFA. I hope that KOTV will later post video of the story, and I'll link it if they do. (UPDATE: Here's the video for KOTV's story about Bell's Amusement Park.)

UPDATED 2012/09/14 with link to story on the Internet Archive Wayback Machine. Unfortunately the video was not archived.

Well done, KOTV.

Only 19 percent of Tulsa County frequent voters sampled in a recent KOTV/Tulsa Whirled poll approve of the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority's decision to boot Bell's from their home for over half a century. 70% said they disapprove. A larger number but still a minority, 27%, supported the City's decision to annex the Fairgrounds. Since the latter was a City action, it would have been interesting to know the ayes and nays among City of Tulsa voters.

The pollsters asked whether the two changes would affect respondents' plans to attend the Tulsa State Fair. I wish they'd also asked whether the Bell's decision would affect voters' opinion of the proposed river sales tax. With Randi Miller up for re-election next year, the "deserves reelection / time to give someone else a chance" question would have been interesting to ask, too.

From the Whirled:

An audit of operations at the Fair Meadows racetrack paints a picture of slipshod business practices made possible by lax -- and at times nonexistent -- management.

The audit has led to a law enforcement investigation....

The report makes clear that "the possibility of employee fraud was implied (by the findings) but could not be proven."...

On Tuesday, fair board Chairwoman Randi Miller said she is not pleased with the audit's findings but sees the exercise as the first step toward resolving the racetrack's troubles.

"Even though the audit is bad, it only helps the constituents because we now know there's a lack of checks and balances, and we will correct them," she said.

Here's the kicker, buried at the end of the story:

Last year, the racetrack lost $174,599.

I'm happy the fair board is pursuing this, but I'm wondering: Since Randi Miller is death on Expo Square tenants who have shaky finances, will she order Fair Meadows to dismantle the grandstand and vacate within 120 days?

Zingo's dismantling is almost complete, and Bell's Amusement Park is about to vanish from their long-time location on the Tulsa County Fairgrounds. Bell's paid the most rent of any Fairgrounds tenant, but despite that, the park's lease was not renewed and county officials claimed to have no plans for redeveloping the land.

This week in Urban Tulsa Weekly, I ask whether the U. S. National Arabian and Half-Arabian Championship Horse Show is the real reason that Bell's was given the boot and whether trading a 50 year Tulsa tradition for a lucrative but temporary event was a smart move for taxpayers.

By the way, I used a number in the story of $20 million, which I recalled hearing cited by Expo Square officials as the cost of improvements made to attract and accommodate the Arabian Horse Show. I called Expo Square to confirm that number, and the comptroller went down the list and came up with a number of $15 million. Unfortunately, his response came too late for UTW's deadline.

And here's a link to last week's column on the City Council's vote to authorize Tulsa police officers to verify the immigration status of anyone who is taken into custody on felony or misdemeanor charges.

The intervention by Congressman John Sullivan and Senators Coburn and Inhofe seems to have given the Council the backing they needed to take up this issue. Here you can read a letter from Sullivan to Mayor Kathy Taylor prior to the Council vote, and here is one from after the vote, urging her to implement the resolution.

Some further notes on local law enforcement and illegal immigration

In a letter to the head of ICE, Sullivan repeats his call for expediting the Sheriff's Office application for 287(g) status:

I believe that a 287(g) designation, which would allow for the cross deputization of Tulsa County Sherriff’s deputies and jail personnel, would help to mitigate these problems by ensuring that Oklahoma law enforcement personnel have the authority, training, and tools they need to report and detain criminal aliens in the course of their regular duty. If implemented in Tulsa, the 287(g) program would act as a force multiplier for ICE and help protect our communities from terrible incident like the one mentioned above.

Nashville police recently obtained 287(g) status. This case is one of the reasons they pursued it vigorously:

Garcia was charged with two counts of vehicular homicide while intoxicated and evading arrest. Court officials said he has reached a deal with prosecutors and will plead guilty today, the same day the trial was scheduled to begin. His lawyer, Assistant Metro Public Defender Glenn Dukes, did not return a call seeking comment.

Garcia is being held at the Metro Jail under an immigration hold, which means he'll be turned over to federal authorities after any criminal sentence he might serve.

But Garcia was well known to law enforcement before the fatal accident.

County records show that he had been booked into the Metro Jail on at least 14 different occasions since 1997.

Besides the DUI cases, he had been charged with domestic assault, leaving the scenes of accidents, driving on a revoked or suspended license, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, theft, failing to have insurance and driving with an open container.

On at least one occasion, local authorities said, Garcia was flagged by federal authorities and deported, only to return and resume his streak of arrests.

The other times, Garcia went to court, was jailed for some period and released. Sheriff's officials said they routinely sent notification to federal immigration authorities that they had booked a foreign-born inmate.

Nashville hopes to replicate the success of 287(g) in Charlotte, N.C.:

In the seven-month period following the implementation of its 287(g) immigration enforcement program, Charlotte, N.C. saw significant decreases in the number of Hispanics arrested for Driving Under the Influence (DUI), the total number of DUI-related arrests among Hispanic persons and the amount of Hispanic gang-related crime, law enforcement personnel there said.

In the program’s first nine months, Charlotte’s specially trained sheriffs identified 1,520 arrestees as having entered the country illegally.

All were marked for deportation back to one of the 31 different countries — mostly Central and South American — from which those 1,520 individuals came, Mecklenburg County Sheriff Jim Pendergraph told WFAE (Charlotte) talk radio last month.

And a full 20 percent of the foreign-born persons who were brought into the jail and subsequently identified though 287(g) had been arrested for drunken driving, Pendergraph said.

At the same time, a statistical analysis by the Sheriff’s Office shows that the number of Hispanic-related DUI incidents and arrests fell sharply in the months following the beginning of 287(g).

From 2005 – when sheriff’s deputies had to request an arrestee’s immigration information from a federal database in Vermont, as they still have to do in Nashville – to 2006, the number of Hispanic persons arrested for DUI decreased by 26 percent.

Additionally, the number of overall DUI-related arrests of Hispanic persons decreased by 63 percent – from 1,379 to 508 – during the same period.

Over the weekend, I received an e-mail from the proprietor of Super Steve's Super Site, a Tulsa-based website devoted to amusement parks. He had some happy news about Bell's Amusement Park's progress toward clearing the fairgrounds location and getting their rides stored in hopes of reopening elsewhere.

Tulsa Steel Services Corporation volunteered a day of free services -- "tools, manpower, and expertise" -- which enabled them to get the White Lightning Log Ride dismantled. If Bell's gets at least half of the Zingo roller coaster and White Lightning down by May 15th, the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority will give them an additional month to finish clearing the site:

If half of both said rides are not taken down by May 15, Bell's will not be able to stay and finish the job, but if they can meet the deadline, they will have another month. Why this deadline is in effect beats me, as you would think the fairgrounds would want Bell's to completely remove everything for free, but remember how smart those in charge of the fair are. (Honestly, who kicks out a growing amusement park and puts a trailer park next door? And on fair property!?) Luckily, with Bell's extra help, meeting the deadline won't be a problem, and better yet, because of the skills and expertise of TSS, the ride will be able to be set up again after this removal - this would probably not have been possible before.

With some hope of retrieving their biggest rides for future use, the Bell family has announced that the park will reopen in 2008. Where hasn't yet been announced.

White Lightning is actually a bit of Forgotten New York in the heart of Tulsa. It is half of the log flume from the 1964 New York World's Fair. (The other half used to be at Dollywood in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.)

Stay tuned to Super Steve's Super Site for continuing coverage of the Bell's situation.

It took a while, and everybody got to speak that wanted to speak, but the City Council voted 5-4 to approve the ordinance to annex the Tulsa County Fairgrounds. Voting in favor were Henderson, Turner, Barnes, Martinson, and Eagleton; voting against were Westcott, Troyer, Christiansen, and Carter. The emergency clause vote broke the same way, which means it failed -- two-thirds vote would be required to put the annexation into immediate effect. Without the emergency clause, it will go into effect sixty days after the Mayor signs the ordinance.

I'll be on KFAQ at 6:10 in the morning to talk about the debate and the vote, so tune in to 1170 and listen.

I was especially impressed with Councilor Martinson's comments. I've had plenty of disagreements with him on various issues, but his analysis of the pros and cons of annexation was flawless, just as impressive as his analysis of the city's financial constraints. His business and accounting experience is a real asset to the council.

As are the legal expertise and fearlessness of Councilor Eagleton. A highlight of the meeting was when he called fair board member Clark Brewster (the banty rooster) on Brewster's bluffing claim that the increased sales tax rate resulting from annexing the Fairgrounds would constitute a breach of contract with the Arabian Horse Show. Eagleton had the contract in hand, demanded that Brewster cite the paragraph to back up his claim, and then read the clause that clearly contradicted Brewster's claim. Eagleton's diligent digging for facts has diffused several of the bogus arguments leveled against annexation.

UPDATE 4/11: There are two complementary accounts of the City Council debate on annexation in the latest Urban Tulsa Weekly: Brian Ervin's news story on the debate, with details on why various councilors voted the way they did; and my column, on the factors that may influence Mayor Kathy Taylor's decision to sign or veto annexation.

UPDATE 4/18: David Schuttler has posted video on YouTube (thanks, David!) of the exchange between Clark Brewster and John Eagleton regarding the Arabian Horse Show's contract. I had forgotten that it was actually Bill Martinson who interrupted Brewster to ask him how a city action could cause a breach of contract between the fair board and the Arabian Horse Show. Brewster's reply, "The terms of that contract provides [sic] very specifically what their vendors would pay as a matter of tax," led to Eagleton's question, "Clark, which paragraph are you referring to?"

This week in Urban Tulsa Weekly, I take a look back at the decision of the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority last fall to evict Bell's Amusement Park from the Tulsa County Fairgrounds. Although it's not a new story, the way the eviction was handled sheds some light on the question of the City of Tulsa's annexation of the Fairgrounds (to be decided this Thursday night by the City Council), currently an unincorporated enclave surrounded by the City of Tulsa. Expo Square management and TCPFA members have made a number of claims about the effects of annexation, and those claims need to be weighed in light of the board's credibility and transparency -- particularly the credibility of the three TCPFA members who were on the board prior to 2007.

Here's another doubtful decision: Last year the Tulsa State Fair reached the one million attendance mark for the first time in four years. In December, the 2006 Fair won six awards for Marketing and Competitive Exhibits at the International Association of Fairs and Expositions (IAFE) in Las Vegas. Amber Phillips, who was manager of the Tulsa State Fair in 2004, 2005, and 2006, overseeing increased attendance each year, didn't get to enjoy the fruits of her hard work and creativity, because Expo Square CEO Rick Bjorklund had fired Phillips a week earlier. (Officially, her position was eliminated in a "reorganization," but it's not as though they're going to stop having a Tulsa State Fair, and someone has to manage it.)

You can read more commentary and background about the Bell's eviction here (including an interesting look at Bjorklund's career trajectory). And this website has a number of articles on Bell's and other amusement parks in this region, including Frontier City and Joyland in Wichita. Here's his evaluation of what was done to Bell's.

County Commissioner Randi Miller is holding a meeting to discuss Fairgrounds issues tonight at 6 p.m. at the Cafeteria, which is on the east end of the Expo (IPE) Building. Only officials who oppose the annexation of Expo Square by the City of Tulsa have been invited to speak, and the meeting was deliberately scheduled to coincide with the weekly City Council meeting, so as to prevent any city councilors from attending. (As a former councilor herself, she knows this.) This is a great opportunity for Fairgrounds neighbors to ask Commissioner Miller some tough questions about Expo Square policies. I plan to be there, camcorder in hand.

This is not the meeting at which annexation will be decided. That will occur next Thursday, April 5, at the regular City Council meeting. City councilors are getting a lot of pressure from county-related individuals, and they need to hear from annexation supporters. Don't assume that just because it's the reasonable and right thing to do, that they'll find it easy to vote in favor of annexation. (You can find several good links on the topic, including a link to my UTW column here.)

This week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly is about the latest developments in the City of Tulsa's move to annex the Tulsa County Fairgrounds (aka Expo Square).

Related to that topic, UTW reporter Brian Ervin has a cover story profile of City Councilor Roscoe Turner, the leading proponent of annexation.

There were a couple of developments in the story that I didn't get to in my column: Mayor Kathy Taylor's bizarre entrance into the debate with her set of bargaining chips and County Commissioner Randi Miller's passive-aggressive raising of the white flag. But Ervin does a great job of covering them in his news story on annexation.

If you're interested, here's a link to the
state law that governs a city's annexation of an enclave -- 11 O. S. 21-103.

Chris Medlock has the beginnings of a list of answers to frequently asked questions regarding the City of Tulsa's proposed annexation of the Tulsa County Fairgrounds. He tackles the following questions:

Q: Is the City taking over the Fairgrounds from the County?
Q: Is the Fairgrounds a “tax free” zone?
Q: Is the 3-cent tax break the major draw for retail activity at the Fairgrounds?
Q: Is annexation akin to raising taxes?

That last one has an interesting answer. Medlock points out that Sen. Randy Brogdon, indisputably the taxpayers' best friend at the State Capitol, was previously Mayor of Owasso, and as Mayor and thus a member of the City Council, he voted to approve numerous annexations, many of them including already developed property which suddenly became subject to city sales tax and millage. Either that means that Randy Brogdon is a tax-raisin' fiend, or else annexation isn't really a tax hike.

Annexation opponents have also asserted that the City of Tulsa gets a free ride on the use of the David L. Moss Criminal Justice Center, more colloquially known as the County Jail. In a comment on an earlier entry, County Commissioner Fred Perry wrote: "He [Michael Bates] ignores the fact that the county runs the jail and charges the city nothing (a multi-million dollar value)."

But there's more to that story. First of all, everyone who spends money in Tulsa County, whether within the city limits of Tulsa, in some other municipality, or in the unincorporated areas, pays the 1/4 cent sales tax that funds operation of the jail. Tulsa businesses supply the lion's share of that fund. Everyone who owns property in Tulsa County, whether within the city limits of Tulsa, in some other municipality, or in the unincorporated areas, pays the county millage, part of which goes to fund operation of the jail. Even though the money flows through county government, most of it originates with the economic activity of City of Tulsa residents.

The City of Tulsa also has a contract with the Tulsa County Commission, running until June 30, 2008. In the contract, the City provides the County with the use of the old city jail, on the third floor of the City of Tulsa Police Municipal Courts Building, just west of the courthouse, and the use of the Adult Detention Center on Charles Page Boulevard near Newblock Park. The City also provides a "fully staffed evidence property room" to handle evidence required for district court cases related to City of Tulsa law enforcement. The agreement refers to a separate agreement giving the County use of a facility adjacent to the County's Juvenile Detention Center.

When the contract was executed in 1998, the value of the City of Tulsa's contribution was estimated at $1,862,350. The contract specifies that the "reasonable value" of the City's contribution is equivalent to paying the County for daily housing of 116 municipal prisoners.

In exchange for all of that, plus $1 a year, the County pays to house up to 116 of the City's municipal prisoners. If the monthly average of the daily number of municipal prisoners ever exceeds that number, there is a formula for the City to compensate the County for the excess. But if the number of municipal prisoners is lower than 116, the County does nothing to compensate the City.

Now, not every perp caught by the Tulsa police department is a "municipal prisoner." When someone is arrested on a violation of state law -- homicide, robbery, grand larceny -- that case will be handled through District Court, no matter whether the sheriff, the Tulsa police, the Highway Patrol, or some other authority arrested him. The county jails exist for the purpose of handling such prisoners. (I'm sure someone could find the appropriate cites on oscn.net. I'm too tired right now.)

Municipal prisoners are defined in the contract as "individuals present in the Jail System exclusively as the result of a City of Tulsa misdemeanor charge." If you're convicted of violating one of the laws in the Tulsa's penal code and you haven't also violated a state law, you'd be considered a municipal prisoner. At the time the jail contract was executed, the number of municipal prisoners was less than 80 per day, about a third below the amount considered equivalent to the City's contribution to the system. I am not sure what the current average number of municipal prisoners is.

What would happen if, hypothetically, the County Commission decided to "retaliate" for annexation by terminating the jail agreement with the City?

The County would lose the use of the old city jail would have to find another place to house prisoners awaiting trial in District Court, as the old county jail on the upper floors of the courthouse has been remodeled into offices for the District Attorney. The County would also have to set up a bigger evidence room of its own find other facilities to replace those that the City provides it free of charge. Finally, the County would lose the financial benefit it enjoys when the number of municipal prisoners that the County pays to house drops below the level the City is allowed by virtue of its contribution to the system.

In short, the County would be cutting off its nose to spite its face, especially since annexation would not have a detremental effect on County government. That would also be true if the County were to follow through on threats to move the Fairgrounds out to Glenpool. But that is a post for another day.

A couple of facts for everyone afeared that Expo Square will lose its competitive advantage if the City annexes the Fairgrounds, subjecting it to city sales tax, and all the boat shows, car shows, RV shows, etc., will relocate to the new downtown arena.

From the Expo Square website:

The Expo Center provides 354,000 square feet of column-free space under a cable-suspended roof. The building spans 448,400 total square feet on two levels, connected by side ramps and stairs. This design allows for a unique variety of show floorplans and designs.

(For the benefit of old-timers like me, the Expo Center is the IPE Building.)

From the Oklahoma Ford Center website:

Arena Floor: 34,074 square feet (144'x 260')

(I can't find planned dimensions for the BOk Center floor, but I assume they'd be comparable.)

So you could fit 10 BOk Center floors inside the Expo Center. There is no other space in the Tulsa area that can accommodate the kinds of events that are held at the Expo Center. The closest in size is the Tulsa Convention Center exhibit hall, which is 102,600 sq. ft., but I suspect it has floor loading limits that don't apply at the Expo Center, which was built to exhibit enormous pieces of oilfield equipment.

Likewise Expo Square has a beautifully restored art deco Pavilion, which is the right size for minor-league sports events and smaller concerts, and state-of-the-art horse and livestock barns and show arenas, all surrounded by plenty of free parking.

A lower sales tax rate is not Expo Square's competitive advantage over facilities in other cities or in our own metro area. The facilities are Expo Square's advantage, and annexation doesn't change that.

I got a description of the annexation discussion at last night's City Council meeting from someone who watched it. A bunch of county and Expo Square officials lined up to say, "This is bad for both of us! You better think about this before you do it!" But the county officials didn't offer anything substantive to think about. They didn't provide any data to analyze -- just a heapin' helpin' of FUD.

(Wouldn't it have been cool if the county commissioners had then lined up to do Aretha Franklin's number from The Blues Brothers?)

I'm hopeful that our city councilors will respond just like Matt "Guitar" Murphy did.

UPDATE: Be sure to read Commissioner Fred Perry's reply in the comments below.

Perry drew a comparison between the State Fair Park in Oklahoma City and Expo Square in Tulsa. Here is a montage from Google Maps, at the same scale, of the two facilities -- Oklahoma City on the left, Tulsa on the right. The larger buildings on the southwest corner of State Fair Park, all grouped together, are all livestock barns. The oval building is State Fair Arena. The smaller buildings in the center are State Fair Park's exhibit buildings; they have nothing to compare with Expo Center's 350,000 sq. ft. of unobstructed space.

Oklahoma City and Tulsa fairground comparison

And since the Louisiana Superdome has been mentioned as an example of a sports arena hosting boat shows, RV shows, etc., it's worth pointing out that the Superdome is a domed football stadium, not a basketball/hockey arena. The Superdome has a floor area of 166,464 sq. ft. (408' x 408'). That's five times larger than the floor of an arena like the BOk Center.

Last Thursday night, the city finance department presented their analysis of the fiscal impact of the City of Tulsa annexing the Tulsa County Fairgrounds. In the extended entry you can read the full text of the finance department's analysis. The city would almost certainly gain net revenue by annexing the currently unincorporated territory, possibly as much as $1.1 million per year.

The only scenario in which the city loses money involves the lowest revenue estimate and the city being required to patrol the Tulsa State Fair. I think the case could be made that as the Fair is a highly attended paid-admission event, the property owner (Tulsa County) would be required to provide or pay for security, just like any privately-run, paid-admission festival.

There are other reasons besides the financial ones for the city annexing the Fairgrounds. I outlined some of them in my December 6, 2006, UTW column.

Our new County Commissioners, John Smaligo and Fred Perry, will be sworn in this morning at 9:30 at the Tulsa County Courthouse, in Room 119 of the Administration Building at 6th & Denver. It's a good time to show your support and appreciation for a change in direction for County government and an end to the empire-building that characterized the commissioners that are leaving office.

My Urban Tulsa Weekly column, out today, is a salute, of sorts, to outgoing Commissioners Bob Dick and Wilbert Collins, a look at their legacy and at the kind of changes we hope the new commissioners will make.

One issue that the new County Commissioners will face, although the decision is ultimately out of their hands (the City can act unilaterally, under state law), is the possibility of the City annexing the Tulsa County Fairgrounds, aka Expo Square.

Contrary to some statements that this land has ever been unincorporated territory, subject only to the jurisdiction of Tulsa County, in looking back at old maps as part of some other research, I've found confirmation of the fact that large parts of the Fairgrounds have been within the city limits of Tulsa at various times in the past.

The overview map for the 1932 Sanborn Fire Map of Tulsa (I can't link to it directly, but if you're a Tulsa Library card holder, you can access it over the Internet) shows the western two-thirds (160 acres more or less) of the Fairgrounds within the City of Tulsa. That area included all the developed parts of the fairgrounds, including the International Petroleum Exposition grounds (where the Expo building is now), the Pavilion, cattle barns, and other buildings.

(UPDATE: This link will take you right to the map, zoomed in to the Fairgrounds and its surroundings. If you're not already logged in to the library website, you'll first be taken to a screen to type in your last name and Tulsa Library card number. You can use the arrow icons to pan around to other parts of the map, including the bottom where you'll see the date of the map. And here's a link to a PDF version of the same map. Sheet 317, showing the detail of the fairgrounds, is here. Keep in mind that the racetrack and grandstand shown on the map was just east of where the half-demolished Exchange Building now is, an area which is now a parking lot for Fair Meadows.)

Then there was an article in the January 16, 1960, Tulsa Tribune, about the changes in the city limits over the previous decade. (You can find it in the annexation vertical file at Central Library, and it's also reproduced in a City Council report on annexation from a couple of years ago.) The map accompanying the story shows an area apparently west of New Haven Ave from 17th Street to 21st and west of Pittsburgh (the mid-section line) between 15th & 17th Street as within the City of Tulsa in 1950, but out of the city in 1960, except for a very small tract around the city water tower at 21st and Louisville. This would have been about 60 acres of land. The story says:

A section of the Tulsa County Fairgrounds (located at Yale Ave. and 21st St.) is the only area which was disannexed from the 1950 limits.

Owned by the county, the fairgrounds usually is not considered for annexation to the city, but special problems have caused it to come and go from the city limits.

Annexed to permit construction of Veterans' Village following the war, it was removed from the city after the buildings in the Village were removed.

City Engineer W. R. Wooten recalled the same area was taken in and then thrown out again some years earlier when horse racing was a debatable activity there.

"The city wouldn't permit the betting," Wooten recalls, "so the area was disannexed. Horse racing finally was ended by calling out of the National Guard."

The story doesn't say when the disannexation occurred, but a 1957 Rand McNally map shows the section I described above as still within the city limits.

A Tulsa Whirled story Saturday reports that 20 years ago, then-Police and Fire Commissioner Bob Dick supported Tulsa annexing the Tulsa County Fairgrounds, saying the city could use the additional revenue. Roscoe Turner, then a city boiler inspector, advised against it. At the time, Turner said that nearly every boiler on the fairgrounds would fail inspection and nearly every building would have to be shut down, generating no revenue to the city.

Today the two have changed sides on the issue. Turner is a city councilor in search of additional revenue for the city. Dick is a retiring county commissioner who is also a member of the board that oversees the fairgrounds.

Since 1986 most buildings at the fairgrounds have been refurbished or replaced, so Turner's concern about boiler safety is no longer an impediment to annexation.

Today Dick's objection to annexation seems to center around the city sales tax that he was after in 1986:

"I bought a hot tub at one of those [Expo Square] shows. You spend $6,000 on something, 3 percent makes a difference," he said.

"Dear Commissioner Dick, congratulations on your purchase of a $6,000 hot tub at the Tulsa County Fairgrounds. You owe $180 in city use tax on said item. Please remit at your earliest convenience. Sincerely, City of Tulsa Finance."

Dick also mentions that the City will have to provide services, but the City already provides every service except law enforcement. As an out-of-city water customer, the fairgrounds pays higher water rates than in-city customers, but loss of that extra revenue wouldn't detract from the sales tax gain. Water revenues go to a different fund which cannot be used for City general fund operating costs like police protection and street repair.

Susan Neal of Mayor Kathy Taylor's office gave a passive-aggressive response when asked about the Mayor's opinion on the issue, suggesting that Turner would have to develop his own analysis of the benefits, rather than offering the assistance of the Mayor's staff to look at the possibility. (Of course, Mayor Taylor appears to be about to do a deal with Jenks and Bixby and the county cronies at Infrastructure Ventures, Inc., to get their private toll bridge built. Taylor's had a meeting with IVI people, but has left the South Tulsa Citizens Coalition (STCC) out of the loop.)

Bell's notes

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Current and former Okies and amusement park enthusiasts from other parts of the world have been weighing in on Tulsa County's refusal to renew a lease with Bell's Amusement Park.

Dave the Oklahomilist posted a new entry yesterday, wondering about Expo Square CEO Rick Bjorklund's sudden decision to cut off all talk of renewing Bell's lease:

And this after, and in spite of, Bell's agreement, with a condition, to allow its books to be audited by an independent trio of accountants. The condition? That the information contained in Bell's business plan "not be disseminated outside" the fair board offices.

One is left to conclude that this was a deal-breaker for Bjorklund and the county commissioners. Why? It seems reasonable enough on the surface. Is it possible that the plan all along was to pass the Bell's information on to others? Is it possible that it was, in truth, the only reason for requiring Bell's to jump through this particularly hoop? And that the condition insisted upon by Bell's would put the fairgrounds officials in jeopardy should any information get to persons who have no business having it? People who, perhaps, are planning to go into business directly competing with Bell's?

Ms. Cornelius of A Shrewdness of Apes remembers the park from her childhood, including getting ride tickets for good grades and the old giant slide, and she's taken her own kids there the last two summers during visits to her parents.

Screamscape ("The Ultimate Guide to Theme Parks") has a whole page devoted to Bell's with a chronology that goes back to Bell's second coaster proposal in 2001.

Thrill Network has a forum topic from August devoted to the new coaster that Bell's finally got the go-ahead to build.

Finally, a word to friends in the neighborhoods directly adjacent to that side of the fairgrounds, some of whom have expressed surprise at my concern about the fair board's dealings with Bell's. I supported their effort to stop the expansion of Bell's to the west, closer to the neighborhood and in violation of the 1984 Expo Square master plan, part of the Comprehensive Plan, and the written expression of a commitment made by the fair board to the surrounding neighborhoods about what kind of development would be allowed in each section of the fairgrounds. I can understand why many of them hope to see Bell's gone from the fairgrounds, and they don't care how it happens.

It's probably the best for all concerned if Bell's relocates, preferably to a site within Tulsa's city limits, but this is the wrong way to bring it about. I have similar feelings about City Attorney Alan Jackere's situation: I'd rather he no longer be City Attorney, but the way Mayor Taylor is going about it has me and a lot of other people very suspicious.

I was on KFAQ this morning with Councilor Roscoe Turner, who is calling for the City of Tulsa to bring the Tulsa County Fairgrounds (aka Expo Square) within the city limits. Currently, the fairgrounds, roughly 240 acres (3/8 of a square mile), is an unincorporated enclave surrounded by the City of Tulsa on all sides. Annexing the fairgrounds is a good idea, and it should have been done a long time ago.

Some background: Tulsa County acquired the fairgrounds when the site was well outside the city limits of Tulsa. Eventually, new housing developments surrounded the fairgrounds, and they were brought into the city boundaries, but the fairgrounds as a whole were never annexed. Parts of the fairgrounds to the west of the Pavilion, used for temporary housing during WW II, were annexed by the City and later deannexed. A small tract of land near the corner of 15th & Louisville is still owned by the City and is within the city limits. (This was the location of a large water tower which once provided adequate water pressure to the higher elevations of midtown. The tower is gone, and now the water used in these neighborhoods that has to flow downhill from some other reservoir then back uphill. But that's a rant for another time.)

There is a similar situation with LaFortune Park. When it was created it was outside the city limits. The City grew up and around it, and I can remember seeing city maps that showed nearly all of that half-section from Yale to Hudson, 51st to 61st, marked as "OUT." Only the Memorial High School campus was within the City of Tulsa's corporate boundaries. Later most of LaFortune Park was annexed, except for the old County Farm, a rectangular plot of land southwest of 51st and Hudson, now known as the Gardens at LaFortune Park. (I can remember our third-grade class going out to the County Farm in 1971 to sing Christmas carols to the residents.) Ultimately this, too, was brought within the City boundaries. The ownership of LaFortune Park did not change. It is still owned by Tulsa County, but it is subject to City of Tulsa ordinances and City of Tulsa sales and property taxes.

Can the City annex the fairgrounds? Yes, and they can do it without the County's consent. Oklahoma state law provides that if a municipality surrounds a piece of unincorporated territory on at least three sides, the municipality may annex the land without the consent of the landowners.

This has been the law for a long time, but new legislation (from 2005, if I recall correctly) requires that the strip of surrounding land (the "fence line") already within the municipal boundaries has to be at least 300' wide, and the annexing municipality must extend city services to the annexed territory within a certain period of time. Neither of the new stipulations would hinder this annexation: There are miles of Tulsa surrounding the fairgrounds on all four sides, and Tulsa already supplies water, sewer, stormwater, fire, emergency medical, and hazmat services to the fairgrounds, nearly every city service except law enforcement, which is handled by the Sheriff.

Again, it has to be emphasized that annexation wouldn't change ownership. The fairgrounds would still be owned by Tulsa County and run by the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority (TCPFA, aka the fair board), which consists of the three county commissioners and two other members, currently Jim Orbison and Clark Brewster. Annexation wouldn't affect the fair board's ability to enter into long-term, non-competitive sweetheart contracts.

But annexation would eliminate the anomalies in law enforcement and tax rates. The fairgrounds and the surrounding land would be subject to the same zoning ordinances and zoning process. The same sales tax rate would apply to businesses on and off the fairgrounds. The same hotel/motel tax rate would apply to the fairgrounds motel and to nearby motels. The same noise ordinances would apply on and off the fairgrounds.

When the fair board considers a lease, they'd have to consider whether the proposed activity complies with city ordinances. I'm sure existing uses would be grandfathered in, but any zoning relief needed for whatever replaces Bell's would have to pass muster with the City of Tulsa's Board of Adjustment (which applies the law as it is; one of Bill LaFortune's positive legacies) or the Tulsa City Council. Currently, anything the fair board (made up mostly of the county commissioners) wants to allow only needs approval by the County Board of Adjustment (appointed by the county commissioners) or the county commissioners themselves. There's no independent check on fairgrounds development.

This is a good thing to do, and I appreciate Councilor Turner for raising the issue. The additional revenue will help the entire city, and the uniformity of laws will benefit neighboring homes and businesses.

A Myspacer copies a plea for help from the owners of Bell's Amusement Park in Tulsa:

In case you haven't heard Bell's Amusement Park which has provided entertainment for Tulsan's and others in Oklahoma for fifty years is having hard times. The Bell's are close freinds and are good people who enjoy putting smiles on the faces of their patrons. If you like to give your support for Bells please read the following and send e-mails to those who can make a difference. Thankyou.

There is an article in the Nov. 10 Tulsa World online in the Local Section if anyone wishes to know more.

To our Tulsa and Oklahoma friends: As you may know we were served with eviction papers for the park on Wednesday. They have given us 120 days to remove everything and return the land to its original state (bare dirt). If you want to help us we would appreciate e-mails to all of the poeple on this list, any friends, you have who might like to help and perhaps calls to the Fairgrounds. Thank you in advance should you choose to speak out in our behalf. Signed Sally Bell (Bell's Amusement Park)

The link above has a list of e-mail addresses for you to contact to express your concern.

Here's a link to the Whirled story. The story makes it clear that County Commissioner Randi Miller is the instigator of the eviction.

There are so many things wrong with this, it's hard to know where to begin.

First of all, the decision to evict a 55-year fairgrounds tenant should have been deferred until the two new members of the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority, aka the Fair Board, are sworn in at the beginning of January. Those two new members are Fred Perry and John Smaligo, who will replace Bob Dick and Wilbert Collins on the County Commission and will be ex officio members of the Fair Board and several other boards and commissions. Miller is quoted as saying she'll wait until the new board members are on before deciding what to do with the land. Why not wait until Perry and Smaligo are on board before deciding on the eviction?

Second, what's the rush? Bell's won't be able to find a new location and pack up and move a roller coaster, a log ride, and countless other rides in a matter of four months in the middle of winter. Why not give them a full year or two to make arrangements to move? And why not give Tulsans a chance to say goodbye with a final season at the park?

Expo Square CEO Rick Bjorklund says this decision is in the best interest of the taxpayers. I have long complained that the County Commissioners and the Fair Board members are focused on maximizing revenues regardless of the impact on the community. I say that Expo Square is a public facility, to be managed in the public interest. While we want Expo Square to pay for itself, we don't have to maximize the revenue for every square inch of the place, any more than a you'd try to squeeze money out of every inch of a county park.

But Bell's does bring in money for Expo Square, a percentage of receipts. It won't cost the county any money to let them stay there one more year, but it will cost the county if Bell's is replaced with a parking lot.

Finally, and this is what really smells suspicious to me, by forcing Bell's to leave now, before any public discussion of a replacement for that space, the Fair Board is effectively disqualifying Bell's from any competition for the right to redevelop that space. Bell's isn't going to move out and then move back in. If the Fair Board were trying to be fair, they would put out a public request for proposals and allow Bell's and others to specify their plans for the space. The winning proposal would then be selected based on revenue, benefit to the community, neighborhood impact, and other intangibles.

But of course this is Tulsa County and, for about six more weeks anyway, it's dominated by County Commissioners who love making insider, exclusive, non-competitive deals with their pals for the use of public land.

I suspect the eviction of Bell's is part of such an insider deal. You'll recall that a Loretta Murphy gave $5,000 to the Randi Miller for Mayor campaign. Loretta Murphy owns Big Splash water park, another Expo Square tenant. Her husband Jerry Murphy owns Murphy Brothers. Shortly after Loretta's donation to Miller, the Fair Board awarded Murphy Brothers a non-competitive 10-year contract to provide the Tulsa State Fair's midway. Murphy Brothers might be happy just to have Bell's gone, so that all the State Fair-goers will have to ride their midway rides. Miller and the other Fair Board members need to disclose every contact with Murphy Brothers or any other private entity concerning plans for Bell's location.

Like a lot of midtown neighborhood leaders, I supported Sunrise Terrace as they attempted to keep the County from letting Bell's build a new roller coaster closer to their neighborhood, violating the area's comprehensive plan. But the neighbors, with a few exceptions, weren't trying to get Bell's shut down or to prevent their expansion. Most neighbors would have been happy to let Bell's build a roller coaster in toward the center of Expo Square and away from surrounding neighborhoods, but the county was reserving the land north of the Expo (IPE) Building for their landscaping and parking master plans.

Call your County Commissioner (current and future) and call Rick Bjorkland at Expo Square and register your concern. Insist that all dealings involving Bell's location be made public. Insist that Bell's be given a reasonable time to move.

UPDATE:

Techie Vampire has happy memories of Bell's from her youth and is angry that her son won't get to share in those memories.

Jeff Shaw puts the eviction of Bell's into the broader perspective -- the growing list of "Things Not in Tulsa Anymore":

I’m not opposed to economic development. To the contrary. But economic development can happen in conjunction with the preservation of historical aspects of the city.

Here is what I see is happening: all these historical and cultural “intangibles” are being or have already been razed, and there is nothing left of “Tulsa”. After a few years, and after the life has been sucked out of our city, we get people coming along with “bold new projects” in order to create something exciting. The reason: there’s nothing in Tulsa that will bring people in.

My response to that reason: Its because all the reasons that people have to love Tulsa, have been destroyed - in the name of development.

I'd go as far as saying historic preservation can be an engine of economic development.

Dave, the Oklahomilist, has been following the Bell's eviction story from the beginning. His initial entry asks how it's possible that a parking lot could be more profitable for Expo Square than an amusement park that pays $135,000 a year in rent. That same entry has an account of KRMG's Joe Kelley asking Randi Miller the same question, followed by a vigorous discussion in the comments, including this letter from Craig Adams to the Fair Board regarding their assertions that Bell's isn't viable:

Mr. Bell secured a bank loan of 3/4 million dollars to build a new wooden roller coaster contengent on a lease approval from the fair board. Banks do not lend that kind of money to companies which are insolvent or on shaky financial grounds. Just doesn't happen.

Mr. Bell has consistantly reinvested in the business the past several years in new equipment and rides to keep attacting new business and to retain current customers.

Despite being closed for 20 days to repair storm damage this past summer the park has had record business and on several occasions had to turn away customers because the park was too full. Doesn't sound like a failing business to me.

By the way, I think I've figured out the connection between the RV park and reduced foot traffic through Bell's. It sounds like work on the RV park reduced the amount of parking on the west side of Expo Square. People who normally would have parked in that open grassy area had to park on the east side of Expo Square and would have entered on the east, possibly spending all their ride money on the Murphy Brothers midway before ever reaching Bell's.

Randi Miller is now saying publicly that she'd be willing to give Bell's more time if they ask for it. Keep the pressure on, folks, and let's insist on full disclosure. Miller and the other members of the Fair Board should disclose all communications they have had about future use of the property, whether among themselves or with potential tenants such as Murphy Brothers.

Got this e-mail tonight from Fred Perry (the only candidate for County Commission District 3 who votes the way Republicans want him to vote).

TO: FELLOW OPPONENT OF A BRIDGE WHICH CHANNELS TRAFFIC UP YALE AVE.

FROM: FRED PERRY, STATE REPRESENTATIVE & CANDIDATE FOR COUNTY COMMISSIONER

It has come to my attention that there is a communication being circulated by supporters of my opponent which has the following misleading, and even false, information:

(1) It contains a quote regarding my statement in favor of a bridge. Yes, when I represented Bixby a few years ago when Bixby was a part of House District 69, I did make such a statement. The quote is from that time period. However, that was when it was simply being discussed as a bridge and the exact location and the fact that it would be funneling traffic up Yale was not yet proposed (at least not to my knowledge). And, even if I was in favor of it later when it was planned as coming up Yale, I did not know the ramifications of same. I have been steadfastly against a bridge coming up Yale for some time. As many of you know, I have attended the STCC meetings and voiced my opposition there, to the press and in any venue it was discussed. I have also written the same and there have been quotes in the Tulsa World, Jenks Journal, Bixby Bulletin papers in 2005 and 2006 to this effect. Also, keep in mind that I signed the statement, as Becky Darrow and Michael Covey can verify. (Actually, you probably got a scanned copy of the statement.)

(2) The faulty communication further alleges, I'm told, that I have moved "to Bixby" (which is false) that I am either now "on the other side of the issue" (in favor of the bridge coming up Yale). Again, this is FALSE. I live in a BROKEN ARROW zip code (74011) near 133rd and Garnett, NOT in Bixby. Someone apparently got my new phone number which is 369-3735 and assumed I moved to Bixby since that is a Bixby Telephone exchange. Bixby covers part of 74011 zip code. However, my new mailing address is 11404 E. 133rd St., BROKEN ARROW, OK. And, I am still north of the river (check the map). Even if I DID live in Bixby, that wouldn't change my mind about the fact that the bridge traffic should be channeled up RIVER ROAD. My opponent and I agree on this. Call me or email with any questions.....By the way, the best thing for the STCC folks is to have Bill Christiansen stay on the City Council and Fred Perry get elected to County Commissioner. Then, you have opponents in both bodies. Please circulate this to other STCC and others opposed to the bridge coming up Yale. FRED PERRY......Vote for Fred Perry for County Commissioner

A couple of points worth expanding upon: Garnett Road is the dividing line between Bixby and Broken Arrow between 131st and 141st Street, and Perry's new address is indeed in Broken Arrow and on the north side of the river, in an area and a city that will not be affected at all by the proposed south Tulsa toll bridge.

Perry's House District 69 was redrawn and made more compact after the 2000 census. Prior to that time (from Perry's first election in 1994 through the 2000 election) District 69 included part of Bixby south of the river, as Perry mentioned. During that same period, as the STCC has frequently pointed out, the planning maps showed an east-west bridge crossing the Arkansas River at 121st Street.

At today's candidate forum, Bill Christiansen went on and on about how he never goes negative in a campaign. In response, Fred Perry pointed out that Christiansen had already sent out a piece claiming that Perry is only running for County Commissioner because he needs a job, along with suggestions that Perry was out of touch with local issues as a legislator. Perry responded with a list of his legislative accomplishments that have a direct bearing on the quality of life in southern Tulsa County. The moment was the highlight of the forum, and I hope to have audio posted sometime this weekend.

Fred Perry's opponent in the District 3 County Commission race, Bill Christiansen, levied the following devastating accusation against Perry, and it is undeniably true:

"I think Fred goes down and gets in line with the Republicans and votes the way the Republicans want him to vote."

Someone needs to tell Bill that this accusation works much better at winning a Democratic runoff.

The Tulsa County Republican Men's Club is sponsoring a forum for the Republican candidates in Tuesday's runoff for County Commission Districts 1 and 3. Both candidates in both races have committed to appear. The event begins at 11:45 a.m. at the Radisson, 41st Street between US 169 and Garnett. If you want to buy lunch, there's a $10 buffet, but you don't have to have lunch to come and hear the forum. The program should end at 1 p.m.

This week in UTW, my column is about the two Republican runoffs for Tulsa County Commission, between State Rep. John Smaligo and former Tulsa City Councilor Anna Falling in Commission District 1, and between State Rep. Fred Perry and City Councilor Bill Christiansen in Commission District 3.

(Added on September 30, 2006, to fill in the gaps in my Urban Tulsa Weekly column archive.)

The legislative candidates who support the south Tulsa toll bridge are saying that the legislature has nothing to do with the issue, and that the bridge shouldn't be an issue in a State House race.

Here's an example to the contrary from this morning's Whirled:

The city of Tulsa's Legal Division does not believe that another government can condemn city land that's needed for the bridge and has cited relevant Supreme Court case law, but Bixby City Attorney Phil Frazier says his city is within its rights to do so.

He bases his stance on an Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling from 1965, when he was Tulsa's city attorney.

In that case, the high court held that Tulsa had the right of eminent domain on property in Rogers County, which Tulsa needed to develop the navigation channel for the Port of Catoosa.

"This very same fuss was going on, and the city of Tulsa went to the Oklahoma Supreme Court for a decision," Frazier said. "The Supreme Court came back and said that as long as it was in close proximity that the city of Tulsa could condemn.

The Legislature could, and should, define more precisely whether one city can condemn land within the boundaries of another, or whether a county can condemn land within municipal boundaries. The Legislature could, and should, define more precisely whether one city can condemn land owned by another, or whether a county can condemn land owned by a municipality. The Legislature could, and should, determine whether a public authority can be created for the purpose of condemning property for the use of a profit-making private company. The Legislature could, and should, determine who has jurisdiction over riverbeds. It's my understanding that none of these issues are set out plainly in the law. All of these issues bear on whether this bridge can be built without the City of Tulsa's approval.

By the way, in Mr. Frazier's example, the City of Tulsa was condemning property in unincorporated Rogers County, not within the boundaries of another city, and not property belonging to another city. The issue for the south Tulsa toll bridge is whether an Bixby-Jenks Title 60 trust or Tulsa County can condemn land within and owned by the City of Tulsa.

In the House District 69 race, Fred Jordan and Darrell Gwartney support the IVI toll bridge; Chris Medlock, Lisa DeBolt, and Jeff Applekamp oppose it.

This week's Urban Tulsa Weekly column covers the District Attorney's race between incumbent Tim Harris and challenger Brett Swab, as well as, in brief, the two Tulsa County Commission races. The column takes a critical look at the numbers Swab has been using in making his case against Harris's re-election. In the County Commission races I endorse former City Councilor Anna Falling in District 1 and State Rep. Fred Perry in District 3.

(UPDATE: In response to meeciteewurkor's question in the comments, District 2 Commissioner Randi Miller is not up for re-election until 2008. County Commissioners serve four-year terms. In every county, District 1 and 3 Commissioners are elected in the same year as state-wide offices; District 2 Commissioners are elected in presidential election years. In 2002, we had the unusual situation of electing all three Tulsa County Commissioners, because District 2 Commissioner John Selph resigned in March of that year. District 3 Commissioner Bob Dick was re-elected without opposition in 2002.)

Also, this week's issue has the big, big 2006 Absolute Best of Tulsa special section, split online into five categories: kids and family, local celebrities, mind and body, restaurants, and goods and services.

Swab-bing the deck

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This week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly puts the claims made by District Attorney challenger Brett Swab against incumbent DA Tim Harris under a forensic examiner's microscope. There's also a brief discussion of the two Tulsa County Commission races on the Republican primary ballot.

I think Tulsa Whirled editorial page editor Ken Neal would feel better if he added some fiber to his diet, but it would make all of us a bit poorer not to have him cranking out his weekly column of crankiness. His latest spleen-venting on Sunday has this simple headline: "NIMBY."

A well-heeled, noisy group of Not-In-My-Backyard citizens continue to insist that candidates for public office pledge to oppose a bridge across the Arkansas River at Yale Avenue in far south Tulsa.

Their latest targets are the candidates for the District 3 county commissioner post and House District 69 in the Jenks area.

In the commissioner race that likely will be decided in the Republican primary July 25, only Clay Bird, the former deputy mayor seeking the post, has resisted.

But, like town drunks, his opponents, Bill Christiansen, Jerry Smith and Fred Perry, have "taken the pledge," more or less agreeing to check their brains at the courthouse door.

The bridge opponents have gotten three of the GOP candidates in the House race to sign. But Darrell Gwartney and Jeff Jordan refused to cave in to the anti-bridge pressure.

Did you spot a couple of glaring errors? It's Fred Jordan who is running for House District 69 (HD69) and refused to sign the South Tulsa Citizens Coalition pledge. I have no idea who Jeff Jordan is. And the County Commission District 3 (CCD3) race will be decided by Republican voters -- no Democrat filed for the seat -- but it likely won't be decided on July 25. With four veteran campaigners in the race, I would be surprised if anyone managed to clear the 50% hurdle. It's more likely that the race will be settled in the August 22 runoff.

I wasn't too surprised that Clay Bird supports the bridge. He once said that he considers himself a national Republican but a local independent, and thought the "Chamber, Developers, and Establishment Party" was an apt name for the kind of local party he wishes he could join. He never seemed to have much patience for the concerns of neighborhood groups or the questions of skeptical councilors. He worked to delay passage of the City of Tulsa's first ethics ordinance. I'm not too shocked that he would be at home with a cozy deal like the one Infrastructure Ventures Inc. (IVI) made first with the Tulsa County Commissioners and now with the City of Jenks.

But I learned something today that does a better job of explaining Clay Bird's support for the south Tulsa toll bridge. In fact, it might explain why he is even running for County Commission.

Backing up a bit: Clay Bird was a real estate appraiser during his term as City Councilor from 2000-2002. He chose not to run for re-election, and he took a position on the staff of Mayor Bill LaFortune, serving the entire four years, winding up as Deputy Mayor and Chief of Staff. After LaFortune's defeat, Bird stayed on for about a month to help new Mayor Kathy Taylor with the transition.

On May 14th, the Whirled ran a story about Bird's departure from the Mayor's Office. It said that his last day at City Hall was April 30, and it strongly implied that he had yet to find a new job:

He's packing up his experiences, including helping with the mayoral transition, to take with him.

Former mayoral chief of staff Clay Bird said the past four years working for Bill LaFortune was a lesson in the good, the bad and the politically ugly.

Bird, 44, said he plans to take those lessons with him into his next career endeavor, whatever that may turn out to be....

For the past month, Bird said he has concentrated on the transition with new Mayor Kathy Taylor. His last day at City Hall was April 30.
Bird said he thinks he has a lot to offer his next employer because he has job experience in both the private and public sectors. He was a city councilor before joining the mayor's staff and was self-employed as a property appraiser.

Stories during and right after the June 5-7 filing period referred to Bird as a former city councilor and mayoral aide. No mention was made of any new employment.

The first mention of a new job for Bird was in the July 9 Whirled story about the CCD3 primary.

Bird, 45, became the CEO of Energy Reclamation LLC after leaving his post in the Mayor's Office this year. The company promotes enhanced oil recovery technology.

Bird views the commission post as an administrative position and believes that his experience as a city administrator sets him apart from other candidates.

So sometime between May 14 and July 9, Clay Bird became CEO of Energy Reclamation LLC. The company's website says that it was founded in 2005. The site is promoting new technologies for recovery of crude oil from old deposits.

Our technology involves in-situ generation of CO2 to recover trapped residual oil from reservoirs.

Briggeman's patented technology allows for a method of reducing the viscosity of heavy crude oil by injecting an exhaust gas into the oil.

Here's what the website's "People" page says about CEO Clay Bird:

After a spirited recruiting campaign Energy Reclamation LLC. signed their number one choice for CEO, Mr. Clay Bird. During a brief, but intense, courting Mr. Bird researched, reviewed and interviewed everyone and every aspect of the company. While making his decision he met several times with Dr. Bakhtiyarov, the World's foremost expert on EOR, who had only recently endorse the technology. Mr. Bird also met with the University of Tulsa's highly respected research people to better understand the technology and to help validate his decision to join the company. Although Mr. Bird has limited expertise in the oil industry he has proven "Fortune 500" skills. Prior to being named CEO of Energy Reclamation, LLC, Mr. Bird served the City of Tulsa as Chief of Staff/Deputy Mayor, overseeing a workforce in excess of 4,000 employees with an annual budget of nearly half a billion dollars. Mr. Bird is well respected in the community for his faith, demeanor, management style and leadership skills.

Nothing on the website or elsewhere indicates when Bird was named CEO. The customary announcement press release doesn't appear anywhere on the web, not even in the Whirled's archives. But from the other articles, it must have been in that two month window between May 14 and July 9.

So this is a new company promoting an emerging technology, and you'd think that the investors would expect this coveted CEO to focus his attention on building the company. I know a number of people who have been involved in technology startups, and it is an 80-plus-hours-a-week all-consuming job.

You wouldn't think the investors would allow their new number-one-choice-for-CEO to spend his time running to be elected to another full-time job. If successful in his run for County Commissioner, Bird would only be able to give them six months as CEO, and he would be able to give the job his full attention for only the four months following the runoff.

So why would the investors in the company allow this key employee to start moving toward the exit as soon as he took the job?

The answer may be at the bottom of that same "People" page. Scroll all the way down and you'll find:

Howard Kelsey is a life long Tulsan, continuing the nearly half century Legacy of the family owned, highly respected Kelsey Company. Educated at Northeastern University and University of Tulsa, Howard processes a keen mind along with an eye to detail. Howard is involved with several of the Iconic features in the Tulsa and surrounding area.... Being a former Director of a State wide organization has increased Howard's networking talents, along with being the Company pilot which increases our mobility.

A June 10, 2006, Whirled story about Energy Reclamation LLC identifies Kelsey as a "principal of the company."

Can you name another company of which Kelsey is a principal? IVI, the company that wants to build the south Tulsa toll bridge, the company that made the very lucrative non-competitive deal with Tulsa County to finance the bridge, and which now has a similarly lucrative non-competitive deal with the City of Jenks.

And if you're trying to get that bridge built, what could be more important than having your own man on the County Commission? It might be important enough that you'd be willing to give him a job and a title so that he could make ends meet until he takes office and starts drawing a county paycheck.

If that's what is going on here, it wouldn't be the first time something like that appeared to be happening. In April 1993, Frank Keating joined Gary Richardson's law firm as a senior partner and at the same time said he was considering a run for Governor the following year. Questions were raised by his opponents about whether Keating was earning his keep or whether he was being "kept" -- paid for working while running full-time for Governor. In 1998, when Keating bypassed more experienced attorneys to appoint Gary Richardson's son Chuck to replace Bill LaFortune as DA, some people saw it as payback for Richardson's support of Keating.

One difference between Bird's situation and Keating's is that Keating would have brought relevant experience and a great deal of prestige to Richardson's firm. You could make the case that just having the name Keating on the shingle benefitted the firm financially. It's much harder to make that case for Bird as CEO of a high-tech energy startup.

This week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly is about Tulsa-area legislative primaries, particularly about the most hotly contested race, the Republican primary to replace Fred Perry in House District 69, which includes far south Tulsa, Jenks, a bit of Bixby, and the northern part of Glenpool.

One of the emerging issues in that race involves the proposed toll bridge across the Arkansas River that would connect south Tulsa near 121st Street to Jenks and Bixby. Although Fred Jordan got a tremendous headstart in the campaign, helped by $100,000 in contributions, largely from the development industry, Jordan is losing ground as south Tulsa voters learn that he is in favor of the toll bridge as proposed by Infrastructure Ventures Inc.

The South Tulsa Citizens' Coalition asked all five Republican candidates to sign a representation opposing the bridge. The representation states that the candidate will not support a bridge until certain intersections and streets connecting to the bridge have been widened, will oppose any heavy truck traffic on Yale between 121st and the Creek Turnpike, and won't support the north end of the bridge connecting to or near Yale Avenue. Chris Medlock, Lisa DeBolt, and Jeff Applekamp have all signed these letters, and Medlock was a leader while on the City Council in getting city officials on record in opposition to the bridge. (Here is a PDF of Medlock's representation letter.)

Fred Jordan and Darrell Gwartney have refused to sign the representation, which Jordan calls, "a highly restrictive and legalistic 'pledge' committing [his opponents] to oppose the bridge under any reasonable circumstances." (Here is a PDF of Fred Jordan's statement to the STCC.) I'm sure STCC members would object to the characterization of the preconditions, which I summarized above, as unreasonable.

Jordan, who has been vague on the issue until now, has started to lose supporters to Chris Medlock. (Although there are two other candidates who oppose the bridge, they are trailing far behind Jordan and Medlock. Neither DeBolt nor Applekamp are likely to make the runoff.) A couple of days ago I spoke to Kari Romoser, who lives near 111th and Yale, an area that would feel the traffic impact if the bridge is connected to Yale. She had Fred Jordan's sign in her yard, but she recently pulled it up and replaced it with a Chris Medlock sign.

Jordan's position on the bridge issue wasn't the only reason for Kari's change, but it was an important reason. Her family has invested a lot to be in this part of Tulsa so that they can send their children to Jenks Southeast Elementary School. Anything that would hurt the value of their home or affect safe access to the school is important to her.

Jordan's company, Caprock Resources, is developing three residential areas along Elm (Peoria) in south Jenks. Two of them, Wakefield Pond and Wakefield Village, are along 121st St., in an area that would benefit from the proposed bridge without bearing a significant traffic impact. (For he folks north of the bridge in south Tulsa along Yale, the traffic impact would far outweigh any convenience benefit.)

So far, the toll bridge has been a local issue, involving Tulsa County and the cities of Jenks and Tulsa, so why does it matter what a state representative thinks about the issue? In his statement, Jordan says that, "to my knowledge, there is no pending or proposed action in the legislature relating to the bridge."

In fact, there was a measure in the Legislature this session which passed the House but was killed in the Senate that would have had an effect on the toll bridge deal. The process has raised all kinds of issues that the Legislature may address at some point: Should counties and cities be able to enter into private toll bridge deals of this sort? Who has ownership and jurisdiction over the Arkansas River bed? Whose approval is needed to build a private toll bridge? Should private toll roads and toll bridges be legal? Should the jurisdiction responsible for connecting infrastructure have a say in whether a toll bridge is built? When a city and the county, or two adjacent cities, are at odds over a bridge, who makes the final decision?

As we learned with the Board of Adjustment legislation (SB 1324, HB 2559) this session, it won't be enough to have the Tulsa City Council on our side, because the Legislature could take away the City's say on this contentious issue. It will be important for south Tulsa residents to have someone in the Legislature who will represent their interests on this matter, someone with the savvy to detect and block any attempt to bypass Tulsa's city government.

The final report from Tulsa's Citizens' Commission on City Government is the topic of this week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly. The commission, appointed by then-Mayor Bill LaFortune last December, finished on schedule, made some constructive recommendations, including a recommendation against adding at-large seats to the City Council.

You can find the full text of the Citizens' Commission on City Government report on the Tulsans Defending Democracy website.

Also in this week's UTW, Ginger Shepherd covers the new Tulsa Public Schools superintendent, downtown revitalization in Muskogee, the recently passed City of Tulsa budget, and the sweet no-bid contract Murphy Bros. got to continue to run the Tulsa State Fair midway.

The story quotes Jerry Murphy, owner of Murphy Bros.:

Murphy added, why would you fire someone that is doing a good job? and been doing it for a long time?

In fact, the midway has been a disappointment for a long time, and Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority (TCPFA -- the fair board) members owed it to the public to see if another operator couldn't bring better, more reliable rides for better prices, but instead they continued the Tulsa County practice of awarding contracts to insiders without competition. Jerry Murphy's wife, Loretta Murphy, contributed $5,000 to the mayoral campaign of County Commissioner Randi Miller, who is also a member of the TCPFA and voted to approve the contract with Murphy Bros.

Tulsa County filings as of 5 p.m. Tuesday. I have been hearing of at least three candidates with previous campaign experience (two of them prior office holders) looking at the District 3 county commission race now that incumbent Bob Dick has withdrawn from the race.

COUNTY ASSESSOR

Jack Gordon, 4151 E. 46th Place, Democrat, Tulsa, OK 74135, 03/17/1950

Ken Yazel, 9914 So. 87th East Ave, Republican, Tulsa, OK 74133, 02/27/1945

COUNTY TREASURER

Dennis Semler, 10624 E 100th St. S., Republican, Tulsa, OK 74133, 09/04/1956

COUNTY COMMISSIONER DISTRICT 1

Wilbert E. Collins, SR., 1447 North Elgin, Democrat, Tulsa, OK 74106, 04/08/1941

Tracey Wilson, 5419 E 96th St N., Republican, Sperry, OK 74073, 10/23/1959

COUNTY COMMISSIONER DISTRICT 3

William L. Christiansen, 5106 E 86th Place, Republican, Tulsa, OK 74137, 12/23/1947

(Our District Attorney serves only Tulsa County, but nevertheless he's considered a state officer, and filing is handled by the State Election Board. Tim Harris has filed for re-election, and he is being challenged by Republican Brett Swab.)

Dick out

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Bob Dick announced earlier today that he will not file for re-election as Tulsa County Commissioner for District 3.

Who will step in?

My column this week in Urban Tulsa Weekly looks back at the Oklahoma legislative session just ended and the state election filing period next Monday through Wednesday, June 5 through 7.

SB 1324, the bill that would have interfered with local control of zoning, was dealt a humiliating 42-3 defeat in the State Senate, while its sister bill HB 2559 died in conference committee. SB 1742, a landmark pro-life bill, won by overwhelming margins in both houses and was signed by the governor. The legislators on the wrong side of those issues deserve special scrutiny as they face re-election this year, but they won't get any scrutiny unless they have an opponent.

In particular, District 70 Representative Ron Peters and District 72 Darrell Gilbert haven't faced opposition in six years and eight years respectively, and I'm hoping someone will step forward to challenge each of them.

District 3 Tulsa County Commissioner Bob Dick has yet to announce his plans, and it's beginning to look like Dick is trying a J. C. Watts-style handoff to his handpicked successor. You'll recall that Watts announced at the last minute in 2002 that he wouldn't be seeking re-election to Congress. Candidates that might have run for that open seat were caught flat-footed, but Watts' political consultant and chosen heir, Tom Cole, had advance knowledge of Watts' plans and was ready to run right away.

Speculation is that Dick's chosen successor is either Tulsa City Councilor Bill Christiansen or former State Sen. Jerry Smith. The district covers the southern part of midtown Tulsa, south Tulsa, Broken Arrow, and Bixby. (Click here to see a map of the Tulsa County Commission Districts.) The district is heavily Republican, and there has to be some man or woman of integrity and wisdom among the tens of thousands of registered Republicans in the district who would be willing to step forward and serve as a candidate.

Given the huge pot of money under the control of the Tulsa County Commissioners -- well over half a billion in Vision 2025 money, plus Four to Fix the County tax dollars, plus millions more money available to lend in their role as the Tulsa County Industrial Authority -- and the County Commission's propensity to avoid competitive bidding, we need to clean house at the County Commission. Having Bob Dick or his handpicked successor in office is not an acceptable result.

If you are considering a race for any of those seats, or would like more information about being a candidate, I'd be glad to talk with you. Drop me an e-mail at blog at batesline dot com.

UPDATE: The Whirled is reporting that Bob Dick is running for re-election and Bill Christiansen plans to challenge him. Not much of a choice. With the fans of insider deals splitting their votes between Christiansen and Dick, a conservative reformer could easily gain enough primary votes to make the runoff and then win the runoff. (That's more or less how Tim Harris came out of nowhere to win the DA's office back in 1998.)

An edited version of this piece was published on May 31, 2006, in Urban Tulsa Weekly. The archived version is no longer online. Posted on the web, with hyperlinks to related articles, on August 18, 2010.

"No man's property is safe while the legislature is in session." So goes the old saying, and it very nearly held true this year, as two bills at the State Capitol, SB 1324 and HB 2559, threatened property values by trying to undermine local control of zoning and historic preservation.

But HB 2559 died in conference committee, and SB 1324 emerged last Tuesday only to be blown out of the water by a humiliating vote of 42 to 3 in the full State Senate.

We've been following these bills for about six weeks, ever since historic preservation groups sounded the alarm. We've learned several lessons in the process.

The first lesson is that if you care about your city, the State Legislature deserves every bit as much scrutiny as City Hall. In Oklahoma, municipalities are creatures of the state, limited to the authority granted them by the Oklahoma Constitution and Statutes. A lot of good work locally could be undone at the state level.

Lesson two: It's very hard to get a clear idea of where a bill stands. Striking the title, shell bills, committee substitutes, riders -- there are so many different ways to derail or completely change a piece of legislation. We've only begun to get an education in the legislative process as it is practiced in Oklahoma City. Don't assume that you get it just because you watch C-SPAN as your daily soap opera; Oklahoma's procedures and traditions are very different from those of Congress.

Lesson three: Legislators are forced to consider an incredible amount of legislation each year - thousands of bills and resolutions are introduced, and hundreds make it to the floor for debate and a vote. They can't possibly give each bill the attention it deserves.

Consequently, they put a lot of trust in their colleagues and in lobbyists to decide whether a bill deserves scrutiny. In the case of HB 2559 and SB 1324, the bill's sponsors - Sen. Brian Crain and Reps. Ron Peters and Jeannie McDaniel, all from Tulsa - told their colleagues that the provisions weren't controversial at all.

The same message was carried by lobbyists Karl Ahlgren and Russ Roach, representing the interests of "Utica Partners". Roach used to live in Swan Lake, a zoned historic preservation neighborhood in midtown Tulsa. Nowadays Roach lives south of Southern Hills Country Club, living large and milking his connections to his former colleagues for all their worth. He seems to have forgotten the challenges faced by homeowners in older parts of Tulsa.

Until preservationists got wind of the bill, and word spread to neighborhood associations, city councilors, and others concerned about urban planning and zoning policy, legislators weren't hearing any message to the contrary. SB 1324 passed unanimously the first time through in both houses.

How did ordinary Oklahomans turn a unanimous vote in favor to a nearly unanimous vote against? We became aware of the legislation and understood its implications, and then we expressed our concerns to our representatives. Once we educated the members of the House and Senate about the problems with the bill, that tipped the balance in the right direction.

While I'd hope that our legislators would be inclined to vote against any measure they haven't had time to study, it's our job to keep an eye on the bills that are introduced and to lobby just as hard as hired guns like Russ Roach.

One more lesson to learn: There are elected officials that desperately need to be replaced, but it's likely that most of them will get free rides to re-election when the filing period closes on June 7.

Ron Peters, who represents House District 70 in midtown, is one of those who need to go. Off the record, his Republican colleagues will tell you that he is one of the least cooperative, least trustworthy, least principled members of their caucus. They'd be happy to see him go.

Peters was one of a half-dozen Republicans who broke with the party to support the lottery and the introduction of full-fledged casino gambling, with all their accompanying social ills.

SB 1324 and HB 2559 are not his first assaults on homeowners' rights and local control of land use issues. In 2005, Peters and Crain co-authored HB 1911.

In addition to the Board of Adjustment provisions that made their way into SB 1324, the earlier bill would have removed notice requirements for property owners within a redevelopment (i.e., urban renewal) district. Owners would not have had to be notified about public hearings regarding redevelopment plans affecting their property. It also would have removed a requirement for redevelopment plans to be approved by the City Council.

Peters hasn't had a challenger since he first won the seat in the 2000 Republican primary. A conservative Republican challenger could unseat him, if only one would step forward.

It must have surprised some of her constituents that Jeannie McDaniel, a Democrat who represents House District 78 in the northern part of midtown, would have supported a bill undermining historic preservation zoning. After all, she was head of the Mayor's Office for Neighborhoods under Mayor Susan Savage, and she did a great deal to help neighborhood associations organize and help them deal with City Hall bureaucracy.

But residents of central Maple Ridge will remember how, in 1999 and 2000, McDaniel and the Savage administration worked to undermine their efforts to get historic preservation zoning for their neighborhood, which is arguably Tulsa's most historic neighborhood without that protection.

McDaniel was not only out of step with this land use bill, she was one of only five state reps to oppose SB 1742, the pro-life legislation which makes crucial information available to women in crisis pregnancies. The bill takes concrete actions toward the stated goal of making abortion rare (as in Bill Clinton's phrase "safe, legal, and rare"), by giving women solid alternatives to killing their unborn children.

McDaniel represents quite a turn to the left from her predecessor, pro-life Democrat Mary Easley, who voted for SB 1742 in the State Senate.

McDaniel won by only 24 votes over Republican David Schaffer, and she faces a tough challenger in Tulsa police officer and Republican Jesse Guardiola. Guardiola has been campaigning hard for over six months.
The only other Tulsa state representative to oppose this year's landmark pro-life legislation was Democrat Darrell Gilbert, who represents District 72 in north-central Tulsa. Gilbert, a former Republican, hasn't had a general election opponent since his first race in 1996, and hasn't had a primary election opponent since 1998.

Our list of elected officials who deserve a strong challenge would not be complete without mentioning Tulsa County Commissioners Bob Dick and Wilbert Collins, both up for re-election this year. In previous columns, we've documented their aversion to competitive bidding and their disdain for the concerns of Tulsa homeowners.

Collins has a challenger, Owasso State Rep. John Smaligo. Both of Democrat Collins's previous wins have been very narrow, and his district, which includes north Tulsa County and east Tulsa, is becoming increasingly Republican.

Bob Dick got a free ride four years ago, and so far he has not drawn a challenger. City Councilor Bill Christiansen has been rumored as a candidate, but it hasn't been clear whether he would oppose Dick or whether Dick would retire and anoint him as his successor. Christiansen would be better on the south Tulsa bridge issue, but otherwise he wouldn't be much of an improvement.

Christiansen may be waiting to see how much damage there is from the FAA investigation into allegations of anti-competitive practices at Jones Riverside Airport, practices that are alleged to have helped his Christiansen Aviation at the expense of competing fixed-base operator Roadhouse Aviation. The FAA report was due out at press time.

Whatever Christiansen decides to do, Tulsa County needs someone to run for Commission District 3 who will work to make county government more open and efficient, someone who will give deference to city government, rather than engaging in empire-building at the County Courthouse.

You may be used to waiting until Election Day to pay attention to these races. But if you want a real choice to available to you on the ballot, you need to do some homework between now and June 7.

If you're reading this, you're obviously intelligent and concerned about good government. Take a close look at your elected representatives, and consider whether you should step forward and challenge them. Or perhaps someone you know would be the perfect candidate.

Competition is a good thing. It gives us a chance to replace those officials who need replacing and helps those who survive a challenge to get back on the straight and narrow.

Someone needs to provide that competition. That someone could be you.

MORE ON SB 1324 and HB 2559:

Scary bypass

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An edited version of this piece was published on April 26, 2006, in Urban Tulsa Weekly. The archived version is no longer online. Posted on the web on August 18, 2010.

It appears that Tulsa's development lobby, discouraged by the results of the Tulsa City Council elections, has decided to take its fight to the next level. Three Tulsa legislators have sponsored a bill that would interfere with local control of Board of Adjustment (BoA) appeals.

The bill, HB 2559, would require all appeals of Board of Adjustment decisions, whether variances or special exceptions, to go to District Court, with the attendant expenses of attorneys and court costs. The BoA can grant a variance to zoning ordinances if a hardship exists. The BoA can grant a special exception to allow certain uses that aren't allowed by right by the zoning of a piece of property.

In the past, Councilor Roscoe Turner and then-Councilor Jim Mautino have argued that certain BoA decisions should be first appealed to the City Council. While the BoA acts as a quasi-judicial body in many cases, in special exception cases it has the discretion to consider subjective matters like neighborhood compatibility. A special exception can have the impact of a zoning change, and neighborhood advocates argue that the City Council should have the opportunity to review such decisions before the courts are involved.

Under current law, Tulsa's City Council could modify our ordinances to tailor the BoA appeals process to balance the concerns of developers and neighboring property owners. HB 2559, sponsored by State Reps. Ron Peters and Jeannie McDaniel and Sen. Brian Crain, would take away this local discretion over the process and would dictate a one-size-fits-all solution for the entire state.

HB 2559 passed the House on March 8 and passed the Senate on April 19. Because the House "struck the title," the bill must go back to the House for one more vote before it can go to the Governor's desk. All of Tulsa's state representatives and all but two of our state senators supported the measure. (Republican Senators Randy Brogdon and Scott Pruitt voted against.)

An amendment to the bill that would have interfered with local control over historic preservation (HP) overlay zoning was also considered by the State Senate on April 19, but it failed by a 21-24 vote. Of Tulsa's senators, only Judy Eason-McEntyre voted yes.

Five historic Tulsa neighborhoods (and the park around the Council Oak) have special protection under Tulsa's zoning code. Exterior modifications and new construction within an HP zoning district need a certificate of appropriateness from the Tulsa Preservation Commission (TPC) before proceeding, to ensure that the historic character of the neighborhood is maintained. Demolition permits can be delayed for up to 60 days.

HP protection serves the same value-protecting purpose that deed restrictions serve in newer subdivisions. If you buy a home in an HP neighborhood, you can invest in maintaining your home to historic standards with the assurance that your neighbors are subject to the same rules.

But the protection is undermined if someone can easily buy a property in an HP-zoned neighborhood and have it removed from the district. The failed amendment to HB 2559 would have cut the TPC and the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (TMAPC) completely out of the process of removing lots from an HP district.

In contrast, the process of creating an HP district or expanding its boundaries requires a great deal of time, historical research, and public input. As a rule of thumb, HP districts need the support of 80% of property owners in the district to move forward through three separate levels of review. Removing a property from the district ought to require a similar high standard of review.

Tulsa's development lobby is used to getting its way 100%. Rather than sitting down with other Tulsans to develop a land-use system that will serve the needs of everyone, they have tried and failed to recall two councilors from office, tried and failed to dismember three City Council districts and replace them with citywide supercouncilor seats, and tried and failed to pack the Council with people they can control. In a move akin to plugging your ears with your fingers and singing "The Star-Spangled Banner," they excluded then-Councilor Chris Medlock from their mayoral candidate forum.

I was hopeful when I learned of the departure earlier this year of Josh Fowler from his post as the Home Builders Association of Greater Tulsa's executive director. I was hopeful that the development lobby had finally recognized that the pit bull tactics he epitomized were no longer working. I was hopeful that the developers were ready to take a more conciliatory approach to public policy. This legislative end-around shows that my hopes weren't well-founded.

Frustrated by the fact that ordinary Tulsans are paying attention to City Hall, Tulsa's development lobby is now trying to dictate local land-use policy from Oklahoma City. Whatever the merits of BoA appeals or of moving parcels in and out of HP districts, those are local matters that should be settled locally.

We need to let our state legislators know that HB 2559 is unacceptable. Homeowners and other property owners should object to local decisions being made a hundred miles away, where it's harder to keep an eye on things. Our City Council and municipal officials across the state ought to object loudly to this infringement on their prerogatives.

In his 2000 campaign book, A Charge to Keep, George W. Bush wrote that he is a conservative because he believes that government closest to the people governs best. I expect to see my fellow Republicans at the State Capitol uphold this fundamental Republican principle, and I expect them to defeat HB 2559 when it comes back to the State House of Representatives for a final vote.

In other City Hall news:

Last Friday the latest round of bids on subcontracts for the construction of the BOk Center were opened.

This was after a two-week delay to give bidders "more preparation time," according a report to the Tulsa World. Despite reassurances that all was well, there was good reason to assume that the delay was because of concerns that bids were coming in way over budget.

As it turned out, the lowest bids on each item exceeded budget by $32 million, about a 50% overage. The total of all five bid packages, plus the cost of land acquisition, plus the amount paid for architectural, project management, and other professional services comes to just shy of $150 million. The remaining bid packages are budgeted at around $30 million, which would bring the total for the arena alone to $180 million.

Remember that the Vision 2025 package allocated $183 million of that sales tax to pay for both the construction of an arena and improvements to the Convention Center, including the conversion of the existing arena into ballroom space. It looks like we won't have anything left to fix the facility that, we have been told again and again, is crucial to bringing outside dollars into the local economy.

When Councilor Chris Medlock raised concerns last fall about money being shifted from the Convention Center to the arena, he was shouted down by the monopoly daily paper and even by members of the overview committee who are supposedly keeping an eye on project finances on behalf of us taxpayers.

Back during the mayoral campaign, Democratic candidate Don McCorkell said he would stop work on the arena in order to get a handle on how much the facility would cost to complete and how much it would cost to operate and maintain. If the cost is going to exceed the budget by a wide margin, Tulsa's voters ought to decide whether or not it's worth proceeding. McCorkell's idea looks better all the time.

The fact that we've already put tens of millions into the arena doesn't mean it makes sense to throw good money after bad. (See "sunk costs, fallacy of.")

Meanwhile, County Commissioner Randi Miller, who had been mum about potential overages, not wanting to jeopardize renewal of the County's 4-to-Fix-Tax, now seems to be trying to recast herself as a taxpayer watchdog.

Some of us can remember when she was asked by Republican leaders, back in 2003, to make the arena a separate item on the Vision 2025 ballot, to give the voters a clear opportunity to vote against the arena without having to vote against the higher education improvements that were tied with it.

Miller stood by and did nothing at the time. She continued to go along to get along, voting with the other commissioners to sole-source the Vision 2025 financial contracts to favored vendors. After Vision 2025 was approved, when Medlock raised concerns about oversight and governance, Miller was silent.

On the other hand, Miller was more than happy, back on March 20, to grant a Murphy Brothers a 10-year exclusive contract to operate the Tulsa State Fair midway, despite complaints about rising prices and declining quality of the Murphy Brothers operation. The midway contract was not put out for competitive bids. Miller's support for the sweetheart deal with Murphy Brothers came after her mayoral campaign received a $5,000 contribution from Loretta Murphy, wife of Murphy Brothers owner Jerry Murphy.

Medlock, a genuine taxpayer watchdog, is continuing to keep an eye on arena expenditures at his blog, medblogged.blogspot.com.

4-to-Fix roundup

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Here's a roundup of local opinion and information on Tulsa County's "4 to Fix" tax. I've picked out some of the choicest blog-bites, but be sure to click the links to read the whole thing:

Here's what appears to be the official website for the vote yes campaign.

Here are the ballot resolutions passed by the Tulsa County Commission, and a sample ballot (PDF).

Do the River First is one of the groups opposing the tax, specifically propositions 2, 3, and 4.

The South Tulsa Citizens Coalition opposes the entire package.

Councilor Chris Medlock explains his opposition to the tax, and his proposal for using the money to fund public safety in the City of Tulsa.

On the radio:

Joe Kelley, KRMG morning host, on his blog, The Sake of Argument:

Ive met with many of these politicians and have found many of them to be in outright glee over the windfall of cash from Vision 2025 and the current Four-to-Fix. Not once have I heard a single politician say, "Yes, the extra money would be nice, but if we need more funding for any of our projects, we should first look at cutting spending somewhere else. Until we work harder to eliminate waste, we should not ask the taxpayers to shoulder a great burden than what they already pay."

KFAQ morning host Michael DelGiorno has frequently expressed his opposition to the new county tax.

In print:

The Tulsa Beacon:

The projects on the list have merit but some are just not high priorities. County government is essentially closed to public comment on its capital priorities and that is another reason to vote no.... County government serves an appropriate function. But the land area served by Tulsa County is shrinking as cities take in more annexed land. The county shouldnt be involved in municipal projects.

Here's the Tulsa Beacon's news story on the tax vote, with a list of projects.

Here's my latest Urban Tulsa Weekly column on 4-to-Fix, a column about the tax proposal from when renewal was beginning to be discussed, a column about Tulsa County Commissioners' aversion to competitive bidding.

The weekly Owasso Reporter opposes propositions 2, 3, and 4, saying that it's a bad deal for north Tulsa County towns, too, because the money for road projects in the area is a token amount that won't actually get anything fixed.

In the blogosphere:

Dan Paden:

I know it's only a pittance, but dadgummit, it makes Tulsa a donor city and I'm not at all convinced that it's worth it. Let's set a precedent and actually stop renewing some of these taxes.

Dave the Oklahomilist:

It's not like last time where we were having to replace facilities at the fairgrounds that were to the point of being unsafe. And as far as we can tell a no vote does not take bread out of anyone's mouth.... Saying no on Tuesday is a shot across the bow to all units of local government as we tell them to quit taking us for granted. Get lean and mean. Figure out what is essential. Get creative.

Steve Roemerman:

Due to increasing construction and higher property values, Tulsa County is enjoying increased revenue from property taxes. Meanwhile Tulsa is withering on the vine. Any sales tax that The County levies will only serve to limit the funding options of Tulsa, or any other city in Tulsa County for that matter.

Mad Okie:

Which is more important?

Pick one:

  1. Golf Cart Storage
  2. Police
  3. River Development

If you selected #1 then vote Yes for 4 to fix, otherwise vote NO on 4 to Fix so financing can be available for the more important things.

MeeCiteeWurkor:

Just a reminder to those of you who think you are being taxed to death. This Tuesday on the 13th, if you live in Tulsa County, you need to go vote NO on all five items on the 4 to fix ballot.

Homeowners for Fair Zoning:

Bottom line: The county is in great shape, the surrounding towns' tax revenues are way up, Tulsa's revenues are down and our city infrastructure is falling down around us! That sales tax revenue should now come back to City of Tulsa for police, streets, etc. and the county should go back to living on THEIR OWN INCOME -- property taxes.

Tulsa Chiggers:

It is obvious to everyone that the CITY OF TULSA needs the municipal sales tax income stream instead of the County. Although we can all see the fruits of the County's improvements to such things as LaFortune Park and the Fairgrounds, 4 to Fix was always supposed to be a temporary tax.... The County is not broke, so let's don't fix it!

Charles G. Hill provides some insight from the other end of the Turner Turnpike.

If I've missed anything significant, drop me an e-mail at blog AT batesline DOT com.

A few questions I haven't seen answered anywhere about the 50 cent per month per wireless phone tax on Tuesday's ballot, which is supposed to pay for a 911 system that can pinpoint the location of an emergency call made from a wireless phone:

Who will be collecting these funds?

How much will the new 911 equipment cost?

How much are the estimated annual operating costs?

How much money is the tax expected to raise?

How will any surplus money be spent?

What funds will be used to compensate for any shortfalls?

Anyone know?

Do the River First website

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I've been remiss in not calling attention to the website that David McKinney has set up urging Tulsa to "do the river first" -- to put capital improvements money toward the Arkansas River master plan, making the long-deferred dream of many Tulsans a priority.

It's a well-designed and well-written site, and it has -- as far as I've seen -- the only list of projects for the new "4 to Fix the County" taxes anywhere on the Internet. He takes humorous jabs at three of the projects -- a road to nowhere, more comfortable accommodations for golf carts, and more money for soccer fields.

McKinney is calling on Tulsa County voters to turn down propositions 2, 3, and 4 on the December 13th ballot. His hope is that the county will come back with a revised package that starts to implement the Arkansas River plan. Tulsa City Councilor Chris Medlock would prefer to use the money at the city level to improve public safety; as much as he cares about river development, he thinks it's a higher priority to deal with a violent crime rate that is nearly twice the national average.

We have time to debate between those priorities after December 13. The first step is to vote no on December 13. Both McKinney and Medlock would agree that both the river and public safety are more important than spending $3,000,000 to make sure the golf carts at LaFortune Park are cozy at night.

"4 to Tweak" debate

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A few days ago I wrote that the people pushing for the new $62 million Tulsa County sales tax didn't seem to want to participate in today's debate at the Tulsa County Republican Men's Club (TCRMC). Late in the day Thursday, Commissioner Randi Miller decided she would make herself available to debate Councilor Chris Medlock after all.

A large crowd filled The Fountains Restaurant's largest dining area today. As people signed in and paid for lunch, each paid-up member of the TCRMC ($20 / year) was given a copy of the official sample ballot for a straw poll to be taken at the end of the debate.

I'm not going to try right now to provide a detailed account of the debate. Neither debater overwhelmed the crowd. Miller relied on a PowerPoint presentation during her 10 minutes. Medlock had written a speech and pretty much put on his reading glasses and read it; he was much more effective during the rebuttal and Q&A when he was speaking extemporaneously.

During Q&A I asked Commissioner Miller why the County couldn't use its use tax to finance the most critical need (juvenile justice center and courthouse improvements). It would supply about $4 million a year under the lower rate that would be in effect if the new "4 to Fix" tax fails. The use tax paid for renovation of the Pavilion and other fairgrounds improvements.

Miller asked me where my use tax numbers came from. They are from the Oklahoma Tax Commission's monthly sales tax reports, which you can find on their website. I took the 18 months from the March 2004 through August 2005 reports. (Because of reporting deadlines, the March 2004 report was the first report with the higher county tax rate after the Vision 2025 tax went into effect.) In those 18 months, Tulsa County collected $7.3 million in use taxes. Adjusting that number for the use tax rate without the 1/6th cent "4 to Fix" tax (use tax rate can only be as high as the sales tax rate), and for a year rather than 18 months, it comes to $4,075,528.30. The County's Proposition 1 is for 12% of the projected $62 million total -- that's $7.4 million, which the use tax could cover in a little under two years. Why not reprioritize that money, spend it on the courts and justice system instead of on improving the fairgrounds, which is already in wonderful shape?

58 TCRMC members voted in the straw poll. The "no" side prevailed on all four propositions -- ranging from a 58-42 margin for Proposition 2 (parks) to a 51-49 margin for Proposition 4 (roads). (You'll find the ballot resolutions for the four propositions here.)

I was surprised not to see any "vote yes" brochures. Someone had printed up copies of my Urban Tulsa Weekly column on the topic, and someone else made some "vote no" yard signs.

Quick Tulsa links

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Steve Roemerman was at Tuesday night's meeting about the IVI toll bridge -- has a good summary of the controversy here.

Meeciteewurkor is having another contest -- come up with the funniest (but still decent) answer for what the P. J. stands for in Tulsa Whirled reporter P. J. Lassek's name. For extra credit, write a typically slanted Whirled City Hall news article, then write the Ken Neal editorial founded on that article.

Debate dodging

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At about 3:21 PM, I received an email from Club for Growth, the pro-fiscal responsibility pressure group:

[Club for Growth President] Pat [Toomey] will be on the show, NewsHour With Jim Lehrer, tonight on PBS. We hope you can tune in because he was originally scheduled to debate Sarah Chamberlain Resnick, the head of the Republican Main Street Partnership.

This is the same RINO organization whose members are blocking budget cuts from passing the House and the same group that once received a big check from George Soros. Unfortunately, Ms. Resnick backed out of the debate. We guess it's tough to defend RINOs.

This came about an hour later:

Well, it looks like Pat won't be on Jim Lehrer's TV show tonight after all.

The TV producers for the show simply couldn't find a RINO who was willing to debate Pat so they decided to scrub the segment all together.

Shame on the Republican Main Street Partnership for not being willing to defend their pro-pork position in what would have probably been a friendly venue. But more shame on the producers of News Hour for caving into their manipulations. Cowards who are afraid to defend their policies count on this kind of reaction by debate organizers. Can't have a fair debate without both sides, so the side that is afraid to debate finds one excuse after another to avoid sending someone, and the organizer feels compelled to cancel the debate to avoid a one-sided presentation.

For an example of the right way to respond, look at the way KRMG handled a similar situation with the 2000 "It's Tulsa's Time" arena sales tax vote. The proponents refused to make someone available for a debate on KRMG, but KRMG determined to go ahead with the scheduled debate with or without a "vote yes" representative. In the end the "vote yes" side sent someone.

Don Burdick is doing the right thing, too, regarding this Friday's debate on the December 13th vote on a new five-year round of sales tax -- $62 million more for Tulsa County Commissioners to spend.

Don is president of the Tulsa County Republican Men's Club. Over a month ago, he scheduled this debate for their November luncheon, and he asked me to speak on behalf of the opposition. He asked County Commissioner Bob Dick to speak for the proponents, but Dick refused when he learned it would be a debate. Dick also it was sub dignitate sua for him to debate a non-elected official. So City Councilor Chris Medlock was brought in for the opposition.

Things get a bit confused, but my understanding is that at this point Dick dropped out and the "vote yes" side substituted County Commissioner Randi Miller. Then they told Don that Medlock shouldn't debate for the "vote no" side since he's running for Mayor. The vote yes consultant helpfully suggested someone else to argue for the opposition. Their ideal choice for someone to face in a debate was unavailable.

Don Burdick declined to let the proponents dictate who they'd be debating against. As things now stand, Commissioner Miller revealed last Thursday that she is unable to attend, and the consultant says no one else can come. Burdick is going ahead with the program, even if only opponents make themselves available to speak. And he's going ahead with a straw poll on the county sales tax, open to club members only, with the results to be made public.

Good for Don. But what does it say about our County Commissioners that they are unwilling to make the case for the $62 million they want from us?

Judge Rebecca Brett Nightingale will hear arguments today on the County's motion to dismiss the South Tulsa Citizens Coalition's lawsuit against the three County Commissioners. The suit alleges that Commissioners violated state law in approving the contract with Infrastructure Ventures Inc., in which IVI will build a bridge across the Arkansas River and maintain, operate, and collect tolls on it for seventy-five years. The STCC would like supporters present in the courtroom -- Room 708 of the Tulsa County Courthouse, 500 S. Denver Ave., at 1:30 p.m.

I'm sure judges are able to filter this out, but I wonder if it ever crosses a judge's mind in a suit like this that the County Commission is her landlord and controls the funding for courthouse improvements. That may be why STCC wants a crowd there, so she can see that the suit matters to a sizable block of voters, too.

Bid the midway

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Last night my son and I went to the Tulsa State Fair. We spent some time in the Just for Kids attraction in the old Youth Building: He worked with the hands-on science exhibits, he built with wood planks, and we watched a fun science demonstration.

We wandered along the midway looking at the rides, my son trying to figure out how to allocate his ride tickets. He decided he'd rather spend them in Bell's Amusement Park, there on the fairgrounds, since he knew which rides he liked the most. (For the record: Super Round-Up, Pharaoh's Fury, the Scrambler.) I was happy for the ticket revenue to go to Bell's instead of Murphy Bros., the company that's had a sole-source contract for the midway since 1971.

According to Susan Hylton's report in the Tulsa Whirled, Expo Square chief Denny Tuttle is in the process of negotiating a five-year extension with Murphy Bros. on their midway contract, which has never been competitively bid. If our County Commissioners were really looking out for the best interests of taxpayers and fairgoers,
they'd go through a competitive bidding process. Once again this year, many Murphy Bros. rides weren't ready to run at the beginning of the fair because of equipment problems or failure to pass inspection. Last night -- a week into the fair -- we noticed there weren't as many rides as in previous years, and several Murphy Bros. rides were out of order.

A competitive bidding process gives us a chance at a midway vendor with a better safety and reliability record. It could also get us better ride rates. Most rides for big kids and grownups cost $4 or $5 each.

Food vendors and hawkers of miraculous kitchen gadgets are all subject to competition at the fair, but the midway contract grants one vendor a monopoly on a big chunk of real estate in the heart of the fairgrounds. There at least ought to be competition when the midway contract is granted.

The citizens of Tulsa County ought to wonder why so much county business -- who handles a half-billion in revenue bonds, who gets to build a hotel on the fairgrounds, who gets to build a toll bridge across the Arkansas River, who handles land acquisition -- is just given out to favored vendors.

Joe Kelley on the IVI bridge

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Joe Kelley has posted a lengthy analysis of the IVI Bridge issue. I appreciate the time he's taken to get a grasp of the issue and to "show his work" -- not only to come to a conclusion but to tell the rest of us how he reached it.

I don't have time for a point-by-point commentary, so I'll just point you to it, and encourage you to join in the discussion over there.

So Jenks Mayor Vic Vreeland thinks there are only five people who object to Infrastructure Ventures Inc's cozy deal with Tulsa County for a toll bridge across the Arkansas River? You have a chance to prove him wrong tonight.

If you have yet to sign South Tulsa Citizens Coalition's petition against the IVI bridge, stop by 101st and Yale between 5:00 pm and 6:30 pm this evening.

Don't know why, but I kept thinking of this bridge deal when I was watching "Casino" Friday night....

A note from the South Tulsa Citizens Coalition about the proposed IVI toll bridge:

Dear STCC Supporter:

We thought you may want to know that County Commissioner Bob Dick called a meeting with a select few of our elected officials on Thursday, September 29th regarding the proposed toll bridge. Commissioner Dick invited City Councilors Bill Martinson, Randy Sullivan and Tom Baker, Bixby Mayor Joe Williams, Jenks Mayor Vic
Vreeland and Tulsa Mayor Bill LaFortune and his chief of staff. City Councilor Bill Christiansen (whose district the proposed toll bridge will be in) was not invited, but attended anyway. Commissioners Miller and Collins did not attend.

It is STCC's understanding that Commissioner Dick invited only certain city officials to this meeting as to not trigger the Open Meetings Act. Once again, more meetings regarding the proposed toll bridge without public input and behind closed doors.

During the meeting, Commissioner Dick made the following comments .....

- The proposed toll bridge must be constructed at its current location because various individuals and entities had bought land counting on the toll bridge to go in at its current location.

- IVI and/or the County is willing to give the City of Tulsa a piece
of the pie in order to get the bridge constructed. No specific numbers were discussed however.

Jenks Mayor, Vic Vreeland commented that STCC is a group of only 5 people and that STCC does not represent the number of people that it purports to represent. (He obviously has not been to any of our meetings.)

It is STCC's understanding that the basic tone of the meeting was "what can IVI and/or the County do to get this toll bridge pushed through?"

The meeting concluded with Commissioner Dick agreeing to come back to
the table at a later date with the specifics of the deal the County and IVI are proposing. STCC encourages you to email or write the elected officials and advise them not to be persuaded by Commissioner Dick and IVI's tactics. An attachment is included with this message with all of their email addresses. Please let them know that you know what is going on and it is not acceptable.

Thank you once again for your continued support.

The latest issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly is online, and my column this week is about Tulsa County's push to pass an extension to the "4 to Fix the County" sales tax:

Tulsa Countys three commissioners are scrambling to put together a list of projects to be funded with a new 1/6th cent sales tax. Although theres a year to go until the 4 to Fix the County (4FC) tax expires, county officials are eager to get Tulsa voters to commit at the earliest possible opportunity to pay the tax for five more years.

The reason has little to do with funding critical County government functions, and everything to do with mayoral politics and the balance of power between City and County. While the County has accomplished a lot of good with 4FC, the question Tulsa voters should be asking is, Who needs the money most?

Read the whole thing, as they say.

Bridge congestion

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I started working on an entry on yesterday's debate between Michael Covey of the South Tulsa Citizens Coalition and Tony Dark, an engineer with TetraTech FHC, the firm doing the engineering work for Infrastructure Venture Inc. (IVI), over the south Tulsa bridge which IVI wants to build as a public-private partnership with Tulsa County. I got distracted with e-mail and some other blog browsing and didn't get it done to my satisfaction.

For now I'll leave you with these few comments: Michael Covey did an excellent job of stating the case against the IVI-Tulsa County deal and against IVI's desired location of the bridge. I was amazed that the pro-IVI side would represented by an engineer working for a subcontractor, and not by one of the IVI principals or one of the County Commissioners. While Tony Dark did a decent job, the issues at hand involved policy and economics more than soil compaction and traffic counts. Clearly IVI didn't want anyone present who could be expected to answer questions about the public policy aspects of the bridge.

Covey has proposed an alternative plan, in which the City of Tulsa would build the bridge with revenue bonds and pay Tulsa County and River Parks the same amount of money they are expecting ($89 million and $44 million respectively) under the IVI plan. Based on information from George K. Baum and Associates, it's estimated that the City of Tulsa would net $611 million dollars over the life of the bridge, some of which could be used to pay for the infrastructure upgrades required for the roads which link to the bridge.

Referring to the County's intention to seek renewal of the 4 to Fix the County sales tax in order to raise $59 million for capital improvements, Covey asked, "Why would I vote for $59 million in taxes when Tulsa County has walked away from $658 million net profit?"

Regarding the STCC's proposal to move the northern end of the bridge so it connects into Riverside Drive rather than Yale Avenue, Dark made a telling remark. Dark said that moving the north end of the bridge would relieve traffic for existing subdivisions along Yale, but would create a 15 foot high barrier next to a planned high-end housing development along Riverside at 121st. In other words, the County wants to protect the interests of the new developer as the expense of neighborhoods where the developer has already sold all the homes and moved on.

Tulsa roundup

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Roemerman on Record will be quiet for a while, as Steve Roemerman is off to Gretna, Louisiana, just across the Mississippi from New Orleans, with a group from his church to help Convoy of Hope. We'll keep Steve in our prayers and look forward to his report when he returns.

Our Tulsa World has added more video clips from Mayor Bill LaFortune's September 6 third-penny meeting at the Zarrow Library. This is a great service that Mr. Schuttler is doing by filming, converting, and posting these video clips. Too often the claims and promises made in this sort of meeting are lost to history. His summary of the meeting puts the clips in context. In another entry he has the response from Mayor LaFortune and Fire Chief Allen LaCroix to the question, "Are we prepared if Keystone Dam breaks?"

MeeCiteeWurkor has a special comments thread just for registering your opinion of the Tulsa Whirled. He's asking for submissions in a contest -- things you can do with a Tulsa Whirled. And he's about to add a new contributor to the blog.

City Councilor Chris Medlock has a recent entry on his proposal regarding the sales tax money currently going to Tulsa County for "4 to Fix the County." He says that the county is fixed now, and between the Vision 2025 sales tax and rising property taxes, the county is well fixed for funds. By denying a renewal of the 2/12ths cent "4 to Fix" sales tax, City of Tulsa voters could opt to pass the same size sales tax at the city level and earmark it for public safety.

Another noteworthy item on MedBlogged cites two Tulsa Whirled City Hall stories, one from 2002, one from last week. The March 2002 story has Mayor-elect Bill LaFortune saying he plans to have a direct, face-to-face relationship with the City Council, which lines up with my recollection of my first meeting with LaFortune as he started his run for office. The September 2005 story has councilors, including recently-elected Bill Martinson, complaining that LaFortune won't deal directly with the Council on issues like the new third-penny proposal.

Tulsa Downtown reports that new clubs are opening in the Blue Dome district.

Tulsa newcomer Joe Kelley has been trying the immersion approach to understanding his new hometown, and he's posted a list of some of the people he's met with so far, and would like suggestions for others he ought to talk to. About a week and a half ago, I introduced him to the tawook at La Roma Pizza (a Lebanese restaurant disguised as a pizzeria), and we had a very enjoyable conversation. He seems to be a very astute observer and a quick study.

Tulsa Topics has an audio tribute to Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, including their radio theme song, "Okie Boogie," "Cadillac in my Model A," and tributes by The Tractors and Asleep at the Wheel. One thing I love about Bob Wills songs -- you don't need liner notes, because Bob tells you who's playing as the song proceeds.

As always, you'll find the latest and greatest entries from blogs about Tulsa news on the Tulsa Bloggers aggregation page.

The same accounting firm that audited the Tulsa County Industrial Authority also audited the Tulsa County Criminal Justice Authority (TCCJA), and Urban Tulsa covered it in their March 17th issue, in a story by G. W. Schulz entitled "Who's Minding the Jail?"

After bond indebtedness from construction of the county lockup was retired in 2001, $12 million remained. The report shows the Justice Authority finished off what was left of the $12 million this year, $1.6 million, and continued on into the red reaching a $2.9 million deficit, which the authority has scrambled to cover with funds from other county entities. In other words, the authority this year spent $4.5 million more than it took in from sales tax revenue.

The story goes on to describe how the problem was finally uncovered. It also tells why the overview committee for the jail sales tax didn't spot the problem -- the overview committee has no teeth.

Committee Chair Robert Breuning said the oversight board is not permitted to examine the Justice Authoritys major decisions until after the fact. He said authority attorney Jim Orbison scolded the committee for attempting to inform the authority that the proposed use of a detox center to save money would cost significantly more than had been forecasted.

Our duty was not to advise, but observe, Breuning said the committee was told. But after the fact, there was no reason to observe.

I had gotten out of the habit of reading Urban Tulsa, but it appears now that they are committed to doing in-depth reporting on local issues. Thanks to G. W. Schulz and Urban Tulsa for digging into this story.

P. S. I'll be on KFAQ 1170 at 7:10 Wednesday morning to talk about the audit of the Tulsa County Industrial Authority.

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