Tulsa Vision 2025: October 2003 Archives

No strings attached to AA money?


A disturbing quote from County Commission chairman Wilbert Collins in Saturday's Whirled (continued here):

Tulsa County voters approved $22.3 million in incentives for American that will be used for capital improvements, tooling, equipment and inventory.

Prior to the Sept. 9 vote on the $885 million Vision 2025 package, County Commissioner Bob Dick had said he would not support giving the airline money only to have it leave Tulsa later. Tulsa Mayor Bill LaFortune said the funding would come with "big strings" attached, those being job retention and growth, [Carmine] Romano said. [Romano is AA's Tulsa vice president of base maintenance.]

"That's the whole intention of the 2025 vision, to provide employment here, and I'm dedicated to that," said Romano.

While American announced it will keep its maintenance facility in Tulsa and add new work, Collins said the county could not force it to follow through on those plans.

"We can't make any demands on American. We can talk about what we'd like to see, but we can't make any demands on that corporation," he said.

At the moment, the county is having an attorney (county fair board member Jim Orbison) work on an agreement between the County and American Airlines, prior to the airline receiving county tax funds. I hope the County will make demands of American before they hand over the $22.3 million.

Carmine Romano has said he'd be willing to sign an agreement. We should take him up on the offer. The time to insist on terms is before Tulsa County hands over the money. Otherwise we may find ourselves in the same position as Wetumka, Oklahoma, which raised money to bring a circus to town, only to have the promoter run off with the cash. Ever since the good people of Wetumka have commemorated their credulity with a "Sucker Day" celebration. Let's hope we don't follow in their footsteps.

An interesting discussion over on the TulsaNow forum about the silence in civic dialog since the passage of Vision 2025:

Is this not ultimately what this group was formed for, to influence the process, originally this influence may have been seen as necessary to get a revitalization plan passed by the groups founders, but during that time some people got involved that wanted to influence the process in such a way as to insure that the money was well and wisely spent and that the projects were well thought out and executed. The roar of the silence since the vote has been deafening.

The silence has not only come from this group but the whole community in general, we debated the pros and cons of the project and it’s elements, but now that it has passed we are sitting back waiting for all of the great things to happen....

I fear that to many in Tulsa view this is my mother does, after the first Tulsa project failed she stated that “she may have voted no, but it didn’t make any difference, they would just keep coming until we gave them their money” this last time, she voted yes and could care less about the individual projects she is just glad it will quiet them down. It was stated in the “post vote” meeting, this is not the end, it is just the beginning, the really hard work lies ahead.

It is the beginning, and TulsaNow could be a great vehicle for doing that hard work, but people with good ideas and energy need to get involved, and those of us who have been involved in leadership need to facilitate the infusion of new energy. All the hoped-for results won't come true just because the promised projects were built. There are a lot of other things Tulsa has to get right if we want the kind of energy, excitement, and beauty Savannah has.

Reader Mark Keesling writes with a report from last week's Republican Assembly meeting, which was about Vision 2025 and what happens now. I couldn't be there, but I thought you'd appreciate reading his detailed report and commentary. The Republican Assembly is one of several clubs affiliated with the local GOP that meets monthly for dinner and a speaker, a chance to socialize and talk politics. (Not really relevant to this item, but Assembly members tend to come from the left-wing or center -- depending on your point of view -- of the Republican party, and includes many who were party volunteers before the influx of social conservatives during the Reagan years.)

I’ve consistently opposed the Vision 2025 proposition since about a month before it’s passage, but since it has passed, have at least hoped that perhaps what I viewed as it’s shortcomings had more justification than appeared to be the case. However, my attendance at last night’s Republican Assembly Meeting served only to dim such hopes. While much, if not all, of my observations will likely come as no surprise to you, I wanted to share them with you for whatever benefit you may derive from the information. The speaker was Paul Wilkening, Chief Deputy to the Tulsa County Board of Commissioners. His subject for the evening was "Vision 2025, After the Vote", which spurred not only discussion of what comes next, but inevitably, why things are as they are. Also in attendance, by the way, was Tulsa City Councilman, Chris Medlock.

My first disappointment was hearing Mr. Wilkening comment early in the meeting on how he had voted against Susan Savage’s proposition, "…but the Republicans got it done". This, and other subsequent responses to questions posed to him after the meeting indicated that a, if not the, main factor behind his vote on these propositions was the party involved in proposing them, rather than the merits of the propositions. Perhaps this reveals a severe degree of naiveté on my part, but I would think most people would be a bit surprised at the lack of integrity such an admission indicates. I would give Mr. Wilkening the benefit of the doubt, and assume that he really drew more significant distinctions between Savage’s plan and Vision 2025, but this would seem to indicate that he was merely tailoring his comments to what he judged to be an audience with low integrity.

Discussion quickly turned to possible ways of avoiding continued collection of taxes after the project-funding needs had been met. Several options were mentioned, but Mr. Wilkening indicated that there was no legal way of capping the taxing now, though some (Councilman Medlock, I believe) suggested that actions might be taken that would at least be politically persuasive to those in charge when that time comes. When asked if he was indicating that it wasn’t legally possible to have written the proposition to cap tax collection at $885 million, Mr. Wilkening grasped for answers, eventually indicating that it would have been legally possible but that he wasn’t sure about the exact reason that this hadn’t been done. He went on to suggest that it was probably done that way since the ending cost of projects such as those involved can often vary depending upon circumstances, prompting the question "So the $885 million figure is actually an estimate then?" Mr. Wilkening quickly refuted that characterization, but, in my opinion, never clearly explained why, while it wasn’t an estimated cost, the decision wasn’t to cap the taxes collected.

When pressed to address why there had been no competitive bidding for the bonds to fund the projects, his answer was that a local preference for all aspects of the projects was desired. There was no answer to what the potential cost is of what is really a monopoly on the bidding instead of a preference. A "preference" would seem to imply at least some possibility of someone outside Tulsa getting the business, should they be able to save us a few $million in costs.

Toward the end of the meeting, Mr. Wilkening made a comment causing me to question my naiveté for a second time that evening when, after a pause in the conversation, he stated that "Well, we had to do something". I found the statement lacking in its indication of any significant thought behind the propositions. It’s been my experience that when the best justification for action is that it is not inaction, it is not very well justified. I only wish Mr. Wilkening had been in charge of the Vision 2025 posters. Had they only read, "Vision 2025, We have to do SOMETHING", I suspect the vote might have gone differently. Now, to be fair, I still realize that Mr. Wilkening may just not be the best spokesperson for the plan. However, having heard about half the debates on the proposition, and last night’s talk, I find myself still searching for someone who is.

That concludes the guest opinion -- Bates here again with one comment. I thought "we have to do SOMETHING" was the official slogan of the Vision 2025 campaign. That seems to have been the reason most often cited by people who told me they were voting for it.

The Tulsa County Industrial Authority (TCIA) will hold a special meeting tomorrow, Thursday, October 9, 11 a.m., in Room 315 of the County Administration Building, 6th & Denver, to approve contracts with attorneys and investment bankers to handle the sale of revenue bonds for the new county sales taxes (aka "Vision 2025"). The agenda reveals that the TCIA board (the three County Commissioners) have already decided who will get the contracts, and they will not use competitive bidding to ensure that the taxpayers get the best deal.

From the agenda, it appears that things are a bit different this time around, but it's still a behind-the-scenes-deal for the benefit of politically connected local firms. Ordinarily, all the county bond business goes to Hilborne & Weidman (bond counsel) and John Piercey of Leo Oppenheim & Co. (bond underwriting).

They get a piece of the action this time, too, but some of the work is going to the law firm of Riggs, Abney, Neal, Turpen, Orbison, and Lewis and to Wells Nelson and Associates, the public finance affiliate of F&M Bank. Riggs Abney is the "retirement home" for a number of politicians: Mike Turpen (Attorney General), Gary Watts (City Councilor and 2002 mayoral nominee), David Riggs (State Senator). Riggs Abney partner Jim Orbison is very tightly connected to the county machine. He's been on the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority since 1983 and has done legal work for other County trusts.

When the County Commissioners meet as the TCIA they meet in a small room on the 3rd floor. They aren't used to having a big crowd for meetings, and they regularly cancel the scheduled regular meeting, then schedule a special meeting on short notice. Tulsa County taxpayers need to let the Commissioners know we are concerned about getting good value for the billion dollars we've given them to play with. That begins by getting the best deal on the issuance of revenue bonds, and that means putting it out for competitive bids and advertising the opportunity far and wide, for example with specialist media outlets like The Bond Buyer. (If you register, you can read Requests for Proposals that other cities, counties, and trusts have put out to attract competitive bids for financial services.) It might make sense to give sole source contracts on small bond jobs, but when you're borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars, even small differences in interest rates and commissions can mean millions of dollars to the bottom line. Let's show up tomorrow at 11 and politely ask our County Commissioners to do the right thing.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa Vision 2025 category from October 2003.

Tulsa Vision 2025: September 2003 is the previous archive.

Tulsa Vision 2025: November 2003 is the next archive.

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