Sunday, January 09, 2005

Future Growth Is Now In the Past

A bit more on the fallacious notion that I am anti-growth.

Just a few short months after I was elected for the first time to the District 2 city council seat (May of 2003 to be exact), District 1 Councilor Joe Williams and I convinced Mayor LaFortune to support a joint council/administration resolution creating a Tulsa future growth task force. CLICK HERE TO SEE TULSA WORLD ARTICLE. (Color highlights are added for emphasis).

The general idea that we were floating was to create a group of elected and non-elected participants that would carry on a two-year conversation about Tulsa and its future growth needs and issues. The task force itself would be relatively small, comprising of probably no more that six or seven permanent members.

The plan was to have this core group take up various issues relating to growth for a period of time. For instance, they might study the impact of the permitting process on developers for a couple of months, collecting information and speaking to the relevant sources, experts and interested parties. After collecting information, they would move on to another growth issue...perhaps areas for potential annexation, strategic planning for development of new sewer and water lines to benefit Tulsa growth, etc.

As each of these topics would be brought up and studied, subject matter experts from each of the impacted communities would be invited to join the panel for the period of relevant discussion. This way, the size of the group could remain limited to be effective, and would not require participants to sit through meetings on subject matters they weren't familiar with, thus reducing the time commitment for participation.

The general rationale that Councilor Williams and I shared was this;

Tulsa's growth could no longer run unabated to the southeast because we were now hemmed in by Bixby and Broken Arrow. As such, the City of Tulsa was going to have to find new areas for growth. Areas that were less appealing for numerous reasons (geographic, geological, demographic, etc.) than the suburbs. Therefore, strategies and plans needed to be devised to compete with market forces that would serve to build up the suburbs and cause Tulsa growth to stagnate.

My business school experience drilled into me the concept of bringing all the players to one table to find areas of common ground and to search for synergies that were not readily apparent in order to tackle a strategic problem. As such, the Future Growth Task Force seemed like an ideal plan.

But the discerning reader will note that no such task force currently exists. So what happened?

In short, Mayor LaFortune and six councilors supported the plan initially; Councilor Williams and myself as sponsors, joined by Councilors Baker, Neal, Roop and Patrick.

However, the Mayor didn't want to alienate any councilors and was troubled by the opposition being expressed by Councilors Christiansen, Justis and Sullivan. If I couldn't get at least eight councilors to sign on, the Mayor (I was told minutes before a joint press conference announcing the initiative) would withdraw his support.

Please note that I had six councilors lined up in support, which is more than enough to form a council driven task force while over-riding a possible veto. However, new as I was, I realized that in a strong Mayor form of government, any task force created would be only an advisory panel. As such, it would be far less effective, due in part to the fact that it would be more difficult to lure participation from the business community. Developer cooperation was essential if the task force was to have validity.

I have since learned that the three councilors' opposition was heavily influenced by the same developer groups that were announced Saturday as being leaders in the recall effort.

In fact, on one particular afternoon, I went up to the Mayor's office hoping to chat about the situation with then Deputy Mayor Steve Sewell. As I approached Sewell's office, I heard that he was on the phone. I waited outside, seeking to hear if he was going to be wrapping the conversation up soon, so that I could pop my head in. It didn't take long before I realized that he was speaking to Councilor Justis about the taskforce and how he and Josh Fowler of the Metro Home Builders wanted the Mayor to withdraw his support.

I decided that discretion required that I let Mr. Sewell know that I was outside and could hear what he was talking about. What ensued, after he hastily ended the call, was a conversation that led me to the conclusion that my attempts at a thoughtful and consensus-building approach to the future growth of Tulsa, was going to be trumped by the self-interests of a small, but influential business alliance, which had planned its immediate future around development of the suburbs. Future developments that were potentially at the expense of the city the Mayor and I were elected to represent.

As such, what could've been Tulsa's future passed us by and is now Tulsa's past. As for me? I'm characterized as anti-growth and unwilling to work with all sides to develop consensus.

Who says life isn't filled with irony?


Anonymous said...

Please do not misunderstand these comments to your struggling against great odds where you need the most powerful segment of the political system. This being the citizens.
The names release of groups that are supporting the recall have a longstanding vested monetary interest for personal gains. From selling real estate to making a landfill in the water flow basin, where the greatest flood of record occurred on the Mingo; to inspecting homes built in the city. Among these are the contributors to the status quo. It was promised that a hundred thousands citizens would be eligible to participate in the new amended charter if they voted for it. Some twenty-five citizens continue to control the pulse of the city and the recall is being used to intimidate, threaten and terrorize any citizen who wants to exercise governmental planning to stop the rapid movement into the suburbia Tulsa.
Much of the districts where the councilors are challenged contain retiree's on fixed incomes. They have paid their retirement homes off. Now they are faced with property taxes that amount to more than their house payments that are increasing by statute each year. Still they are subjected to additional bond issues for all fantasies with vested interest. They see no rationality in promoting suburbia, which will add more increases to their taxes on their homesteads, in order increase the wealth of the companies who names have been released.
The question of ethics and conflict of interest. State statutes cover much but it has been recommended that the city auditor provide such recommendations. There are some councilors unaware that the auditor composed such in the past. If one will look in the waste basket in city hall they will possible find a copy. If not I may be able to dig one out of the files in the event it is being used to divert from the instant problem of recall at hand.
The method in the past by the silent government has been a mailing permit for issuing a colorful brochure in ever mail box explaining how these two councilors are standing in the way of developing out of city pasturelands into profits. taken from the taxpayers limited resources. Then too anti-business is well illustrated by the new super store planned in woodland mall area that truly has a well established “conflict of interest” to the local business that have contracts in that area.
The citizens who are on fixed incomes need to come forward to express their feeling on increasing property taxes for builders and real state companies that are looking at their own gains.
I have been in contact over the years with some of the twenty-five or so that I cannot ever remember them smiling. Not intending any offence but this recall sure is not a smiling matter. It destroys the very foundation of the democratic procedures regardless of party lines
It is time for the tens thousand or more registered voters in the councilor districts to stand up and assure these councilors they want to have say in their governing.
Make no mistake we are against any recall unless it fill the criteria established in the statutes which this one does not.

Anonymous said...

Councilors Medlock and Mautino challenged the small cabal of connected attorneys, engineering & construction companies, builders, and bankers that run the direction of city government, through the diabolical oversight of the Founder Families.

Therefore, in their eyes, Medock and Mautino must be destroyed. It's not PERSONAL against these counselors; they are merely in the way.

The recall effort is using an INTENTIONAL flaw in the city charter that allows a recall of a city counselor for ANY reason.

Comrades, that charter FLAW was no accident.

Just go back at look at who was agitating for a change in city charter.

Isn't it curious that UNELECTED members of city boards and authorities must be recalled only for cause similar to that recited in state LAW.

Yet our ELECTED city counselors can be recalled for ANY pretext?

Recall Sullivan and Christiansen!