Lots of new information to report on the pending sale  of Helmerich Park land at 71st and Riverside for commercial development.  Today, Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015, a group of concerned citizens in an email to Tulsa City Councilors, requested that the Council use their investigatory authority to look into the sale and determine if any ordinances or trust indentures were violated, citing the following concerns and observations. 

  • Claim City is real owner of the land
  • Cite restriction on sales taxes voted for park purposes
  • 1991 video has Bartlett saying land cannot be sold

Following is a copy of the press submitted by Terry Young

Tulsa, Oklahoma, 12/2/2015 – More than 60 local citizens have sent a lengthy letter to the Tulsa City Council seeking reversal of a decision to sell more than 12 acres of Helmerich Park for high density retail development.

The letter, delivered by email to individual Councilors, cites several City of Tulsa ordinances, as well as the City Charter, that the signers believe prohibit the sale without competitive public bidding and without the explicit and exclusive approval of the Council.

At issue is the August 11, 2015 action by the Tulsa Public Facilities Authority (TPFA) to enter into a contract with North Point LLC of Dallas for the negotiated sale of 12.3 acres of Helmerich Park on the southwest corner of 71st Street and Riverside Parkway. The sale, intensely promoted by Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett, Jr., resulted after an attempt to attract compatible uses consistent with the adopted park plan failed.

The citizens signing the letter point to the source of the tax money used to buy Helmerich Park in 1991 and specific restrictions on its use adopted by the Tulsa City Commission in 1985. Those limitations were attached to the 1985 extension of Tulsa’s third penny sales tax by ordinance and limited the use of the money for Park Facilities Improvements only.

In addition, the letter cites the actions of the Tulsa City Council in 1991, including the direct participation of then-City Councilor Dewey Bartlett, in obtaining assurances that the land acquired would not be sold for commercial development in the future. (See the video of the Council’s May 7, 1991 meeting. 

The signers believe the official video tape of the May 7, 1991 City Council public hearing leaves little doubt about the intentions of the land acquisition.

The 68 signers point out that the City Council has specific investigative power to become directly involved in the matter. On the strength of Oklahoma court cases regarding the process of selling land currently in use for public purposes, the letter contends that the TPFA action cannot be valid and must be terminated.

While not expressly asking the Council to launch a formal investigation nor announcing plans for legal action against the sale at this time, the letter clearly hints that one or both may be undertaken if the transaction is not terminated.

The full City Council video can be found at:    https://youtu.be/dMdf9ltVWws

Click to read 12/3/2015 Tulsa World article:

Here is a copy of the letter to the City Council:

December 2, 2015

The Honorable Phil Lakin Chairman
Tulsa City Council 175 East 2nd Street
Tulsa, Oklahoma 74103

Dear Chairman Lakin and Council Members:

We write to you regarding a matter of mounting public concern, prompted by the actions of the Tulsa Public Facilities Authority (TPFA), an Oklahoma public trust, created by the City of Tulsa with the City as beneficiary.

TPFA recently acted to approve a direct sale of over 12 acres of Helmerich Park. We are deeply concerned by the methodology used in initiating and completing this sale. In particular, it appears city administrative staff identified the buyer without informing the council, advertising the property for sale, or initiating a public competitive bidding process.

Presumably, these actions were taken on behalf of the Tulsa Public Facilities Authority, which appears to be strictly forbidden by City ordinance. Specifically, the Tulsa Code of Ordinances, Title 39, Chapter 16, Tulsa Public Facilities Authority, Appendix I, Article VIII, Beneficiary of Trust states:

  • The Beneficiary of this Trust shall be the City of Tulsa…
  • …Neither shall the Beneficiary have any authority, power or right whatsoever, to do or transact any business for, or on behalf of, or binding upon the Trustees or upon the Trust Estate, nor the right to control or direct the actions of the Trustees pertaining to the Trust Estate, or any part thereof…

The same ordinance Appendix II, Article III, Purpose of Trust states it has the authority:  “4.  To  acquire  by  lease,  purchase  or  otherwise,  and  to  plan,  establish,    develop, construct, enlarge, improve, maintain, equip, operate and regulate any and all physical properties designated or needful for utilization in the furnishing and providing of services in connection with the above referenced utilities, facilities and public improvements and to dispose of, rent or otherwise make provisions for properties owned by the Trust but no longer needful for Trust purposes.”

We find no evidence that there has been any determination by TPFA that the park land is “no longer needful for Trust purposes.” These purposes are laid out in great detail in the TPFA Trust Indenture, as codified, which relate to building, maintaining and operating public facilities – “facilities as are necessary and/or convenient to the performance of any governmental or proprietary purposes or activities of the City of Tulsa, Oklahoma.” Under the City Charter, Art. VIII, Sec. 14, only the City Council can authorize the transfer of real property after it “shall first determine that [the property] is not necessary for public use or purposes.”

We maintain the action taken by TPFA to enter into a sales contract for 12-plus acres in Helmerich Park, without a finding that the park land is no longer needed by the City, i.e. for Trust purposes, ostensibly violates the Trust Indenture. Only the City Council can inform the Trust that the property is no longer needed by the City. Indeed, under Oklahoma common law, the City Charter cannot authorize the City Council to transfer property, such as park land, if it is being used by the public (See GREEN v. CITY OF NORMAN, 455 P.2d 58, 1969 OK 88 and STATE EX REL. REMY v. AGAR, 559 P.2d 1235, 1977 OK 6). When TPFA authorized the sales contract on August 11, 2015, the entire 12-plus acre tract was being used for park purposes.

That action is also contrary to the expressed intent of the Tulsa City Council by official actions in at least three City Council meetings. On May 30, 1991, following public hearings on May 7 and May 16, the Council approved the transfer to TPFA $2.25 million in 1985 third penny sales tax collections from the restricted category of Park Facilities Improvements that was designated for “Park Land Acquisition – to acquire approximately 72 acres between 71st and 81st Street on Riverside Drive.” On that same date, the Council also transferred to TPFA $2.25 million from the City’s Park Acquisition Fund (which had been received from private donors) “to be used for park acquisition.” This money – a total of $4.5 million – was transferred to TPFA to purchase the land at 71st and Riverside. The purpose of the acquisition – to establish City park land – was not ambiguous. One only has to view the video of the Council’s May 7, 1991 meeting to understand the clear intent of those Council actions.

It seems clear to us that title was placed with the TPFA, as was explained by then-City Finance Director Ron Payne during the May 7, 1991 Council meeting, solely to accommodate some future general obligation bond financing arrangement that would have actually resulted in the City taking full title to the land. Although that transaction has not yet materialized, the intent of a City “super center” that was contemplated by Tulsa Parks Director Hugh McKnight in the May 16, 1991 public hearing (see attached Tulsa World article), is still applicable.

The ordinance governing the source of the money used to buy the park and the specific authority for its expenditure – Tulsa Code of Ordinances, Title 43‐B ‐ 1985 Sales Tax Expenditure Policy – requires that any proposed re-categorization or redirection of its use be brought before the City Council for consideration in two mandatory public hearings. This logically, if not legally, includes the substituted asset: the land acquired with that money. We maintain these public hearings must be properly advertised and the citizens of Tulsa must be allowed to voice their opinions on any such change in use of the asset. It is the City Council that must then make the final determination on the status of the property.

There is a compelling companion issue that bears your review and consideration.

It is our understanding that title to One Technology Center is held in the name of the TPFA. If this be the case, a very serious precedent could be established by the unapproved sale of this Helmerich Park land by the TPFA. Surely the Council is not willing to permit City Hall to be sold without its consent.

By the actions and practices of the City of Tulsa over nearly a quarter century, and indeed, the complete deference of TPFA, the City of Tulsa ostensibly is the beneficial owner of Helmerich Park. This established legal status – a resulting trust – holds that legal title may be with TPFA, but beneficial ownership lies with the City. This being so, the logical conclusion is that the Tulsa City Council is the only body that can make a determination with regard to the disposition of the park land because of the legal limitations for selling land that is being used for City purposes (See GREEN v. CITY OF NORMAN and STATE EX REL. REMY v. AGAR, cited above).

The City Charter invests the Tulsa City Council with specific investigative authority. That is authority given exclusively to the City Council and in our view requires no opinion by  or approval of the executive branch or its attorney.

If a majority of the Tulsa City Council concludes the Tulsa Public Facilities Authority or the office of the Mayor, or both, have engaged in activity that violates Tulsa City ordinances, the Council has the power to use its discretion to initiate an investigation into such matters. We are not necessarily suggesting a formal investigation be conducted by the City Council, although such  an action may be warranted. However, the Council must recognize the exigent need to faithfully exercise sound, reasonable and legal decision-making to rectify these apparent breaches.

Invested with the responsibility to enforce the Tulsa City Charter and the Tulsa Code of Ordinances, and with the active and alert participation of its members, the Tulsa City Council can act to reverse what many believe as a profoundly misguided, shortsighted and arguably unlawful sale of park land held in trust for citizens.

Time is of the essence and we encourage the Council to initiate the following actions post haste.

1.  Prepare and present at a City Council meeting a formal resolution that:

     a.  Advises the Tulsa Public Facilities Authority to immediately cancel its  plan to sell the land in Helmerich Park. 

     b.  Directs TPFA to immediately quit claim deed the land comprising Helmerich Park to the City of Tulsa.

2.  Upon receiving and filing the quit claim deed, direct the Tulsa Metropolitan Planning Commission to swiftly initiate a rezoning – not a study – to return all of the acreage to Agricultural zoning. In addition, add the subject 12 acres of Helmerich Park to the Council’s moratorium on riverfront

In the event the TPFA chooses not to agree to the Council’s requests, the Council should convene as an investigative body under its Charter authority to conduct an investigation of the Tulsa Public Facilities Authority, as its beneficiary, to determine whether all City ordinances and state laws have been followed in the acquisition, operation, management, maintenance and pending disposition of Helmerich Park.

Such an investigation should also include review of the relationship between the City of Tulsa and TPFA with regard to the operation, management and maintenance of Helmerich Park. Specifically, the Council should determine whether, by the City’s dominant role in the overall management of Helmerich Park and TPFA’s acquiescence, the City is the beneficial owner of the land.

A finding by the Council that the City is the beneficial owner of Helmerich Park should result in the immediate invalidation of the existing contract for sale because City-owned land cannot be sold by direct negotiated sale.

Also, the Council should take such action necessary to obtain and file of record a deed, complete with specific land use restrictions, showing the City of Tulsa as owner of the  Helmerich Park land.

Finally, the members of the Tulsa City Council have as supportive resources a number of community members who were directly involved or otherwise active in the acquisition of the Helmerich Park land. Notably, Mr. David James, who served as Chairman of the Tulsa Parks and Recreation Board in 1991 and was actively engaged with Park Friends in facilitating the private sector share of the purchase price. Mr. James recently wrote as he added his name to the on- line petition opposing the land sale:

“As chairman of the Park Board when the land was given to the City of Tulsa,  I attended the ceremonies dedicating the park to the City. Numerous dignitaries  extolled the generosity of those who stepped forward and provided the funds to acquire the land. I believe it would be a breach of trust, a reneging on a promise if the land were allowed to be used for other than a park.”

With confidence that our City Council will continue to see and understand its inviolable  fiduciary role and responsibility to the citizens of Tulsa, we respectfully encourage you to use the independence of the legislative branch of our City government and to act swiftly on this pivotal community matter.

Time is of the essence.

Names of those who signed:

David James, Former Chairman, Tulsa Park Board, Former Member, Park Friends, Inc.

Bill Leighty, Former Chairman, Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission

Rudy Herrmann, Former Chairman, Oklahoma Water Resources Board, Former Chairman, Oklahoma Chapter, The Nature Conservancy

Leonard Eaton, Founding Chairman and Trustee, River Parks Authority

Bob Haring, Former Trustee, River Parks Authority

Patty Eaton, Former Oklahoma Secretary of Environment, Former Executive Director, Oklahoma Water Resources Board, Former Tulsa City Commissioner

Herb Beattie, Former Chairman, Park Friends, Inc. Former Trustee, River Parks Authority

Sandra Langenkamp, Former Chairman, Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission

Dobie Langenkamp, Chairman, Tulsa Chamber Committee on Parks Consolidation, Former Board Member, Oklahoma Chapter, The Nature Conservancy

Hugh McKnight, Former Director, Tulsa Park Department

Terry Young, Former Tulsa Mayor, Former Tulsa County Commissioner

Nancy Atwater, Former Director, Tulsa Park Department

Gary Watts, Former Tulsa City Councilor Former Tulsa City Commissioner

Barbara VanHanken, Chair, Oklahoma Chapter Sierra Club

Darrell Gilbert, Former Tulsa City Councilor Former State Representative

And the following concerned citizens (all names presented with permission):

Craig Immel
Clayda Stead
Carlos Moreno
Katie Plohocky
Ray Pearcey
Judy Wyatt Trickey
Greg  Bledsoe
Janet G. Curth
Peter Childs
Barbara Bannon
Bob Jackman
Kim Gore
Larry and Terry Bridges
Cherie Cook
Joe Schulte
Kay Witt
Sheila Swearingen
Michael Kneafsey
Jamie Jamieson
Andrew Shead
Laura Collins
Robert and Linda Reis
Jim Beach
Patty Southmayd
Sherrill Womeldorff
Marcia Schaefer
Stephen Lassiter
Marci Hawkins
John and Sandra Barnett
Gary Parker
Karen Hardy Cárdenas
Roger L. Ames
Jonathan Belzley
Anita Ward
Steve Woodall
Jean R. Lemmon
David Ruffin
Edwin and Judy Anderson
Rebecca Anderson
Fred Pottorf
Dick Sherry
Mary Beth Hudson
Clint and Paula Haight
Carolline Zink-Hott Abbott
Richard and Ruth Jackson
Emily Warner
Dave Been

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