Monday, November 14, 2005

"Change Makes Sense," But Jon Davidson Doesn't

There he goes again. The inhospitable Recall kingpin from the hospitality industry has his gun half-cocked and his facts half right. But that didn't stop the Tulsa World from printing his opinions in their letters to the editor this morning.

Mr. Davidson's problem, from Day One, has been that facts are far too inconvenient when there are points to be made. Toss in a couple of good, groundless allegations and you've got yourself a "pulpit" from which to "bully." Never forget that it was Mr. Davidson who refused to name the members of his ill-fated coalition humorously known as the Coalition for Responsible Government, because he feared the "terrorist tactics" of Jim Mautino and me.

Under the headline, "Change makes sense," Mr. Davidson writes:

"...the recall provision was included for good reason; to protect citizens of Tulsa from councilors with their own agendas. "

Sensible enough. However, he subtly infers that Mr. Mautino and I only act upon our "own," or selfish agenda. In other words, we needed to be recalled, because we were acting selfishly (for financial gain or power?) and not in the best interests of the people that elected us. Guess we all know what the people that elected us thought of that argument.

It was always my impression that Mr. Davidson never really understood what it was that he was doing, with the recall process. If anyone was acting selfishly, it was he and his team of developers and builders.

But let's move on to his big misconceptions, shall we?

Mr. Davidson further opines:

The provision of "requiring everyone involved in a recall petition be a resident from the recall-targeted elected official's district" is ridiculous.
Strong statement, that. Too bad it has no grounding in fact. Hopefully Mr. Davidson will breathe a little easier to know that there is no requirement that all participants involved in the recall process be a resident of the targeted elected officials district. We're still waiting on the final wording from the City Attorney, but he was directed to craft a charter change that would require all petition circulators and officers to be from the targeted-councilor's district. That's not the same as saying that no one else can be involved.

Next he states:

There are many issues that can surface in one district that affect non-district residents and restricting them from protecting their interests is anti-business.
I'm not really sure what he's trying to say here. Is the problem an issue that might surface in one district, or is it a councilor from one district that might be too effective in advocating an opinion contrary to Mr. Davidson's business interest, that he is worried about? The only thing I can gather from this sentence is that it was tossed in so Mr. Davidson could use the term, "anti-business." It's a favorite phrase of his.

Finally, he writes:

The notion that signatures required should be 25 percent of the voters who voted in the last mayoral election is even more ridiculous. More than 65,000 votes were cast in the last mayoral race, 25 percent equals 16,398. In the last City Council elections, District 2 had less than 2,500 votes. To require 25 percent, or 16,398 signatures from a single district in this case, to recall an errant councilor is something that some of our city councilors would bank on as being an impossibility, which it is.
No Jon, what is ridiculous is that you would so publicly pontificate without knowing what you're talking about. You are referring to an amendment I offered and the council supported, that would require recall signatures on the petition equal 25 percent of the voters who voted in the district in question, during the last mayoral election. Big difference, Jon.

We're not requiring 16,398 to call for a recall of a councilor. The actual math, using the numbers Mr. Davidson cites, can be estimated with the equation, ((65,000 x .25)/9). This equation comes up with a figure I think would be far more to his liking; 1822.

So, Mr. Davidson, is that more to your liking? Hope it calms you down a bit.

Let me make a modest suggestion for the future. Pick up a phone and talk to someone that knows what is going on before you go off making wild allegations.

If you would have done this last year, you might have saved me, my family and the citizens of the City of Tulsa a lot of grief, as well as a lot of embarrassment for yourself.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Lassek Claims of Quashing Are Questionable

P. J. Lassek and her headline editors are at it again. As always, they're hoping that more people read their accounts of Council meetings and do not watch TGOV than do watch TGOV.

In another Sunday story designed to discredit moi, Ms. Lassek structures the first several words to make it sound like more happened conclusively at Tuesday's Public Works meeting than actually happened. Let's examine her artistry.

The primary headline says that "officials" dispute my "claims." Officials makes it sound like it was individuals without a political stake in the game. Not so. Even John Scott, who recently got the news that half of his job is going away in 18 months has a vested interest in keeping the current administration happy.

There's nothing wrong with saying they're disputing my claims, since disputes are issues that are still...well...disputed. As for my "claims," I was primarily asking questions in the meeting to get to the bottom of other people's claims...most notably, P.J. Lassek's. After all, it was the discrepencies in the arena and convention center numbers that she reported in two different stories (without a story in between listing when and why a change occurred) that I was asking about.

Then there's the sub-head, where my "claims" have been rephrased more accurately as questions. Or are they saying I have questionable claims? Or maybe, I'm asking questions to infer claims? Hmmm....

Then we move to the lead paragraph. Believe me, nobody knows better than the writers, editors and publishers of a daily newspaper, the fact that the vast majority of readers won't get past the unflattering picture (I look like a congested mouth-breather) the headline, the sub-headline and maybe one or two paragraphs. So they finish the deal with the lead paragraph that said:

Officials quashed City Councilor Chris Medlock’s notion that voters were getting fewer improvements to the Maxwell Convention Center because cost estimates had changed.
How humiliated I must have felt. I mean, my notion had been quashed...and on live television no less!

Folks, if you haven't seen the meeting on TGOV, then let me make a "claim" here on my web log. My "notion" was questioned by employees of the mayor, but nothing was quashed (except for the notion that Clay Bird and the administration might ever answer a direct "question" about the arena with some notion of a direct answer).

Mr. Bird and Mr. Charles Hardt didn't deny that the amounts of money that might be spent on the arena as opposed to the convention center, have changed since the "question" was put before the voters in September, 2003. In fact, the story's second paragraph admits that the dollar figures have been fluid for the past two years. They just refused to give any details as to whether or not the quality of the end product the tax payers will see for their hard earned dollars might be declining in one, or both, of the projects.

I couldn't even get a straight answer as to what the process is for determining which, if any, of the projects will get short shrift, should the expected cost over runs materialize. After all, it is more than a personal "notion" that there has been a substantial spike in the costs of building materials over the past two years.

One thing that is more than a notion (in fact, it's unquestionable) is this; currently Bill LaFortune and his administration only have $183 million to build an iconic arena and to upgrade a convention center that is still in debt until 2013 due to its LAST upgrade in 1983.

If we're going to see cost over runs, due to higher material (and even labor) costs, and we're going to build an iconic arena as promised to the voters, then one of two things must be true. We're going to either get less convention center, or we're going to have to come back for more tax dollars.

Only time will tell who had a questionable notion and who had questionable motives for deceiving the public. The administration of course, is hoping that the true cost of the arena won't come to light until after LaFortune is re-elected (or more likely, it is someone else's burden to shoulder).

What is unquestionable is that the newspaper continues to skew reality to score political points. Heck, they even went to great pains (as opposed to Great Plains) to note that the meeting was yet again, "contentious). Trying to score political points using newsprint and ink isn't a questionable notion if it is constrained to the editorial pages. However, to do so in a news story is unquestionably unprofessional.

At least, that's a notion I'm comfortable in claiming.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Wilbert Collins: Huh?

I'm not sure which of two head scratchers from today's story on the growing opposition to Tulsa County's Four-To-Fix sales tax initiative was the itchiest.

I'm still amazed at the fact that the Tulsa World refuses to state, in any of the stories they've written, that my opposition to F-2-F is due to my idea of using the available tax (should the voters of Tulsa approve) to fund police academies and additional officers, as well as to fund other public safety proposals.

I guess the World knows that if the public gets wind of the details of my plan, that F-2-F is likely doomed.

The second head-scratcher is the response by County commissioner Wilbert Collins. Here's what Commissioner Collins said:

Medlock said police staffing was down when it should be

increased and he was worried that communities such as Broken Arrow could start recruiting Tulsa officers by offering better pay.

Medlock said the county should stick to property taxes for funding and let municipalities use the traditional method of raising money with sales taxes.

"I think the county's fixed," he said. "The county is continuing to prosper, even though the city is not."

County Commissioner Wilbert Collins stressed that "4 to Fix" is a county tax.

"(Medlock) ought to understand that. Why is it legal for us to launch the effort if it's not proper?" Collins said. "He needs to find a way to fund his projects in the city, and if it's police and fire, so be it. I agree they need some funding. That's his job, to find some funding."

Commissioner...I know 4 to Fix is a county tax. So are all those property taxes you collect. There was a day when the County collected no sales taxes and I hope that day comes again in my lifetime. I acknowledge it is a county tax, but if we vote it down, the voters of the City of Tulsa can reprioritize and vote in a CITY tax in the same amount to fund police and public safety.

As for the difference between legality and propriety, let me start with this: just because something is legal doesn't make it proper. I've never challenged either the legality of your tax or the propriety of asking for a renewal. What I've said is, that it needs to be ended because the priorities for the City of Tulsa have changed and that many like me believe its time to get the County out of the sales tax business.

Ending 4 to Fix and then offering a public safety alternative use for the same amount is legal, proper and imperative.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Norman Conquest? Did Cox Connection Influence Mayor’s Arena Choice?

Yesterday, I attended the press conference at which Bill LaFortune announced his selection for the new arena’s management contract. LaFortune's handpicked Vision 2025 Oversight Committee and the Events Center Design Committee a selected the Philadelphia based company, SMG. [Please note that one of the members of the oversight committee is local attorney Charles Norman, of the law firm Norman Wohlgemuth Chandler & Dowdell]

Originally formed in 1977 to manage the Louisiana Superdome, SMG (Sports Management Group) is a joint venture in general partnership form with two equal principals: The Hyatt Hotel Company and ARAMARK Corporation. The firm manages 74 arenas and 7 stadiums, which is admittedly quite impressive.

However, it has been rumored for some time that the current administration was leaning very heavily toward SMG, even as much as a year ago.

The V2025 Oversight & Design Committees conducted interviews from the three applicants on Thursday, November 3rd, from 9AM to 2 PM. One would assume the team stopped for lunch. It took LaFortune and his team less than one day to conduct interviews with SMG and the other three applicants, to talk over their thoughts, to weigh all the options, to choose SMG and then to put together and conduct a press conference in City Hall. That's pretty quick for a guy that often takes months to determine who to put onto the Sign Advisory Board.

So was the fix in? If so, why? Or did SMG have an advantage based on relationships with committee members?

Who did SMG beat out for the contract? Two others applied. They were John Scott and his staff, who currently operate the Convention Center and another international team named Global Spectrum. (I encourage you to click on the hyperlink to see Global Spectrum's site, lest you think they were some minor player compared to SMG.) Here's a bit about Global Spectrum (ironically, also Philadelphia based) from one of their news releases:

Global Spectrum, the fastest growing firm in the public assembly facility management field with more than 45 facilities throughout the United States and Canada, manages the Iowa Events Center. The Philadelphia-based company is part of one of the world’s largest sports and entertainment firm Comcast-Spectacor, which also owns the Wachovia Center and Wachovia Spectrum, the Philadelphia Flyers of the National Hockey League, the Philadelphia 76ers of the National Basketball Association, the Philadelphia Phantoms of the American Hockey League, Flyers Skate Zone, a series of community ice skating rinks, Comcast SportsNet, a regional sports programming network, Ovations Food Services, a food and beverage services provider, New Era Tickets, a full-service ticketing and marketing product for public assembly facilities, and Front Row Marketing Services, a commercial rights sales company. Comcast-Spectacor owns three minor league baseball teams - the Bowie Baysox, the Delmarva Shorebirds and the Frederick Keys - all affiliates of the Baltimore Orioles.

What is very interesting to me can be found in Global Spectrum's full name; "Global Spectrum, a subsidiary of Comcast Spectacor." Here's a link to Comcast Specator's site.

Having one time been employed in the cable industry, I'm very familiar with the name Comcast.
For those of you that aren't familiar with Comcast, here are some details from the company's web site:

Comcast is the nation's leading provider of cable, entertainment and communications products and services, serving more than 21.5 million cable subscribers and more than 7.7 million high-speed Internet customers. Comcast serves 1.2 million cable telephone subscribers. Comcast is principally involved in the development, management and operation of broadband cable networks and the creation and delivery of programming content. Comcast provides basic cable, digital cable, high-speed Internet and digital phone services The Company's content networks and investments include E! Entertainment Television, Style Network, The Golf Channel, Outdoor Life Network, G4, AZN Television, PBS KIDS Sprout, TV One and four Comcast SportsNets.

The Company also has a majority ownership in Comcast-Spectacor, whose major holdings include the Philadelphia Flyers NHL hockey team, the Philadelphia 76ers NBA basketball team and two large multipurpose arenas in Philadelphia ,Comcast also is a partner in joint ventures focused on digital cable technology developments including GuideWorks, TVWorks, Combined Conditional Access Development (CCAD), Conditional Access Licensing (CAL) and OCAP Development.

Compare this now, to Tulsa's local cable company, Cox Communications:

Cox Communications is a multi-service broadband communications company with approximately 6.6 million total customers, including 6.3 million basic cable subscribers. The nation’s third-largest cable television provider, Cox offers both analog cable television under the Cox Cable brand as well as advanced digital video service under the Cox Digital Cable brand.

Cox provides an array of other communications and entertainment services, including local and long distance telephone under the Cox Digital Telephone brand; high-speed Internet access under the Cox High Speed Internet brand; and commercial voice and data services via Cox Business Services. Local cable advertising, promotional opportunities and production services are sold under the Cox Media brand. Cox is an investor in programming networks including Discovery Channel.
What is the significance of this? Well, if you're Cox Communications and you have the cable franchises for the two largest cable markets in the state of Oklahoma, how excited are you going to be to have a subsidiary of the nation's largest cable company suddenly getting a toehold in your market? Not very, I can assure you.

Don't forget to throw into the calculation, this little factoid. We've just announced that BOK is going to be given the naming rights for Tulsa's arena and most of us know that Oklahoma City awarded their naming rights to the area Ford dealerships.

What is probably of less common knowledge for Tulsans is that OKC's convention center, was renamed, too. Formerly the Myriad Center, OKC's city government also secured naming rights for the convention center. And who was awarded those rights?

Click here to see for yourself.

Note the logos in the lower right-hand corner.

Not interesting enough for you, yet? Okay...remember when I asked you to note the fact that local big-wig attorney Charles Norman was a member of the Vision 2025 Oversight Committee that was selected by Mayor Bill LaFortune? Would it surprise you to know (if you didn't already) that before he was our mayor and after he was our District Attorney, Bill LaFortune was an attorney for the law firm of Norman Wohlgemuth Chandler & Dowdell? get's better. Would it surprise you to know that one of NWC&D's biggest clients is none other than Cox Communications?

Norman Wohlgemuth Chandler & Dowdell

Location: 2900 Mid Continent Tower
Tulsa, Oklahoma 74103

Representative Clients:
Bethlehem Steel Corp.; BSW International; Citicorp Real Estate, Inc.; Crum & Forster; Mid-Continent Concrete Co.; Mid-Continent Energy, Inc.; Raytheon Co.; Sooner Pipe, Inc. and affiliates; Sovereign Insurance Life Insurance Company of California; St. John Medical Center; Cox Communications; Tulsa City-County Library System; Gemstar-TV Guide International, Inc.; T-Mobile USA, Inc.; Farmers Alliance Mutual Insurance; Duke Energy Field Services, Inc.; Hillcrest Health System; Warren Foundation.

So what if the firm represents Cox...that doesn't mean they are a client of Norman's? How about this from the Tulsa City Council's online meeting minutes from February 22, 2005:

Public Works Committee

Agenda Item Number 8

Franchise agreement with Cox Communications to allow television cable access and equipment within the City of Tulsa’s right of way. 05-119

Discussion At Meeting:

A representative from Cox, Mr. Mullin, came to discuss a permanent
non-exclusive franchise with the City of Tulsa. Charles Norman is also here as Cox’s representative to negotiate with the City of Tulsa. Councilor Sullivan says that this item allows others to move into this contract through a bidding process and that Cox is a friendly community partner. Charles Norman, the legal representative from Cox, talked about how the Charter expresses that this contract would be at will from the side of the City for cause. He also gave an extensive history of cable franchises to the Council. He says that he feels that a vote of the people is not needed to establish a franchise. Councilor Sullivan added more support for this arrangement.

Further throw into the mix the fact that Mr. Norman serves on the Board of Trustees of the University of Tulsa with such luminaries as Steve Turnbo [Great Plains Airlines], Bob & Roxanna Lorton [Great Plains Airlines], Buddy LaFortune [Mayor's father], Sharon Bell [BOK Board], Paula Marshall [BOK Board] and Kathryn Taylor [BOK Board].

Think any influence is getting applied to Hizzoner the Mayor? Maybe. Maybe not.

Setting the Record Straight: I'm Not "Pushing" and I'm Not the "Chair"

In an effort to keep certain myths created (either directly or indirectly) by inaccurate reporting and editorializing on the part of the Tulsa World, I need to clarify a few factual errors that have popped up of late.

First let me tackle an actual misstatement by P. J. Lassek, of the Tulsa World. In the story she filed for the November 4, 2005 edition of the World, published under the headline, “Council approves eight charter change amendments,” on page A-9, Ms. Lassek wrote:

Only one of the eight proposed city charter changes has secured a spot on a ballot; the remaining seven are still subject to another vote of the council.

The council already has approved sending to the voters a change that requires a three-fourths vote of the entire council for approval of a zoning change that is protested by at least 50 percent of landowners within a 300-foot radius of the property being rezoned.

Medlock is pushing to have that charter change on the municipal primary election in March.
The Truth:

Those who watch TGOV will have noticed that before the council began voting on all of the various charter change amendments, I made a point of order stating that the Protested Zoning Super-Majority question had already been approved to be sent to the voters and but for an error in the City Clerk’s office last Spring, the question would’ve been put before the voters when they voted on the General Obligation Bond packages.

As such, I made a formal motion for the Protested Zoning Super-Majority change to be put onto the March election. This was passed 8 to 1, with Councilor Martinson abstaining (which under Oklahoma state law is recorded as a “no” vote).

So, it is incorrect to state that I am “pushing” for a March vote, given that this has already been approved. P.J. owes NAIOP and Home Builders Association an apology for giving them false hope.

Second, a grossly incorrect perception has been turned into perceived fact by the World’s continued verbal flagellations on their editorial pages. This has now lead even those who support the council’s attempts to investigate our airport and Great Plains Airlines to become confused as to the facts.

The anonymous blogger, “TulTellitarian,” recently wrote the following on the web log

Chris Medlock assumed the position of committee Chair after Sam Roop, the prior committee Chairperson, vacated his Council #5 District seat to take a $91,000/year job on the Mayors’ Cabinet. This action by the Mayor and Roop also broke the elected, reform-minded, majority on the Council and returned Council control to the previous state of control by a handful of special interests. This is the bunch who blocks the Council committee investigation of Great Plains airlines. The last thing they want is for us to know what really happened, especially come election time.

Since then, the investigative committee has been shunted at every turn by the new “gang of five” ( “voting bloc” or a number of other adjectives used by the Whirled to describe the previous elected majority) on the Council, denying funds for necessary aspects of the investigation.
The Truth:

First to TulTellitarian, whoever you are, thanks for your efforts to keep the spotlight on the dark places in order to shine a light on the truth. However, I need to clear up a fact before it grows into an even larger legend.

I am not, nor have I ever been, the chairman of the Tulsa City Council’s Airport Investigation Sub-Committee. I’ve never even been vice-chair.

Sam Roop, Roscoe Turner and I were named to the Committee in 2004. Sam Roop served as chairman until he was hired away by the Mayor last February. At that time, the vice-chairman, Roscoe Turner assumed the chair and District 1 councilor Jack Henderson was named to the committee. No one was ever assigned as vice-chairman.

In April, when Roscoe Turner leap-frogged Tom Baker as the Democrat’s choice to be the 2005-06 chairman of the Tulsa City Council, I suggested to Mr. Turner that it might not be wise for him to serve both as Council Chair and Airport Investigation Chair. This suggestion was not received well by Mr. Turner. I asked him to think on it and to let me know if he changed his mind. He never again talked to me about it, so I must assume he never changed his mind.

However, because Mr. Turner chairs the Thursday night meetings, and because I have done the vast majority of the research into the Great Plains Airlines records, procedural convenience led me to doing most of the talking on the issue when the investigation has been discussed during our formal meetings. This has lead many who have been critical of our efforts (the World and many councilors) to discover what happened to the $30 million plus of Oklahoma tax payer’s money, to foster the misconception that I am now the chairman of the investigation and thus responsible for not calling meetings or for not presenting a final report.

Let me restate it one final time, so that at least the relative handful of people that regularly read this blog can begin to spread the truth”

I am not, nor have I ever been, the chairman of the Tulsa City Council’s Airport Investigation Sub-Committee. I’ve never even been vice-chair.