An open door
BY World's Editorial Writers
Monday, September 06, 2010
9/06/10 at 3:52 AM
Spending the people's money and holding political power isn't supposed to be easy, a lesson Tulsa's top leaders learned as they attempt to publicly resolve their differences.
The City Council and the mayor have been sniping at each other for months. The feud is holding the city back and making Tulsa's municipal government a public joke.
It's a problem that needs a full resolution and a quick one.
To its credit, the Tulsa Metro Chamber intervened to find a resolution to the problem through a series of air-clearing meetings.
But even before the meetings could start there was a complication: Advocates of open government said the meetings had to all be open to the public. The chamber had planned to hold the early talks behind closed doors.
The folks fighting to keep the process open were right and the City Council did the right thing when it backed out of the secret meetings.
If the City Council and the mayor sit down to solve their problems, it's going to have to happen in the full glare of an open meeting, which isn't going to make the process any easier.
But governing isn't supposed to be easy.
Someone had cooked up an idea of breaking up the City Council into smaller sub-quorum-sized groups that could meet in secret and then having someone walk ideas back and forth.
Thank goodness that bad idea didn't prevail. Using small group meetings to get around the state's Open Meetings Act is in itself a violation of the Open Meetings Act.
Some have wondered if city leaders will be candid about their problems if they can't discuss them sub rosa?
Oklahoma State University journalism professor Joey Senat called that idea exactly what it is: "a heaping pile of horse excrement."
Tulsa's city leaders have shown no shyness about speaking their minds throughout the feud. Candidness hasn't been the problem. Even if it is, it's not an excuse not to follow the law.
The chamber of commerce deserves the city's thanks for helping bring both sides to the table, but it needs to understand that the government is played by different rules than business: no closed-door deals, no private talks, no back-room discussions.
It may not be pretty and it certainly won't be easy, but government is supposed to take place in the full light of day, even the parts that may make you want to turn your head.
Mayor Dewey Bartlett speaks during a press conference at City Hall. TOM GILBERT / Tulsa World file