Thursday, August 31, 2006

BatesLine: FAA letter regarding Jones Riverside Airport

Over on, Michael Bates has an entry on a recent letter sent by Ed Chambers, of the Federal Aviation Administration in Fort Worth, informing the Tulsa Airport Authority and Airport Director Jeff Mulder, that they are not treating fixed base operators at Jones/Riverside Airport equally.

I've been familiar for years with the development of this story, and know many of the players, at least by name. Even so, I found the story tough to follow, because it's a complex issue. However, I recommend that you take the time to wade through Bates' piece, because it's going to be a major issue in this town in the coming months.

One issue of note to add to what Michael Bates has written.

He tells of two hangars being built on potential sites for a future airport tower. Kent Faith of Roadhouse Aviation was required to have a memorandum attached to his lease stating that he would tear down his building, at his own expense, should the FAA choose that site for a new tower. The two new hangars don't have the same caveat.

Faith's restriction was argued for and secured by TAIT board member Ron Turner, who was selected for his position in 2002 by Mayor LaFortune at the urging of newly elected City Councilor Bill Christiansen. Bates reports that the two new hangars that don't include the restriction on their leases are for business owned by that same Bill Christiansen and another JRA tenant, Ray Booker.

Why would Airport Director Mulder not insist on Christiansen and Booker having the same restriction as Kent Faith? Perhaps it has to do with who hired him?

On April 2, 2005, the Tulsa World's D.R. Stewart wrote a story announcing the hiring of Jeff Mulder, who had previously been the airport director at Outagamie County Regional Airort in Appleton, Wisconsin. Needless to say, the Tulsa job was quite a step up for the relatively young Mr. Mulder.

So how was Mr. Mulder selected for this career advancing position? Then Mayor LaFortune hired him based on the recommendation of a five-person committee who selected Mulder from a list of three candidates.

And who was on that committee?

The selection committee was comprised of Gen. Stephen Cortright, federal security director in the Tulsa office of the Transportation Security Administration; Interim Aiport Director, City Clerk and City Finance Director, Mike Kier; LaFortune, Mayor of Tulsa; and get this, Gen. Ron Turner [Christiansen crony] and LINDA BOOKER, wife of RAY BOOKER.

In Stewart's story, he wrote the following about LaFortune's gratitude to the search committee:

"I am grateful for the time and effort each of the members of the committee gave to this important selection," LaFortune said. "Together they brought a vast amount of expertise and experience in commercial, military and general aviation to the process. The committee's work has been focused on the greater good for Tulsa."
Given that Turner [the former head of Tulsa's Air National Guard] and Cortright [the former Adjutant General of the Oklahoma National Guard] were already pretty tight, and that LaFortune had named both Turner and Kier to their posts at the airport, only Mrs. Booker lacked a direct relationship to the other four. So they apparently brought more to the table than just a "vast amount of expertise."

The committee's work may have focussed on "the greater good for Tulsa," but human nature being what it is, I'm sure there might have been some sidewards glances to some more personal and private agendas that the right hire might bring.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that Mr. Mulder would, a year later, fail to hold Christiansen and Booker to the same draconian conditions as Gen. Turner had insisted be placed upon Kent Faith and Roadhouse Aviation.

After all, he owed them his job.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Island of Lost Taxes

Since writing my entry on Sunday regarding the Tulsa World and Commissioner Randi Miller, I've been receiving some pretty interesting information from some very diverse, but reliable sources.

I've gotten word from more than one source inside City Hall that the central project that is to be sold to the public [very soon I might add] is a project that I supported before we added point-six percent in new taxes to build an arena in the wrong place and before we renewed the un-needed Four-To-Fix the County tax. What project?

Well I alluded to it in Sunday's entry. It's an island that will be built as a public/private partnership, right smack dab in the middle of Zink lake.

Even wilder is the claim that a new low-water damn would be built that would include hydro-electric turbines that would be used to power all electricity on the island.

"Sure...the taxes are high...and you don't really need an island at that price...but support it anyway, because it's earth friendly."

Only time will tell if my sources are blowing smoke up my skirt [I don't really wear a skirt, although I am Scottish-American].

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Point-Four Percent Solution

Ready or not, here they come!

For those of us who entertain themselves by being sensitive to potential portents in the paper, Sunday's Tulsa World should have Vision 2025 critics girding their loins, and preparing for battle.

There are two stories which appear to be the “tells.”

First, the Tulsa World chose this week to put a front-page, above-the-fold story and photograph on the BOK Center’s progress. The tax-and-spend crowd have been waiting patiently for months to be able to show progress on the arena, far enough from last Spring's devestating, but inevitable announcement that the project was well over budget.

Second, is the story and photo (sans waders) of District 2 County Commissioner Randi Miller, who interestingly states, “'I’m willing to fall on the sword. If we have private money step up, then I’m willing to say we will meet you with public funds because that is what the citizens I represent want,'"

Boy, look at all the questions such a statement begs.

What public funds? What private money? What citizens? What sword?

Oh yeah…one more…when?

As for the first question, we can deduce (rather safely) that the spinmeisters at Schnake- Turnbo and the Tulsa World would not have subjected Commissioner Miller to the possibility of infection from water borne dermatophytes, if the plan wasn’t for Tulsa County to be the source of ‘public funds.” Surely you remember that .4% of penny tax that was approved by the voters for Boeing during the Vision 2025 vote, but never levied because Boeing never ventured outside of the Seattle area?

That money (and it is sizable) has been burning a hole in the pockets of many a county commissioner and their cronies. It has never been a question of “if” they would put together a package for voter consideration, but merely a matter of when, which is the last “begged question” I listed.

The gathering P.R. storm that is showing on my radar says, “Soon…very soon!”

Tactically, the county’s advisors have always preferred the holiday season for their tax-raising experiences. Remember the failed Tulsa City/County Library vote in December, 2004? Remember the successful Four-To-Fix the County vote in December, 2005?

The formula works great for passage. One part busy voters more concerned with finding parking close to the mall than finding fault in a tax proposal, two parts worn out conservatives fresh from doing statewide battle to win back the Governor’s office and trying to end a century long Democrat monopoly of the State Senate, topped off with evenings that come early, limiting the effectiveness of door-to-door grassroots campaigning.

Look for the question to be put to voters some time between December, 2006 and February, 2007.

Then there’s the question of who gets to commingle their “private funds” with the “people’s money?” Let’s examine some more of what Commissioner Miller told the Lorton Gazette:

“This is the right time for us to dive into the
river. It’s time for the private sector to step up
and for the public to help support that,” Miller

“The private sector can’t do it all alone; the
public sector can’t do it alone; and what we’ve
done so far just isn’t enough. It is going to take
everyone joining hands. It’s about everyone making
the investment for our future. That’s what will
make river development work,” she said.
Everyone? Do I get to invest? Does the average citizen get a piece of the pie? Well sure we do! We get to invest our taxes! The beauty of "everyone joining hands" is, it makes it easier for the bureaucrats to pick your pockets.

All this raises more questions. If you're developing the river, then you're developing river property, right? Who owns the property now? Who is going to own it after the taxpayers have flooded millions into private property?

Even if you build in the middle of the river, there are questions. Building a big, "pleasure island" in the middle of the Arkansas River [an idea I like, with private money] makes one wonder to what extent the indian tribes might have to be dealt a hand.

There was talk during my last months on the City Council, that Mayor LaFortune and Commissioner Miller had held talks with Roger Hardesty about selling the cement batch plant near the West Festival Grounds. Good plan. Use of tax payer dollars to secure developable land, at a fair market price, works for me. But what other properties are being looked at?

Can you imagine the County serving as a long term landlord, securing land inside the City of Tulsa, and issuing leases to private developers? That would be a disaster.

The bottom line to all of this is, the County has no place in raising, directing and overseeing additional sales tax revenues. By pursuing higher County sales taxes, the City of Tulsa will lose available potential taxes that might have to be called on in the event of a public safety crisis. Add to this, the fact that the County serves as both the Executive and Legislative branches of government and you have a bad prescription for the funneling of nearly $1 Billion of tax payer money.

But that won't deter those that have been waiting patiently to get their hands on all that Boeing money.

Gird those loins folks, it's going to be a hectic holiday season.

A Metaphor Too Hard To Ignore

If a picture says a thousand words, then this photograph I took Thursday, pretty much sums up the current condition of my elective political career.

The photo is from the Creek County Landfill.