November 4, 2011

VOTE NO on Initiative Proposition No. 1 (At-Large councilors)


What do the ALL the following have in common?

The Tulsa County Democratic Party, The Tulsa County Republican Party, The Tulsa Metro Chamber of Commerce, The League of Women Voters, Urban Tulsa, The Oklahoma Eagle, Michael Bates, The Tulsa World, Howard Barnett, Mike Batman, G. T. Bynum, Blake Ewing, Ken Brune, NAACP, 100 Black Men, all the members of the present City Council, Mayor Dewey Bartlett

Some might believe that the only thing ALL have in common is their membership in the human race. But sometimes politics does make strange bedfellows----THEY ALL---Let me say that again--THEY ALL OPPOSE INITIATIVE PROPOSITION NO. 1 regarding adding 3 additional members to the Tulsa City Council --elected at-large --and adding the Mayor as chair to the council --who will control its agenda and appoint its Vice-Chair at-will.

This ill-advised at-large proposition will create more discord in Tulsa. It will immediately create 3 mini-mayors that will undermine our strong mayor form of government. It is fundamentally unfair and will give the higher turnout parts of town more representation. It will likely result in a lawsuit over the Federal Voting Rights Act. It is backed by bankers and developers who have a special interest when matters come before the council.

Please VOTE NO on Initiative Proposition No. 1. on Tuesday, November 8, 2011.

Your neighborhood friends,
Herb Beattie, Greg Bledsoe and Eddie Evans,
Tulsans Defending Democracy,

November 2, 2010

Initiative petition circulators not allowed within 300' of polling place

Below is a letter delivered on Friday, October 29, 2010, to Tulsa County Election Board Secretary Patty Bryant by attorney Greg Bledsoe on behalf of Tulsans Defending Democracy, regarding the legaltities of initiative petition circulators near polling places. It is TDD's position that the law does not permit SOT's at-large petition to be circulated closer than 300 feet from any polling place. That's 100 yards!

If citizens see this happening when they vote on Tuesday Nov. 5, we urge them to notify their precinct election officials and ask them to stop this activity. Citizens might also consider calling the Tulsa County Sheriff-918-596-5601- and ask them to investigate.

I represent Tulsans Defending Democracy, a grass-roots, non-partisan group that has organized to oppose a ballot initiative to change the Ciy of Tulsa Charter by adding three at-large city council positions. As you may or may not know, a group called Save Our Tulsa (SOT) has proposed three initiative positions, including the one involving at-large elections, and has petition circulators seeking signatures of registered voters in various public places within the City of Tulsa. See:

In the past, groups like SOT have sought to solicit signatures for initiative petitions outside of polling places on Election Day. Often the solicitors have sought signatures closer than 300 feet of the polling place and sometimes even closer than 50 feet. This was a particular problem in the 2004 general election. We believe this practice violates the law against "electioneering" within 300 feet of a ballot box and certainly with respect to any person other than election officials and voters being within 50 feet. A copy of the Tulsa World article from November 3, 2004, reporting this problem is enclosed.

26 O.S. 7-108 reads as follows:

No person shall be allowed to electioneer within three hundred (300) feet of any ballot box while an election is in progress, nor shall any person or persons, except election officials and other persons authorized by law, be allowed within fifty (50) feet of any ballot box while an election is in progress. No printed material other than that provided by the election board shall be publicly placed or exposed within three hundred (300) feet of any ballot box, while an election is in progress. (Emphasis added.)

According to the Tulsa World, your predecessor, gene Pace and the then State Election Board Secretary, Mike Clingman, regarded the seeking of signatures for an initiative petition as a form of "electioneering" and asked the Tulsa County Sheriff to keep the petition circulators from being closer than 300 feet of a ballot box. We also think that the current initiative petitions being circulated on behalf of SOT are a form of "electioneering." Tulsans will be voting on November 2, 2010 on a charter change affecting the date of city elections, and one of the initiative petitions is a proposed charter change affecting the date of city elections.

We would ask you to do the same as Mr. Pace and Mr. Clingman and request that you make all precinct election officials aware of this concern. Specifically, we ask, as was done in 2004, that you and your election officials ask such circulators to move no closer than 300 feet of a ballot box and if they refuse, ask the Tulsa County Sheriff to investigate the matter.

Very truly yours,

D. Gregory Bledsoe

Tim Harris, Tulsa County District Attorney, via email
Stanley Glanz, Tulsa County Sheriff, via fax
Stephen A. Schuller, Counsel for SOT, via email

June 19, 2006

Citizens' Commission rejects at-large councilors

The Citizens' Commission on City Government, appointed last fall by former Mayor Bill LaFortune to consider changes to the City Charter, including the possibility of adding at-large members to the City Council. The Commission issued its final report on June 9, recommending against any change to the structure or membership of the City Council. The Commission also addressed non-partisan city elections, moving city elections to the fall of odd-numbered years, and making the City Auditor an appointive office.

Here is the section of the report on at-large councilors:

At-Large vs. District City Councilors

The formation of our task force evolved out of a discussion over the composition of the City Council. There were individuals who sought a charter amendment which would have turned three of the nine councilors into at-large seats. Similarly, there were those who vigorously opposed any such change to the current form of nine council members, each of whom is elected from different districts.

Our task force spent a significant amount of time listening to presentations on both sides of the councilor composition issue, including remarks from political leaders, concerned citizens and community activists.

After much consideration, there was no consensus to alter the structure of the current City Council. In fact, most believed we should maintain the current structure of the Tulsa City Council with its nine members each elected by district. We reached this conclusion for the following reasons:


Regardless of whether a better system in the ideal would be one where there would be a blend of at-large and district representatives, it appears very difficult and highly divisive to reduce the number of seats elected by district. To do so would create a perception of, and in fact have the numerical reality of, reduced representation. Although many of us believe that we might have been better off, for example, had we moved to a 6/3 framework in 1989 at the time we jettisoned the five member, all at-large commission, it would be far different to move to a 6/3 structure today, after we have existed with a 9/0 structure for more than 15 years.


Tulsa's unique history, including the racial divides that still afflict us, makes it all the more difficult to change to a system with reduced representation.


To the extent that the issue of the council's composition emerged as a result of divisiveness between the mayor and the council, there is the current hope that the new elections, a new council and a new mayor have helped unify local politics and the community.

It should be noted, however, that a few task force members support a change to the charter. Such members suggest a slight expansion to the current council by adding at-large or super-district councilors rather than in any way reducing the number of councilors elected by district. Nonetheless, at the end of the analysis, most of the task force members reached the conclusion that no change should be made.

Here is a PDF file of the complete version Citizens' Commission on City Government final report, issued on June 9, 2006.

April 10, 2006

Position of Tulsans Defending Democracy Regarding At-Large Representation

The following statement was presented by Greg Bledsoe on behalf of Tulsans Defending Democracy at the Friday, April 7, 2006, meeting of the Citizens' Commission on City Government.


Our group was formed in late October of 2005 to oppose the initiative petition drive of Tulsans for Better Government to reduce the number of individual city council districts from 9 to 6 and to add 3 at-large councilors to Tulsa’s City Council. It is multiracial and bi-partisan. It is made up of liberals, moderates and conservatives.

My name is Greg Bledsoe. Let me briefly tell you who I am. I have lived in Tulsa since 1971 when I came here to college. I began my legal career in 1979. I work primarily as a plaintiff’s civil rights and employment lawyer. In 1987, Jim Goodwin recruited me along with Louis Bullock and several other lawyers, to represent some of the plaintiffs in the voting rights case that was filed against the City of Tulsa by the NAACP over the at-large City Commission form of government.

Because people who fail to study history are often doomed to repeat it I think it is important to give you some history of Tulsa and how the present charter came to be.

Continue reading "Position of Tulsans Defending Democracy Regarding At-Large Representation" »

Don McCorkell's letter in opposition to at-large councilors

The following letter was sent in October 2005 by former State Rep. Don McCorkell to all board members of Tulsans for Better Government, the group pushing for replacing three council districts with three at-large seats on the council. Kathy Taylor, sworn in today as Mayor of Tulsa, was among the recipients of this letter.

As your friend, I feel compelled to share with you my personal reasons for opposing the proposed charter change that would reduce the number of city councilors elected by district to six and add three at large representatives. As someone that is seriously considering and likely to enter the race for Mayor of Tulsa, it is certain that my position will soon be the subject of much discussion. As such, I want to make certain that personal friends on the other side of this issue are told of my position by me personally. I also know that our friendship will withstand our opposing positions on the proposed charter change.

I know that you and the other committee members have the best interests of our city at heart. Yet, I feel that the unintended consequences of this proposal are extraordinarily dangerous to our city’s future.

First, I have probably as much reason as any Tulsa citizen to be upset with our dysfunctional city government. However, the fact that I believe the mayor and a couple of the councilors have acted irresponsible is not a sound reason to oppose representative democracy.

Throughout the country, cities with councilors chosen by district elections work extremely well. Councilors bring to their role the varied perspectives of differing parts of their city and after much discussion and debate usually unite to serve the best interests of their community. If Tulsa has failed to meet the mark in the last few years, it is due to the lack of leadership necessary to arrive at consensus.

Lack of leadership is a defect best resolved at the ballot box. Broad citizen support for government and the actions of government can only exist under a system of government where every citizen has the right to feel enfranchised.

The selection of three councilors at large will radically reduce the power of individuals and every individual neighborhood throughout the city. Beyond that, whose power would be increased under the proposal? Would the change even decrease the likelihood of a continuation of the dysfunctional spectacle that we currently witness at city hall? I personally believe that it could exacerbate the situation and ensure more of the same.

The fact is that it costs several hundred thousand dollars to successfully run for an at large office in the City of Tulsa. Races for City Council are often successful with less than 20 thousand dollars because the candidate can campaign on a more personal and direct level with citizens. Having three more at large races would price most citizens, except the wealthy or those supported by moneyed special interests, out of running for office. While I would now be able to compete in such a race due to my business successes, I certainly could not have, if that had been the situation when I ran for the legislature. I took considerable pride in my legislative career in being able to challenge powerful special interests when I felt they were wrong.

Under the proposed charter change, legitimate debate would be stifled by the lack of average citizen access to the more powerful positions of councilor at large that would claim a "citywide" mandate.

Electing four city officials (the mayor and three counselors) at large will dilute the leadership which can be offered from the Mayor’s office by someone who is really committed to moving this city forward. You will have three "mayors in waiting", some of whom perhaps can, and will, argue that they received more votes than the Mayor, and thus they should be the real "leaders" because they "have a larger mandate" than that Mayor. At the same time, the council will be permanently divided between the "lesser" members (i.e., ones representing districts) and the "greater" members (those elected at large).

Finally, on a very personal note, I happened to serve on jury duty last week. It was an extraordinary experience because it reaffirmed my faith our citizenry. Naturally as a person who has both lost and won political races, I sometimes disagree with their choice. Nevertheless, I truly believe virtually all citizens take their citizenship very seriously and do what they honestly believe is right. My fellow jurors were from every walk of life, with dramatically different educational backgrounds, economic and social circumstances, races, and creeds. Yet every one of them did their civic duty with the utmost sense of sincerity. With all the weaknesses and problems of the jury system, no one has yet come up with a system which more often produces fair and just results. The same is true of representative democracy. It is indeed, as Winston Churchill said, "the worst form of government except for all of the rest."

If we are not happy with the council we should first try to communicate more effectively with those council members, to persuade them of the value of our positions. If they are not persuaded, we each have the right to run against them, or support another candidate. That is the way democracy can and should work. Taking the power away from the people that was given them just a few years ago and giving that power to an "elite" -- any "elite" is simply wrong. I am firmly convinced that the problems we face today are not due to the structure of a representative democracy, but are simply due to the lack of leadership.

Elite, high dollar councilors, elected at large will not only not solve these problems, but will make this city government even more distant from its own people.

With Warm Regards,

Don McCorkell

Comments of former Councilor Gary Watts

Former Councilor and City Finance Commissioner Gary Watts, who was part of the committee that designed the 1989 City Charter, wrote the following comments, which were read at the Friday, April 7, 2006 meeting of the Citizens' Commission on City Government:

There are so many considerations in determining the best Council set up. We struggled with most considerations in 1988. Because we didn't want to go to the trouble to change to a mayor/council form of government and then be challenged for a voting rights violation, we were advised that we needed to have enough single member districts to assure minority representation. We also didn't want to have a large number of councilors and the lousy dynamics that a large group brings (leadership control, party line voting, etc.). So nine was the smallest odd number that would assure compliance with the voting rights act. We have now had nine councils elected of which I served on five. Every District has produced strong councilors who were motivated to serve for the right reasons. Many Districts have produced councilors who have been more about narrow agendas and egos than the good of the city, and these have come from north, south, east and west. City Hall lore has many stories of lousy city commissioners who were elected at large, so I am convinced that at large representation will not improve overall quality. The election Tuesday appears to have produced a good council, time will tell, but it appears the system has worked to provide needed changes. Unlike the campaign dynamics of at large elections, which are much about money, several council elections showed that person to person contact, grass roots campaigning is an effective way to win a seat, more so than spending money. I think that is a very good thing. A truly strong mayor can find many ways to instill a city wide spirit among councilors. The one area I've observed where district representation can become a significant problem is with zoning decisions. We need to be sure that councilors vote their independent position on zoning and not "defer" to the councilor whose district is affected. To date mayors have remained clear of most such battles, but that does not have to be the case. I don't believe our form of government is broken; those who want to fix it would help our community much more by advocating for improvement of municipal services, matters of substance like public transportation, rather than chasing charter change because one Council out of nine became disfunctional.

March 1, 2006

Mayoral candidate responses and non-responses

Tulsans Defending Democracy submitted questions to the five major mayoral candidates regarding their views on replacing some number of district councilors with at-large councilors. Republicans Chris Medlock and Randi Miller and Democrat Don McCorkell responded. Republican Bill LaFortune and Democrat Kathy Taylor did not respond. Here are links to each response or non-response


Bill LaFortune
Chris Medlock
Randi Miller


Don McCorkell
Kathy Taylor

February 28, 2006

Kathy Taylor has NOT responded to TDD questions

The following questions were submitted to Kathy Taylor, Democratic candidate for mayor, by Tulsans Defending Democracy. Taylor has yet to respond.

1. If elected would you support a change in Tulsa's form of government?

Specifically, what is your current position regarding the recent proposal regarding "at-large" councilors?

2. The formation of Tulsans for Better Government (TBG) and its petition drive to amend Tulsa's city charter by adding at-large councilors was announced on October 20, 2005 and reported in the Tulsa World on October 21, 2005.

During 2005 did any person ask for your support or otherwise discuss with you this proposal?

If your answer is yes, please indicate who and when, provide the substance of the communication, and include any written record.

3. On or about October 27, 2005 your name appeared on the web site of at-large charter change proponents TBG, listing you as a member of its Advisory Board under the heading "Who We Are."

Were you a member of TBG's Advisory Board?

If your answer is NO, when did you become aware that your name was listed?

4. On October 27 and 28, 2005, Don McCorkell indicates that he mailed or delivered the attached letter to all the members of TBG's Advisory Board that were identified in the Tulsa World or on the TBG web site, including yourself, telling them he was against the at-large petition and asking them to reconsider their support.

Did you receive this letter from Don McCorkell and if so when?

5. Don McCorkell indicates that he spoke with Jim East, your former campaign coordinator, on or about October 28, 2005 regarding the TBG at-large petition drive and your role as a member of TBG's Advisory Board. Mr. McCorkell indicates that he asked Mr. East why you were supporting the at-large charter change petition and that Mr. East stated he did not know why and that he thought it was a bad idea.

Did Mr. East inform you of this conversation and if so, when?

6. It appears your name was removed from TBG's web site on or about January 9, 2006. Please explain the facts and circumstances that lead to your name to being removed.

7. In an email dated January 9, 2006, provided by TBG Advisory Board member Howard Barnett, he makes the following statement to the persons in charge of TBG's web site:

"Ted and Barrett:
As I’m sure you saw in the paper, Kathy is running for Mayor. I don’t know who talked to her about letting us use her name on our petition’s website (it could have been me – I just don’t remember!!), but she does not remember giving that permission and is certainly not ready to commit that this is the right solution – though she is certainly willing to discuss it and is not closed minded about any of the issues we’ve discussed. However, in light of this, would you please remove her name from our website? Thanks"

Did you receive a copy of this email and is it accurate?

8. In an Oklahoma City Journal Record article regarding your candidacy dated January 10, 2006 you are quoted as follows:

"Taylor said Monday that changing the city charter . . . or recalls of city councilors won't help Tulsa move forward."

Is this quotation accurate? If yes, in referring to "changing the city charter" are you referring to the at-large charter change petition drive of TBG?

9. In a letter dated January 19, 2006, to Tulsa County Democratic Party Chair Patti Bassnett you state:

"Dear Patti,
As you requested at the supper on Saturday evening, I am writing to confirm that I am opposed to the charter change for at large candidates. I continue to believe that while there may be those who are well intentioned, the charter change is an attempt to overcome the lack of decisive and proven leadership in the Mayor's office."

Is this statement an accurate statement of your position regarding the at-large proposal for charter change?

If your answer is YES, when did this become your position?

10. On 2/5/06 on an Oklahoma Democratic web forum ( a person identified as J. Hayes stated the following:

"She [Taylor] was listed as the Secretary of Commerce and Tourism on that site [Tulsans for Better Government] as was clearly shown here weeks ago. Upon seeing her name listed many concerned citizens called her office in October and November to let her know they did not appreciate her supporting such an organization in her official role as a member of Governor Henry's cabinet. The governor's office was called as well."

On 2/20/06 a person also identified as J. Hayes, on the same web site indicates that he/she personally called Taylor’s office and complained.

Do you have any knowledge about persons contacting you or your office and/or the Governor or the Governor's office regarding concerns about your name appearing on the TBG web site?

If your answer is yes, please identify the substance of the calls, the person(s) who made them, when they were made and what response they were given.

11. Are you prepared to say the initiative petition process proposal by Tulsans for Better Government was NOT a good way to change the city charter?

12. Do you think the proposal by Tulsans for Better Government was divisive?

13. If elected, what will you do to prevent or stop bad or divisive proposals?

14. If you are opposed to changing Tulsa's form of government by adding at-large councilors, please describe your past efforts and future plans to stop this proposal.

15. If you are opposed to changing Tulsa's form of government by adding at-large councilors will you commit now to this position even if the Citizen’s Commission on the Structure of Tulsa’s government appointed by Mayor LaFortune recommends some form of at-large council representation.

Bill LaFortune has NOT responded to TDD questions

The following questions were submitted to Mayor Bill LaFortune, Republican candidate for mayor, by Tulsans Defending Democracy. LaFortune has yet to respond. The questions were provided to LaFortune's campaign on February 20. His campaign referred TDD to City of Tulsa communications liaison Kim McLeod.

Note: Several hours after this was posted on March 1, another of LaFortune's City Hall assistants contacted TDD to say that LaFortune now wanted to respond to the questions and planned to submit answers later today.

1. If re-elected would you support a change in Tulsa's form of government?

Specifically, what is your current position regarding the recent proposal regarding "at-large" councilors?

2. When Chip McElroy announced the formation of Tulsans for Better Government to promote the initiative petition to change the City Charter by adding 3 at-large councilors and reducing the number of district-elected councilors from 9 to 6 he was quoted in the Tulsa World on October 21, 2005 as follows:

McElroy said there is "a sentiment of people who strongly support Mayor Bill LaFortune and have had great disappointment with the City Council's discharge of duties.". . . "[I]t [the charter change] has the support of the mayor."

Was this statement true at that time? If your answer is NO, what was inaccurate about the statement?

3. Please describe any communications you had and with whom regarding the proposed at-large charter change prior to the announcement of the formation of Tulsans for Better Government by Mr. McElroy in October of 2005.

Please provide any records in your possession and/or under your control of such conversations and/or communications, including memos, letters, emails, minutes, notes, recordings, calendars or other records. If necessary, please consider this a request under the Open Records Act.

4. In the Tulsa World on October 27, 2005 you are quoted as follows:

"LaFortune said he remained very protective of district representation and that it is very important to continue that. But I also firmly believe that at-large representation will enhance the council's ability to do business and help the city grow," he said. At-large representation will bring a broader perspective to city issues as opposed to just district viewpoints, he said."

"If anyone says at-large members dilute district representation, I disagree because it actually gives the six individual districts a greater voting power by giving them a broader constituency with a more powerful voice," he said.

Was this quotation accurate? If your answer is NO, what was inaccurate about the quotation?

5. In a Readers Forum column you authored in the Tulsa World on December 11, 2005 you stated with regard to the at-large petition drive:

"While I agree that reviewing our form of government from time to time is appropriate, I was concerned that the initiative petition process might not be the best approach. Without judging the merits of the proposal by Tulsans for Better Government, it seemed that a process that involved all Tulsans might find a solution that can be embraced by everyone."

Are you prepared to say the initiative petition process proposal by Tulsans for Better Government was NOT a good way to change the city charter?

6. Do you think the proposal by Tulsans for Better Government was divisive?

7. If re-elected, what will you do to prevent or stop bad or divisive proposals?

Randi Miller responds to TDD questions

County Commissioner Randi Miller, Republican candidate for Mayor, has responded to several questions from Tulsans for Defending Democracy:

TDD: If elected would you support a change in Tulsa's form of government? Specifically, what is your current position regarding the recent proposal regarding "at-large" councilors?

Miller: No I would not.

TDD: On or about October 27, 2005 your name appeared on the web site of at-large charter change proponents Tulsans for Better Government (TBG), listing you as a member of its Advisory Board under the heading "Who We Are." Are you a member of TBG's Advisory Board and do you support their petition drive?

Miller: No I am not a member.

TDD: On November 10, 2005, you attended the press conference announcing the formation of Tulsans Defending Democracy (TDD). Members of TDD report that you told them that you were going to announce that you were not in favor of the at-large petition drive of TBG, and request to have your name removed from the TBG web site. Is this accurate?

Miller: Yes.

TDD: If your answer is yes, are you aware that your name is still identified as a member of TBG’s Advisory Board on its web site? If your answer is yes, why did you not have your name removed?

Miller: Yes I am aware it is still on there, but to my knowledge that board does not exist. So there was no need to have it removed. I am not on the new one.

TDD: In his Urban Tulsa Weekly column for 1/26/06, Michael Bates states the following:

“Regarding the form of government, Miller tried to explain away her membership on the board of Tulsans for Better Government (TBG), the group that was founded for the express purpose of circulating a petition to change the charter by replacing three council districts with three seats elected at-large. She said that she was asked to be a member of the advisory board, and that at-large councilors were discussed, and that didn’t necessarily mean that she was for or against the idea.”

In the Tulsa World for 1/21/06 a report of the same meeting states as follows:

“Another Republican contender, County Commissioner Randi Miller, said she served on the advisory board of Tulsans for Better Government, which was circulating a petition to try to change the council's makeup.

"That doesn't mean I would support it or not support it just because I have served as an adviser to a committee," she said.

"We do need to look at our form of government. If it can be better, I will support changes. But it has to be proven to me that it can be better."

Are these reports accurate?

If your answer is yes, please explain why your serving on the advisory board of TBG means you do not necessarily support the petition drive proposed by TBG.

Miller: I am not serving on the board. I was only willing to look into the possibility of a city manager form of government.

TDD: What you were told and by whom that caused you to authorize TBG to include your name as a member of its advisory board.

Miller: I was asked to be an adviser for a more efficient government which in my opinion was city manager form.

No answer provided by candidate.

TDD: In connection with you being a member of TBG’s advisory board, please disclose what advise and recommendations you have given to it.

Miller: I have not ever had any contact with them other than the original phone call.

TDD: Are you prepared to say the initiative petition process proposal by Tulsans for Better Government was NOT a good way to change the city charter?

Miller: I need more information on this.

TDD: Do you think the proposal by Tulsans for Better Government was divisive?

Miller: Yes, it appeared to be.

TDD: If elected, what will you do to prevent or stop bad or divisive proposals?

Miller: I would take that on a case by case basis.

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