Bell doesn’t ring true

Monday, 28 July 2008
Analysis:  In Tuesday’s primary election, Sally Bell is running for County Commissioner as the anti-government candidate, apparently intent on harming Tulsa County.  Bell has no elected experience and often confuses City of Tulsa issues with County issues.  Many have called her effort the “Embittered Bell Campaign,” as she whines incessantly about the failed amusement park her family once operated.

Bell has no positive message beyond pledging to “never raise taxes.”  However, that pledge denies citizens of Tulsa County their right to vote – at any time, on any issue they may feel important to Tulsa County – a totally totalitarian approach.  Bell has gathered support from embittered local opposition leaders – and even a City Councilor who continues to attack Tulsa County.  The Bell family is known as multi-generational supporters of the John Birch Society, and Bell’s husband, Bob, helped agitate for Ron Paul’s effort to disrupt the Republican platform meetings and convention this year.

The City of Tulsa has a third-penny capital improvements funding program that they have squandered, by redefining almost every expense as a capital improvement.  Thus, nothing new has been built by the City for many years.  Tulsa County is the “bricks-n-mortar” organization responsible for building Vision 2025 and 4-to-Fix Tulsa County projects – many of those within the City of Tulsa.  In return, a number of greedy, small-minded – if not actually evil – people have attacked Tulsa County with proposals to annex Expo Square, get a free ride for City prisoners at the County Jail, and raise city revenues by claiming sales tax should not be allowed for County projects.  Tulsa County’s annual budget is $62 million, and the City of Tulsa’s annual budget is $590 million.  Given the amount of services provided to citizens, Tulsa County is the more cost-effective level of government.

The Bells are best at making promises that fail to materialize.  In a 1998 Tulsa World story, Robby (Robert Bell III, son of Sally and general manager of the park) asserted, “Bell’s Amusement Park will become Bell’s Boom Town in the summer of 2000, just in time for the park’s 50th birthday.  The park will adopt the look and feel of an oil town in its heyday.  Plans call for park buildings to be made to look like historic Tulsa structures.  The project will be in conjunction with the proposed renovations of the Tulsa fairgrounds and will double the size of the park to 20 acres and add about 50 new jobs.”

None of that happened at Bell’s.  Expo Square completed its transformation into the best livestock and fairground facility in the nation and, once that was done, Bell’s looked like a trailer-trash park – and that was no amusement.

Former member of the board and attorney Clark Brewster told Tulsa Today, “Had the Bells come to the Board and said they would reinvest in the park and maintain the park, then, certainly, that would have been a win-win situation.  It would be nice to have a downtown Tulsa amusement park that was vibrant, well-maintained and well-run, but that option was not available.”

Sally Bell, in defense of her family’s taxpayer-supported lease at the fairgrounds, claims Bell’s Amusement Park was a viable business, but she refuses to release the old business plan they supplied to officials and based on which officials made their decision to not renew the lease.  That business plan is no longer valid, as Bell’s is no longer at the fairgrounds – so why would she not release it?  Answer: It proves Bell’s business incompetence.  Further proof is obvious, as the amusement park has not yet announced another location.  Every time they are asked, members of the Bell family say an announcement is “coming soon,” but it never arrives.  I would be willing to bet that it never does.

Officials kept hoping and believing assurances from the Bell family over the years, but nothing at Bell’s Amusement Park improved.  The park was dangerous – it killed one child and left another with a hole in his head for the rest of his life.  The park was unkempt and frequently overrun by pre-teen gangs that required response from law enforcement.  Yes, Bell’s was a riot – more often and in more different ways than many people realize.

In an extensive recorded interview, I listened to Sally Bell speak on the amusement park and on this race for Tulsa County Commissioner for District 2.  From that interview, two stories were published early in July and are still available online – click here for Sally Bell’s crusade: Part One and click here for Sally Bell’s crusade: Part Two.  After publication, I called and left a message that Bell has never returned.  I said then that if she had any dispute with anything that was written, she could make any response that she would like – and I would publish that response.  Sally Bell never returned that call, nor did anyone else representing her campaign.  I have seen her at other campaign functions and she has made no complaint on the interviews.

I have known the Bells for more than 20 years.  I enjoyed the park in the 60s and 70s and took my daughter there to play in the 80s, but by the 90s – and until it closed – it was too trashy to take the grandkids.  I have personally observed the business process of the Bells and talked with them many times.  We have had lunch and talked politics, and I enjoyed the conversations we had – they were often amusing, even when we disagreed.

I will vote in this race as will my daughter, her family, and many in-laws.  None of us will vote for Sally Bell.  We respect her and her family as human beings, but we question how Bell can demand openness in government while hiding financial data for a business made possible by public allowance.  We wonder why it seems the Bells talk a great game, but don’t deliver.  We wonder why a declared enemy of Tulsa County would run for a job with the County, other than to create chaos within an important level of government.  We wonder how someone with no apparent studied knowledge of government would run – for any position.

We wonder, with a great deal of sadness, if it isn’t time for the Bells to be looking forward in the best interest of themselves and Tulsa County.
Last Updated ( Monday, 28 July 2008 )