Voters to decide whether to restructure City Council
BY P.J. LASSEK World Staff Writer
Sunday, September 25, 2011
9/25/11 at 7:29 AM
Read more about the
proposals to change of
Read continuing coverage of the upcoming
Editor’s note: The Tulsa World will
highlight each of the four ballot
questions that seek changes to the
city’s form of government in Sunday
articles leading up to the Nov. 8
Voters will decide Nov. 8 whether to restructure the City Council by adding three at-large councilors and by having the mayor control the council meetings and agenda topics.
"The at-large members would ensure the council had members whose interest was Tulsa first and not strictly isolated to specific districts," said Tom Hughes, a member of Save Our Tulsa, which is proposing the change.
Adding the mayor to the council to oversee the meetings and agenda is important and does not change the current strong mayor government structure, he said.
"We have to get the mayor and council in the same room sitting at the table talking about the issues," a problem plaguing this administration, Hughes said.
Leonard Eaton, another member of the nonprofit group, said it's a pretty simple concept: "You lock all of these guys in the same room and don't let them out until they work together."
The addition of the three at-large councilors and the mayor would grow the current nine-council membership to 13, including the mayor.
The proposal to restructure the council is one of four ballot questions seeking changes to the city's form of government that range from significant tweaks to a total replacement.
In 1990, the city changed from a commission structure to a strong mayor, weak council.
The proposed changes are a reaction to the constant state of discord between the council and Mayor Dewey Bartlett since the beginning of 2010.
To make changes to the form of government requires a public vote that amends the City Charter.
Save Our Tulsa successfully placed its three City Charter amendments on the ballot through an initiative petition process. The council also has placed a question on the ballot.
Due to state law requirements, the Save Our Tulsa questions must be independently decided.
Mayor's new role
Under the restructuring proposal, the strong mayor structure remains in place.
However, the mayor would be added to the council to attend and serve as the chairman of its meetings and to cast a tie-breaking vote.
The mayor also would send messages and recommendations to the councilors; call special council sessions; request the purpose of any decision or action of the council; retain the current mayoral veto and appoint a council vice chair from one of the three at-large councilors, the ballot question proclamation explains.
Theoretically, the mayor could cast the deciding vote on an issue, then veto it and finally cast the vote to override the veto.
Eaton said it's unlikely such a scenario would occur.
He also conceded that under this system, the mayor could present the city's balanced budget, which is subject to council approval, and then be the tie-breaking vote to approve it.
"We can't possibly address every issue," Eaton said.
Pro: Supporters say it forces the council and mayor to work together on city issues.
Cons: Critics believe integrating the mayor into the council erodes the checks and balances that currently exist between the executive and legislative branches.
Others say it gives the mayor too much power by dictating the discussions. Also, allowing the mayor to choose a vice chairman to act on his behalf does not ensure the mayor will attend meetings.
The at-large councilors would be elected citywide to two-year terms. They also would have to reside in one of three at-large districts.
Each of the at-large districts would overlap three of the existing nine council districts.
At-large District 1 would consist of council districts 1, 3, and 4; District 2 consists of council districts 2, 8 and 9; and District 3 consists of council districts 5, 6 and 7.
Eaton said this allows voters more input into the makeup of the council by not only deciding their specific district councilor, but also three chosen at-large.
"The at-large councilors also are accountable to the entire city and people from the north, south, east and west parts of town can vote them out based on their performance," Eaton said. "This should increase voter turnout too."
Eaton said he also thinks with "a larger council membership it will be harder to have a cabal."
Pro: Supporters say it erodes ward politics and ensures council membership accountable to all voters.
Con: Critics contend it creates "mini-mayors." Also at issue is the impact on the Voters Rights Act, by diluting the voice of black voters. The black population is predominantly located in Tulsa's northern section.
The critics say the impact of adding three at-large councilors failed to be vetted through a community-wide process to ensure inclusivity.
They also note that a citywide election is expensive, so at-large candidates would ensure that "money would control Tulsa, rather than one man, one vote."
Mayor Dewey Bartlett and The League of Women Voters have publicly opposed the questions, both stating the problem isn't the structure but those elected to office, which voters can correct through the election cycle.
Initiative petition proposition 1:"Shall the amended charter of the city of Tulsa be further amended to re-structure the council to provide that the mayor shall serve as a member and chair of the council, but shall vote only if required to break a tie vote; to provide for the election of three at-large councilors, at a special election called for that purpose, whose terms shall commence on the first Tuesday of the month immediately following such special election and shall thereafter be elected in even-numbered years for two-year terms; one of whom shall be a qualified elector of council district 1, 3, or 4; one of whom shall be a qualified elector of council district 2, 8, or 9; one of whom shall be a qualified elector of council district 5, 6 or 7, and one of whom shall be appointed vice chair of the council by the mayor."
Original Print Headline: Council changes considered
P.J. Lassek 918-581-8382