POSTED ON JULY 3, 2013:
Political meandering chips away at safety
Cop Out"- (n) meaning the easy way out of a sticky situation; blaming someone else to make things easy for yourself; excuse designed to shirk responsibility.
In a nutshell, those two words describe what the City Council did, or better put, did not do, recently with the public safety proposal was supported by the mayor, police and fire unions, and both the police and fire chiefs -- who together have over 50 years of professional public safety experience.
Most of us never knew that those on the Council -- some for a scant two years -- had more experience, knowledge, and a better public perception on public safety than everyone else who actually spent a lifetime working in public safety.
Though the Council has created this new illusion of decisiveness by having "consensus votes," a majority of the Council decided not to listen to the consensus from the citizens of Tulsa. Unfortunately, over 80,000 Tulsan's didn't have any say at all because two of the councilors were absent leaving their voices and votes out of the mix.
Both prior to and after the vote, some editorialized that they (the council) were doing the right thing by falling back to past failed approaches of funding of public safety. Some even speculated that Mayor Bartlett's approach smelled of mayoral politics. There was a political smell alright, but it wasn't coming from the mayor. It was coming from those on the council who have stated their support for Kathy Taylor and who can't let anything good for Tulsa occur on Mayor Bartlett's watch over the next few months. Politics can smell rotten.
The real reason for citizen concerns has nothing to do with mayoral politics. The real cause of citizen anger should be the arrogance of those in government. Some on the council clearly stated, by their vote and soapbox speeches, that what the fire and police chief supported didn't matter, that the police and fire unions don't matter, and worst of all, what the citizens think doesn't matter, even though every poll and survey taken on this issue has had over 65 percent citizen approval.
All the Council was voting on was to let the citizens vote and make our own decisions on the level of staffing and funding that we want. The council felt we don't have the right to make those decisions. This coming from a part-time, $18,000-a-year, no-experience-required group of government employees. Seven people decided that nearly 200,000 citizens don't get the opportunity to decide.
Some citizens actually called the city council office before the vote to express their support for letting the citizens decide. Did the council listen to them? No. What did some on the council say? They were offended that citizens would call. After all, they seldom hear much from the citizens before they vote on most issues. Some on the council said, paraphrased, "I don't care how many citizens call, I've made up my mind and what you think doesn't matter. We are not going to listen to you and we're not going to let you vote."
Had some on the council been politically astute, they could have had a win-win situation. They could have put the issue on the ballot and if it passed, patted themselves on the back for listening and leadership. If it fails, blame the mayor, because it was all his idea.
A few years ago a group of Tulsans put together an initiative petition to put several proposed changes to city government on the ballot. Some passed and some didn't. Perhaps it is time to do that again. This time, the change to our city's charter should be that either the city council or the mayor can put an issue on a ballot for the citizens to decide. Why should this only be allowed when it's done by the council or through initiative petition and the Mayor is completely left out?
The mayor is, in effect, the CEO of the city. We are the shareholders of the city. Why can't the CEO put something before the shareholders for us to decide? The burden to convince us would be on the mayor -- a big gamble for him, not so much for the council.
The Council believes it has come up with a way to address the public safety needs. Of course, it's the same old short term "we'll worry about tomorrow some other time" approach. If we are smart enough to have a five-year capital improvements plan, then why don't we have a five-year public safety plan? Doesn't it make sense to think long term for a core service we will always need and will always have to fund?
Some have stated that dedicating public funds to government services is poor management. Actually, it's tried-and-true good government. We do it with our water fees, sewer fees, storm water fees, and EMSA fees. These are dedicated sources of revenue which fund core government services.
Budget decisions tell us a lot about the political and community priorities of our elected officials. Some would say that budgets are a set of goals with a price tag on it. So, what does the budget which the Council passed tell us about their priorities; and how does this budget line up with what the Council and Mayor agreed to were there joint goals this past January during their retreat?
For starters, clearly the other branches of city government are not held in high esteem by the council. The Municipal Justice system took the hardest hit with an 18 percent reduction and the city auditor, the watch dog over the council, took almost a 15 percent reduction. And for all of the howling we have heard in the past from the council in support of human rights, the human rights department is heading out the door with a 14 percent cut.
There is good news. For those who support the right to vote and right to decide on how your money is spent on public safety, the final decision by the council is not until September. There will be a series of public meetings this summer where everyone should show up and tell the council it's not up to them. It's up to us. Hopefully, citizens will continue to call their councilor as well.
Remember, it's your government, your city, and your future. It should be your decision.
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