Whether you are into shooting off a weapon or shooting off your mouth, the single most important rule of proper behavior and responsibility is simple, and the same for both. It is: "Ready, aim, fire". In that order and only in that order. There are very good reasons why it's not "ready, fire, aim." You might injure an innocent bystander with the careless use of your words or your weapon. And if you fire before you aim and hit the wrong target, you won't be trusted with the use of either your weapon or your words in the future.
Most of the time, when you see the words of a politician misfire, it's because they're letting their emotions -- not their brains -- do their work. Rather than pause to think before they speak, they pounce with unprepared remarks. They are guilty of ready-fire-aim.
Such seems to be the case with the recent errant shot from Councilor G. T. Bynum towards County Commissioner John Smaligo. Bynum accused Smaligo of trying to raise taxes on county taxpayers. This is absolutely not the case. This occurred following the recent announcement by Sheriff Stanley Glanz and County Commissioner Karen Keith that, since the city council hadn't listened to the public and included funding for public safety in the election this fall, Glanz and Keith felt they had to do so. The sheriff will be leading this effort. Clearly this was a ready-fire-aim moment for Bynum.
But a misfire of words is not the only thing for the city to worry about if there are competing campaigns this fall for the 0.167 cent sales tax. Once the council told the mayor, police and fire chiefs, and the police and fire unions, that public safety was not important enough to be included in the almost $1 billion in proposed spending, the only public safety leader we had left to carry the ball to protect the public was the sheriff.
While he cannot campaign for additional police officers or fire fighters like the mayor wanted, Sheriff Glanz can tell the citizens of Tulsa County that it does no good to add more police officers, who will be making more arrests, if we don't have jail capacity to hold them. So he stepped up to say that if you want to arrest them then you better want to hold them.
The other challenge that the city council's campaign will have is the immense popularity of Sheriff Glanz and his department. No single councilor, or even several councilors together, have the popular appeal, trust, and believability of Sheriff Glanz. The axiom is true: you have what you have because you've earned it, not because you've talked about it.
After almost 50 years in law enforcement, half of that as Sheriff, that old E.F. Hutton commercial fits the Sheriff to a tee: "When the sheriff talks, people listen." He is not some flamboyant politician always looking for a microphone or photo-op. He didn't make his career out of artificial sound bites. He's not trying to build a political career ladder, nor does he have to be quoted in the paper multiple times each week.
So the city not only has to go up against the most popular public issue which they rejected (public safety), but the most popular public official (the sheriff) as well. This is a losing combination for the council's plan. At the end of the day, people will vote for good, safe streets before any other project. That sounds like a split decision. The county gets the jail improvements and the city gets streets. That's it.
The Sheriff knows that the jail population will continue to increase and that more cops on the streets equal more criminals in jail. He also knows that over the past decades, the laws and regulations regarding the treatment of the mentality ill have moved them back into the community which, unfortunately, has found too many of them in a jail that was never equipped for the mentally ill. It was built for criminals.
This city/county showdown could have been avoided. Several years ago, the city stepped in with a power grab and took what amounted to the county's "capital improvements" funding of 0.167 cents. What the third penny sales tax is to the City of Tulsa, the 0.167 sales tax was to Tulsa County. It met the county's capital needs.
That was the second time the city stole something from the county. Remember when the city annexed the fairgrounds so it could impose a new tax on everything sold there? Another bad idea by the last administration. It's time that was reversed as well, but that's another story.
Of the almost $1 billion in capital improvement debt that the Council wants the citizens to assume, only about nine percent, or $78 million dollars, of that is funded by the 0.167 of sales tax.
For the city to give it up so the county can use it for public safety is neither a deal breaker or a back breaker for the city's capital improvements plan regardless of the "sky is falling" statements we might hear coming from the council. This is about what's fair to the citizens, not about any councilor's ego.
Since the sheriff is clearly on the side of popular opinion where support of public safety is the top priority for public spending, the city and county need to find a compromise to avert this apparent "tax plan collision course." There would appear to be two possible compromise choices.
One is for there to be a countywide election to approve the 0.167 sales tax to go to the jail and juvenile justice and for the city to abandon all interest in this small amount of tax. In other words, a return to the way it was before. The city would rely upon the renewal of the third penny sales tax and bond issues to do capital improvements. The county would rely upon the 0.167 for its capital plans.
The second is for the city and county to split the 0.167 of sales tax equally. Neither gets all the money to do all that it wants, but each gets half to do what it can. That might mean the sheriff has fewer new jail cells and the city has to do without some of its recreation improvements and other capital needs. But that's better than one side getting everything and the other side getting nothing.
The question now is can the city and county leaders come up with a clear, concise, agreeable plan. Here's betting the sheriff and the mayor can get that done. That is, if the council stays out of it.
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