Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Direct and Face-To-Face

In an article written by P. J. Lassek and published in the Tulsa World on March 17, 2002, then Mayor-Elect Bill LaFortune talked about the many difficult decisions that awaited him as the newly elected mayor of a city that was well mired in its worst budget crisis in history.

The city's FY 2002 general operating budget was facing a $3 -$5 million budget shortfall. There was a hiring freeze and outgoing mayor Susan Savage was asking for each department to recommend across the board budget cuts of 20%.

There is no doubt that the budget crisis in which Tulsa still finds itself was not of LaFortune's making. However, the fact that three-and-a-half years later Mayor LaFortune is making speechs saying that Tulsa is finally, "turning the corner," is a testament to his failure to construct a timely plan for getting our city back on its feet.

Two quotes from the World article back in 2002 jump out at me. In the first, LaFortune says he will handle the budget crisis, "just like a CEO would in the private sector."

In the second quote, he says "he plans to have a 'very direct, face-to-face relationship with the'" Tulsa city council.

The second promise is an important one in supporting his intentions to fulfill the first promise. Within a Strong-Mayor form of government like Tulsa has, one can reasonably postulate that the mayor acts very much like the city's CEO, and the city council's role is akin to a corporate board of directors.

The mayor's office is responsible for the day-to-day operations of Tulsa, as well as the development of a proposed budget, which is required by Oklahoma law to be balanced at the end of the year.

Correspondingly, the council represents the various "stakeholders" (in this case the citizens of Tulsa) and oversees the approval and subsequent implementation of that budget, as well as providing an oversight capacity to esure that the CEO and his subordinates are continuing to look out for the stakeholder's interests. Just as an investor would be loath to put his or her hard earned money into any corporation that had a CEO who didn't work in a "direct, face-to-face relationship" with to Board of Directors, it should concern all citizens of Tulsa, if their mayor didn't do the same.

That is why is has been so disheartening for me as a citizen, who originally ran for the office I now occupy, in order to work with the Bill LaFortune that made those and other promises of change. My experience with the LaFortune administration has been two-and-a-half years of poor communications and lack of a direct relationship. I have not been alone in this experience. Tuesday morning, in the Public Works committee, Tulsa's newest councilor, Bill Martinson, was compelled to express his newly discovered frustration with our Mayor.

Citing poor communications between the Mayor's office and the Council on the 3rd Penny issue, Martinson told Chief Operating Officer Alan LaCroix to take a message to the mayor. As reported in this morning's Tulsa World:

Councilor Bill Martinson asked LaCroix, who is also the city's fire chief, to tell the mayor that "he has a huge problem down here with the City Council."

"Chief, you're really a nice guy, and we appreciate you showing up, but it would sure be nice to talk to the mayor sometime. Everything going on around here is a result of a lack of communication," he said.

"It's a little frustrating when you're the guy that shows up speaking for the mayor. We never see the guy," Martinson said.

He said it was "embarrassing and upsetting" to learn about the third-penny process by reading it in the newspaper.

It should be apparent to everyone that Bill Martinson has arrived (will soon be rolling up to the gate) at the realization that our mayor has failed in his promise to have a "'very direct, face-to-face relationship" with the Tulsa city council. Instead the Mayor is sending Mr. LaCroix (the COO), or Sam Roop (the CAO), to apologize or spin for his failure to plan and work with his fellow elected officials.

Now that we're months from the municipal elections, he's apparently going to try to have a "very direct, face-to-face relationship" with the voters in a hope that he can convince them that he still has the stuff to be Tulsa's CEO. My hope is the voters will see what everyone in City Hall knows all to well; Bill LaFortune isn't who we all thought he was in March, 2002.

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