"Athanasius contra mundum"--a phrase that might have meaning for history buffs and few others, but it's worth bringing up into the vernacular as observers scratch their heads over the plight of city government in Tulsa where a city with everything going for it just can't get up and get with it.
The Latin refers to the plight of a 4th century Egyptian bishop who found himself practically the sole contender in the empire for the Christian faith in the face of deadly political and religious struggles.
It was "Athanasius against the world," contemporaries said, as the patriarch fought to uphold the apostles' teachings while he was hunted as an outlaw and vilified by his enemies.
"Roscoe contra mundum" might be a phrase with a bit more meaning for Tulsans who keep abreast of the activities at City Hall. The District 3 Councilor, Roscoe Turner, has often found himself seemingly taking on the world in his ongoing efforts to find revenue for the City of Tulsa.
His latest crusade began last November when he proposed annexing the Tulsa County Fairgrounds so the city can collect sales tax revenue from the land. Turner managed to rally the support of his fellow councilors, but a vote on the issue was delayed again and again, largely because of interventions by county officials who oppose it.
Turner is undaunted, though. Despite delays, annexation of the fairgrounds is inevitable, as far as he is concerned.
"I can't believe it won't be annexed," said the councilor recently when a discussion on the issue was dropped from the City Council's agenda at the behest of the mayor, who asked for the delay "so she could meet with certain people" about it, Turner said.
"What people?" Turner was asked.
"County officials," he guessed. "Whom else?"
County commissioners then went to work to rally mayors from surrounding cities to oppose the annexation, and the City of Glenpool responded by offering land on which the fairgrounds could relocate and thereby escape Tulsa's sales tax. Bixby made an identical offer the next day.
"That's a good idea, if that's what they want to do," said Turner in response to the development. "If they move the fair to Glenpool, that's land we can build some homes on. That's prime land."
Since then, city councilors have voted unanimously to start the annexation process by scheduling a public hearing for March 22, despite an offer to the county government by Mayor Kathy Taylor to delay discussion of the issue for 12 months in exchange for compromises on other issues.
County commissioners rebuffed the offer, asking instead for a delay of three years (the rest of Taylor's term in office).
What did Turner think of mayor's deal proposal?
"Not much," he said.
Even if the county government acquiesced to her compromise proposals, Taylor wouldn't be able to hold up her end of the deal, Turner said. Nothing could convince him to delay any longer, and he's confident his fellow councilors are of the same disposition.
Also, since Turner expects unanimous "yea" votes on his annexation plan, it would be impervious to the mayor's veto powers, should she attempt to exercise them, since she can only overturn City Council actions if they pass by less than a two-thirds majority.
But annexing the fairgrounds is but one small facet of Turner's overall ambition to restore Tulsa to its former glory--a glory that faded with the oil boom, he said.
"The City of Tulsa was once the diamond of the state of Oklahoma--we more or less set the stage for what the state of Oklahoma could be," Turner said.
That glory is something the councilor remembers firsthand, having lived his entire life in the Diamond of Oklahoma.
The only exception was a brief period after high school, from 1949 to 1951, when he attended Tennessee State University on a football scholarship.
TSU was the pipeline at the time for young black athletes in Oklahoma seeking higher education, Turner explained, since Langston University was the only other available option for them, but didn't offer the same opportunities.
In Nashville, Turner took pre-med courses until "I decided I didn't like blood, so I came home," he said.
After returning to Tulsa, he eventually became a stationery engineer for a publishing company in the city, which he remained for 18 years. The maintenance expertise that he acquired eventually enabled him to be licensed and to be in a position to fill an opening with the city's Public Works Department as a boiler inspector in 1973.
It was at that time that the stage was set for Turner's career in public office, which he began in 1998 after a brief retirement.
"As a boiler inspector, I saw a lot of things other people didn't see," he said.
Turner elaborated, "Just the fact that I worked for the city and knew the inner workings of the City of Tulsa, and I had some problems with some of the ways they did some things, and as a city councilor I could correct them."
Chief among those problems was what Turner calls "the City of Tulsa mentality.
"Most people who worked for the city had an elitist attitude--they weren't there to help people, they were there to command them," he elaborated.
"I saw myself as a teacher when others took a more...," said Turner before pausing to search for the right choice of words. " . . . military approach. They took a more military approach."
As Turner saw it, his job as an inspector for the city was to show people how to get their equipment up to standard so they could stay in business, but his colleagues had a more policeman-like approach of penalizing people and shutting them down where they found opportunity, he said.
It was also during his time as a boiler inspector that Turner first contemplated annexation of the fairgrounds. The idea was first proposed by then-Police Chief Bob Dick in 1987, but Turner opposed it at the time because of the state of their boilers.
"I would make complimentary inspections just to help them out," he recounted. "If the city took that land, we would have had to shut them down" because their equipment was in such sorry shape.
Since then, though, their facilities have been renovated and their substandard equipment brought up to code in a big time way as the Fairgrounds/Expo Square has become the city's over-the-top show place for animal husbandry, pro basketball and conventioning--that somehow the Convention Center just can't get. All of that courtesy of more than a decade of tens of millions dollars worth of of county taxpayers' pennies.
Turner wryly pointed out that, while Bob Dick the police chief favored annexing the fairgrounds, Bob Dick the county commissioner opposed the very action he originally proposed.
These days, Turner's not getting boilers up to code anymore. Instead, he's trying to get the entire city up to the standard of its past level of importance.
"We were the dominant city in Oklahoma while Oklahoma City was growing," said Turner. "The City of Tulsa was paying the majority of taxes into the state and we were the driving force that got Oklahoma where it is."
However, he said Tulsa "missed the boat" by not taking advantage of the same opportunities the Sooner State's capitol city utilized.
"When Oklahoma City was in the process of annexing, we laughed at them, but now they're building within their own corporate limits," he said. "When we build, we have to go into the suburbs and bedroom communities."
With the development of the region surrounding Tulsa overshadowing development within Tulsa itself, Turner said people and businesses are continually leaving the city for the suburbs, thereby "killing the goose that laid the golden egg" by eroding Tulsa's sales tax base.
"We've got to find another way to fund city government," he exclaimed.
Until another way is found, though, Turner wants to take advantage of whatever sales tax revenue might be available. Along with the fairgrounds, he said the city should annex a number of unincorporated islands of land within the city.
"That way, we can pick up sales tax wherever we may and not have to raise taxes on the citizens of Tulsa," he said.
As concerned as he is with utilizing all available resources and with seeing development within the city's limits, Turner said he is just as much concerned with restoring the spirit of the City of Tulsa.
While the "City of Tulsa mentality" is mostly a thing of the past, he said, so is the pride and mutual concern that also used to characterize the city.
"Somehow, I feel that the citizens have lost their pride in Tulsa," lamented Turner.
Also, he said, citizens of Oklahoma City have a concern for one another that he finds lacking in Tulsans. Turner speculated that the Murrah bombing had a softening effect on the hearts of Oklahoma City's residents, while Tulsans have become somewhat hardened toward one another. He doesn't believe a major catastrophe is necessary, however, to restore Tulsa's spirit of goodwill.
"I would hope that this city can advance and become what it once was--a city of people who love one another and are concerned about each other," said Turner.
"We've got to realize that we're all God's children and realize that what's good for one of us is good for all of us, and what's bad for one of us is bad for all of us."
Share this article: