Urban Tulsa Weekly: July 2007 Archives

Tulsa County Commissioner Randi Miller held a press conference today to explain why she absolutely has to have a higher sales tax rate in order to build the low-water dams that she promised would be built by the existing Vision 2025 tax.

Miller was responding to a proposal by Tulsa City Councilor John Eagleton, who called for paying for river plan implementation from the existing Vision 2025 sales tax, asking voters to extend that tax if its necessary to complete the projects, rather than increasing the tax rate.

I made a similar proposal in this week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly. Tulsa County voters were promised three river related projects as part of Proposition 4:

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

Last week on KFAQ, Vision 2025 project manager Kirby Crowe said of these funds, only $275,000 has been spent, to cover the cost of environmental paperwork that must be completed prior to constructing the dams. The rest, he said, is "unspent and protected."

In my column, I point out that these dams were promised as a part of Vision 2025, and that County Commissioners committed to completing all the projects as promised, and as quickly as possible. (I do find it interesting that neither of the two Whirled stories, about Eagleton's idea and Miller's response, mentions that construction of the dams were promised as part of Vision 2025.)

Matching funds or not, County officials made a commitment to complete the projects that were promised. In a July 23, 2003, story in the daily paper about the potential for revenues to exceed expected project costs, County Commissioner Bob Dick said that the Vision 2025 package was structured to be sure that no project would be left incomplete. Commissioner Dick was quoted as saying, “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.” So any surplus was intended first to be used to finish the promised projects.

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. Such a promise would directly contradict something Miller was quoted as saying later in the interview:

The commissioners' primary responsibility is to ensure that the Vision 2025 projects promised voters are delivered, she said.

And that means building the low water dams and refurbishing the Zink Lake dams has to come before any new projects are undertaken.

In fact, the ballot resolution makes a formal commitment to that effect:

While the cost estimates shown above are believed to be accurate, it must be recognized that the exact cost of each project may vary from the estimate shown. It is the intention of the Board of County Commissioners of Tulsa County, Oklahoma, that all projects shall be completed as funds are made available. If the Board of County Commissioners of Tulsa County, Oklahoma, determines that all of the projects listed above will be completed with existing and projected funds and that excess funds will be available for additional projects, such excess funds shall be expended for caputal improvements for community enrichment (which does not include appropriation of any such funds to any other entity for such purpose), as determined by a public trust having Tulsa County, Oklahoma, [and all Tulsa County municipalities], as its beneficiaries.

Emphasis added. No new projects until all the listed projects are fully funded to completion.

Miller also claims that we can't get to any of the surplus money until near the end of the tax period, around 2015 or so. But as she knows, Vision 2025 is not a pay as you go project. She and her fellow commissioners have issued revenue bonds, borrowing money against future revenues so that the projects could be completed early, long before we raise the revenue.

I don't know how much has been borrowed all ready, how much has been spent, and how much is committed in the near term, but if the river is a priority, I'm sure some projects can be delayed to so that money already in hand could be used to start work on the dams. I'm sure more could be borrowed against anticipated Vision 2025 revenues. If John Piercey doesn't think he can do it, perhaps we could put the financing out for competitive bidding and find someone who can make it happen without charging us an arm and a leg.

Interesting: According to this, the river projects and all other Vision 2025 projects should have been funded in the second bond issue. The first bond issue was for $242,150,000:

Program manager Kirby Crowe said officials plan to have just one more bond issue to fund the rest of the Vision 2025 projects.

The Arkansas River projects, Broken Arrow's funding for downtown and neighborhood beautification, construction costs for the downtown Tulsa arena and renovation of the Maxwell Convention Center -- as well as the rest of the funding for projects that were only partially funded in the first bond issue -- are anticipated to be funded in the second.

Here's Randi Miller from June 2005:

While they aren't ready to act on projections for what the 13-year, sixth-tenths of a penny sales tax will bring in, Commissioners Bob Dick and Randi Miller both believe the Arkansas River is a likely candidate to see additional funding.

"It's too soon to start spending money above those things that have already been identified," Dick said. "But there's one real easy one, to say if we do have that, I think a high priority would be on the river."

The $5.6 million allocated in Vision 2025 for river projects only pays for a portion of two low-water dams. It is supposed to be used along with federal funds, but Miller said officials may need the extra money to make sure the dams get built.

"If there's any money that's available, in my opinion because we do not have enough for the dams, then I'm going to go with river development," she said.

From the same article, John Piercey provides an early estimate of a surplus and is game to try to make it available early:

Vision 2025 financial adviser John Piercey, a senior investment banker with Capital West Securities, said that virtually all of of the $65 million surplus will be collected in 2016 and 2017.

"The question becomes: Is there a way to have those funds early? We're working on that," he said.

And as recently as this January, Piercey said:

"It looks like they'll (local officials) be able to deliver everything they promised to voters, and then some."

Make it so.

TAKE ACTION: If you want County Commissioners to keep their promise and fund the low-water dams from the Vision 2025 tax, you need to let them know. The vote to put a new tax on the ballot could come as early as next Thursday. Here are phone and e-mail contacts for each:

District 1, John Smaligo: jsmaligo@tulsacounty.org, 596-5020

District 2, Randi Miller: rmiller@tulsacounty.org, 596-5015

District 3, Fred Perry: fperry@tulsacounty.org, 596-5010

Still catching up from various travels and other family events, I noticed I hadn't gotten around to linking my current Urban Tulsa Weekly column or the one from last week.

Last week's column dealt with specifics of the proposed $277 million county sales tax increase to fund low-water dams and other enhancements along the Arkansas River, in particular, how the proposed plan deviates from the official Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan.

But I had a couple of other matters to deal with before I jumped into the river. Faithful readers will recall that I was quick to distance myself from the text that was placed over my July 4 column. As soon as I could, I posted a comment on the article itself and here on this blog:

I want to remind readers that I do not write the headlines or [subheadlines] for my columns, and I do not agree with the harsh, sarcastic tone of the [subheadline] written for this column. I am grateful for the willingness of George Kaiser and other Tulsa philanthropists to contribute to the well-being of this city, and my suggestion that direct investment may be the best way to make the river the kind of place Tulsans want to enjoy is a suggestion made in earnest.

That wasn't the only problem I had with how my writing in that issue was edited: The beginning of my response to a letter to the editor about an earlier column was changed, setting a more pompous and pugnacious tone than I had intended. Again, I noted the differences between what I wrote and what was published in a comment on the paper's website and here at BatesLine.

To make sure that those who only see the column in print were aware of all this, I addressed both concerns in the July 11 column. When the paper came out, I had to laugh when I saw the headline:

Headlines Are Attention-Getting Devices
Otherwise, scholarly, well-researched opinion pieces might go unnoticed

Touché. The anonymous copy editor who wrote that headline is absolutely right.

A reader here asked, "Is there some journalistic justification for having an editor put words in the mouth of the columnist? I'd think that columnists, over the years (decades) would have protested loudly enough to end such a practice."

I've known of writers flying off the handle, even quitting, over headlines or edits to their pieces. I can't say I was happy when I saw how my work was edited that week, but having had a friend who was a copy editor gave me some perspective.

I met blogger Dawn Eden during my trip to the 2004 Republican National Convention, when she was a copy editor for the New York Post. In fact, that was the week she learned of winning a state Associated Press award for the headline "HURT IN LINE OF DOODY," which graced a story about a city employee injured by an exploding toilet.

Meeting Dawn put a face and a personality behind the clever, punny headlines for which New York City tabloids are renowned. I learned that copy editing is more than fixing typos; it also involves framing a story so that the newspaper reader will notice it and read it. The ability to concoct an eye-catching headline on deadline is a gift that not many writers have.

I remember, too, the saga of the following January, just before her visit to Oklahoma, when an edit Dawn made to a story about in-vitro fertilization enraged the reporter, who, despite Dawn's apologies, set out to get Dawn fired, not so much for the edit as for the staunchly pro-life content of her personal blog.

While I think the writer's reaction and the Post publisher's handling of Dawn's situation exceeded reasonable disciplinary action and entered the realm of religious persecution, I can now better empathize with the writer. When words appear under my byline, they are identified with me, and they speak for me, whether I wrote them or not. I don't appreciate having my name associated with opinions or attitudes I don't share. An attention-getting headline or a punched-up lede may draw a reader in to see what I have to say, but if it goes too far, a reader may conclude immediately that I'm an arrogant jerk with nothing to say worth reading and turn the page.

(I am an arrogant jerk, but I'd prefer to let my own words convict me on that charge.)

One of the lovely things about a blog is that everything here (except for the comments) is mine -- my words, my opinions. Also, my factual errors (like calling a subheadline a "tagline"), my misspellings, my inconsistent application of style rules, my homely layout, and my boring headlines. For better or worse, there's no editor to get in the way.

But when you're assembling the work of multiple contributors into a single publication, someone has to layout the pages, put the ads in place, write headlines, subheadlines, pullquotes, and captions, and turn those diverse contributions into an attractive and cohesive package.

I appreciate what copy editors do. I'm grateful when they fix my typos, add transitional sentences when I lurch too quickly from one idea to another, and make me look smarter, Charlotte's Web style, by putting brilliant headlines over my words. And when they get carried away, I'll handle it as I did this time -- let the readers know of the discrepancy and mend fences with the individuals who might have been offended by what someone else wrote under my name.

Alas, I didn't have a sitter, so I had to miss out on Tuesday night's Absolute Best of Tulsa (ABoT) party at the Petroleum Club. I didn't find out until tonight, when I finally had a chance to pick up a copy of the latest issue, but I won an Urby this year. Urban Tulsa Weekly readers have named me Best Blogger in the 2007 Absolute Best of Tulsa awards. Thanks to everyone who voted for me.

For the record, I didn't vote for myself. I voted for Mee.

MORE: Here's a link to a PDF of the 2007 Absolute Best of Tulsa special section.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Urban Tulsa Weekly category from July 2007.

Urban Tulsa Weekly: June 2007 is the previous archive.

Urban Tulsa Weekly: September 2007 is the next archive.

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