Thursday, December 02, 2004

Recall Still Alive

Well, our friends at the unbiased Tulsa World have yet to publish anything about the very strong statement of opposition to recall made by the much respected League of Women Voters. It's been almost a week and a half since the statement was released, and yet you would have to be a blog reader or a KFAQ listener to even be aware of this important fact.

Couple this with the fact that I was alerted by City Council staff that it was strongly rumored within City Hall that Councilor Mautino and I will be "served" by the City Clerk today (Thursday) with a notice of certification for the preliminary petition for recall that was circulated in October by the impenetrably murky Coalition for Responsible Government 2004 (CRG).

I have requested confirmation from City Clerk Mike Kier (who moonlights as the city's Chief Financial Officer AND as the Interim Airport Director) that they have been advised by the Interim City Attorney to not confirm that all of the signatures on the petition are from registered voters who live in my district, as called for in the City Charter.

The applicable language from the charter reads as follows:

"If the officer sought to be recalled was elected from an election district, a preliminary petition for recall of the elected officer must contain the signatures of qualified electors residing in the election district involved equal in number to ten percent (10%) of all those voting in that election district for the affected office in the preceding general election. Preliminary petitions for recall shall be filed with the City Clerk and shall state the reasons for the proposed recall in not more than two hundred (200) words so that the officer sought to be recalled may be informed of the grounds upon which recall is sought. No petition for recall shall include more than one (1) elected officer. The City Clerk shall serve a copy of the preliminary petition by personal service upon the officer sought to be recalled, who shall have five (5) days thereafter within which to file with the City Clerk an answer to the preliminary petition for recall in not more than two hundred (200) words. If such officer does not file an answer in the time specified, no answer of the officer shall appear upon the supporting petition."

It is difficult to understand how Mr. Kier can certify this first critical stage of the process, without certifying the fact of primary importance, which is, do the signatures come from District 2 voters. We know that CRG is headed by two gentlemen that are Tulsa residents, but don't live in either Districts 2 or 6. As such, I am stunned at the cavalier attitude that seems to permiate this process with regard to the residency of the participants.

In addition to this, I requested from our legal staff an unofficial opinion with regard to what many consider to be the incredibly vague and ambiguous language contained in the charter with regard to the term "preceding general election." I made this request prior to the filing of the preliminary petition by CRG. The document I got back from Drew Rees, the City Council's designated legal counsel, was rather lengthy, but agreed in principal that the language of the charter was vague as to whether or not the general election in question was the municipal election held last March, or the national general election held on November 2nd. The reason for clarification on this question is so important is, that if the November 2nd election was held to be the standard, then CRG only submitted approximately a quarter of the signatures needed for a preliminary petition.

I'm not a big fan of winning on technicalities. In fact, my preference is to get on to a vote as soon as possible so that I can clear my name. But I'm also a bit of a constitutional strict-constructionist. Therefore, I'm somewhat loathe to establish a precedent that other councilors might have to face in the near-future.

The most compelling argument that I have heard to support November 2nd as the election establishing the standard is, that the term "municipal election" was included in the recall language in the charter for the old City Commission form of government. That charter was replaced with the current Strong Mayor/City Council Charter. If the intent of the framers of the current charter was to always use the last municiple general election as the standard, then why did they remove very precise language stating such, for the extremely ambiguous language that we currently have.

Even if I weren't the target of the current recall effort, the policy wonk in me would have to agree with the League of Women Voters, when they stated:

"We also believe that the charter makes it much too easy for people, who do not even have to be constituents of a district, to initiate a recall for a councilor who is democratically elected to represent a district. -- this is clearly inconsistent with the representative form of government."

I also am encouraged by the League's willingness to proactively work to refine the current charter to clarify its recall language and to tighten the policy to be more compliant with current state law and the true intent of the recall process.

Make no mistake about it. The reasons listed on the preliminary petition are opinions based on our actions as councilors. They in no way imply that we have committed any misfeasance or malfeasance of office. In fact, Reasons 2 through 5 state clearly that they (whomever "they" is) are recalling us for our "statements and votes." Reason 1 is that we "circumvented the spirit" of fair and open debate.

Statements and votes are a matter of public policy differences. These are supposed to be important elements of any democratic republic. The time for the voters to call an elected official to task for statements and votes is during the regularly scheduled election.

Even if it were true that we had circumvented the spirit of fair and open debate (which it isn't) that is a far cry from a finding that we had violated the Open Meeting Act. I can assure you that all nine councilors are very careful to never meet in groups of more than four. "THEY" can't prove...and dare not even allege...that we have violated the law. Therefore, "THEY" reason that we have circumvented a spirit.

So...we have a very reasoned and cogent argument by a respected organization like the League of Women Voters who say that the continuation of this process will be damaging to city government. We have people who don't live in the districts in question initiating a recall. We have an administration that is taking a cavelier attitude with regard to its responsibilities in following up on its charter responsibilities to certify the preliminary petition. We have several legal minds reasoning that the standard of signatures needed is in serious question. And on top of it all, we have had none of this communicated to the public by our paper of record.

Let's hope everyone takes this process a little more serious as we go forward.


Anonymous said...

I believe the Tulsa World had a story about the League of Women Voters' opposition to the recall Saturday. So much of your rant is rendered moot.

Also, your arguments would be helped if you spelled "municipal" consistently.

The group leading the recall is described as "murky." That also seems to be a fitting description of your goals for the city.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like #1 is part of the recall group!