Tulsa council approves new change-of-government ballot
BY BRIAN BARBER World Staff Writer
Friday, July 29, 2011
7/29/11 at 7:45 AM
Read more about the change-of-government proposal.
Look at the list of CDBG recipients.
Tulsa's City Council voted 7-2 Thursday for a slightly different change-of-government ballot proposal than the one it approved last week, opting to remove an 89 percent pay bump for councilors.
Councilors G.T. Bynum and Jack Henderson opposed the new proposal, which was passed after the council voted to reconsider the earlier version.
The proposal, which Tulsans can expect to see on the Nov. 8 election ballot, would switch the city from one governed by a strong mayor and council to one led by a council and city manager.
The mayor would become more of a figurehead and the 10th member of the council, and the council would hire a professional city manager to run the daily operations of the city.
Under the plan, there would be nonpartisan elections and 12-year term limits for elected officials.
It also would change councilors' newly implemented three-year staggered terms to four-year terms that would be staggered every two years, with elections held on odd-numbered years.
But in this newly approved version, the salary set for a councilor would not go from $18,000 to $34,000 and the mayor's salary from $105,000 down to $61,000.
Instead, a new committee, made up of appointees of the Civil Service Commission, would set the salaries.
Henderson, who voted for last week's proposal, voted against this week's because the salary provision was removed.
Councilor Bill Christiansen said the new form should "force relationship building" between the mayor and the council.
He also pointed out that it's not the council that will decide to change the form of government; it's the citizens.
"This isn't a power grab by the City Council," he said.
But Mayor Dewey Bartlett said, "I disagree with you, respectfully. It's nothing but a power grab.
"The mayor's ability to administer and have the executive powers of the city are taken away in their entirety and given to a nonelected individual called the city manager."
Mayoral veto: Earlier in the day Bartlett held a press conference to say he planned to veto the prior proposal, and when told that the council was considering changing it, he said he would veto that version, too.
The council needs only six votes to overturn the forthcoming veto.
Bartlett said he doesn't support changing the strong mayor-council form of government, which was set up more than 20 years ago.
"I don't think it's the form of government that people have questions about; it's the individuals occupying the seats, myself included," he said.
"I think the vote we will see in November (when all council seats are up for election) will be very telling, as well as the vote two years from now when I'm up for election."
Switching sides: Last week's proposal was approved 5-3, with Councilors Rick Westcott and John Eagleton joining Bynum in opposition. Councilor Chris Trail was absent for that vote.
Westcott said he decided to vote in favor of the altered proposal because the citizens need to weigh in on it.
"I do have concerns that certain people will cast this debate in issues of personality as opposed to the merits," he told the Tulsa World, referring to ongoing conflicts between the mayor and council.
"But I have thought about it, and I think I need to have more faith and trust in the voters that they are going to see through all of the smoke and mirrors and fairly decide the issue."
Eagleton said the pay issue was a hangup for him on the initial proposal, but that he also was persuaded to approve it by Bartlett.
Eagleton has unsuccessfully sought Bartlett's ouster through the Oklahoma Attorney General's Office, which ruled last month that the councilor couldn't legally back up his claims of mayoral misdeeds.
During Thursday's meeting, Bartlett said the council-city manager proposal does not have the level of checks and balances Tulsa's current form of government has.
"What really sold it for me was the mayor's checks-and-balance argument tonight," Eagleton later told the World.
"He has committed crimes in office," Eagleton alleged. "I don't care what the AG said. The AG got it wrong. We need checks and balances to curb the behavior of people like Mayor Bartlett."
Political tension: In a display of the rift between Bartlett and the council, at one point during the meeting while he was debating the merits of the proposal, the mayor turned to Westcott and asked why he was laughing at him.
"Did I say something funny?" the mayor asked.
Mayoral Press Secretary Lloyd Wright was behind the mayor using a smart phone to take a photo of Bartlett addressing the council.
Westcott replied, "I'm just smiling for your boy's picture here. I'm sorry."
Wright pointed at Westcott and said, "Thank you councilor - boy. I appreciate that."
"Anytime, pal," Westcott quipped.
CDBG money: The council approved the annual federal Community Development Block Grant allocations.
More than $3.2 million was divvied up among applicants. A full list of the recipients can be found at tulsaworld.com/2011cdbg
Original Print Headline: Councilors OK new ballot
Brian Barber 918-581-8322