In an OpEd piece in the Urban Tulsa Weekly of Nov. 29-Dec. 5, Michael Bates made a statement which, for someone who writes often on the subject of local government, was extremely misinformed and inaccurate.
Michael is a smart man, but if he is going to be a computer programmer turned journalist, he might do more research. For example, in the same article, he makes the following statement that is incorrect. He said, "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." As most readers will know, the unincorporated area is the area not falling within the city limits of the incorporated cities and towns of Tulsa, Broken Arrow, Owasso, Jenks, Glenpool, Sperry, Collinsville, Skiatook, Bixby, and Sand Springs.
In fact, the county commissioners are known as the "chief administrators in the county." Michael needs to check the Oklahoma Statutes, Title 19. When he does so he will find that the county commissioners are responsible for county functions throughout the county. That's why the three county commission districts include all areas in the county, including the incorporated cities and towns. The county commission, for example, is responsible for all the county buildings, including the courthouse. So, they are the judges' landlords. Nearly all of the county buildings are in the incorporated areas.
The county commission is responsible for setting personnel and human resource policies. At nearly weekly county commission meetings we approve hiring, terminations, training and other personnel matters of employees throughout the county. When someone has a major complaint against the county assessor's office, treasurer's office, county clerk's office, court clerk's office or the sheriff, the lawsuit (by statute) is filed against the county commission. So, we have the pleasure of being involved in litigation regardless of where it occurs in county government.
The commissioners are responsible, by statute, for developing and overseeing the $60 million budget. As a practice, we do this in concert with the elected officials and one of the commissioners chairs this "Budget Board." Obviously, the budget effects the incorporated citizens, as you will see as you read on. Only the county commission can sell, buy or renovate county land or buildings.
The county commission has the power to audit any county office, even that of an elected official. We have excellent county officers so this is not likely to occur. (The state auditor audits the entire county annually.) As you know, these elected officials are Sheriff Stanley Glanz, County Treasurer Dennis Semler, County Assessor Ken Yazel, County Clerk Earlene Wilson, and County Court Clerk Sally Howe Smith.
The county commission is required to provide court room, jail, and offices for the sheriff, treasurer, district clerk, court clerk, county clerk, district attorney, juvenile bureau, court services, judge of the district court and other county functions. All of these elected officials submit monthly reports to the county commission as dictated by statute.
While most of the road, bridge and highway work is done in the unincorporated areas every year, the county does a lot of street widening, snow plowing and asphalt overlays within incorporated cities. Recent heavy duty projects include the Broadway Bridge in Collinsville, south Tulsa projects including a number of miles on 91st Street, Mingo and Sheridan. In Sand Springs a lot of residential streets are being done now. Ask the town and city mayors and city managers and staff if they don't depend on the county.
The county commission chairman sits on the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, a body that has a lot of responsibility regarding zoning throughout the county. The county commissioners also hear and vote on appeals made by those who disagree with planning commission decisions. And, we interface with City-County Health and the Juvenile Bureau on multiple issues. The commission makes appointments to many boards, commissions and trusts.
The following division directors report to the county commissioners: County Engineer (roads, bridges, and inspections), Human Resources, Social Services (Family Homeless Shelter and pharmacy), Court Services (inmate parolee and community services supervision), Building Operations, Parks, MIS, Budget Director and Purchasing. We take state laws dealing with competitive bidding very seriously. Hundreds of bid packages for thousands of products are opened every year in county commission meetings and many of these are county-wide or deal with the incorporated towns and cities. (Michael was critical about the county commissioners not putting out bond underwriting for bid but there have been no bond issues by the county in the 11 months Commissioner John Smaligo and I have been in office.)
Only the county commission can contract with a government body of a city. Only the county commission can issue bonds on behalf of the county. The county commission is responsible for seeing that state laws regarding county inventory laws are followed. Most county parks are located within the incorporated cities. These include LaFortune Park, O'Brien Park, South Lakes and Chandler. The county commission, through its MIS director and staff, is responsible for the county-wide computer system. The county commission is responsible for approving all bills and claims.
While only required by statute to meet monthly, the Tulsa county commission meets weekly and will do so in 2008, when I am chairman. The calendar is already set. Prior to each Board of County Commission meeting, we get many pages of material to go over in order to approve or disapprove by vote in the Monday morning meeting. Most of these deal with issues that are county wide.
The commission oversees millions of dollars of capital improvements voted by the taxpayers through Vision 2025 and 4-to-Fix the County initiatives. Many of these dollars are spent in the incorporated towns and cities.
So as you can see, Michael was very wrong about the county commission's job responsibilities being limited to the unincorporated areas. Obviously the board's responsibilities are county wide, including the cities and towns. As population grows, the need for all county commission activities will grow, not shrink as Michael said, because they are not limited to the unincorporated areas as Michael incorrectly stated.
I have no vested interest in the activities of the Tulsa Board of County Commissioners growing. I'll expect to be retired four years from now. However, I couldn't let Mr. Bates' incorrect statement about the role of the Board of County Commissioners go unchallenged. I'm disappointed that he doesn't do his homework before improperly informing those members of the public who read the Urban Tulsa Weekly.
In addition, in Tulsa County, the fairgrounds are owned by the county. The three county commissioners sit on the board of Expo Square. They have the majority responsibility for the five member board in overseeing the running of that enterprise--an enterprise which has a $125 million positive impact on the metro area. The board, often simply called the "Fair Board" operates as a trust set up in 1983 as the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority. These responsibilities won't "shrink" either but due to the recently built new facilities and more buildings in progress, the Expo Square activities will grow and oversight will be more important, not less.
The county commissioners also sit on the Criminal Justice Board, which oversees the running of the jail which is admirably done by Sheriff Glanz and his capable staff. Obviously, the great majority of the prisoners are from the incorporated towns and cities because that is where most of the population is.
One more thing--In his Nov. 29-Dec. 5 OpEd, Michael says that I refer all inquiries about Vision 2025 accounts to John Piercey. That is a false statement and Michael would have no way of knowing what I do with inquiries from people other than himself and possibly a couple of other people. I do refer inquiries about Vision 2025 bonds to John Piercey because John Piercey represents the company that did the underwriting of the Vision 2025 bonds long before Commission Smaligo and I were elected.
Also in that OpEd, Michael asserts that we don't accept criticism well. Anyone who knows me knows that I accept constructive criticism in a positive manner. Certainly we are not perfect and while occasionally Michael has a good suggestion, it isn't Michael's constructive criticism that bothers we commissioners. It's his wild generalizations and assertions not based on facts that are troubling.
Michael says we don't take a skeptical look at county government and challenge ways of doing things. He is not in the meetings or in the offices of division heads or the fairground staff when we have done exactly that. But we don't agree with him on some points, so he uses the barrels of ink at the Urban Tulsa to make assertions that aren't true. In some cases, his facts just aren't right, as the reader can see from his misinformation about the statutory and constitutional role of the county commission.
Share this article: