On Civil Discourse

Friday, 17 February 2006
Yes, right here in River City, as Muslims are rioting worldwide over a cartoon, people of good intent are tearing themselves apart even while fighting for the common objective of a better Tulsa for ourselves and future generations, but what are our children learning from our disputes?  It appears urban development issues have motivated crimes upon the same downtown ­- which all sides say they want developed.

On Friday, February 3rd, vandals struck several downtown buildings including the Mayo, Sinclair and McFarlin Buildings, First Place Tower, Bank of America, Pearl Lofts, several spots on newly refurbished sidewalks, Tulsa Vision Builders field office, and many utility service structures of Oklahoma Natural Gas and the City of Tulsa.

Figuring prominently in this public criminal activity was the phrase “scream create or die,” with other words of sophomoric excess like “here we spontane,” “walls breathe the past,” and “skrewed.”  The same stencil of a dancing girl with “moving objects” as a title has been seen downtown and along 21st Street and was applied on one building in red paint on white marble that may never come clean.

The apparent target of rage was the removal in process of two buildings on Main between 4th and 5th streets.  One of those, the former Lerner Shop, had once been considered mildly art deco, but previous owners destroyed what was historic and the current physical condition of the buildings represents a danger to the public.  They were for sale for many years and only recently purchased as part of a package with First Place Tower.  The new owners, Maurice Kanbar and Henry Kaufman, removed the asbestos and are removing the buildings as they move forward with plans for a downtown day-care in the immediate area.

Before the owners could announce their day-care plans the local forum “Tulsa Now” (which is open to the public and allows anonymous posting) a thread of outrage began.  Local blogger and contributing writer for a weekly free events guide, Urban Tulsa, Michael Bates, posted third on the thread early the same day the vandalism occurred.

A Google search on the phrase “scream create or die” Tulsa returns the personal web blog page of a Jamie Pierson.  On that page she writes, “Throw a little paint on the walls, make a little noise, break a couple rules, buy a little less and create a little more, and see how far it gets you in this sleepy town.”  Pierson apparently has multiple blogs and a myspace.com group she leads named the “Tulsa Kick Ass Initiative.”  Her myspace handle is “everyone is brilliant.”  Pierson’s blog on blogspot is called “Kick Ass Tulsa.”

Pierson was also overheard with her friends describing the crime with much pride in a mid-town coffee shop.  There is a witness.  They talked a lot about stencils and being into graffiti that day.  The same interests are reflected in their linked pages online. Later reports indicate that Pierson continues to brag to “everyone in town” about this criminal activity – this report from a comrade in her midtown circle of self-proclaimed avant-garde reinventing rage against authority for their generation.

On his batesline.com Bates writes, “Jamie Pierson, my favorite blue-haired Brookside barista, has a couple of thoughts on downtown Tulsa history prompted by the article, which she’s posted on her new blog. One of the thoughts has to do with her grandfather, Jimmy Saied, who opened his music store downtown in the ’40s, then moved to 33rd and Yale in the ’60s.”

Pierson, 21, also works for Urban Tulsa delivering the free paper and writes of Bates as her “favorite Republican.”  She is not known to be a member of Tulsa Now or any other group engaged in substantive public policy or development debate.

Bates is reportedly a member of the Tulsa Now Board of Directors.  He holds a minor elected position with the Oklahoma Republican Party and is apparently serving as senior advisor and frequent cheerleader for mayoral candidate Chris Medlock’s underdog bid for the office.  How many Tulsans follow his leadership is an open question as he has lost two attempts at a seat on the Tulsa City Council and, in opposition to Vision 2025, was defeated by over 60 percent in Tulsa County.

Neither Pierson nor Bates are known to have invested any of their own money into downtown or to live in the downtown core themselves, but Bates, in particular, has opined profusely on his self-educated visions of urban development using his print column, appearances on the Michael DelGiorno radio show, and his blog.

Kanbar and Kaufman, highly successful on both coasts, have invested over $100 million of private funds recently in Tulsa.  By published reports, they intend to assist Tulsa’s downtown development as a pedestrian-friendly arts, retail, and entertainment district.  This kind of serious investment with other development in process within the Blue Dome and Brady areas and the existing office utilization holds the potential to rocket downtown success in ways that every Tulsan could support with pride.

Why the online outrage?  Maybe it is the perfect example of the old saying, “Those that know aren’t talking, and those talking don’t know.”

A member of both Tulsa Now and Young Professionals of Tulsa, Carlos Moreno said, “We want what is best for Tulsa and we would like to see, in getting what is best for Tulsa, is a mindset of preservation of culturally and historically significant buildings and artwork.  Too much has been lost over the years.  To us, that sounds simple of course.  And compromises and sacrifices do sometimes have to be made.  In the wake of the Auto Hotel and the Skelly building, nerves are understandably raw and I could see where some folks have expressed outrage.  However, the emotion expressed online by some of the fringe elements of the forum should be separated from the core leadership of these two organizations themselves.  Moreover, I feel that if what we got was more of the truth, people would perhaps not fly off the handle so much.”

Good points all.  Maybe Tulsa has all it needs except “official” communications.

Prior to the emergence of the $530 million Vision 2025 infrastructure development program, Bates presented to the leadership team of Vision 2025 with others requesting public funding for downtown and midtown projects.  Some of what that group proposed was included by the committee and later approved by voters as part of the Vision 2025 program.  Regardless of this inclusion, Bates made the decision to oppose Vision 2025 and served as the opposition’s chief spokesman.

Conservative, Tulsa Today and this publisher believe all economy is more vibrant with lower taxes as individuals are better at promoting economic growth than government.  However, as U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe says, “Conservatives support public infrastructure and national defense.”

No other level of government or private means would have built the public facilities included within the Vision 2025 program.  While Tulsa Today judged some Vision 2025 projects to be less important than others, in total the program is positive in contributing important public facilities throughout Tulsa County.  We judged the new arena [BOK Center] to be of less long-term community importance than the $110 million provided for higher education facilities in Tulsa ­- even though this publisher is the closest resident to the new building. No one gets everything ­- or only what one individual may want ­ in any political process outside of totalitarian rule – the nature of public democracy is compromise.

As critics would remind, this publisher is also now the public information manager for the private company hired by Tulsa County to implement Vision 2025.  Vision 2025 is the most transparent public infrastructure program ever implemented in Oklahoma and I take professional pride in that accomplishment.

Tulsa Today is separate from the day-job and I write here without restraint.  In addition, other writers of diverse perspectives are paid here to write and we hope to hire more.  However, we are a small news service with beginning revenues and some of what we want to accomplish has yet to be done.  For example at this writing, we have two interviews with mayoral candidates and five new business stories in process and it is frustrating as there are thousands of other compelling good stories on Tulsa and Tulsans we want to publish.

Also, smaller staffs are subject to mistakes, where a larger diverse editorial board provides better balance.  The ultimate example of unbalance being blogs as single opinions; it is easy to see how young people of great and good passion for Tulsa like Pierson could make mistakes noted above or express emotional outrage on forums or their own blogs prior to all facts being known.

I also make mistakes.  In what has become known as the “Three Blind Mice” piece, I ridiculed Michael Bates and I have come to regret that ridicule.  Medlock may have earned it and DelGiorno much more, but Bates is doing his best to advance good planning policy in Tulsa – it’s just his unfounded conspiracy theories that aggravate.  This publisher may not always agree with him, but it is possible for good people to disagree with civility and respect and it is important for public pundits to do so, as I was reminded by a member of the extended family of Tulsa Today after that piece was published.

As reminded, I have been demonized and personally attacked for over a decade by the Tulsa World and the Chamber of Commerce and I must do better than follow their impotent example.  Who knows, maybe after this political silly season is over, Michael Bates will return to argue his positions here on Tulsa Today – God knows, even we could pay him more than Urban Tulsa.

Discussion of this story and any other published by Tulsa Today is welcome on our Forum.  Click “Forum” on the top left of any page.

Last Updated ( Monday, 20 February 2006 )