Sunday, 20 July 2008
Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris will investigate the ethics of Mayor Kathy Taylor’s participation in flying Tulsa City Councilor David Patrick (D-Dist. 3) and his grandson back to Tulsa – cutting short a family vacation – so that Patrick could attend an official council meeting for a mayor-mandated vote on a new $60 million tax assessment to fund in part a downtown baseball stadium.
But Mayor Taylor (D) is apparently trying to keep public scrutiny to a minimum, as she has blocked the public release of standard flight history on the Learjet 31A that made the July 10 trip to Siebert, CO. The tracking system Flightaware.com now notes that “This flight is not available for tracking per request from the owner/operator.”
Now added to the question of whether Patrick’s transportation in this instance was ethical is the question of why Taylor, as the owner/operator, has restricted the information. Is Taylor fearful of growing controversy over that trip, or are future trips of more concern?
Mayor Taylor has failed to respond to multiple requests from Tulsa Today for comment. Saturday, the Tulsa World covered the story – also without comment from Taylor – and noted, “The trip was made at no cost to city taxpayers, but aviation experts, who know Taylor’s jet, said a round-trip to Seibert would cost about $4,500 in fuel alone.”
Patrick and his grandson accepted the trip to Tulsa, ending their Colorado vacation. Stacy Kymes, director of capital markets and mergers and acquisitions for the Bank of Oklahoma – and a supporter of the downtown baseball stadium proposal – flew with the pilot (but without Taylor) to Colorado, according to the Tulsa World story. Patrick said Kymes brought a packet of information to "bring me up to speed, but I knew most of the stuff."
Other Councilors report they were “surprised” when they first saw Patrick that day around 5 p.m., just moments before the meeting started. Some questioned privately how important several hours of indoctrination or even moderate persuasion during the flight could have affected Patrick’s vote on the new tax assessment increase necessary for downtown services and stadium development.
Taylor demanded the Tulsa City Council vote July 10 on a $60 million package, claiming the negotiating agreement with the Tulsa Drillers was about to expire and that approval was necessary to prevent the team from securing another location. Three working days after the vote, the deadline was extended (for a second time) until Friday, August 8.
"I have nothing to hide on the matter, and was glad I was able to get my vote on the record," Patrick told the Tulsa World. He also said Taylor told him she “had checked with the Oklahoma Ethics Commission about her bringing him back on her jet. She said that because she owns the jet, there weren’t any violations.”
Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris told Tulsa Today, “I have not done all the research yet, but I am certainly looking into it. At this point in time, the expenditure of private funds [to provide transportation for a public official to vote at a regularly scheduled public meeting] does not appear to be a violation of state law.”
Oklahoma Republican Chairman Gary Jones said, “The problem in Oklahoma is that whenever we talk about ethics, we are talking about minor changes. What Oklahoma needs is a major ethics overhaul. When things like this happen, we need to address them, and rules need to be built into the system that clearly says what can and cannot be done.
“In one current case, we have $150,000 of illegal money identified, and the Ethics Commission still hasn’t done anything and never acted on that issue. It seems to be the Federal government that is the only enforcer of ethics in Oklahoma,” Jones said.
In the Taylor case, Jones said, “It’s a situation you don’t even think about, because most people don’t have the ability to use a personal or corporate asset like that. Who actually paid for that trip? That question needs to be addressed. Is it an ethics question for [City Councilor David Patrick] who accepted the gift or for the person that offered the gift [Mayor Kathy Taylor]? The situation needs to be addressed so it doesn’t happen again.
“We need comprehensive ethics rules, because today we have rules that affect county government and different rules for state government and city government. We need a comprehensive, over-all plan so each individual entity doesn’t have to address ethics issues on an individual basis,” Jones said.
It is unclear if this trip was a corporate expense or a personal expense for Taylor. Jones continued, “Louisiana just went through the most comprehensive ethics reform in their history, and they used to be the state that had the worst violations of ethics. Today, politics in Oklahoma may be the most ethically challenged in the nation. I want to get a copy of what Louisiana did, because minor tweaking of Oklahoma law is not going to get the job done. We do need to fund the Ethics Commission at a higher level, but we need to reform the system before we do that.”
The Tulsa World quoted City Attorney Deirdre Dexter as saying that the city consulted on the issue with Lee Slater, an attorney who specializes in state ethics laws.
"There is no ethical issue," Dexter, a political appointee of the mayor, said. "There were no tax dollars expended, but even if they were, it was for city business."
Marilyn Hughes, executive director of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission since its inception in 1991, told Tulsa Today that the commission “does not review actions of municipalities in Oklahoma” and recommended District Attorney Tim Harris as the top legal authority in Tulsa County.
Tulsa World reporter P.J. Lassek wrote, “Taylor would not comment on the flight to pick up Patrick, or on whether she would have done the same for a councilor who wanted to vote to delay the measure.”
The story has obviously raised questions within the community. Joy Mohorovicic is chairman of the Tulsa County Republican Party, and she admits the situation has her wondering, too. “"If the mayor is flying elected officials on her private plane for a particular vote and then trying to hide it, then this is not right. I believe it’s important for all elected officials – whether city, county, state or national – to be transparent in their actions."
At least two Tulsa city councilors are also flyboys. Both shared their views on the flight history access question with Tulsa Today.
“I don’t know of anyone else in this area that has [blocked public access to flight history],” said Councilor Rick Westcott (R-Dist. 2), who has been a pilot for the last three years. “To be fair, there is probably nothing illegal or unethical about her having the information removed, but it does raise that question. Why doesn’t she want people to know where the airplane has been?”
Councilor Bill Christiansen (R-Dist. 8), owner of Christiansen Aviation, said, “A lot of companies [block access to flight history]. It is a privacy issue for companies that own airplanes and they don’t want their airplane followed. I don’t know that she is trying to hide anything. Maybe she just doesn’t like the public awareness.”
Mayor Taylor, a liscensed attorney, and her husband, Bill Lobeck, own several companies and a charitable foundation. Both own jet airplanes, with Taylor’s being the smaller of the two. Taylor’s plane is a Learjet 31A which entered service in 1994. It is a seven-passenger fast light jet (cruise speed 845km/h) which the company claims carries low operating costs per nautical mile. The Learjet 31A routinely flies at altitudes between 45,000 and 47,000 feet. More than 2,300 Learjets have been built and are "in operation as corporate jets worldwide," according to the company Web site.
About the Author:
David Arnett began his career in professional journalism in 1985 and has published Tulsa Today since 1996 – before Al Gore invented the Internet. He has won two national awards as a First Amendment Publisher. Arnett is a Constitutional Republican, Public Information Specialist and Conservative Media Critic. This news story may be reproduced without charge with proper attribution and links back to the original source. Arnett is available for interview by recognized media.
Last Updated ( Monday, 21 July 2008 )