Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Thank you

Thank you for your votes and for your support. I don't take either of them lightly.

I will continue to work hard and do my best to represent your interests at City Hall and to help make Tulsa everything that it should be. The next two years will be very important for Tulsa's future. We'll have a new Mayor and could have a few new Councilors. We, including you, have accomplished a lot of good things over the past few years, but we face some pretty serious challenges, especially in our budget. We have to make sure that we keep Tulsa moving forward and that we handle those challenges in a fiscally responsible way.

From time to time, you may disagree with me. No two people always agree on everything. I think most of us usually agree on the goal, but sometimes we disagree on how to get there. I'm always willing to discuss issues with you and listen to what you have to say. I could be taking the wrong approach and you might be able to help me see it a different way.

You can always send me an e-mail at dist2@tulsacouncil.org or call me at 596-1922.

Again, thank you.

Rick Westcott

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Vote TODAY, Tuesday Sept 8th!

Protecting Affordable Healthcare
Rick fought to keep the OSU Medical Center open, which provides health care for many Tulsans and individuals across NE Oklahoma.

Properly Funding Police and Fire
As Co-Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Tulsa Police Department, Rick has worked to properly fund the TPD and increase manpower. He will continue to be a strong supporter of additional police and fire support, but will fund these areas in fiscally responsible ways.

Roads, roads, roads
Rick will make sure that the Gilcrease Expressway is finished and will help bring further development to Southwest Tulsa.

Arkansas River Development
Rick is working to create a Tax Increment Financing district on the west bank of Arkansas River and bring river development to Southwest Tulsa.

Homeowner Rights
Rick spearheaded a two-year effort to protect homeowners from the excesses of neighborhood group homes, while at this same time protecting the rights of those who need
these services.

A Leader on Mass Transit
Rick has been a leading voice for affordable mass transit, and is currently working on an ad hoc committee with area leaders to address our mass transportation needs.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Candidates' Forum Tuesday, Sept. 1st

The League of Women Voters is sponsoring another candidates' forum between my opponent and me. It'll be next Tuesday, September 1st, at 6:00 p.m. The forum will take place at McClure Elementary, 1770 E 61st Street. That's on 61st, just east of Utica.

I encourage everyone to attend.

Serving as your City Councilor is about more than just one issue. It's about more than the Police and Fire budgets.

Serving as your City Councilor is about administering a budget of $500 million every year. It's about properly allocating $4 million in CDBG funds, even though there are groups, who all do wonderful work in the community, who have requested $8 million.

Serving as your City Councilor is about being responsive to your concerns when your neighbors' yards or houses aren't in compliance with the City code. It's about making sure that Public Works projects are completed on time and under budget.

Serving as your City Councilor is about making sure that your District receives its proper share of street rehab projects. It's about having a vision beyond next year's budget and working for projects that will take years to complete, like finishing the Gilcrease Expressway.

Serving as your City Councilor is about a dozen other things, both big and small.

Serving as your City Councilor is serious business. It's been my privilege and honor to represent you for nearly four years.

I encourage you to come out on September 1st and decide, for yourself, who you think will better represent you at City Hall for the next two years.

Thank you,

Rick Westcott

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Federal Government Says That The City of Tulsa Cannot Use Money Saved Through Attrition To Pay For Additional Cops

A few days ago, the City Council received a copy of the federal government’s requirements regarding the $3.5 million grant for additional police officers. The official name of the document is the “2009 COPS Hiring Recovery Program Grant Owner’s Manual.” “COPS” is an acronym for “Community Oriented Policing Services.”

The entire document is 84 pages long. It’s clarified quite a few things that I had some questions about and it’s also raised another question or two.

As you are probably aware, the grant money can only be used to pay the new officers’ salaries and benefits for the first three years. But, the City is required to pay their salaries and benefits for the fourth year. The Mayor’s budget figures indicate that would cost about $1.25 million, in 2009 dollars.

One of the arguments in favor of accepting the grant money is that the City of Tulsa loses about 36 officers per year through normal attrition. Over the next three years, if we don’t fill all of those positions, we will save enough money to pay the fourth year for the grant-funded officers.

But, the federal government’s “Owner’s Manual” says that we can’t do that. If we do, we’d be in violation of the terms of the grant.

Section 5 of the “Owner’s Manual” is called “Retention.” The first paragraph says:

“At the time of grant application, your agency committed to retaining all sworn officer positions awarded under the CHRP grant with state and/or local funds for a minimum of 12 months following the conclusion of 36 months of federal funding for each position, over and above the number of locally-funded sworn officer positions that would have existed in the absence of the grant. Your agency cannot satisfy the retention requirement by using CHRP-funded positions to fill locally-funded vacancies resulting from attrition.”

It goes on to say, in the middle of that page:

“√Ābsorbing CHRP-funded positions through attrition (rather than adding the extra positions to your budget with additional funding) does not meet the retention requirement.”

The same requirement is discussed in Section 4, called “Supplementing, Not Supplanting.”

On page 12, in the first paragraph under that heading, the “Owner’s Manual” says:

“In addition, your agency must take active and timely steps pursuant to its standard procedures to fully fund law enforcement costs already budgeted as well as fill all locally-funded vacancies resulting from attrition during the life of the grant.”

A couple of paragraphs later, it says:

“Grant recipients may not reduce their sworn officer budget just to take advantage of the CHRP grant award.”

“Grant recipients may not reduce their locally-funded number of sworn officer positions during the three-year CHRP grant period as a direct result of receiving the CHRP funding to pay for additional officers.”

I think that’s pretty clear. The federal government says that we cannot pay for the fourth year of the grant-funded officers’ salaries and benefits by using the money that we would save through attrition. If we did, we’d violate the terms of the grant.

Apparently, Mayor Taylor has already made assurances to the federal government as to the source of the additional funding, although we don’t know what that is.

Several times, the federal government’s “Owner’s Manual” makes reference to the application for the grant that the City was required to submit and statements and assurances that the City was required to make in the application. So far, the City Council has not seen the City of Tulsa’s application. I have asked Mayor’ Taylor’s staff to provide the City Council with a copy.

For example, the “Owner’s Manual” states, on page 14:

“At the time of grant application, your agency was required to affirm that it plans to retain all sworn officer positions awarded under the CHRP grant and identify the planned source(s) of retention funding.”

There are other references to the application and statements and assurances that the City was required to make. For example, the purpose of the grant is to enhance an agency’s community policing efforts. In Section 13, the “Owner’s Manual” says:

“Community policing activities to be implemented or enhanced by your agency were identified in your CHRP grant application.”

The phrase “community policing” can mean different things to different people and it isn't necessarily a bad thing. But, I think the City Council ought to know what the City of Tulsa committed itself to do in the grant application.

There are a lot of things in the “Owner’s Manual” that I think the City Council ought to discuss with the Mayor, in an open, public meeting, televised on TGOV.

But, for now, the bottom line is this:

According to the federal government, the City of Tulsa cannot use the money that we would save through attrition to pay the fourth year salaries and benefits for the federally-funded police officers.

As I said before, I am completely in favor of adding police officers above and beyond our attrition rate. I've been trying to find a way to add cops for nearly four years. The MGT of America study said that we need to add about 60 officers, beyond our attrition rate. I just don't think that this one-time federal grant is the way to do it.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Westcott Explains Vote on Ballpark Assessment

On June 4, 2009, a majority of the City Councilors approved the assessment roll for the downtown baseball stadium. I believed that the assessment was illegal and I still do. The Oklahoma Attorney General’s office agreed with me. It's illegal because it's a flat assessment rate for every piece of property inside the IDL. Oklahoma law requires that the assessment bear a relationship to the benefit that a piece of property will receive.

Mayor Taylor and the Stadium Trust believe that all downtown property will receive a benefit from the ballpark. They're probably right. But, a piece of property that's a mile away from the ballpark will receive less benefit than a piece of property that's across the street. A warehouse will receive less benefit than a bar or a restaurant.

The law says that the assessment must bear a relationship to the benefit that the property receives. The way this assessment is set up, its the same rate for every piece of property, no matter where it is or what the nature of the business is.

I had been saying that I thought that was illegal for a year. The Oklahoma Attorney General's office agreed with me.

I made a speech at the June 4th meeting, explaining why the assessment is illegal and why I had to vote against it, even though I think the ballpark is a good idea. I have always been in favor of the downtown ballpark. But, this assessment is illegal.

Steve Rommerman, who writes a good blog on local politics at http://www.roemermanonrecord.com/, shot some video of the meeting and has posted my speech on YouTube.com.

The speech is about 16 minutes long and is broken into two parts. If you’re interested in watching it, here are the links. Many thanks to Steve for shooting it and making it available.

Part 1
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OjpwmmrOOHg

Part 2
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOKGAWMTvkw&feature=related

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Federal Grant Money for Cops May Not Be Such A Good Idea

On July 28, 2009, the City of Tulsa learned that its application for federal grant money to hire police officers had been approved. The City was awarded $3.5 million in federal grant money, to hire 18 more police officers. The City Council will have to decide whether to accept that grant money or not.

On the surface, it sounds like a great idea. I’ve been trying to add more police officers to our department since I was first elected to the City Council. This would seem to be a way to do that.

But, it may not be such a great idea. The federal grant program would create obligations that the City cannot afford.

The grant money could only be used to pay the officers’ salaries for three years. Under the terms of the grant, the City would be obligated to keep those officers on the payroll and pay them for the fourth year. But, there’s more to it than that.

The grant money cannot be used to pay for their academy. The city would have to pay for that.

The grant money cannot be used to pay for their equipment, such as their police cars, their uniforms, and their weapons. The city would have to pay for that.

In this year’s budget, there is an academy for 20 officers that is scheduled for next spring. But, it’s tentative. The Mayor informed everyone that, if the economy doesn’t come back, we may have to cancel that academy.

If the City can’t afford to pay for the academy that is presently scheduled, we sure can’t afford to pay for an extra academy.

There is no capital money in the budget to buy additional police cars or weapons this year. If we accept the federal grant, we wouldn’t be able to equip the new officers.

City budget numbers indicate that the additional fourth year of this program would cost about $1.25 million. We would have to pay those salaries if we accept the grant money. But, looking beyond that fourth year, the future mayor and city councilors would be faced with either finding the money in the budget to keep those officers on the payroll or would have to fire them. And, that $1.25 million figure for their salaries for their fourth year would increase as those 18 officers gain seniority and move up the pay scale.

Right now, the City of Tulsa can’t afford to pay the full salaries of the officers we have. The Mayor convinced the members of the FOP to accept 8 furlough days this year, rather than face layoffs.

If we accept the grant money, we’d be gambling that, four years from now, the City would have the money to keep those officers on the police force.

The citizens of District 2 didn’t hire me to gamble with their money. They hired me to be fiscally responsible.

So, it sounds like a great idea until you look at the financial obligations which accepting the grant would create and compare that to our ability to pay for them.

Here are the realities:

We don’t have the money for their academy.

We don’t have the money for their cars, weapons, and uniforms.

We may not have the money to pay their fourth year.

We may not have the money to pay their salaries after the fourth year.

A few weeks ago, the Mayor's staff presented this grant application to the Council. The Mayor sent word to us that she intended to apply for it. Several of us sent word back that we had concerns about some of the financial obligations that would accompany the grant. We explained that we didn't think it was a good idea to apply for the grant.

This is difficult. How can we say "no" to federal money to help pay for cops? No one wants to hire additional police officers more than I do. But, it has to be done in a fiscally responsible way. I just don’t think this is it. The grant creates too many obligations that we just don't have the money for.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Position on budget for police officers and firefighters

There’s been some misinformation going around about the vote which I took on June 18th regarding the City’s budget. Some people are saying that I voted to lay off in excess of 100 police officers and firefighters.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I didn’t vote to cut any police officers or firefighters and I wouldn’t.

Here’s what really happened.

On June 18th, the Council was scheduled to vote on the Mayor’s proposed budget. Her budget included a minimum of eight furlough days for all 4,000 city employees, including police officers and firefighters.

At that June 18th meeting, Councilor Martinson made a presentation which included figures that had been taken from the Mayor’s budget. The Mayor’s figures showed that, over the next year, the City expects to receive $141.2 million in revenues generated by the City’s two-cents sales tax. The Mayor’s figures also showed that the combined police and fire department budgets for the next year total $142.7 million.

In other words, just the police and fire departments’ budgets, alone, are more than all of the money which will be raised by the two-cents sales tax. That’s just personnel costs, without including capital expenditures such as police cars or fire trucks.

Keep in mind, we have to operate all City departments on the money which is generated by the two-cents’ sales tax. The two-cents sales tax is where the City gets the money for its operations. But, the Mayor’s budget shows that more than 100% of that money will go to police and fire, without any of it going to any of the other City departments.

Obviously, that’s a problem. If all of that money goes to operate only two departments, then other City departments, such as the Parks Department, are left with a shortfall.

At the Council’s June 18th meeting, I made a motion to delay the vote on the Mayor’s budget to give us time to examine those numbers and try to find an answer to the problem. The motion to delay the vote was defeated, 5-4.

One of the other Councilors then made a motion to approve the Mayor’s budget. It was approved by a 5-4 vote.

No one voted to lay anyone off. Councilor Martinson’s budget amendment was never voted on. We only voted on whether or not to delay the vote on the Mayor’s budget to take a look at the problem.

There are two basic facts:

1. We cannot continue to pay police and fire more money than the two cents sales tax generates.
2. We need more police officers.

For a long time, a lot of people have been saying that we need more police officers, but no one knew exactly how many. Last fall, an independent company, MGT of America, presented a report on the Tulsa Police Department. Their report showed that we need to increase our police manpower on the street by about 80 officers. They recommended that we reassign about 30 officers who are currently working other jobs, put them back out on patrol, fill those jobs with civilians, and hire about 50 additional officers.

I’ve always believed the MGT report to be accurate and I still do. We need more cops on the street.

But, how do we pay for them? How do we properly staff our police and fire departments without cutting the budget for other departments?

This is a serious problem that goes beyond posturing and giving 10 second sound bites to the media. It’s a problem that serious people are going to have to have serious discussions about. It’s a problem that goes beyond the next fiscal budget or the next city elections. It’s a long-term problem and it must have a long-term solution.

My vote on June 18th was to delay the vote on the budget so that we could try to discuss this problem.

I never voted to cut police officers or firefighters. If someone tells you that I did, they’re mistaken. I didn’t and I wouldn’t.

I intend to continue to work on this problem and try to find the long-term answer that the citizens of Tulsa must have.

I am asking for your vote on September 8th.