Criticism is not always easy to take, but it comes with the territory when you're a public official.
You have a choice with criticism: Sift through it, be honest with yourself, and take to heart the recommendations and reproofs which are well-grounded.
Or you can dismiss all criticism as the rantings of those motivated by irrational hatred or ambition.
The former course leads to self-improvement and greater effectiveness. Following the latter course means that not only do you not get back on the right track, you find yourself accelerating down the wrong track.
I'm disappointed that our Tulsa County Commissioners are listening to those who are urging them to dismiss criticism of their policies and practices.
I hear that Fred Perry, in his first year as commissioner, has concluded that I am possessed of a deep-seated hatred for county government, and that I am using my skills of persuasion to manipulate members of the City Council, our readers and even my colleagues at UTW into supporting me in my anti-county crusade.
This is a convenient thing for him to believe, because it allows him to dismiss the uncomfortable reality that no one at the County Courthouse has a handle on Vision 2025 finances.
As UTW's Brian Ervin reported last week, credible sources are saying that John Piercey, an informal financial adviser to Tulsa County, is telling different stories to different audiences about the availability of surplus Vision 2025 sales tax proceeds to complete the low-water dams promised as a part of that tax package.
In private meetings involving associates of Sen. Jim Inhofe, he's saying $40 to $80 million could be available in the next 18 months beyond current Vision 2025 commitments. That's according to two people who were present in the meeting, developer Ron Howell, who encouraged the developers of Branson Landing to consider a similar development in Tulsa, and Inhofe aide Blu Hulsey. Piercey has denied making those statements.
You may be wondering why what Piercey has to say about Vision 2025 finances should matter at all. Piercey is not an employee of the county, and he is not under contract with the county. In an e-mail to me back in September, Piercey described himself as an "unpaid monitor of the monthly sales tax receipts and the preparation of a semi annual update of the status of the financial condition of the program."
First with Leo Oppenheim and Co., the public finance arm of Bank of Oklahoma, and later as an independent broker with Capital West Securities, Piercey handled all of the revenue bond work for Tulsa County's "Four to Fix the County" tax packages and half of the bond work for Vision 2025. (A piece of the Vision 2025 action was carved out for F&M Bank's public finance branch, at then-Commissioner Wilbert Collins's insistence.)
While local governments around the country typically put their bond work out for competitive bids from brokers, Tulsa County doesn't.
Although Piercey's familiarity with the topic makes his advice worthy of consideration, someone who makes his money as a vendor of financial services to the county should not be the county's sole source of information and advice about the county's Vision 2025 funds.
And yet that is exactly what the County Commissioners have allowed John Piercey to become. When I approached Tulsa County Fiscal Officer Jim Smith back in August with questions about debt service on Vision 2025 bonds, he referred me to Piercey. When Fred Perry is asked about Vision 2025 finances, he refers all such questions to Piercey.
What that tells me is that no one who is a sworn official of Tulsa County has direct knowledge of how much money is in the bank and how much is committed. The plane is in the air and hurtling toward the horizon, but no one is flying the plane.
The County Courthouse gang can call me a lying county-hater till the cows come home, but facts are facts, and the truth of that last paragraph is independent of the purity of my motivations.
Perry and his colleagues shouldn't depend on either me or Piercey to tell them about Vision 2025's financial situation. They should use their own eyes and their own analytical skills to answer the following questions:
1. How many bank accounts hold sales tax proceeds or bond proceeds from Vision 2025? Where are the accounts held, and how much money is in each account?
2. What is the schedule for repayment for each Vision 2025 bond issue?
3. How much Vision 2025 money has been committed but has yet to be paid out? For each obligation, how much is due and when?
Our state constitution and statutes have assigned various roles to the counties, and my desire is to see county government stay within those roles and perform them efficiently. If that makes me a county hater, so be it.
Some county responsibilities remain the same regardless of how populous or urbanized a county is: for example, land records, property tax collection, and support for the state's district court system. Most of those tasks fall to elected officials other than the three county commissioners.
The County Commission's primary role in Oklahoma is to provide limited municipal-type services to unincorporated areas. That role should shrink as more and more of the county's territory is annexed into cities and towns.
Combining executive and legislative functions in one body, county government doesn't have the checks and balances to enable it to serve as some sort of metro government as some people seem to want. And expanding county government by increasing county sales tax hurts the ability of cities and towns to provide the basic public services -- public safety and infrastructure -- for which municipalities are responsible.
I had high hopes for the new county commission. I helped Randi Miller in her first campaign for City Council and her first campaign for County Commission and hoped that she would begin to change the culture toward one of more openness and accountability.
I encouraged Fred Perry to run and endorsed him. I thought that adding him and former State Rep. John Smaligo to the commission would make changes possible that Miller couldn't accomplish as a lone vote and voice. As outsiders to county government, I thought that they would take a skeptical look at county policy and operations.
Instead the commissioners seem to have been fully assimilated, acquiescing to the way things have always been done. They are listening to those who tell them that all is well with the status quo and that they can safely ignore voices of concern and criticism.
I have this feeling that anything I suggest to the county commissioners at this point is going to be not only dismissed but actively resisted, just because it's my idea.
Whether I'm saying it or not, the county commissioners have a responsibility to know what's happening with the tax money we've entrusted to them.
I don't care whether the county commissioners like me or not, but I'd like them to stop using me as an excuse not to do their jobs.
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