Wednesday, July 06, 2011

On the Emperor's City Councils' New Clothes

Edited on July 7 to provide additional information. I will be on vacation until July 14 or so but will update this article, including video clips from the July 5 council meeting.

Publication of this piece on July 6 coincides with a companion article, also opinion, that I wrote for the July 6 Oklahoma Gazette, this same day. Given the lead time that exists for such kinds of things — the 1st draft for the Gazette article was written in June and the final draft was approved about a week ago — this blog article was actually written after the Gazette piece since it describes events that occurred in yesterday's city council session.

The Gazette commentary piece, "Overcoming Momentum's Legacy," expressed a hope that the distrust exhibited in the May 31 council meeting might have a light at the end of the tunnel and begin to end the distrust that three council members expressed in that session. At the conclusion of that article, I said,
On July 19, a modified proposal will presumably be presented. This writer’s opinion is that the defensiveness of Marrs, Ryan and Salyer would not have occurred but for the distrust generated by the Momentum committee. The sooner that all council members put that distrust aside and replace it with confidence in the good faith of their fellows, the better. It is time to get past Momentum, hope that it never rears its head again, and simply focus on good government.
After the July 5 council meeting, it now appears that my Oklahoma Gazette thoughts were overly optimistic.

That meeting radically changed the rules of civil discourse in the city council and instead of coming together in the sense of improving collegial good will, if it didn't drive a stake through the heart of collegial good will, it certainly came close to doing so. This blog post began to be composed on July 5 following that day's city council meeting and it reflects upon the implications of that council meeting's speech and actions. The theme in my July 6 Gazette piece was that this city, its government, and I and those who might think like I do should put down the past council elections, distance ourselves from the Committee for Oklahoma City Momentum, and just get on with good city government, and give all council members and the mayor trust in their good faith when proposals are presented. Not that it would have mattered, but my opinion piece in the Oklahoma Gazette was written before the July 6 Oklahoma Gazette issue hit the streets and before the July 5 council meeting.

When that Gazette piece was written, little did anyone know what would occur at the Oklahoma City Council on July 5, 2011.

To set the scene, on May 31, council members Shadid and White presented a proposal which would require that certain kinds of measures receive three hearings before city council, the purposes being to give ample time that major items would be considered by council and by the citizens. It since developed that both White and Shadid thought that the measure prepared by the city's counselor (lawyer) had been written too narrowly. On June 7 Shadid said that that a 4-week period of consideration, without the procedure specified in the original proposal, would satisfy the purposes of council and citizen evaluation, input, and decision.

But this article is not about the merits of Shadid & Whites' May 31 proposal or the conciliatory overtures made by Shadid on June 7. Nor is it about the substantive actions taken by the City Council on July 5. Instead, it is about procedure — how what happened on July 5 came to occur.

The focus here is on what council members have said about mutual respect, good will, and deferrals. It is about whom to believe when you hear it and who makes remarks that you can trust.

What happened at city council on July 5, 2011, juxtaposed with comments made on May 31 with regard to "deferrals," presents such a study. My conclusion is that the comparison gives good evidence for some council members being procedural hypocrites — it is about the Emperor's council members' new clothes, or at least some of them.

The Emperor's New Clothes
by Hans Christian Anderson

        Once upon a time there lived a vain Emperor whose only worry in life was to dress in elegant clothes. He changed clothes almost every hour and loved to show them off to his people.
        Word of the Emperor's refined habits spread over his kingdom and beyond. Two scoundrels who had heard of the Emperor's vanity decided to take advantage of it. They introduced themselves at the gates of the palace with a scheme in mind.
        "We are two very good tailors and after many years of research we have invented an extraordinary method to weave a cloth so light and fine that it looks invisible. As a matter of fact it is invisible to anyone who is too stupid and incompetent to appreciate its quality."
        The chief of the guards heard the scoundrel's strange story and sent for the court chamberlain. The chamberlain notified the prime minister, who ran to the Emperor and disclosed the incredible news. The Emperor's curiosity got the better of him and he decided to see the two scoundrels.
        "Besides being invisible, your Highness, this cloth will be woven in colors and patterns created especially for you." The emperor gave the two men a bag of gold coins in exchange for their promise to begin working on the fabric immediately.
        "Just tell us what you need to get started and we'll give it to you." The two scoundrels asked for a loom, silk, gold thread and then pretended to begin working. The Emperor thought he had spent his money quite well: in addition to getting a new extraordinary suit, he would discover which of his subjects were ignorant and incompetent. A few days later, he called the old and wise prime minister, who was considered by everyone as a man with common sense.
        "Go and see how the work is proceeding," the Emperor told him, "and come back to let me know."
        The prime minister was welcomed by the two scoundrels.
        "We're almost finished, but we need a lot more gold thread. Here, Excellency! Admire the colors, feel the softness!" The old man bent over the loom and tried to see the fabric that was not there. He felt cold sweat on his forehead.
        "I can't see anything," he thought. "If I see nothing, that means I'm stupid! Or, worse, incompetent!" If the prime minister admitted that he didn't see anything, he would be discharged from his office.
        "What a marvelous fabric, he said then. "I'll certainly tell the Emperor." The two scoundrels rubbed their hands gleefully. They had almost made it. More thread was requested to finish the work.
        Finally, the Emperor received the announcement that the two tailors had come to take all the measurements needed to sew his new suit.
        "Come in," the Emperor ordered. Even as they bowed, the two scoundrels pretended to be holding large roll of fabric.
        "Here it is your Highness, the result of our labour," the scoundrels said. "We have worked night and day but, at last, the most beautiful fabric in the world is ready for you. Look at the colors and feel how fine it is." Of course the Emperor did not see any colors and could not feel any cloth between his fingers. He panicked and felt like fainting. But luckily the throne was right behind him and he sat down. But when he realized that no one could know that he did not see the fabric, he felt better. Nobody could find out he was stupid and incompetent. And the Emperor didn't know that everybody else around him thought and did the very same thing.
        The farce continued as the two scoundrels had foreseen it. Once they had taken the measurements, the two began cutting the air with scissors while sewing with their needles an invisible cloth.
        "Your Highness, you'll have to take off your clothes to try on your new ones." The two scoundrels draped the new clothes on him and then held up a mirror. The Emperor was embarrassed but since none of his bystanders were, he felt relieved.
        "Yes, this is a beautiful suit and it looks very good on me," the Emperor said trying to look comfortable. "You've done a fine job."
        "Your Majesty," the prime minister said, "we have a request for you. The people have found out about this extraordinary fabric and they are anxious to see you in your new suit." The Emperor was doubtful showing himself naked to the people, but then he abandoned his fears. After all, no one would know about it except the ignorant and the incompetent.
        "All right," he said. "I will grant the people this privilege." He summoned his carriage and the ceremonial parade was formed. A group of dignitaries walked at the very front of the procession and anxiously scrutinized the faces of the people in the street. All the people had gathered in the main square, pushing and shoving to get a better look. An applause welcomed the regal procession. Everyone wanted to know how stupid or incompetent his or her neighbor was but, as the Emperor passed, a strange murmur rose from the crowd.
        Everyone said, loud enough for the others to hear: "Look at the Emperor's new clothes. They're beautiful!"
        "What a marvellous train!"
        "And the colors! The colors of that beautiful fabric! I have never seen anything like it in my life!" They all tried to conceal their disappointment at not being able to see the clothes, and since nobody was willing to admit his own stupidity and incompetence, they all behaved as the two scoundrels had predicted.
        A child, however, who had no important job and could only see things as his eyes showed them to him, went up to the carriage.
        "The Emperor is naked," he said.

        "Fool!" his father reprimanded, running after him. "Don't talk nonsense!" He grabbed his child and took him away. But the boy's remark, which had been heard by the bystanders, was repeated over and over again until everyone cried:
        "The boy is right! The Emperor is naked! It's true!"

        The Emperor realized that the people were right but could not admit to that. He though it better to continue the procession under the illusion that anyone who couldn't see his clothes was either stupid or incompetent. And he stood stiffly on his carriage, while behind him a page held his imaginary mantle.

OK OK, maybe Anderson's fable is not completely analogous but it presents a more kindly rendering than would another analogy which comes to mind from the Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien, but we really don't want to go that far, do we?

One Ring to rule them all,
One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all
and in the darkness bind them.

On May 31, council members Marrs, Salyer, & Ryan, said or suggested that all a council member need do when wanting more time to consider a matter was to simply ask for a deferral, a continuance, of the matter to a later date. Short and sweet, they said, and nothing further was really needed.

On July 5, the hollowness, disingenuous, and insincerity of those remarks was laid to rest and the emperor's new clothes, so to speak, were laid bare.

Disagree? Listen to these council members in their own actual words as they spoke. As well, hear the words of Pete White and Skip Kelly, the two voices heard in protest for not granting a continuance. For those two, this was one of their finest hours.

... the video of the July 5, 2011, council meeting became available on-line this morning (July 7) and I have downloaded all 4 + hours of it. I won't have time to edit the video to include only the parts relevant to this discussion until I return from vacation on or about July 14 ...

For more about this topic, see this excellent article by Grace Gordon at Here's an excerpt:
        Returning from his vacation, planned “far in advance of ever getting elected,” Shadid and his family ran into severe flight delays that would cause him to miss the vote on this important issue. Shadid contacted fellow Council member, Pete White, and City Manager, Jim Couch, requesting that the Council allow a two week extension on the vote, to give him a chance to be present for it.
        When asked about the nature of the conversations he had with White and Couch, Shadid said that he told them, “I can get there tomorrow,” even going so far as being willing to eat $4,000 for a return ticket home. He was told by White and Couch that this was unnecessary. According to Shadid, Couch said, “We’ll get this continued and take it up in two weeks.” White reportedly offered the same assurance.
        Shadid was surprised to find, upon his return home, that the vote to defer was denied, and the vote to approve the MAPS-3 Option One timeline was passed by a 4-3 margin. If he had been present, it would have been a 4-4 vote, and may not have passed.
Also, see this thread at, and read what Oklahoman reporter Michael Kimball had to say after Ed Shadid returned to Oklahoma City in the following article:
Oklahoma City Council member criticizes about MAPS 3 decision process
Oklahoma City Councilman Ed Shadid, Ward 2, said he would have been at Tuesday's council meeting if he wasn't led to believe the MAPS 3 and convention center site approval votes would be postponed to July 19.

Published: July 7, 2011

        Oklahoma City Councilman Ed Shadid said the MAPS 3 timeline vote at Tuesday's council meeting would have turned out differently if he were there. And he said he wouldn't have missed the meeting if he had known a delay to the vote was not as likely as he had been led to believe.
        However, if the vote were delayed two weeks, a second council member who was absent, Meg Salyer, would have been able to cancel out Shadid's vote anyway.
        Shadid said his attendance at the meeting was paramount because he wanted to voice concerns about the new convention center included in MAPS 3 and its location, which also was approved Tuesday by the council.
        The councilman said he thinks the convention center is likely to wildly exceed its budget and will be built in an undesirable spot if the approved location west of Oklahoma City Arena remains the choice.
        Shadid said the extensive underground construction work required with the approved site could send costs spiraling out of control, and the site isn't close to enough restaurants, retail stores and other amenities. Consultants have also said the center needs a $50 million hotel to be successful, and money for the hotel is not included in MAPS 3 or any other city budget.
        Shadid said he also would have joined Councilmen Pete White and Skip Kelly during pre-vote debate in criticizing the approved timeline, which moves up the convention center's construction by 30 months and moves other projects back.

Flight connection caused absence

        Shadid asked for the MAPS 3 vote to be delayed until the next meeting, July 19. Mayor Mick Cornett said at the meeting that Salyer had indicated she was fine with the vote proceeding without her.
        Shadid missed the vote because he had trouble with an airline connection Monday in Boston on his way back from a long-planned overseas vacation with his children. He called White and City Manager Jim Couch saying he could get back to Oklahoma City in time for the vote by paying $4,000 for him and his children to fly to Dallas and drive home from there.
        He said he tried unsuccessfully to reach other council members.
        White and Couch said they both told him a delay would probably be easy to get and to stay in Boston to wait for flights back to Oklahoma City on Tuesday.
        “He asked for my opinion, and that was my opinion at the time,” Couch said. “It's not an uninformed opinion. I've been city manager for 11 years.”
        But when White made a motion at Tuesday's meeting for the vote to be delayed, councilors voted it down 5-2. A contentious debate on the timeline ensued without Shadid, and he was left wondering what happened Tuesday afternoon when he landed in Oklahoma City and found out the timeline had been approved by a one-vote margin.

Unwritten rule?

        Shadid, who was elected to the council this year, contends there's an unwritten rule on the council that a member can get an important vote delayed if he or she has a good reason. White, who has served on the council for 13 years in stints over two decades, agrees with Shadid that requests for deferrals are typically granted as a matter of routine.
        Cornett, who consulted with White as White gauged the possibility of a delay on Shadid's behalf, said he doesn't think there is such an unwritten rule. Cornett told White he would begin the debate on the MAPS 3 timeline with a discussion about the possible deferral, but stopped short of saying he supported a delay.
        White said he may have unwittingly led Shadid to believe Cornett supported the delay, not just a vote on a delay.
        “I've apologized twice to Ed,” White said. “Had I known how it turned out, I would have called back and said, ‘Ed, you've got to come.'”

Outcome could have changed

        The 4-3 vote on the approved timeline would have finished 4-4 if Shadid were there, Shadid said. A second proposed timeline would likely have been approved Tuesday because Councilman David Greenwell, who voted against the first option, voiced support for the second.
        A delay of two weeks likely would have led to the same result as Tuesday's vote, Shadid and White said. Salyer had previously indicated support for the approved timeline, so a 5-4 vote in favor of it seemed likely. Salyer was not available for comment for this story.
        “Clearly, the vote was going to be very close,” said Shadid.
        But Shadid said the possibility he could have affected the vote isn't the only reason he's upset. He thinks the council's culture of civility and respect was breached by denying the delay. The veteran White agrees.
        “We've crossed a line, a personal line, that I think we're all going to regret crossing,” White said.
When I opined in the July 6 Oklahoma Gazette piece that ...
* * * This writer’s opinion is that the defensiveness of Marrs, Ryan and Salyer would not have occurred but for the distrust generated by the Momentum committee. The sooner that all council members put that distrust aside and replace it with confidence in the good faith of their fellows, the better. It is time to get past Momentum, hope that it never rears its head again, and simply focus on good government,
... the choices made during the July 5 council meeting certainly casts a pall on that happening in the near future. Still, people of good will can change and perhaps that might still be possible. But it will be much harder to achieve given the lack of civility presented by some at the July 5 City Council meeting, and let's name names — Mayor Cornett, council members Marrs, Salyer, McAtee, Ryan, & Greenwell, in declining to grant the continuance requested by Shadid due to the circumstances of his unforeseen travel difficulties from Europe.

Things are getting personal at city hall if they weren't that way already.

We, the citizens who admire the personal qualities of civility in our elected public servants ... and I say again, elected public servants ... may be in for some disappointing days, months, and years ahead if the current pattern holds its course. Again, as previously stated, this piece is NOT about the substantive votes which occurred on July 5 — it is about procedural fairness and civility.

On July 5, those qualities were demonstrated by only two — Pete White and Skip Kelly — and to them we owe a tip of our collective hats.

Continued in OKC City Council Civility -- Is It A Lost Cause?

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Fannie Bates, MPH said...

I remember when the OKC City Council received an award for transparency. So why does it take them so long to post the video of the meeting? Is there something they don't want the public to see?

Anonymous said...

Politics carries within it a social component. Perhaps if our new council member learned how to play well with others instead of whining about subjective unfairness they might show a little more respect for his complaints. Somehow his peers are able to work together even when they disagree. ... Yes, Ed, this is exactly like middle school and high school all over again. In city council, the state legislature and Washington, D.C. It's called "being human."

Doug Dawg said...

Thanks for your comment, anon. But it really doesn't address the issues presented here, does it? For the purposes of argument, let's say that Shadid is the whiner you make him out to be (to which I disagree). But let's assume that you are correct. Are you saying that a city council member who is a whiner is entitled to less respect than one is not, or that the principle of a continuance being granted upon the request of a council member has an exception for whiners? Sounds to me like you have your own agenda, anon, and that's fine. But just be honest enough to acknowledge that you do.

Anonymous said...

You are being obtuse if you believe that personalities don't play a part in political maneuvering, especially at the local level. ... It's also disingenuous to call "Agenda!" on a short note that lacks ANY hint of agenda. (You do know what an agenda is, don't you?) ... I'm merely pointing out that Ed is abrasive and it's not helping him in the political arena. Not much of an agenda behind that; you just don't like it.

Anonymous said...

The folks who voted Shadid are getting exactly what they voted for--someone who has a little bit of anarchist in them. The historationists (my word) and other folks who somehow saw Ed as the embodiment of good versus the evil supported by "Big Biz" made this bed. How sad would it be that we as a city end up seeing this as a negative turning point in our history because a few people are mad at Sandridge and the Police and Firefighters were smart enough to back a subversive? Ed was elected by people who don't "trust" the city to do the right thing. Even though the previous MAPS projects have turned out fine. Bulletin--not everyone will be made happy! Maybe not you, maybe not me. But, it's been a while since we've seen this Tulsa-type atmosphere downtown.

Doug Dawg said...

Glad to have your additional pieces of wisdom, anon. You'll note that I've not edited them. Keep 'em coming.

Colin Newman said...

Great post! Our reporter Grace Gordon is knee deep in this story, more to come...

Doug Dawg said...

Thank you, Collin. I've just amended my piece to include a reference to the very fine article by Grace Gordon. When I return, we'll have some fun with videos of the meeting.

MikeOKC said...

Ed is challenging entrenched power at city hall. For those who liked the fact that everything before was simply rubberstamped, this is a big change. So, they call it "abrasive." They don't like somebody challenging the status quo. There's no way Ed can talk about and do some of the things he said he would do as a person of the council without it coming off as "abrasive" to those who simply don't want to hear it. Call it populist, call it coming from the grassroots rather than entrenched power, but Ed Shadid is doing exactly what he promised to do. Some don't like that. And that, too, is to be expected. To me, their response has been rather...well...abrasive(!)

Grace Gordon said...

Thank you for your inclusion of my article in your blog post, Doug. Your coverage of this is stellar, and I feel proud to be associated with it.


Anonymous said...

I'm anonymous too!

I support Ed Shaddid. I voted for him! I want him to chalenge the current power structure. BUT he doesnt persaude very well and in the end that's more important then making people defensive by accusing evreyone of being crooks. Fix it, Ed, don't just yell it!!!

Doug Dawg said...

Anon (too), I don't recall having heard Shadid yell one time during city council proceedings ... he speaks calmly. I do agree that he comes across as being very earnest, which I presume matches the fact. It would do him no harm to smile now and then, but, on the other hand, he hasn't been had a great deal to smile about, has he?

That said, how does any of that factor into the the council's decision not to defer the items until the next council meeting? Is he entitled to a deferral only if he smiles and comes across as less earnest?

The decision not to defer rests at the feet of only those who were present.

Anonymous said...

I live in Ward 1 so I didn't get to vote for Shadid. I don't know that I would have because I didn't know that much about him until a few weeks ago. It seems that he supports many of the same things I do.

Anyway... my councilman is Gary Marrs. Yeah. So every time I have written to or attempted to contact this lovely specimen, I have been told in rather impolite terms that it's none of my business and he knows better than me. Yes, one email actually did say that. I don't know who will be running against him but whoever it is, I am going to be out pounding the pavement and getting that person's name on everyone's mind cause I can't stand another minute of Mr. Marrs's haughty attitude and contemptuous view of his constituents. He makes me sick.

-Disgruntled in Ward 1