POSTED ON APRIL 17, 2013:
Commissioner's race vitally important
Over the next 60 days most of the political news will be about the Tulsa mayor's race. At times it may appear that this is the only election on June 11. But for some Tulsa residents, that's not the case. There is also an important election for Tulsa County commissioner to finish the term of retiring Commissioner Fred Perry.
Tulsa County Commission District 3 covers a huge amount of south Tulsa, midtown, Broken Arrow, Bixby, and all of the unincorporated areas in south Tulsa County. As many as 200,000 residents are represented by the District 3 County Commissioner. For the residents in Broken Arrow and Bixby, this is likely to be the only election on the June 11 primary ballot. Since one Democrat and five Republicans have filed, there will also be a general election to pick the successor in August. Given that the voter registration in District 3 is over 80 percent Republican, and given the long history of the commissioner elected being a Republican, chances are the next commissioner is the winner of the Republican primary.
To understand why the selection of the next commissioner for District 3 is important, it's necessary to know a bit about how and where Tulsa County government actually touches the lives of Tulsa County residents. We all know about the Tulsa County fairgrounds and Expo Square and what an entertainment and economic development asset it is. But the commissioner is also involved in the City-County Health Department, City-County Library, LaFortune and Chandler Park, and many highway projects. When you see how the health department reacted to the latest crisis with a local dentist or see the road work on South Memorial or in front of Saint Francis hospital, that's your county government at work. When the election board works on election days or sirens go off from the emergency management agency during threatening weather, that's your county government and its commissioners doing the public's work.
The Board of County Commissioners serves both as the legislative and executive branches of county government. It's very similar to the former city commission form of government many of us wish we still had. With that form, you know exactly who's in charge and who to call when you have an issue. That means that the county commissioner has to not only be very accessible and transparent but also be very multi-talented in order to multitask. That's what makes the qualifications of the next county commissioner so important.
To be an effective county commissioner, you have to not only lead but be a collaborator and consensus builder. When you consider that the county commissioner has to get along with the mayors, city councils, and city managers in all of the 10 cities and towns in Tulsa County, as well as the six other countywide elected officials, you have to balance your political ideology with practical solutions to immediate issues.
There are certain attributes to being a good county commissioner that are essential. As we have seen with major projects in Tulsa County, you have to not only be a team player but you also have to be a good listener. To be an effective county commissioner you have to realize that people won't care what you know unless they know that you care.
We have seen times of peace and times of war between the city and the county. For the most part, history shows us that it was the city that starts these fights with the county. Some will remember when the city refused to pay its fair share of the cost to operate the jail, and litigation broke out. Or the absolutely bad idea of the city annexing the fairgrounds from the county just so the city could start to impose a tax on citizens when they make purchases at the fairgrounds because the city's fiscal house was in a shambles and it needed money. In these types of situations it's important that the county commissioners not only live up to the duties and oath of the office in which they hold, but to act diplomatically in so doing.
Whoever replaces Fred Perry will finish his term, which ends December 2014. That means that this time next year the campaign will start again for a full term to begin in January 2015. That means the county commissioner elected this summer will have to learn, lead, and run for reelection all at the same time. Not everyone who runs for office can do all three of these well.
Being a successful county commissioner sometimes means we don't hear or read much about them. They are doing the public's work with effectiveness, not controversy. But that doesn't mean qualifications don't matter. They do. Once every candidate has told you they have a family, business experience, go to church, are involved in the community and don't have any big skeletons in their closet, what's left to look for?
Look for maturity, steadiness, integrity, and someone more interested in building trust than a political resume. It's more about work performance while in the batter's box than giving speeches from the soapbox.
Our county commissioners have important responsibilities to all of us even if you never see it or didn't know it. That's why this election to replace Fred Perry is so important.
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