Urban Tulsa Weekly: April 2009 Archives

Keep Michael Slankard

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UPDATE 2:00 p.m.: Mayor's office has delayed Rodolf nomination to next week.

UPDATE 5/1/2009: Council declined to approve postponement, then turned down the Rodolf nomination, 3-6 -- Patrick, Troyer, Bynum voting yes; Henderson, Westcott, Gomez, Martinson, Eagleton, Christiansen voting no.

Tonight (April 30, 2009) at the Tulsa City Council's regular meeting, the Council will consider Mayor Kathy Taylor's nomination of a replacement for Michael Slankard on the City's Ethics Advisory Committee (EAC). The Council should vote against the replacement nominee, which will leave Slankard in place, continuing his honorable and independent service on that committee.

Despite the urging of the chairman of the EAC and the desire of a majority on the Council, Taylor refused to reappoint Slankard. As the Council's resistance to a replacement solidified, suddenly some anonymous person brought an ethics complaint against Slankard, claiming a conflict of interest because he suggested and then participated in the investigation (and dismissal) of ethical issues surrounding Taylor giving Councilor David Patrick a ride back from Colorado on her Lear 31A, just in time to vote on Taylor's financing plan for the downtown. Slankard voted with the rest of the committee, finding no ethical violation by either Patrick or Taylor.

The complaint against Slankard was passed through City Attorney Dierdre Dexter, who is an at-will employee of Taylor. The complaint was investigated and rejected by the other members of the EAC, despite their long-standing policy against hearing anonymous complaints at all.

You can read a more detailed account of the tug of war between Taylor and the Council over Michael Slankard's reappointment in my April 15, 2009, UTW column.

This apparent attempt to use the ethics process for leverage in a political battle between the executive and legislative branches ought to make Slankard's supporters on the City Council even more determined to keep him on the EAC.

Taylor's proposed replacement for Slankard, Sandra Rodolf, was back before the Council at the Tuesday, April 28, Urban and Economic Development committee meeting. According to a couple of independent reports, Jack Henderson, Rick Westcott, Bill Martinson, and John Eagleton all indicated that they support Slankard and would be voting against Rodolf's appointment; David Patrick, Dennis Troyer, and G. T. Bynum expressed support for Rodolf; Bill Christiansen and Eric Gomez didn't say either way, but have expressed support for keeping Slankard on the committee.

Here is the summary of the discussion from the April 28, 2009, Urban and Economic Development Committee meeting. The summary appears to have been truncated by the database software:

Sandra Rodolf present. Westcott felt her qualifications were stellar; however, he feels the Mayor is using her as an attempt to get back at Micahel Slankard, and for that, he apologizes. Councilor Westcott gave the background history of the case involving Michael Slankard. Councilor Troyer commented that all the Council does is approve or disapprove the Mayor's recommendations. Councilor Eagleton echoed Westcott's comments. Councilor Patrick commented that Mrs. Rodolf was not involved with Michael Slankard and should be approved based on her qualifications only. Councilor Bynum thanked Ms. Rodolf for going through this appointment process. The Charter states what the role of the Council is during the appointment process. We should vote on her qualifications only. Councilor Henderson expressed concerned of having 3 members from District 9 on one committee. Nancy Siegel - don't believe everything you think. She was recommended solely based her background and qualifications. Mr. Slankard is being replaced due to his tenure on the board. Ethics will be highly called upon due to PW issues. This is speculation only. Henderson does not understand why the appointees have to have a legal background. Also, the City's position has been to keep the experienced appointees on the board. Councilor Martinson

Henderson raised an important point about diversity on the committee. Taylor's change would be a step backwards in terms of geographic diversity. Replacing Slankard with Rodolf would swap a resident of north Tulsa's District 3, which has few members of city authorities, boards, and commissions (known as ABCs for short) with a resident of the Midtown Money Belt, which historically is where most mayoral appointees live -- this is a long-term trend, not specific to Taylor). As last summer's PLANiTULSA survey showed, midtowners and north Tulsans have very different views about how fair city government is. Loading the EAC up with Midtown Money Belt residents would send the wrong signal to the rest of the city. There needs to be a balance.

With due respect to Councilor Bynum, he's reading something into the City Charter that isn't there. Article III, Section 1.4, paragraph G says regarding mayoral appointments to ABCs:

Appoint, subject to confirmation by a majority vote of the entire membership of the Council, the members of all boards, commissions, authorities, and agencies created by this amended Charter, ordinance, agreement, or pursuant to law, and exercise general control and supervision thereof, provided, all appointees shall, as a condition of their appointment and continued service, be qualified electors and maintain their principal residence within the city limits of the City of Tulsa

Nothing in the charter specifies the criteria a councilor must apply when voting on a mayoral ABC appointee. The councilors can apply whatever standards they deem prudent. The confirmation power is an important check on mayoral power. ABCs have significant power -- some more than others -- and in some cases, the vote on the appointment is the only input the councilors have into the way a given ABC sets policy.

When Mayor Bill LaFortune reappointed Jim Cameron and Lou Reynolds to the Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority, a majority of the councilors objected, concerned about the TMUA's policies on water rates to the suburbs and whether the authority was putting the growth desires of the suburbs ahead of those of undeveloped parts of the City of Tulsa. I supported the "Gang of Five" in their effort to block the reappointment. (The effort failed when Sam Roop switched sides on the issue, shortly before LaFortune hired him to work in the Mayor's office.)

In August 2001, during the Susan Savage administration, the City Council voted against reappointing Kim Holland to the EMSA board. They were raked over the coals by the daily paper for doing so, but there was no question that they had the discretion and authority to say no to Savage's pick.

More recently, Taylor has quietly withdrawn the names of at least two of her appointees after it became clear that the Council would reject. There was speculation that the same thing would happen with the Rodolf nomination.

Once in a while the Council takes a vote that I regard as a key test of character, an indication of whether someone is willing to do the right thing in the face of pressure. These are the votes I remember and weigh when a city councilor seeks higher office. (If the persistent rumors that Taylor may be leaving for a position in the Obama administration are true, several of these councilors may be running for mayor sooner than they planned.)

The vote tonight on replacing Michael Slankard is such a test. The City Council should emphatically reject Kathy Taylor's efforts to kick an honorable, scrupulous man off of the Ethics Advisory Committee.

DOCUMENTS:

Last fall Novus Homes LLC, W3 Development LLC, and principals of the two companies filed suit against Tulsa Development Authority for breach of contract involving TDA's termination of the exclusive negotiating period with Novus Homes LLC for redevelopment of the vacant the half-block west of Elgin Avenue between Archer and Brady Streets. Novus Homes planned a lofts and retail development on the site, which is now part of the land the stadium donors plan to redevelop in connection with the new downtown stadium for the Tulsa Drillers. On Tuesday, the suit has been expanded to include the City of Tulsa as a defendant, citing actions by Mayor Kathy Taylor which, the plaintiffs allege, resulted in the early termination of the exclusive negotiating period for the land.

According to a story in today's Journal Record, "Through the discovery process, the developers said they learned of Taylor's alleged interference in TDA business and procedures, leading to termination of their exclusive deal in her quest to complete the ballpark deal."

Here's a link to the OSCN page on the suit, CJ-2008-5713. Here is the amended petition for the lawsuit (PDF). It includes the following allegation:

30. Beginning in late May, 2008, City of Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor began inserting herself into TDA operations related to this downtown Tulsa location, without TDA approval. The TDA viewed Mayor Taylor's interference as "irregular," and TDA Commissioners were "concerned" and "surprised" by her "irregular" interference in their operations. See, e.g., Transcript of Deposition of TDA Commissioner John Clayman, Tulsa County District Court Case No. CJ-2008-5713, at pp. 40-48 (November 11, 2008).

31. Mayor Taylor was, without consulting or obtaining approval from the TDA, personally renegotiating and amending existing TDA contracts, conveying TDA-owned properties in exchange for properties the City of Tulsa and the eventual Tulsa Stadium Trust desired, and influencing existing TDA relationships, all to enable the City of Tulsa and the Tulsa Stadium Trust to procure the real property necessary for the proposed new downtown baseball stadium and surrounding development.

32. Mayor Taylor's actions were in violation of O.S. ยง11 38-107, whereby powers of the Urban Renewal Authority (TDA) "shall be exercised by the commissioners thereof."

Here's the press release from Novus Homes:

DOWNTOWN DEVELOPERS SUE CITY OF TULSA
FOR MAYOR'S OBSTRUCTION WITH PROJECT

Two Tulsa development companies and their principals have filed a lawsuit against the City of Tulsa alleging that the City, and specifically Mayor Kathy Taylor, unlawfully interfered with their exclusive contractual rights to develop a downtown property. The developers allege that the City's interference was part of the Mayor's effort to relocate the Tulsa Drillers baseball stadium to the downtown Brady District.

On April 14, 2009, Novus Homes, LLC, W3 Development, LLC, Will Wilkins and Cecilia Wilkins added the City as a second defendant to their lawsuit originally brought against the Tulsa Development Authority (TDA). The developers sued the TDA on August 14, 2008, one week after the TDA prematurely terminated the developers' exclusive negotiating right on this property, situated on the half block west of Elgin between Archer and Brady, known as 120 Brady Village.

Since filing the original lawsuit, the developers learned through the discovery process that the City of Tulsa, and specifically Mayor Kathy Taylor, had irregularly interfered with TDA business and procedures in violation of Oklahoma statutes, which led to the TDA's unlawful termination of its exclusive deal with the developers. The developers allege Mayor Taylor unlawfully inserted herself into TDA operations in her quest to relocate the Drillers stadium to a site directly across the street from the property on which the developers had an exclusive right to negotiate.

As part of the stadium relocation effort, Mayor Taylor recruited a group of private donors which included herself and her husband through the Lobeck Taylor Foundation. These donors funded a significant portion of the project, and in return, were awarded the construction and financing of the ballpark project and the surrounding properties, including the property for which the developers had an exclusive right, under a self described "master plan."

Mayor Taylor's decision to rush this project through during the summer of 2008, bypassing normal process and due diligence, has resulted in multiple lawsuits and threatens to tie the City up in litigation for years to come.

Previous BatesLine entries and Urban Tulsa Weekly columns on this topic:

An edited version of this column appeared in the April 1, 2009, issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly. The published version is no longer available online. Posted online June 15, 2016.

Election Day 2009 is a mere seven months away, and a credible opponent to Mayor Kathy Taylor's bid for re-election has yet to emerge.

It is usual to set out one's reasons for seeking office in some form. In the U. S. we call such a document a platform; in the U.K. it's known as an election manifesto.
In that spirit, here then, on the 1st day of April, 2009, is my mayoral manifesto.

Transparency and accountability

We begin by acknowledging the financial constraints our city is under. The ideas listed below represent my priorities for spending the funds that we have. We will not propose or promote any measure that would increase the tax burden on the citizens of Tulsa, particularly in this time of financial uncertainty.

We will make the best use of the money that has already been entrusted to city government to provide basic services - police and fire protection, streets, water, sewer, trash, and stormwater. We will find the funds to conduct a thorough performance and financial audit of city government. We will insist on implementation of the recommendations and replace any department head that drags his feet.

We must increase the size and budget of our underfunded City Auditor's department. A properly-funded fiscal watchdog should be able to find more than enough savings to offset the additional cost.

To encourage transparency and accountability, a Bates administration will make as much city government information available on the internet as the law allows. A TGOV website will offer access to both live and archived video of public meetings.

A geographical information system (GIS) will make it easy for city workers and citizens alike to find information on zoning, crime, and construction in an area of interest. Accessible information will make it easier for citizens and media (both old and new) to keep an eye on city government and to uncover waste, fraud, and abuse.

Partnerships for progress

I pledge to build a collaborative relationship with the City Council, to respect their standing as the elected representatives of the citizens of Tulsa, and to treat them as partners, not adversaries.

If a councilor wants my ear, he won't have to go through three layers of underlings to get to me. If I'm attending a meeting or planning a project in a councilor's district, the councilor will hear about it ahead of time from me. Instead of sending out a flak-catcher, you'll see me at council committee meetings and delivering the weekly mayor's report. I won't agree to expensive legal settlements without the knowledge and consent of the Council.

Surveys have revealed a disconnect between City Hall and the citizens, particularly citizens in our less affluent neighborhoods in north, west, and east Tulsa. We need a sound civic infrastructure to keep citizens informed and to help citizens make their voices heard by city leaders.

One possibility is the district council plan used in St. Paul, Minn. My administration will survey best practices across the country and will work with the Council and neighborhood leaders to identify the model best suited to Tulsa's circumstances.

Membership of the city's authorities, boards, and commissions has been dominated by Tulsa's most affluent neighborhoods in midtown and south Tulsa. I will broaden the pool of mayoral appointees, starting by reaching out to the thousands of PLANiTULSA workshop participants.

I will collaborate with my suburban counterparts whenever appropriate, but I will never lose sight of the fact that I was hired to serve the citizens of Tulsa.

Planning and zoning

The PLANiTULSA process has been a great success to date, with thousands of Tulsans participating in citywide and small-area planning workshops. We should see the adoption of a new comprehensive plan prior to the city general election.

But the plan's adoption is only the beginning. Full implementation will almost certainly require modifications to Tulsa's zoning code. It will also require the political will to stick to the plan as individual zoning and planning decisions are made.

Tulsa's land-use planning system should be characterized by transparency, inclusiveness, consistency, clarity, and adaptability. Our land-use laws should allow as much freedom as possible while protecting against genuine threats to safety, quality of life, and property values.

We must get away from a one-size-fits-all zoning code. Development suitable for 71st and Memorial may not be right for 15th and Utica. Tulsa should establish special districts - some cities call them conservation districts - where rules can be customized to the neighborhood's circumstances. Form-based rules should be available for neighborhoods that want them.

Tulsa should do what every other city in the metro area has already done and establish our own city planning commission, one with a balanced membership that is geographically representative and not dominated by the development industry. All Tulsans have a stake in how our city grows, not just those who stand to make a buck on new construction.

We'll bring land-planning services in house as well, ending our contract with INCOG. (We will continue to collaborate with INCOG on regional transportation planning.)

Economic development

The city's approach to economic development would change in a Bates administration. Some of Tulsa's biggest employers and biggest draws for new dollars started small and grew.

Instead of spending all our economic development funds luring large companies to relocate to Tulsa, we should emphasize removing any barriers to small business formation and expansion.

One of those barriers is the cost of a place to do business. We'll revisit rules that hinder operating a business out of your own home. While many neighborhoods will prefer to remain purely residential, others would welcome the live-work option, with a broader range of permitted home occupations. Here again, Tulsa can customize rules to fit the diversity of our neighborhoods.

We cannot afford to leave behind those Tulsans who are at the bottom of the economic ladder. We will partner with non-profits to help Tulsans develop basic financial life skills - the habits that enable someone to find and keep a job, spend his earnings wisely, and build assets over time.

Tulsa should become known as a city of educational choice from pre-K to college for families of all income levels, not just the well-to-do. I will work with the Oklahoma legislature to expand access to charter and private schools for Tulsans. My administration will seek a cooperative relationship with private schools, homeschooling families and support organizations, and all seven public school districts that overlap our city boundaries.

Under my administration, the city will hold a full and open competition to choose a contractor to promote our convention and tourism industry. The Tulsa Metro Chamber will be welcome to compete, but no longer will it enjoy sole-source status. Tulsa is home to many innovative marketing firms that could do a better job of communicating Tulsa's unique appeal.

The city center

There's been a great deal of focus and hundreds of millions of dollars in public investment in downtown over the last decade. The aim of that investment was to bring downtown back to life, not to turn more buildings into surface parking lots. I will push for adoption of the Tulsa Preservation Commission's "CORE Proposals," including an inventory of downtown buildings, a demolition review process, and standards for new development that reinforce downtown's walkable, urban character.

But Tulsa's urban core doesn't stop at the Inner Dispersal Loop. Downtown's long-term prosperity and revitalization depends on the vitality of the nearby neighborhoods.

Tulsa offers many choices for those who prefer a suburban lifestyle, but we also need to provide a viable urban living option for individuals, couples, and families who want to live close to work, shopping, school, church, healthcare, and entertainment.

There should be at least one part of our city where you can go everywhere you need to go without needing a car. Central Tulsa was built with the pedestrian in mind. New development should reinforce its walkable character.

The city's role would be to protect stable and historic single-family neighborhoods, improve regulations and raise awareness of tax incentives to encourage adaptive reuse of historic buildings, and encourage higher-density, urban infill development in neighborhoods that desire it.

Getting around town

In the future, it may make financial sense to build a light rail system. Right now, we can make better use of the transit system we already have by focusing on frequent, dependable bus service from early morning to late night within this pedestrian-friendly central zone.

Where it's impractical to provide frequent bus service, entrepreneurs should be allowed to fill in the gaps. It ought to be possible in Tulsa for someone with time and a vehicle to make money helping their neighbors get around town. We'll study what other cities have done to encourage privately-owned, publicly-accessible transportation like jitneys, taxis, and shuttles.

Preparing for the future

A Bates administration will not only focus on the near term but will plan for the future as well. Disaster preparedness is a part of that job. One area that deserves attention is the security of Tulsa's food supply. A food crisis could be triggered by financial collapse, soaring energy prices, or a terrorist attack on America's food supply system.
City Hall should study ways to help connect local farmers and growers with local consumers so that our region can attain a degree of self-sufficiency and insulation from an external crisis. We'll make sure that city regulations don't get in the way of community gardens and farmers' markets.

If elected, I will govern with the expectation that I will only serve a single term. I will reckon myself a political dead man, having stepped on so many toes that millions will be raised to prevent my re-election as mayor or my election to any other office.

Finally, my fellow Tulsans, as you find yourself elated or, more likely, outraged at the thought of a Michael Bates mayoral run, remember the old Roman motto: Caveat lector kalendas Apriles.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Urban Tulsa Weekly category from April 2009.

Urban Tulsa Weekly: March 2009 is the previous archive.

Urban Tulsa Weekly: May 2009 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

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