Sally Bell’s crusade: Part Two

Thursday, 03 July 2008
Sally Bell – the wife of Bob Bell and the mother of former Bell’s Amusement Park general manager Robert Bell III – has filed as a Republican for the office of Tulsa County Commissioner District 2 and faces incumbent Commissioner Randi Miller in a July 29 primary election.  Bell has never before sought public office.  As Tulsa Today covered in “Sally Bell’s crusade: Part One,” published yesterday, her primary motivation appears to be retribution for what she considers bad treatment of her family as the holder of a special 56-year lease from Tulsa County, but how well does she really understand government?

Bell said, “I have a basic political philosophy and I’m a very fiscally conservative person, always have been.  I’m not wild about bureaucrats, and I’m not wild about government.  And I think we have too much of it – I think it’s not open enough.  Did you know that all the meetings are held at times when most people can’t attend – eight-thirty Monday morning, two o’clock in the afternoon?  Who can go to those meetings?  Nobody, unless you’re self-employed or your boss lets you off; you just can’t make it.”

Bell is correct that many meetings are held during normal business working hours.  The question, when asked when she would work if elected, was never answered.

Bell continued, “And the County deals with a lot of money, a lot of important issues.  So my feeling is that it should be more accessible to the people.  You’re not allowed to speak unless you’re on the agenda.  There again, you know, they are the servants, they are the people who people have elected to do the business and the people who elected them certainly should have a voice in what they’re doing,” Bell said.

In public meetings, citizens may speak to agenda items in times set aside for public comment, but government in America is not a pure democracy.  We elect – hire, to be honest – people to execute public business.  If all citizens showed up at every meeting to discuss all issues, nothing would be done in a community of our size.

Bell said, “I don’t like all the taxes.  I will not vote for a new tax, period.  I don’t care what the tax is for – I have voted against every major tax issue – primarily because when you run a business and you need money, you look internally.  You start making cuts and you start making good business decisions.  I don’t know why government can’t be run the same way; it needs to be.  So first, you look internally.  How much money is going to be left over from Vision 2025?  How much is there from 4 to Fix the County?  You can’t get a straight answer from anybody on that.  I find that to be a problem.  I think the people ought to know how much money’s left over.  Is there enough to fix the streets?”

When reminded that county roads are not the “streets issue” currently under consideration and that she is running for a Tulsa County position – not a City of Tulsa position – Bell said, “That’s right, but the question always comes up, what is your stand on the roads? My area would be the county roads.  If the money from 4-to-Fix the County is given to the City and if the county roads need fixing, then I think they need to be fixed first, if it was a County tax.  I really don’t know how bad the county roads are.  I know some bridges need attention – that, to me, is a matter of public safety, so that would be one of the things I would want to look into.  But my major point is that I don’t believe we need an increase in taxes.  Where does it stop?  With every need and every issue, where does it stop?”

Bell was asked if she would be fundamentally opposed to river development.

“No, not at all,” Bell said.  “From my perspective, the City or the County, in my job, should do what it’s supposed to do and this is repair the infrastructure.  And then you turn it over to free enterprise.  You let businesses come in.  If they make it, great – and if they don’t, so be it.”

But there is no business value to building a dam in the middle of the river, and it would be virtually impossible for a private business to recoup the capital needed to do so – a current estimate of $25 million per dam.  Studies have shown that Tulsa County’s section of the Arkansas River needs three dams and some canalization work.

“When I said the infrastructure, to me that’s infrastructure,” Bell said.  “Building dams is part of what the County and the City need to do, and I thought that was part of Vision 2025.  I thought the money was there for that –I got the impression that the dams would be fixed. Why has it not been done?”

[Publisher’s note: I previously worked full-time in public information for Vision 2025 and answered her question as follows:  “In three line items within Vision 2025, $9.5 million was set aside for the river, and Tulsa County included more funds in the 4-to-Fix Tulsa County package, but that is not all the money needed to complete river development.”]

Even with the recent $25 million from the State of Oklahoma, Tulsa County does not have enough money identified to complete the local portion to match the $50 million in federal funds – assuming those monies are appropriated now that they have been authorized.  How would Bell go about finding funds to complete river development?

Bell said, “I’m not so sure that that’s the case. I’m not trying to be argumentative, but I have tried to find out on I don’t know how many occasions exactly how much overage there is in Vision 2025 and 4-to-Fix Tulsa County.  And I believe there’s a lot.”

Bell was asked to summarize her platform.

“I get back to the same thing,” Bell said.  “When you run a business, you deal with those issues every single day.  Why is it that, because it’s a government entity, they should have a free reign?  Why can’t they say this is my budget and they stick to it?”

The published Tulsa County budget is around $60 million and the City of Tulsa budget is around $560 million – so what part of County government does Bell believe is over-funded?

Bell said, “I’ll give you an example – and I don’t have the paperwork in front of me, but this is what I understand to be the case – Tulsa Technology Center.  Now, I’m a big believer in Vo-Tech.  I think it is a great program, because I think there are a lot of young people that will probably end up making much more money than college graduates if they get into a service that is needed.  It is my understanding that, through the millage, they have in the bank $55 million.  It’s a millage issue, but it’s the same basic philosophy.  Those are the kinds of things I’d look into.  But I’m not down there yet, and it’s difficult for a citizen to get information.”

Government is a great deal more complicated than many people realize and it does take time to study the issues to show that one is prepared for office.  The City of Tulsa, in their streets package, wants to capture the percentages that have previously gone to Tulsa County.  That would take Tulsa County out of the infrastructure development service to the advantage the city and would make the City of Tulsa sales tax 4.7 percent – higher than the sales tax going to the State of Oklahoma.  As a county official, would Bell oppose or support those efforts by the City of Tulsa?

“I’m going to tell you the truth: that one, I have to think about.  But what I would oppose is an extension of it,” Bell said.

Has Bell got any positive things to say about Tulsa County?

Bell said, “I was born in Illinois, and I came here at 17 to go to the University of Tulsa, and I really fell in love with both the city and my husband – and I never went home.  I think Tulsa’s a wonderful place.  It’s a great place to raise a family.  I have seen deterioration, so the first thing I’d like to do is get the City back to where it was – because it really was a beautiful, beautiful place.  Now, you’re seeing empty buildings, and I believe it’s because it is not a business-friendly town.”

Bell continued, “The problem is, I’m just now getting to where I really think I’m beginning to understand all of the responsibilities of a County Commissioner.  But I would say, first of all, whatever monies that the County is responsible for, you handle those as if it were your own money, and you spend it wisely.  You look internally to make sure there’s no waste going on.”

Edit Note: Click here to read Sally Bell’s crusade: Part One.
Last Updated ( Thursday, 03 July 2008 )