Tulsa County: July 2006 Archives

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.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa County category from July 2006.

Tulsa County: June 2006 is the previous archive.

Tulsa County: August 2006 is the next archive.

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