Thursday, August 21, 2008

PJ's Propaganda?

There is a story in today's Tulsa World dealing with Will Wilkins' claim of ethical violations by two members of the Tulsa Development Authority. Wilkins, of Novus Properties had his exclusive negotiating agreement prematurely ended by the TDA on August 8th, when the five member authority voted such, stating it was in the best interests of the City of Tulsa to do so.

The action has been polarizing and has contributed to damage the public's faith in city government at a time when the council is looking at putting a very large tax question before the voters.

What is interesting about Lassek's story, which is often the case with our daily paper's coverage of government in general and city government in particular, is the story's slant. It is decidedly pro TDA and anti-Wilkins.

So why would the news arm of the Tulsa World engage in what amounts to a PR exercise? Simple, if the three TDA board members [Shahadi, Bryant-Ellis and Clayman] that appear to have conflicts because of where they work had to recuse themselves from the August 8th vote, then they will have to recuse themselves on any subsequent votes regarding TDA controlled land that is in the cross hairs of the soon to be established public trust.

In other words, it will be harder to ensure the powers-that-be's desired result. In fact, there will be absolutely no way for the TDA to transfer those properties to the trust, without changing the composition of the TDA itself.

The first thing to note, if one wants to postulate that said slant is purposeful and is not the fruit of ignorance is the fact that Lassek wasn't the journalist that covered the meeting where the votes took place. The World's other city beat writer, Brian Barber was the personal observer of the story. How do I know? Well aside from his byline appearing on the story the following day, he sat two seats over from me the entire meeting. Lassek was nowhere near the place.

This allows Lassek to fudge some of the truth and then claim ignorance as to some of the facts that she misstates.

For instance, she writes:
Another authority member — Paula Bryant-Ellis, a Bank of Oklahoma employee — recused herself from the discussion and vote, also at Wilkins' request. He did not file a complaint against her.
Bryant-Ellis didn't recuse herself in any manner or fashion that I would recognize as recusal. In fact, Lassek and Barber have been to dozens of City Council meetings where councilors recused themselves, so both writers recognize that Bryant-Ellis didn't in fact recuse herself. What she did was say, when a vote was called for, that "I believe I need to recuse myself...," but stating such doesn't make it so.

In order to properly recuse herself, as is the consistent practice of the Council and other authorities, Bryant-Ellis should have made that statement when the agenda item first came up for discussion. Instead, she participated in portions of the discussion. What Bryant-Ellis really did was to "abstain," which in fact is the reason, coupled with the fact that this was her first meeting and she didn't know any better, that no one can really fault her for her actions.

For another example of Lassek's bias in this story, compare the following two paragraphs from her story:
Wilkins also charged that Clayman participated in discussions regarding Novus' negotiations at a July 8 meeting, but Clayman did not attend that meeting.
Clayman said that, at Wilkins' request, he recused himself from an Aug. 7 meeting until he seconded a motion for a vote. He did not participate in that vote, however.
In the first citation, Lassek goes out of her way to identify a statement from Wilkins' allegations that isn't factually correct. However, she fails to do the same in the second citation. How does she do this? Well rather than citing what she easily could have learned by leaning over to Brian Barber at the desk next to her, she uses Clayman's statement as to what he allegedly did, which was to recuse up to the point of seconding the vote. First of all, seconding the vote means you didn't recuse at all. Recusal, as we've stated, requires that you leave the room entirely. He couldn't have even heard the motion that was made, so how could he have seconded it.

It must be reiterated. Lassek has been covering the city for years. She knows the difference between recusing and not recusing. And yet she chose to use a journalistic device to achieve her goal and not appear to be acting unethically herself. What she should have done is to remain consistent and to state for the reader the facts showing Clayman had not recused.

The World wants this ballpark built and it wants it done with a powerful trust in place to do the job without public interference. Further, the World doesn't want to see proper enforcement of the Ethics Ordinance that the city passed back in 2005. They like the practice of sending middle managers from the city's more powerful companies and law firms onto these boards, so that their bosses have de facto control of said boards.

The other glaring example of Lassek's propagandistic artistry isn't in what she tells the reader, but in what she neglects to tell the reader. She writes:
Clayman works for Fredrick Dorwart, a lawyer who is donating his services to the ballpark project. Dorwart drafted a public trust document for the creation of the Tulsa Stadium Trust to oversee the baseball stadium and redevelopment of surrounding land.

In a five-page letter to Mayor Kathy Taylor defending Clayman, Dorwart said, "Mr. Wilkins' insinuation that someone is profiting from this effort is insidious and you (Taylor) should immediately and unequivocally reject it."
What Lassek doesn't share with you is the more compelling fact that invalidated Clayman's ethical participation in the vote, which is the fact that Dorwart does a great deal of work for both George Kaiser and BOK, both of whom are major players in this venture. Kaiser's and BOk's involvement would be viewed in a much different light by the average citizen than the mere fact that Dorwart was doing some pro bono legal work on the deal.

The decision as to whether or not Clayman and Shahadi acted ethically should be decided by the Tulsa Ethics Commission, not the mayor's handpicked City Attorney, who serves at her will. If the Ethics Commission does it's job and ignores the inevitable mountain of political and social pressure that will be brought upon it, Tulsa will be a much better place to conduct business and live. If they do not do their job and cave to the pressure, then the Tulsa City Council should act to toughen and clarify the Ethics Ordinance to prevent such conflicts in the future.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Novus Homes Files Suit Against TDA

Will Wilkins of Novus Homes texted me after my show today to tell me that he has filed suit against the Tulsa Development Authority for "Breach of Agreement - Contract"

You can view the particulars of the suit by clicking here.

Wilkins is alleging that the TDA tereminated the deal after the city moved the proposed downtown ballpark to a property across the street from the property he was negotiating to obtain.

More on this as it breaks.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Lesa Smaligo: Bank of Oklahoma Lobbyist

Here's an interesting note to ponder. One of the registered lobbyists for Bank of Oklahoma is none other than Lesa Smaligo, the wife of County Commissioner John Smaligo. Could this connection explain some of Commissioner Smaligo's reluctance to not tow the Republican Party's platform and come out against last year's River Tax?

After all, George Kaiser was offering millions to the County for river development if the tax had passed.

Kaiser and Margaret Erling-Frette

Was poking around in the Oklahoma Ethics Commission's website and found an interesting factoid in the section on lobbyists. Seems that the current principal lobbyist for the Kaiser Family Foundation is Margarette Erling-Frette. You remember her, the principal lobbyist for Great Plains Airlines? You remember George Kaiser, the guy that owns the bank that just got a $7.1 million settlement, thanks to our Mayor, for a bad loan centered on Great Plains Airlines?

Here is the text of the Ethics Commission entry:
The George Kaiser Family Foundation L080067 - Erling-Frette, Margaret
7020 S Yale #220
Tulsa, OK 74135
Apparently Kaiser isn't holding Erling-Frette responsible for the troubled loan.

[More] Appears she's also one of five lobbyists for the Tulsa Metro Chamber of Commerce. You remember them? The group that first dreamed up Great Plains Airlines.