POSTED ON JULY 11, 2007:
The Mayor's Report Card
Kathy Taylor earns a passing grade into her second year in the city's school of hard knocks
Kathy Taylor earns a passing grade.
Since this is our Education Issue, and, a little more than a year since Mayor Kathy Taylor took office, we thought it appropriate to hand her a report card grading her performance.
Overall, it's been a good term so far for Her Honor, according to most of the experts who were consulted to grade her performance in various areas.
She earned a passing grade after averaging her marks in the subjects of Law Enforcement, Intergovernmental Relations, Economic/Community and Infrastructure Development and Education.
Economic Development should be Taylor's area of expertise, considering her previous post as the state's Secretary of Commerce and Tourism, so we'll take it easy on her and start with that.
"The Tulsa business community applauds the Mayor's efforts to develop a new comprehensive plan for the City of Tulsa," said Mike Neal, president and CEO of the Tulsa Metro Chamber.
In this subject, he gave her an 'A+.'
Along with her role in the recently announced river development plan that has everyone abuzz, Neal applauded her "comprehensive plan" that will "replace a 30-year-old, outdated plan" for community and infrastructure development.
"She hired a full-time economic director, Don Himelfarb, on her staff and streamlined the process for assistance within the city," he elaborated. "Furthermore, she is the catalyst behind the city's successful request from the Oklahoma Opportunity Fund resulting in the $10 million to expand our valuable aerospace industry. We simply couldn't do it without her."
Neal also factored her proposed move of City Hall to the One Technology Center into his grade, since the Tulsa Metro Chamber has formally endorsed the idea.
The City Council, though, is still weighing that particular project before issuing its own final "grade" on it.
Rose Washington, executive director of the Tulsa Economic Development Corporation, also gave Taylor high marks on the subject Economic Development.
"She deserves an 'A' as far as her commitment to small business," she said.
The TEDC works to promote economic development through supporting small businesses, Washington said, and Taylor's "urging and support" played a large part in the City Council approving a Community Development Block Grant for a new program called "Fast Track," which helps existing small businesses.
"In my opinion, even though the rhetoric had been 'small business is big business,' there hasn't been a concerted effort in the past," she said. "But, when you look at everything she's done, she's done more than I've seen from any mayor since I've been in Tulsa," she added.
Washington has lived in Tulsa for five and a half years.
Taylor has four representatives on TEDC's 15-member board of directors, Washington said, but that didn't influence her lofty appraisal.
"If the Mayor had eight votes on our board, I could see how I might be tempted to let that influence me, but she's only got four," she said.
Needs More Work
While Taylor got high marks for her efforts toward economic development, she didn't fare so well when it comes to crime fighting.
Law enforcement is a hot-button issue in Tulsa these days, and the Mayor has had more than her share of challenges in that area since she took office.
Amid pressure from all sides to deal with Tulsa's long-standing illegal immigration issue as well as the city's more homegrown underworld, the burdensome and political-minefield-fraught task of finding a new police chief also falls to Taylor.
Responses were mixed when she passed over internal candidates to replace recently retired Chief David Been.
Some commentators praised her for "thinking outside the box" by seeking an outside candidate who might bring in fresh ideas about how to deal with Tulsa's persistent law enforcement challenges.
Others, though (including the three internal candidates she ruled out) don't think much of the Mayor's hiring practices.
The three filed a civil lawsuit and a complaint with the Civil Service Commission on the charge that she's acting outside the bounds of her authority as outlined in the city charter.
The Commission upheld the Mayor's choice of hiring methods, but the civil lawsuit is still pending.
After the CSC made its determination, Taylor announced her appointment of Wilmington, Del.-based law enforcement consultant David Bostrom as interim chief.
On top of her hiring practices, Taylor drew additional fire from the local police union for supposedly breaking campaign promises to beef up the ranks of the Tulsa Police Department when she crafted a budget that only included funding for 20 new police academy graduates.
Such was the rationale for the grade submitted by Fraternal Order of Police President Darin Filak.
"I'd give her an 'I' for 'Incomplete,'" he said.
"She made several promises about hiring additional officers and making public safety a priority, and we're still waiting for those promises to be fulfilled," Filak explained.
The 20 new hires, he said, won't be sufficient to maintain then-current ranks of 814 sworn officers by offsetting the force's attrition rate of 2.2 officers per month.
The Mayor, however, said those were the number of academy seats recommended by TPD representatives, and that the 2.2 attrition rate is a vast improvement over the 3.4 officers the force was losing per month last year.
Other members of Tulsa's law enforcement community aren't quite as patient as their union president and gave her a 'C.'
"Morale is horrible (on the police force)," said one officer, who didn't want to be named as he gave his boss such a mediocre rating.
"Morale is at an all-time low from her lack of backing us and lack of positive feedback, plus I've never seen a Democratic mayor who was so anti-union in my life," he added.
He also cited "how she handled the chief situation" as a factor in his rating.
So, why not give her an 'F'?
"I'm not going to blame everything on her; there were problems here before she came into office, but she's not helping the situation any," he answered.
Filak, on the other hand, has been as outspoken as any against the Mayor's police chief hiring practices, but he said that didn't factor into his evaluation of her job performance.
"Obviously, we have a difference of opinion, but that's just a business disagreement--it didn't affect my grade of her," he said.
Taylor also got an 'I' from another person who's been an occasional rival on other policy issues.
City Council Chairman Roscoe Turner gave her an overall Law Enforcement grade of "I" for "Incomplete," but gave her an "A" for effort.
"She's doing the best she can with what she's got," he said.
"She's got too much on her plate, though--she's trying to fix all these problems, one at a time, and can't do it," Turner said.
The councilor was among a handful of public supporters for the Mayor's choice to hire a police chief from outside the force.
So, with the unnamed officer's 'C,' Turner's "'A' for effort" and two 'I's, the Mayor gets a tentative 'B' in Law Enforcement.
Getting Along with Classmates
While Turner supports Taylor in her police chief hiring practices, he has locked horns with her on other policy issues, which likely led to his less-than-stellar, but still easily passing grade in the area of Intergovernmental Relations.
The controversy over the city's annexation of the Tulsa County Fairgrounds seems to have faded from news headlines, and the blood appears to have been cleaned from the arena floor, but bruised knuckles and blackened eyes might still be visible after the Mayor had to divide her energy between refereeing and participating in the epic struggle that ensued between the City Council and the County Commission over the issue.
Turner proposed annexing the fairgrounds last November as a way to increase city revenue by collecting the 3-cent sales tax there.
City leadership, dealing with a tight budget and looking for new sources of revenue, appeared generally in favor of the timely idea. The County Commission, however, after an initial ho-hum attitude, soon came out swinging in opposition, casting public warnings of doom, gloom and lost business at Expo Square if the city absorbs the land.
All eyes were on the Mayor after the ordinance passed to annex the fairgrounds in July of this year, with only five of the nine city councilors voting in favor of it, placing it squarely in the crosshairs for a possible veto.
Meanwhile, county officials' dire predictions swayed much of the public into fearing the doom that would ensue from annexation, while Commissioners Randi Miller, John Smaligo and Fred Perry exhorted Taylor to exercise her veto powers in open opposition to the Council.
"A couple of weeks ago you told Commissioner Perry that you don't like the idea of a veto since you need to work with the Council," the Commissioners wrote in a letter to Taylor in May.
"You are concerned about the Council Chairman and Vice Chairman (District 7 Councilor John Eagleton) who voted 'yes.'
"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. Don't forget they need you also. This veto would demonstrate decisiveness with a measure that is unpopular," they also said.
The Commissioners further told her that if she didn't veto, she'd pay a price in future dealings with themselves and other county officials.
"Intergovernmental relations have been hurt by the annexation initiative and it certainly is not going to help in the future with many important areas on the horizon," they cautioned.
"Of course, if annexation takes place, we will do what we can to make it work but a veto is the appropriate action. You will need to work with the three County Commissioners, the five county elected officials and the Fair Board in the future on inter-governmental areas. A veto of annexation will certainly help; a non-veto will harm the relationship," they said.
Thus the Mayor found herself between the rock of alienating city councilors and the hard place of estranging the county government, so she created a third path: a compromise with which no one was completely happy, intended to preserve the ties between herself and the two bodies.
She proposed a plan to wait until 2009 to annex the fairgrounds--a plan that included other features meant to offset some of the objections raised by annexation opponents.
District 2 Councilor Rick Westcott, who voted against it, said, "On behalf of my constituents, I'm offended" because he didn't find out about the Mayor's proposal until late in the afternoon on the previous day.
"I didn't have time to discuss the compromise with any of my constituents, and they were strongly against annexation," he said.
However, he added, "Ultimately, I'm glad the Mayor and the County Commissioners were able to resolve their differences and find some middle ground."
Miller called the compromise "the best of a bad situation" while Turner called it "the lesser of two evils," with the greater evil being an outright veto.
With the Annexation Saga, for the time being, behind him, the Council Chairman was asked how he would grade the Mayor on Intergovernmental Relations.
"Possibly a 'C,'" Turner answered.
"The reason being that, basically, she's doing what she said she was going to do, and that's working as a CEO," he said.
"In government, the CEO isn't the prime voice like in a private corporation, but she seems to want to be the deciding voice on everything that goes on in the city," Turner elaborated.
Council Vice-chair John Eagleton, who was arguably as vocal an advocate as Turner was for annexation of the fairgrounds, gave the Mayor a much more favorable evaluation on the same subject, presumably with a broader picture in mind.
He gave her an 'A+' on Intergovernmental Relations, citing her characteristic approachability and striving to keep lines of communication as free and open as possible.
"She hasn't always agreed with Jenks, Bixby or the county, but she's as accessible a mayor as we could ever have," Eagleton said.
The councilor recounted a late-night telephone conversation he'd had with Taylor following the previous week's City Council meeting, which he said most mayors wouldn't have entertained.
"She's really, really, really trying to keep the lines of communication open," said Eagleton.
For understandable reasons, county representatives declined to offer a grade, so with the Council chair and vice-chair's evaluations factored together, the Mayor gets a 'B' in Intergovernmental Relations.
If Overall Approachability were a subject that we thought warranted an entire grading category, Taylor would get an 'A+' considering Eagleton's and others' kudos to her for being so open to communication.
"She's certainly been more communicative with us than any previous mayor," said Steve Stockley, president of the Tulsa Classroom Teachers' Association, when he was asked to grade her on the subject of Education.
Since Education generally wouldn't fall under the purview of city government, we'll consider the 'A-/B+' Stockley gave her to be extra credit.
"Even before she ran, she was very interested in the needs of the city and schools and she started with inquiries, which no one has done before," he said.
"I was a little curious to see if that would continue after the election, but I was thankful that the open door policy still exists," he added.
In closing, from our completely un-scientific, anecdotal system of grading, Taylor winds up with a 'B+' for her performance so far as Mayor.
The voters of Tulsa, though, will do the real grading in 2010 is she chooses to run for a second term.
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