The Fairgrounds annexation issue seems to have been resolved -- maybe -- when the City Council voted 7-2 last Thursday night in favor of a last-minute compromise proposal from Mayor Kathy Taylor. Taylor had announced earlier in the week that she would veto the annexation ordinance approved last month by the City Council.
Under Taylor's proposal, the City is still annexing the Fairgrounds, but it won't take effect until January 1, 2009. In the meantime, the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority (TCPFA) which operates the Fairgrounds, will pay $80,000 a year to the City to compensate it for fire department coverage and $50,000 a year for convention and tourism marketing. That goes away once annexation goes into effect.
Even after annexation, after the City begins collecting its 3% sales tax on retail sales at the Fairgrounds, the City will provide a 2% rebate of sorts to people who spend money at high-economic-impact events like the Arabian Horse Show. The TCPFA will chip in 1% for the rebate to offset the city sales tax impact for those selected shows.
With regard to noise, land use, and building regulations, existing uses on the Fairgrounds will be grandfathered in, and the County will continue to handle permitting and inspections.
Zoning changes will go through the City Council, but it's not clear to me whether the more likely situation of a special exception or variance would go through the City's Board of Adjustment or would continue to go through the County Board of Adjustment. That's an important question, and the Council needs to get legal clarification. If the TCPFA approves a new tenant and new construction at the site of Bell's Amusement Park, the tenant would likely need only a special exception since the land is zoned agricultural.
The agreement reportedly exempts not only current Fairgrounds occupants from City regulations, but also the TCPFA itself. Would this exemption only cover events like the Tulsa State Fair which are directly operated by the TCPFA, or would it include any of the TCPFA's tenants? In the latter case, exempting the TCPFA would effectively provide an umbrella exemption for all Fairgrounds activities, leaving in place a 230-acre hole in the City's oversight of land use in midtown Tulsa.
It's a testament to the Council's forbearance that they didn't let the disrespect shown to them by the Mayor and the County Commissioners get in the way of agreeing to a compromise that puts us on track for annexation.
First, the County Commissioners sent Mayor Taylor a letter dripping with condescension, suggesting that she could safely ignore the concerns of Council Chairman Roscoe Turner and Vice Chairman John Eagleton, both of whom voted for annexation. "As former legislators, Commissioner Perry and Commissioner Smaligo can tell you that the Councilors will forget the veto soon and move on to other things."
Of the five councilors who voted for annexation, I've known four of them for a long time, and they won't forget. Councilor Jack Henderson, another annexation proponent, speaking Thursday morning on 1170 KFAQ, called the letter "a slap in the face."
This isn't the state legislature, where they vote on hundreds of bills in every four-month session. Annexation is a major issue, and these councilors spent some political capital because they believed annexation was best for the City and would have no adverse effect on the County.
Second, after leading the Council and the public to believe that she supported annexation, the Mayor conducted the compromise negotiations behind the back of the Council, who learned about the proposal from news reports.
At the very least, Taylor should have kept Roscoe Turner, as Council Chairman and chief sponsor of the annexation ordinance, abreast of her discussions with the TCPFA.
The current Council is in a tough spot. As Turner noted on KFAQ last Thursday, they are still fighting the legacy of the first Council, elected in 1990.
Those first councilors were told they were part-time and acted accordingly, ceding much of their authority to the Mayor.
In the years since then, some councilors, starting in the late '90s and continuing through the most recent Council, attempted to reassert the authority of the city's legislature under the City Charter. They were rewarded with one editorial after another accusing them of grandstanding, recall attempts, and well-financed efforts to replace them at the ballot box.
The current Council is trying to reassert its authority under the charter without triggering the kind of reaction that other recent councils have drawn. For the sake of the Council as an institution, there needs to be some penalty for the Mayor's snub and the County Commission's disrespect, but it has to be done in a way that doesn't look peevish or self-serving.
Power struggles are a reality at all levels of government, and our system of checks and balances was designed with the expectation that each branch and level of government would zealously defend its own power and prerogatives. If one branch quietly yields time after time to encroachments and slights, the result is an unchecked and unbalanced government which does not serve the best interests of its citizens.
The Council needs to defend the Council's prerogatives and dignity, not for their own advancement, but for the sake of the citizens they represent.
Kinder, More Balanced?
What's in the water at 315 S. Boulder?
First, just two years after threatening me and other website owners with copyright lawsuits for linking and quoting their content for the fair-use purpose of comment and criticism, the daily paper has eliminated all firewalls and fees on their website.
The local daily has gone well beyond most daily newspapers by making their archives, dating back to 1989 (including the last two-plus years of the late lamented Tulsa Tribune), available at no charge.
(Of course, savvy Tulsans have known for some time that Tulsa Library cardholders can access the archives of Tulsa's daily, the Oklahoman, and hundreds of other papers from anywhere on the Internet for free, via http://www.tulsalibrary.org/research/onlinedatabases.asp)
Not only did they open their archives, the daily has followed Urban Tulsa Weekly in allowing readers to post comments on every page. Although there have been a few reports of comments disappearing, the paper's webmaster doesn't seem to be censoring much.
Here's the latest sign of change in the pebble-encrusted bunker on Main Street: A reporter apologized very graciously for getting a key detail in a story wrong.
On May 5, reporter Althea Peterson went to 21st and Garnett to cover the rallies supporting and opposing the anti-illegal-immigration bill HB 1804. She arrived before the anti-HB 1804 rally began at 2 p.m. and thought she was also arriving before the start of the pro-HB 1804 rally began, sponsored by the local chapter of the Minuteman Project (tulsaminutemanproject.org), which monitors illegal immigration activity and lobbies for border control and enforcement of immigration laws. Minuteman Project founder Jim Gilchrist was there to address the rally.
In fact, the pro-HB 1804 rally began at 10 a.m. and ended at 1 p.m. Only a dozen stragglers remained when Peterson arrived, and so she reported in the Sunday, May 6 edition of the daily that this was the turnout. Tulsa Police estimated 100 at the anti-illegal-immigration rally; organizers say two to three times that were present as people came and went over the course of the three hours.
In response to complaints from rally participants, Peterson sent a very gracious email acknowledging and apologizing for the error. Here's part of it, as read Thursday morning on 1170 KFAQ.
"...I believe that I was unfair to your group.... While I did take the time to talk to some people on your side of the street, I also reported that there were about a dozen on your side. I later learned that your rally was scheduled to conclude at 1 p.m. and therefore I missed the estimate by Tulsa Police Department of 100 people there.
"When writing an article on an issue such as illegal immigration reform I wanted to make every effort to make the article fair and balanced. Because I understand the number of people that were speaking from your side, I want to apologize that only about a dozen were speaking about illegal immigration before the rally began.
"Should I cover any immigration rallies in the future, I'll be sure to contact your group first, so that I'll have more information about counter-rallies that your group may lead so that such inaccuracies will be avoided in the future."
The daily posted a correction in Tuesday's edition.
There's an admirable humility in Ms. Peterson's apology, an attitude that has not characterized the daily in the past, particularly when it comes to groups and individuals speaking in opposition to their editorial stances.
Can any insiders over there give me some off-the-record insight into these apparent shifts in attitude? E-mail me here at firstname.lastname@example.org
Vote This Week!
Don't forget to enter your nominations for UTW's Absolute Best of Tulsa. Not to sway anyone unduly, but I'd like recommend someone for nomination in the "spiritual leader" category, someone you may not have heard of.
That's Tom Gray, senior pastor of Kirk of the Hills. After 20 years of trying to reverse the drift of the mainline Presbyterian Church in the USA (PCUSA) away from its doctrinal and moral standards, Gray and his fellow pastors and elders, with the support of well over 95% of the church's active membership, voted last summer to leave the PCUSA. The last straw was a general assembly vote last year that effectively eliminates a common denominational standard for ministerial conduct.
In making the decision, Gray and his congregation risk losing their beautiful church facility on 61st between Harvard and Yale. The Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery, a regional body of the PCUSA, is asserting its rights over the property, claiming that the land rightfully belongs to a tiny number of dissenting Kirk members who wish to remain affiliated with the PCUSA.
For being a profile in courage, Tom Gray deserves this year's ABoT spiritual leader nod.
You can follow the process leading up to the Kirk's departure, the aftermath, and the ongoing property dispute on Gray's blog: tomgrayofthekirk.blogspot.com.
One more suggested nomination, for the category "best place for family fun": This year the winner has to be the once and (we hope) future Bell's Amusement Park.
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