Having survived a strong challenge to win his third term in office, District 2 City Councilor Rick Westcott said he now will turn his attention to bringing passenger rail service to Tulsa, examining the possible "fence lining" of the Berryhill area and taking a hard look at the city's public safety budget.
Westcott emerged the victor from the Sept. 8 Republican primary by slipping past challenger Bart Rhoades with 1,200 votes to Rhoades' 1,042. No Democrats or independents filed to run for the seat, meaning Westcott will be the winner by default in the November general election.
Rhoades, a retired firefighter, had the strong support of the city's firefighters union during the campaign. The union's support might have been the difference in the District 5 Republican primary, in which incumbent Bill Martinson lost by only 18 votes to challenger Chris Trail, who also was supported by the firefighters.
Martinson came under fire from the union for his proposal last summer to delay a vote on the city's proposed budget until councilors could take a closer look at its public safety figures. Westcott voted in favor of that delay and was also targeted by firefighters, many of whom claimed Martinson's proposals would have resulted in large numbers of layoffs for public safety personnel.
Days after the election, Westcott was happy to be returning to office, but he lamented the defeat of Martinson.
"I am taking his defeat harder than I probably would have taken mine," he said. "The experience and the expertise he has has been invaluable to the City Council and the city of Tulsa. Because of his education and experience and background, he can pick apart a financial spreadsheet and knows what questions to ask. None of the rest of us can do that.
"Sometimes, maybe, Bill speaks too frankly for some people's comfort level, but that's just Bill," Westcott continued. "If someone can look past the way Bill presents information and look at his true intention ... I just think the city of Tulsa will be worse off, and that's not a criticism about Chris Trail."
Westcott said he knows nothing about Trail or how he'll fit in on the council, but the District 2 councilor expects the city's governing body to continue to be able to work together, no matter what additional changes the November general election might bring.
"This council has gotten along well and worked very well together," he said. "We have our differences, but none of us have allowed it to become personal, and we've done our jobs for the city of Tulsa. It's been a pleasure to serve with this group."
Westcott said he plans to devote his third term to continuing to work toward the establishment of passenger rail service in Tulsa--the addition of both Amtrak service and the creation of a commuter rail service between downtown Tulsa and its outlying areas.
He also wants the council to consider fence lining the Berryhill area west of Tulsa's southwest corner. Fence lining is a maneuver under which the city encompasses an area of land without formally annexing it, thus preventing other municipalities from annexing it at a later time. Westcott believes that move is necessary to protect the city's investment in the Gilcrease Expressway, which he also hopes to see finished during his third term.
But he is perhaps most concerned about the city's budget. He pointed out that under the five-year roads program adopted by voters last year, every bit of the revenue created by the third-penny sales tax in 2013 and 2014 will go to roads, leaving nothing for such capital expenditures as police cars or fire trucks.
"We need to take a look at our public safety budgets," Westcott continued. "We have to find a way to trim that budget without reducing our manpower."
But in the nearer term, Westcott is anticipating the completion of the PLANiTULSA process over the next few months and the corresponding update of the city's long-range plan.
"Obviously, we have to revise our comprehensive plan," he said. "This is our opportunity--and I mean that as all the citizens of Tulsa--to steer Tulsa in the direction we want it to go rather than letting it spread out and grow almost willy-nilly. This is our opportunity to work toward a firm design and guide Tulsa's growth. We have to do that."
Westcott acknowledged the city is facing some serious hurdles in the coming year, particularly in the budget.
"But I do believe we've got some good momentum established and a lot of good things happening," he said. "I don't want to put a doom-and-gloom air out there. We have the tools to solve these problems."
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