POSTED ON MAY 1, 2013:
Mayoral decision leads to council heat
It happens just after 6pm nearly every Thursday, almost like clockwork.
The nine-member Tulsa City Council votes to approve someone -- sometimes two or three or more people -- to serve as a volunteer on a board or commission.
Most weeks, the votes unanimously support someone nominated for the role by Mayor Dewey Bartlett.
"Fortunately, we have a group of extremely good people that are on the board now, so we do quite bit of reappointment," Bartlett said.
But there's always a back story.
Recently, a rift between Bartlett and the council spilled into public view. Ultimately, the council on April 25 reappointed Ruth Kaiser Nelson, a philanthropist and sister of billionair George Kaiser, to the five-person Tulsa Housing Authority board, a position she's held since 1989.
"Ruth's getting up in age. She's still a very sharp woman," said David Patrick, chairman for the council.
The vote only happened after a near-revolt on the part of the council that caused Bartlett to back down from his plan to have someone replace Nelson.
At a council committee meeting April 18, Councilor Phil Lakin asked City Attorney David O'Meilia if the council could simply reject future Bartlett nominations to ensure that Nelson stay on the board. Councilor Jeannie Cue stated she would reject future nominations for Nelson's board position, and others supported keeping Nelson on the board.
This came after -- earlier in the meeting -- O'Meilia said the council could not simply vote Nelson onto the board and bypass the mayoral appointment process because of regulations governing this particular board.
In an interview, Councilor Jack Henderson described how the issue had been building for weeks before the meeting.
"I've known Ms. Nelson a long time, and I've known some people that served on the board with her, and they were really upset to even think that somebody would go after Ruth Nelson," Henderson said. "I kind of went around and asked some of the councilors had they heard it. Then it came up."
Patrick said the council first received the name of a potential nominee from Bartlett sometime around the early part of April.
Henderson said multiple names would be submitted.
"Every one of those people they came up with had a conflict that they couldn't serve," Henderson said. "One of them was actually getting money from the Housing Authority for some properties he owned. Another one had a conflict because he was on some boards that dealt directly with the Housing Authority," Henderson said. Patrick said he did not interview the nominees, but said he also understood there had been some type of conflict-of-interest problem.
Henderson added: "Every time the mayor would come up with somebody, we would kind of slip that information ... the appointment would probably have some trouble trying to go through."
As time passed, Henderson said some council members attempted to force the issue by voting Nelson onto the board directly. The item was scuttled by O'Meilia at the April 18 meeting for legal reasons.
The next day, Bartlett publicly stated he would back re-appointment for Nelson.
But in an interview, he brought up his own experience when talking about his philosophy in making appointments to boards and commissions.
"I've been on a large number of boards," said Bartlett. At times, "either I got replaced or not reappointed," he said.
"I really don't believe that a person, once they're on the board, that they have a right to be on there for the next several decades. I do think turnover is a very good thing," Bartlett said.
When it comes to amount of time on a board, "I don't have a specific amount in mind," Bartlett said. "I usually just look at the board itself and see if there has been any turnover, and if the turnover's been fairly light, then I think, well, let's seriously look at making a change and putting one or two new people on that particular board," he added.
Nelson is not the only person to have begun their term of service on the board in the 1980s. On the City of Tulsa/Rogers County Port Authority board, for example, Jon Stuart began his service in October of 1985.
Bob Portiss, port director for the Tulsa Port of Catoosa, said experience is valuable when making decisions related to development of a port that now has 65 industries and employs nearly 4,000 workers.
He said that, "unequivocally," having several board members serve multiple terms "has certainly been a significant factor in the successful growth and development" of the port.
Bartlett explained that his goal at times is to ask a board member to serve on a different board or commission, as he plans to do with port board member John Smith, who began his service on the port board in October 2008.
"What I decided to do was get some new blood there, so I did not reappoint him, much to the chagrin of a few people," Bartlett said. Instead, he said Smith's insight would be a good fit for a board that helps oversee aviation in Tulsa. "I will be nominating his appointment to the Airport Authority," Bartlett said.
Occasionally, serving on a board can be an entryway into elected office. Cue served on a sales tax overview committee before her successful bid to be a councilor.
Brandon Perkins currently serves as a volunteer on three governmental boards or commissions and is now running for county commissioner. He called serving on the boards "one of the catalysts of me considering running for office."
Henderson said he would like to see a wider geographical representation on city boards and appointments. In 2010, the council -- with a different membership than today -- blocked a nominee to the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, stating that too many candidates were being nominated from midtown in District 9.
Bartlett downplayed the role of geography in his decision-making process.
"Geographic consideration -- I don't look into that too much. It does enter into it a bit," he said.
Patrick noted that the boards and commissions were created to help run the city. This year, the council began doing informal interviews with nominees to help answer their questions as well as get a better feel for their capabilities.
"We really do try to get good quality people, get good capable minds," Bartlett said. "So it works pretty well. They do help tremendously."
Applications to serve on a board or committee can be found at cityoftulsa.org/ourcity by clicking on the "Boards and Commissions" link.
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