By David Arnett
Wednesday, 20 June 2007
In a continuing series of interviews with city councilors, Tulsa Today spoke with District 7 Councilor John Eagleton. A native Tulsan, Eagleton’s family has a long history of service in Tulsa’s legal profession. A graduate of ORU’s O. W. Coburn School of Law in 1996, Eagleton was an assistant district attorney for three years before starting his private practice. Councilor Eagleton is serving his first term on the council.
Tulsa Today: Thank you, Councilor Eagleton, for spending your time to talk about City issues. As your term is more than half over…
COUNCILOR EAGLETON: More than half. Time flies when you’re having fun.
Tulsa Today: How have you done, by your standard, no one else’s?
COUNCILOR EAGLETON: Well, my standard was to save the tax payers money where I could, and to economize where I could. In that regard, I’ve not been completely successful. I was not able to convince a majority of Council to join me in opposing last year’s budget that expanded spending at 12 percent. It was — I thought we spent more money than we should have, and I still feel that way, so I have not been as successful as I hoped.
Tulsa Today: How is your preliminary view of this year’s budget going? Will you be able to save or keep the government’s budget from expanding this year?
COUNCILOR EAGLETON: Faster than the rate of inflation, that remains to be seen. The current budget is, I think, at 3.8 percent expansion. Core inflation was, I think, 2.8. So we’re off by one percent, by my math. But I’m still looking at the budget as a whole to see if there are areas where we can improve our use of taxpayers’ money. And I do believe that if you’re in an inflationary environment, that expanding the budget linked to inflation, as a matter of policy, makes good long-term planning sense.
Tulsa Today: You supported the annexation of Expo Square, which some people consider a tax increase.
COUNCILOR EAGLETON: No, it’s not a tax increase, it’s expanding the tax base. It is taking a business entity, known as the fairgrounds, that is entirely surrounded by Tulsa, and making it part of Tulsa, the City. It’s not a — we didn’t change the tax rates; we merely expanded the tax base. And I realize that may be a fine hair that others may disagree, but that is how I see it.
Tulsa Today: One would have to say, though, it was not a friendly annexation. It was a forced annexation. Why not work with another level of government?
COUNCILOR EAGLETON: Well, we tried. Working with another level of the government requires a meeting of the minds, and we did try.
Tulsa Today: Was that demonstrated in your quizzing of commissioners when they came graciously to stand and talk to the City Council?
COUNCILOR EAGLETON: I confronted people on their public statements which were not accurate. If the extent to which that was not getting along, so be it.
Tulsa Today: Your idea for better enforcement of traffic fines has gotten some media play, how has public response been to that idea?
COUNCILOR EAGLETON: The people who have spoken to me have been universally in favor of increased traffic enforcement with only one or two small exceptions. I came from the Kiwanis’s Club lunch just moments ago. While there, I had five different people slap me on the back or shake my hand and tell me it was a great idea, that we needed more traffic enforcement. And that the traffic enforcement is not a revenue stream, it’s not why you enforce the traffic code. You enforce the traffic code to save lives. You enforce the traffic code to cut down on the number of people going to the hospital. You enforce the traffic code to make the streets safer.
If we did enforce the traffic code with a slightly higher degree of zeal, you’ll have fewer dead people. You’ll have fewer people missing days from work, you’ll have lower insurance premiums. You’ll save money because EMSA is not going out to as many accidents, and you’ll save money because the fire department is not going out to as many car wreck sites.
Tulsa is well-known for a city with some major bad intersections – 71st and Memorial is a perennial top ten worst intersections in the nation nominee. We can change all of that with enhanced, aggressive enforcement. The nice thing about aggressive enforcement, it also pays for itself many times over. When you do the math, 20 officers being reassigned and told to do nothing but traffic enforcement will generate a revenue stream that will be able to hire about 164 new police officers, which would really help out fighting crimes in other places. Traffic enforcement pays for itself, and it has so many collateral benefits, I don’t know what the holdup is.
Tulsa Today: That is the question. Why has TPD not enforced the law?
COUNCILOR EAGLETON: Writing a ticket is a labor-intensive task. It takes between 15 and 30 minutes, depending on the ticket or tickets, when you stop someone and pull them over. That’s time away from routine patrol. I am looking at a way to go to a “ticketless” system where you swipe the license, hit a few buttons on a screen or a few points on a screen, and you wind up with a ticket in the system with no, zero, none, paperwork for the officers to fill out.
As a defense lawyer I’ll tell you that a technical defense on a ticket is frequently successful if the location, time of day, et cetera, is not filled in properly, some lawyer will exploit it. With the paperless ticket system, the time of day, the location, everything is brought in using the technologies of the computer to do most of the scriber’s work currently being done by police officers. If we are able to bring that online, and I believe that we can in fact bring it online at no additional cost to the City, we will be able to encourage more ticket writing for TPD.
That’s what I’ve been working on.
Tulsa Today: Tulsa is also known as a sanctuary city in the immigration issue where TPD has failed or declined to help take illegal aliens off the street. Do you feel the City Council should direct TPD to be more aggressive in that area?
COUNCILOR EAGLETON: Yes. I have been working on that behind the scenes for some time. I am attempting to get a resolution that a majority of Council can support and that the Mayor can support, and I’m trying to work an ordinance with the mayor’s office that the mayor can support. As you know, it’s difficult for City Council to ramrod something down the Mayor’s throat, and I’m trying to work with the Mayor’s office on that issue. And that has been back channeled and worked on behind the scenes for some time. We have four City Councilors that have agreed to cosponsor the resolution, and like I say, it’s being worked on to make it something that we can all be on board with together.
Tulsa Today: Working with the Mayor, of course is certainly important. Tulsa has a strong Mayor form of government which relegates the Council to a less prominent role, but at what point will you or other members of the Council call the Mayor’s attention that her promise of additional officers on the street has been pitifully short, if not insignificant to the rate of attrition?
COUNCILOR EAGLETON: I’m relatively certain the moment you post this article; she’ll be reminded of that. I have reminded her of the need for more police officers, but you can remind somebody of things like that and not be provocative or disagreeable. And I believe I’m being forceful, but not disagreeable.
Tulsa Today: Has the Mayor been a good Mayor so far?
COUNCILOR EAGLETON: We’ll let the voters make that call. I’ve worked very well with her. She has been open to my phone calls. She’s been receptive to my input. As you know, I frequently have ideas that other people frown upon, and she’s been more receptive to my brainstorming than virtually anyone in elected office in Tulsa County. With one or two exceptions on Council, she has been very receptive to my input.
Tulsa Today: Do you support the plan to move City Hall?
COUNCILOR EAGLETON: Don’t support it yet. There are too many unknowns, and I have not seen the complete financials on it. I am receptive to the idea, but I’m not onboard at this time.
Last Updated ( Tuesday, 26 June 2007 )