Monday, December 12, 2005

Joe Kelley and Questionable Content

Thought that would get you to look!

Joe Kelley has posted his thoughts on why he is opposed to the renewal of the County's sales tax packages. Set for a vote tomorrow (Dec. 13), Kelley says he opposes any increase in taxes until such time that the elected officials prove they have cut everywhere they can. [You can read his blog posting here.]

I tried to respond to him using the comments feature on his site, but was told that I had a "Comment Submission Error." Why? Apparently "due to questionable content."

So, I'm posting my response here. Read it thoroughly and tell me if you can guess what the questionable content might be. This is your chance to join the list of they hyper-critical, giving you full license to not only disagree with my message, but also my spelling and punctuation.


While I strongly agree with you in general, I have spent the past three Summers pouring over our city's budget, trying to determine which basic services should be ended in order to balance our budget.

I've often said that if the city hadn't had its budget crisis, we'd have had to invent one, because it's the only way we've been able to get the city's beauracracy to seriously take a look at cutting costs. But at a certain point, you can cut so much fat that you begin to hit muscle.

We haven't been able to return pay cuts to city employees. We haven't been able to put water into the vast majority of the city's pools. We haven't been able to fund overtime for police officers searching for serial rapists. We haven't been able to fund code enforcement inspectors to keep our neighborhoods vital and safe.

Tulsa...the City of in trouble. We need more police officers on the streets. We need to pay our officers a competitive wage to keep other cities from luring them away. We need street lights in high crime areas. We need community based policing to disuade crime before it happens. I wouldn't be pushing for a short-term use of any tax, if we didn't need to stop the bleeding of the last four years.

My proposal will be short lived. I will put renewal...if it is needed...back before the voters before my re-election bid...if order to be answerable to the voters in delivering on my promises.

But we need change and need it fast. Tulsa is becoming unsafe to live, work or play.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Tulsa Beacon: "Tulsa County is Fixed." Vote No!

Tulsa's conservative weekly newspaper, the Tulsa Beacon, has joined the chorus of opinion leaders calling for voters to reject Tulsa County's renewal of Four-to-Fix the County. The Beacon writes:

"The projects on the list have merit but some are just not high priorities. County government is essentially closed to public comment on its capital priorities and that is another reason to vote no. The County Commission didn’t listen to the voters when it approved a 75-year contract for a toll bridge on the Arkansas River and it didn’t listen when participants in the Vision 2025 summit said the No. 1 priority should development along the Arkansas River."

If people think the city has been a haven for "good ol' boy" politics and backdoor deals, you haven't taken a close look at the county. I have personally, on two occassions, joined interested citizens in attending County committee meetings to express concern about the direction the County was going on two very divergent issues; one a zoning issue and the second, relating to the Bixby Bridge.

On both occassions, the citizens were met with scowls and truncated meetings, apparently shortened to not have to follow through on plans with opposition in the room.

We need our tax dollars prioritzed for the public good and watched by good stewards, not over-paid officials who believe there is no joy greater than the spending of someone else's money.

Vote No on Tuesday!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Mayor? Cops? Uh...Puh-leez!

It really happened. It was last Tuesday, at an event entitled "Mayor's Night In," and I was there. I, and several dozen invitees from Tulsa's neighborhood associations, heard it with our own ears.

For me, it didn’t sink in immediately. Like a very subtle joke that takes a second to get, it almost got lost among the stream of rhetoric that flowed from Bill LaFortune’s mouth. But my brain wouldn't let me move on until the full impact of the statement had hit me between the eyes.

Running the words over again in my mind, I shook my head slightly and then leaned over to a long time friend who represents one of the city’s neighborhoods, who had bravely chosen to sit next to me.

“Did I just hear our mayor say,” I enquired, hoping she would tell me that it was my ears and not Bill LaFortune’s logic that was faulty, “that hiring more police officers would raise the crime rate?”

“I think you did,” she replied, uncertain herself if it could be true.

A statement this surreal was obviously going to require additional confirmation. I waited a a few seconds and then turned aroundto get the attention of Bobby Holt, blogger and neighborhood activist, who was sitting behind me.

“Tell me I didn’t just hear the mayor of our city say that putting more cops on the streets would increase the crime rate.” It wasn’t a question, I really was seeking, on some level, reassurance that I was wrong.

“I heard it, too,” Bobby whispered.

There is was. Tucked within a stream-of-consciousness-response to a question posed by Michael Bates (who aside from being a blogger, a columnist for Urban Tulsa Weekly, a KFAQ contributor and a neighborhood officer, is also the State Committeeman for the Tulsa County Republican Party);

What were our mayor's exact words? They were these:

"More police officers…means more arrests…means a higher crime rate."
“What? He said what,” those of you that weren’t present must be asking? “Surely, you’re taking him out of context? After all, you’re Chris-Medlock-Who-Is-Running-For-Mayor.”

Okay, let’s put it into complete context. The mayor had been taking various questions from the neighborhood leaders he had coincidentally assembled, in the Civic Center, just a few short hours after announcing his controversial six-year Third Penny sales tax extension package.

The invitees had been given egg rolls and other hors d’oeuvres, and were sipping water or iced tea from wine glasses. [Note: who footed the bill? The City of Tulsa, or the LaFortune re-election campaign?] They were given a nice introduction by the new Mayor’s Director for Neighborhoods, who reminded them all that it had been two years since they had last had one of these events. She then dutifully introduced her boss, who immediately jumped into a discussion of the Third Penny.

The mayor talked for about thirty minutes and then began taking questions.

LaFortune tried very hard to not call on Mr. Bates, who had had his hand up for some time. But eventually, Michael’s was the only hand in the air and the mayor had little choice.

Here’s what Bates asked:

"Four to Fix the County comes up for a vote next Tuesday. Of the $62 million that the tax is going to raise, $50 million will be raised within the City of Tulsa…roughly. Of that, only $40 million is going to come back to Tulsa and that includes Fairgrounds and the County Courthouse which is actually there to serve the whole of Tulsa County.

“Is that a good deal for Tulsa? Or would it be a better idea to turn Four to Fix down and raise that tax locally, as Councilor Medlock has proposed, to pay for increased public safety spending within the City of Tulsa to deal with our violent crime rate which is nearly double the national average?”
LaFortune began with what is, to my knowledge, the first public acknowledgment that he supports renewal of the County sales tax. He began,

“Well…in terms of Four to Fix…I’m going to support Four to Fix the County and I’ll tell you why.”
Thinking about his statement now, I find his choice of tense, very LaFortunesque. “I’m going to support Four to Fix the County…” rather than, “I support Four to Fix.” He just isn’t telling us when he is going to support the tax. Perhaps he’s waiting to see if it will win at the polls before choosing to currently support Four to Fix?

He spoke briefly on the economic impact Tulsa will see from the fairgrounds improvement, especially emphasizing the Arabian Horse Show that will soon come to Tulsa. Hopefully, it wasn’t lost on those assembled/ that the show was secured because of the improvements that were made with revenues from the current tax. We won’t be losing those improvements if we turn down the future tax.

But I digress. Eventually, the mayor came around to the question of putting more police on the streets to fight our growing crime epidemic. He explained:

“Let me put this out. Everyone thinks it’s a panacea to just have more police officers. That somehow, that would reduce your crime rate just because you have more police officers. Our police officers work very hard. Very hard. And they’ve sacrificed.

"And we have a lot of work to do, Michael. I agree with your [three inaudible syllables that sound like, “your choice of”] funding their wages, their benefits, but ‘can’ the manpower. More police officers…means more arrests…means a higher crime rate."
He obviously saw the looks of disbelief on the faces of the audience, because it took him a while to put together another complete sentence.

“And yeah…but you can’t…there is some…correlation…of human [inaudible]…talking about. I’ll tell you what…Sheriff Stanley Glanz…”

Still skeptical that he said it? Listen for yourself. Click Here.

So there you have it. Bill LaFortune brought many of the neighborhood activists and leaders to the Civic Center, on a cold and blustery night, to hear him assert the following:

  1. Mr. LaFortune supports yet another county sales tax, even though sales taxes are the primary funding mechanism for cities. Ad valorem, or property taxes, are the traditional method of funding for counties.

  2. Mr. LaFortune apparently isn’t concerned that the citizens that pay his salary will see the city they reside in footing more of the bill in taxes than they will receive in benefits. As Michael Bates pointed out, Tulsa will be a donor city if Four To Fix is renewed, even though Tulsa’s city budget is suffering while the other Tulsa County communities are seeing record revenue increases.

  3. Mr. LaFortune does not support my proposal of using the available sales taxes currently going to the County, in part or in whole, to fund various one-time public safety measures designed to reduce crime and to make Tulsa a safer place to “live, work and play.” He is in effect saying that he favors the building of County roads as a higher priority than City of Tulsa police academies, or street lights in North, West and East Tulsa.

  4. Mr. LaFortune wants to see the current policemen paid more, but offers no proposal on how to do so.

  5. Mr. LaFortune actually believes that putting more officers on the streets would not be effective in fighting Tulsa’s rapidly rising crime rates. In fact, he believes that putting more officers on the streets would INCREASE the crime rates.
The only way Mr. LaFortune’s logic can approach lucidity is if he was talking about the crime figures that the Chamber might use to lure new businesses to Tulsa.

If this is what he intended to imply, then it belies something that is equally troubling then the five revelations listed above. Bill LaFortune is more concerned about the numbers used to describe crime, than he is about the citizens who have been, or might be, the victims of crime.

Either way, his cleverly crafted political event, masked as a legitimate city activity, backfired horribly on our mayor.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Lack of Voices Said It All

I've been purposely sitting on what I've known about the arena management contract that was awarded last month to the Philadelphia based firm, SMG.

I've known that there were some serious irregularities in the bid process that Bill LaFortune's hand-picked Vision 2025 Oversight Committee used to select the company that will run our huge investment in both the Civic Center and the new arena. This committee, (known originally around City Hall as the Super Six until it grew to twelve members) was supposed to review the sealed bids submitted by the three applicants and then weight the bids on various criteria. The result of the final "weighting," was supposed theory...result in the best applicant for the arena management contract.

I'll get into some of the weaknesses of the process...and the logic of the people involved in the process...later. Right now, before I've bored you to death...let's deal with the 900 pound gorilla in the room. Or, more rightly, the fourteen second pregnant pause that was in the Civic Center Executive Meeting Room at around 10:40 AM on Thursday, December 1st.

The two entities that lost in the bid process were the City of Tulsa's Civic Center management team and a private company called Global Spectrum (GS). The meeting last Thursday was held in order to hear the concerns of GS with regard to what they learned about how the bids were handled by LaFortune's team. In fact, they had earlier requested in a letter to the city's purchasing department, for details in how they might formally protest the decision. Since there is no way it might destroy any drama you might be feeling to tell you now how it ended, the committee very politely rejected GS's appeal.

It took the Tulsa World more than a week following their initial interview with the GS executives, to finally publish a very shallow story on the issue in their paper. Most interestingly, they made a prophet of me with the GS execs, because I told them that Tulsa's paper would either not publish any story critical of the process, or would bury it deep in the Local section on Thanksgiving Day. Guess what? They did publish the story. Did you see it before you stuffed the turkey and/or yourself?

In a November 28th letter addressed to Larry Hood, the Director of Purchasing for the City of Tulsa, Frank Russo, the Senior VP for Sales at Global Spectrum outlined most of their concerns. You can read the letter in it's entirety here. For brevity's sake, let me include the final paragraph to illustrate how unusual an act this protest was for Global Spectrum:

In conclusion we are very disappointed with the selection process. I have personally been competing for private management contracts since 1988 and I have never filed a protest, but this situation is different – it is not simply “sour grapes.” We can’t help but feel that we were simply used to create the appearance of competition. We remain baffled as to why the City seems to be acting against its own best interests.
Even so, GS accepted an invitation from the city to fly one of their execs (Dean Dennis, Global Spectrum Western Region VP for Sales) to fly at GS's expense to Tulsa, to ask questions of the "Super Twelve" about Global Spectrum's concerns. Please note, I said "ask questions." Apparently there was no guarantee that the loss of time and money would result in satisfactory answers. Actually, as it turned out, there was no guarantee of any answer at all!

In a moment, I'm going to suggest you click on the link below to hear a 92 second sound clip that mocks any "spin" that members of the committee might have made to the local "news"paper. One such example of the spin came from District Nine Councilor Susan Neal. Here's what the World reported on Councilor Neal's thoughts on the rejection of GS's request to re-open the process:

City Councilor Susan Neal, one of the 15 committee members, said that to change the committee's decision, "it needed to hear some extraordinary evidence, and it didn't."

"The overall cost of operation, cost effectiveness, cost efficiency, savings to the taxpayers, best bang for the buck, best return on the investment for the longevity of the facility, all of that was considered in those numbers," she said.

"So, when you actually compare the two companies, their bids are so very close, but when you look at their returns, they are not close."
For those of you that pay to read the World online, you can read the entire story here. [Hurry...if you wait until after Friday, Dec. 8, you'll have to pay again.]

During the one hour that GS was allowed to makes its case and to ask questions, they attempted to address all five of the main points outlined in Russo's Nov. 28th letter to the City. However, GS VP Dean Dennis made multiple attempts to get answer item two on their list of concerns. Item two reads as follows [note; IFB stands for "Invitation For Bid"]:

2. Global Spectrum was the low bidder for the combined facilities by over $335,000. You can make all the adjustments you want – we were still the low bidder and yet SMG even received a higher score than us on this category!? We used your required IFB Form that leaves no doubt that we were the low bidder.
Those of you that dutifully read the Tulsa World account of the meeting will see no mention whatsoever of this concern on the part of Dennis and Global Spectrum's management. Those of you who know the Tulsa World has no objectivity on such issues are not surprised.

Rather than deal with the very real concerns of lack of logic in the process, the paper chose instead to focus on a letter of recommendation that Tulsa Vision Builder's arena project manager, Bart Boatright, sent to the committee supporting Global's rival, SMG. They used a quote from me to make it appear that this was the main sticking point and that even that contentious Medlock guy said nothing was wrong. At least, for once, they didn't refer to me as "Chris Medlock, who is running for mayor." Here's the actual quote from the paper:

City Councilor Chris Medlock, who attended the protest hearing, said he thinks Boatright had a lapse in judgment as far as the letter but blamed the administration for putting Boatright in an "impossible position."

Who else was in the room? Among others, there was Charles Hardt (CoT Director of Public Works), Mike Buchert (Asst. Dir. of Public Works), Clay Bird (Mayor's Chief of Staff), Susan Neal (Dist. 9 City Councilor), Bart Boatright (Tulsa Vision Builders Project Manager and the guy Clay Bird told the Council in committee two weeks earlier "had all the answers"), Larry Hood (Dir. of Purchasing), Linda Redemann (Asst. City Attorney, who along with Boatright and Hood wrote the IFB), Charles Norman (former City Attorney and the Mayor's fomer boss), and Karen Keith (the Mayor's chief spin doctor). Pretty safe to say, that any question regarding the arena, or the bidding process, should reside in one of these folks' brain, right?

Guess again.

So that brings us to the audio. What P.J. Lassek probably should have written was, Chris Medlock, who attended the protest hearing with a digital recorder that had enough memory to get Global's concerns recorded..."

What you will hear is a 92 second segment of the discussion. The first voice you will hear is that of Global's Dean Dennis, who is pointing to pro forma figures in a section of their bid and comparing it to the equivalent section in SMG's bid. He mentions "synergy savings," which is a term that appeared in SMG's bid, but was not part of the IFB requirements, but was used to explain much of why SMG won the bid.

The first question he asks is to simply ask if his interpretation of the figures is "correct?" Rather than getting confirmation to his logic, Larry Hood reads the two dollar figures in thousands of dollars, confirming that Global was slightly lower in its bid. Remember this, because it is important.

Then Dennis states his hope that the committee wasn't confused by the different ways that the two companies used to state their financial projections (pro formas). If there was confusion, it is possible that they weren't comparing "apples to apples," so to speak.

But then, in a very polite way, Dennis asks the quesiton Global most wants answered. If they were the low bidder on the compensation portion of the bids, why then, did SMG get more points for that section from the appointed members of the committee, with regard to the commitee's weighted scoring? In other words, Global won that section of the bid, and should have been awarded the higher score, right?

In fact, it was learned later in the meeting that Global's score in this section was the second best out of the three, and that SMG's was third out of three. The lowest bid on compensation was the City of Tulsa's Civic Center Management team. So here's how they ranked in bidding from lowest (best) to highest (worst):

1. Civic Center Management
2. Global Spectrum
3. SMG

But how did the committee weigh this section? Here's how:

1. SMG
2. Global Spectrum
3. Civic Center Management

Get the feeling something is going on here? Am I getting another notion that needs to be "quashed?"

So Dean Dennis asks the BIG question, and what is his answer? LISTEN HERE.

For those of you that couldn't download the file, he was answered with exactly fourteen seconds of dead silence, broken only by the voice of Asst. Director of Public Works, Mike Buchert, asking "Does anyone else have any questions or comments?"

Note to Mr. Buchert: What Mr. Dennis was looking for was neither a question, nor a comment. What Mr. Dennis, who flew to Tulsa at his company's expense was looking for was an answer, even if it proved a point that would be mightily embarrassing to the committee and the administration.

Mr. Dennis deserved an answer. He had left his wife (who is, by the way, the Secretary of State for the State of Colorado) and family to get an answer. Global Spectrum deserved an answer. The people of Tulsa deserved an answer. So where was the answer?

I'm guessing you don't have an answer. But don't think it's the last time you're going to be asked.