« Comments of former Councilor Gary Watts | Main | 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


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on April 10, 2006 6:13 PM.

The previous post in this blog was Comments of former Councilor Gary Watts.

The next post in this blog is Position of Tulsans Defending Democracy Regarding At-Large Representation.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.