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.

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