Bates wrong about Tulsa County

Monday, 07 January 2008
In an oped piece in the Urban Tulsa Weekly of November 28th, Michael D. Bates made a statement which, for someone who presents himself as an expert on local government, was extremely misinformed and inaccurate.

Michael is a smart man but if he is going to be a computer programmer turned journalist, he might do some basic research.  For example, in the November 28th article he makes the following statement that isn’t true.  He said, “The County Commission’s primary role in Oklahoma is to provide limited municipal-type services to unincorporated areas.  That role should shrink as more and more of the county’s territory is annexed into cities and towns.”  As most readers will know, the unincorporated area is the area not falling within the city limits of the incorporated cities and towns of Tulsa, Broken Arrow, Owasso, Jenks, Glenpool, Sperry, Collinsville, Skiatook, Bixby, and Sand Springs. The incorporated area includes all of these towns and cities.

Michael needs to check the Oklahoma Statutes, Title 19.  When he does so he will find that the county commissioners are responsible for county functions throughout the county. In fact, the county commissioners are known as the “chief administrators in county government”. The county commission districts include all areas in the county, including the incorporated cities and towns.

The county commission is responsible for all the county buildings, including the courthouse.  So, they are the judicial system’s landlords.  Nearly all of the county buildings are in the incorporated areas.  The county commission is responsible for setting personnel and human resource policies. At nearly every weekly county commissioner meetings we approve hiring, terminations, training and other personnel matters of employees throughout the county.   When someone has a major complaint against the county assessor’s office, treasurer’s office, county clerk’s office, court clerk’s office or the Sheriff or any other county activity, the suit (by statute) is filed against the county commission.  So, we have the pleasure of being involved in litigation regardless of where it occurs in the county.

The commissioners are responsible, by Oklahoma statute, for developing and overseeing the $60 million county budget. As a practice, in Tulsa County we do this in concert with the other county elected officials as a “budget board”. The board must be headed up by the county commission chairman. Obviously, the budget board affects the incorporated areas. Only the county commission can sell, buy or renovate county land or buildings.  The county commission has the power to audit any county office, even that of an elected official.  We have excellent county officers so this is not likely to occur.  (The state audits all of county government each year.)  As you know, these elected officials are Sheriff Stanley Glanz, County Treasurer Dennis Semler, County Assessor Ken Yazel, County Clerk Earlene Wilson, and County Court Clerk Sally Howe Smith.  The county commission is required to provide court room, jail, and offices for the sheriff, treasurer, district clerk, court clerk, county clerk, district attorney, juvenile bureau, court services, judge of the district court and other county functions.  All of these elected officials submit monthly reports to the county commission as dictated by statute.

While most of the road, bridge and highway work is done in the unincorporated areas, the county does a lot of street widening, snow plowing and asphalt overlays within incorporated cities.  Recent heavy duty street projects, for example, include the Broadway Bridge in Collinsville, South Tulsa projects including a number of miles on 91st Street, Mingo and Sheridan.  In Sand Springs a lot of residential streets are being done now by the county.  Ask the town and city mayors and city managers and staff if they don’t depend on the county.

The county commission chairman sits on the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, the body that has a lot of responsibility regarding zoning and land use throughout the county.  The county commissioners also hear and vote on appeals made by those who disagree with planning commission decisions.

Michael D. Bates
The following division directors report to the county commissioners:  County Engineer (roads, bridges, and inspections), Human Resources, Social Services (Family Homeless Shelter and pharmacy), Court Services (inmate parolee and community services supervision), Building Operations, Parks, MIS, Budget Director and Purchasing.   And, we interface with City-County Health and the Juvenile Bureau on multiple issues.  We take state laws dealing with competitive bidding very seriously. Hundreds of bid packages are opened every year in county commission meetings and many of these deal with the incorporated towns and cities. (Michael was critical about the county commissioners not putting out bond underwriting for bid but there have been no bond issues by the county in the eleven months Commissioner John Smaligo and I have been in office. I’m told that the RFP process was used previously.)

Only the county commission can contract with a government body of a city.  Only the county commission can issue bonds on behalf of the county.  The county commission is responsible for seeing that state laws regarding county inventory laws are followed.  Most county parks are located within the incorporated cities.  These include LaFortune Park, O’Brien Park, South Lakes and Chandler.  The county commission, through its MIS director and staff, is responsible for the county-wide computer system.  The county commission is responsible for approving all county bills and claims.

While only required by statute to meet monthly, the Tulsa county commission meets weekly and will do so in 2008, when I am chairman.  Prior to each Board of County Commission meeting, we get many pages of material to go over in order to approve or disapprove by vote in the Monday morning meeting.  Most of these deal with issues that are county wide.

So as you can see, Michael was very wrong about the county commission’s job responsibilities being limited to the unincorporated areas.  Obviously the board’s responsibilities are county wide, including the cities and towns.  As population grows, the need for all county commission activities will grow, not shrink, because they are not limited to the unincorporated areas as Michael incorrectly stated.

I have no vested interest in the activities of the county Board of County Commissioners growing.  I’ll expect to be retired four years from now.  However, I couldn’t let Mr. Bates’ incorrect statement about the role of the Board of County Commissioners go unchallenged.  I’m disappointed that he doesn’t do his homework before improperly informing those members of the public who read the Urban Tulsa Weekly.

In addition, in Tulsa County, the fairgrounds are owned by the county.  The three county commissioners sit on the board of Expo Square.  They have the majority responsibility for the five member board in overseeing the running of that enterprise – an enterprise which has a $125 million positive impact on the metro area.  The board, often simply called the “fair board” operates as a trust set up in 1983 as the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority.  These responsibilities won’t “shrink” either but due to the recently built new facilities and more buildings in progress, the Expo Square activities will grow and oversight will be more important, not less.

One more thing — In his November 28 oped Michael says that I refer all inquiries about Vision 2025 accounts to John Piercey.  That is a false statement and Michael would have no way of knowing what I do with inquiries from people other than himself and possibly a couple of other people.  I do refer inquiries about Vision 2025 bonds to John Piercey because John Piercey represents the company that did the underwriting of the Vision 2025 bonds long before Commission Smaligo and I were elected.  I refer Vision 2025 account information to the county fiscal officer, Jim Smith.  I could look up the balances myself in the information provided to the county commissioners in monthly reports but I want the inquirer to get the latest information from Jim.  In the incident Mr. Bates referred to, ironically he called me asking for me to call John Piercey for him to get the information he wanted.  I was just following Michael’s request. I was in Oklahoma City at the time on county business.

Also in the oped of November 28th, Michael made some other accusations about me which simply aren’t true.  Anyone who knows me knows that I accept constructive criticism in a positive manner.  It isn’t Michael‘s constructive criticism that bothers us.  It’s his wild generalizations and assertions not based on facts that are troubling.

Michael says we don’t take a skeptical look at county government and challenge ways of doing things.  He is not in the meetings or in the offices of division heads or the fairground staff when we have done exactly that.  But we don’t agree with him on some points, and some time in the past someone in county government made him mad, so he uses the barrels of ink at the Urban Tulsa to make assertions that aren’t true.  In some cases, his facts just aren’t right, as the reader can see from his misinformation about the statutory and constitutional role of the county commission.

Tulsa Today Edit Note:
Never elected or formally educated in government or journalism, Michael D. Bates continues a career promoting fabricated negatives on Tulsa.  Primary among his victims are those who supported Vision 2025, a public development effort approved by voters in 2003.  Bates led the failed opposition to that effort and has been demonizing Tulsa people and institutions ever since.  His favorite targets include Tulsa County because the constituencies are too large for his small group of activists to impact.  While never proving charges against elected public officials, Bates has himself been guilty of failing to disclose his own interests in two published instances Tulsa Today has found to date including political payola and professional self-interest.  As marginal media loves polarizing figures; Bates has found his niche with his blog, an entertainment rag, and the radical radio station that promoted and defended disgraced former host Michael DelGiorno.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 09 January 2008 )