Sunday, October 16, 2005

"ArenaGate": Is Mayor Making a Liar Out of John Scott?

Many thanks, as always, to Michael Bates of for his following through on the discrepancy I reported on Friday with regard to the Tulsa World's reporting on the Arena funding. [See entry below entitled, "Did I Miss Something?"]

Bates found the County Ordinance that sent the arena question to the voters in 2003, [click here to see ordinance in PDF format]. As you can see, the only "hard and fast number" within the ordinance is the combined $183 million that represents the cumulative figure for both the arena and the convention center. Both Tulsa World articles mentioned in my previous story are consistent in reporting this $183 million figure. It is the amounts attributed to the two "sub-projects" that have shifted.

However, as I pointed out in my earlier entry, there has been no public mention, to my knowledge, of this shift of public funds as the arena project has proceeded. This means, the County hasn't been told, the Vision 2025 Sales Tax Overview Committee hasn't been told, the Tulsa City Council hasn't been told and the taxpayers of Tulsa County haven't been told [by way of the Tulsa World and other media outlets].

In a word, this fact is "reprehensible." Why? Well...let's start from a position of consistent policy, shall we?

Weeks after the V2025 vote, I began asking questions about what elected official, or elected governing body made the decision that the arena HAD to be built on its present site. At a meeting of the Tulsa County Republican Assembly [the moderate one, not the conservative one] at Johnnie's Char Grill, Deputy County Commissioner Paul Wilkenning told those assembled that the City and County had an obligation [not a moral obligation, for once] to build at that location because that was what was promised to the voters when they went to the polls.

Forget the fact that arguments could be made that other sites might be more successful or promising, the voters were sold on the Downtown site and that was that.

So where is the outrage from Mr. Wilkenning and the others who made this argument? If promises implied in the marketing materials and media presentations to the voters were so binding as to dictate the arena's location, then surely the dollar figures implied in the same materials and presentations are equally binding, aren't they?

So who moved the money? Well, the Vision 2025 Oversight Committee that is recommending the additional budget for the $3 million overrun on the glass Icon Wall is just an advisory body. As unelected officials (except for Councilor Susan Neal) they have no authority to re-distribute tax payers money. As the Tulsa World story from Saturday, Oct. 15th points out;

"Concern expressed by some committee members stems from a recent recommendation to Mayor Bill LaFortune to add $3 million to the arena's construction budget so that its iconic glass wall can be strengthened beyond the original design to exceed city codes."
In other words, all such transfers, if they have occurred, have been done by Bill LaFortune.

So where's the disclosure? Is the Tulsa World wrong in reporting [albeit surreptitiously] the shift of $16 million from the Convention Center to the Arena? Was John Scott, the Convention Center director off base when he complained at the last Vision 2025 Oversight Committee meeting on Wednesday, October 5th, that so much money had been siphoned off from his project to cover Pelli's Icon that it was getting to the point where he felt he had "not told the voters the truth" back in 2003?

Why is it that every time I, or another citizen tries to ask about how cost over runs are being handled, we either get patted on the head and reassured, or punched in the reputation by an all too enabling media?

If you aren't beginning to get outraged, then you're part of the problem.

It's time for Bill LaFortune to come to the City Council [himself] and give us some answers.

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