May 8, 1990
Monday I attended the swearing-in ceremony for new Tulsa Mayor G T Bynum, City Auditor Criswell and our nine City Councilors. It brought back memories of the swearing-in ceremony for Mayor Rodger Randle and the first Tulsa City Council on May 8, 1990, implementing the new city charter, overwhelmingly approved by Tulsa voters the year before, that changed city government from a five member City Commission elected at large, to a mayor and city council elected by districts. My favorite memory from that day was the private lunch attended by just the eleven elected officials—Mayor Randle, Auditor Wood, Councilors Roberts, Hall, DeWitty, Nelson, Hogue, Benjamin, Polishuk, Bartlett and myself. The event was mostly about developing camaraderie among the group but also to mildly tease the media since we would never again be able to gather together in private without violating the Open Meeting Act.
Toward the end of the lunch, and not long before the scheduled public event was to commence, Mayor Randle addressed the group and at the end of his remarks proposed that we all agree to participate in a kind of Tontine whereby we would all agree to put in a certain sum of money that would be invested and made available to the last of us to survive, or according to other conditions we may all agree upon. There was quick consensus that we should pledge to come together again in twenty-five years to see the status of our Tontine, and that Auditor Phil Wood, electing not to participate, would hold and invest the funds. There was also consensus that all participating would put up their first month’s officeholder salary, being $1,000 for each of us nine councilors.
At that point Mayor Randle, being a good Democrat who was liberal with other people’s money but conservative with his own, dropped out when he realized his required contribution would be near $6000. After some discussion about the likelihood that only one of us would still be living in twenty-five years Mayor Randle offered a second criteria that might accelerate the determination of a winner. Each councilor would make a prediction that the whole group had to agree could happen in the next twenty-five years; and if a councilor’s prediction in fact did happen, then that councilor would be eliminated from receiving the Tontine investment. It was also agreed that the twenty-fifth anniversary lunch when we would gather again would be paid for by the winner.
Those twenty-five years passed all too quickly and on May 7, 2015 at a luncheon to celebrate the 25th anniversary we had the opportunity to determine if there was a winner of the Tontine. All current and former elected officials who had served under the Mayor/Council form of government that began in 1990 were invited and most were in attendance. When the time came to consider the status of the Tontine it fell to me as the Chair of the first City Council, and obviously one of the surviving charter members, to announce the results in council district order:
Council District 1, Rev. B. S. Roberts, respected minister, civil rights leader and a true gentle giant, was deceased;
Council District 2, Darla Hall, lifelong West Tulsan and owner of a successful insurance agency, was deceased;
Council District 3, Dorothy DeWitty, gifted educator, retired school principal and community advocate, was deceased;
Council District 4, Gary Watts, whose prediction was “An African American will be elected President of the United States”, so I was disqualified;
Council District 5, Robert Nelson, small business owner who often displayed his gift for timely humor, was deceased;
Council District 6, James Hogue, attorney who was subsequently elected to a District Judge post, was deceased;
Council District 7, John Benjamin, whose prediction was “It will be legal for two men to marry in the State of Oklahoma”, delivered with a wink in my direction, so he was disqualified;
Council District 8, Richard Polishuk, whose prediction, resisted by the rest of us until we relented due to time constraints, was “The Vice President of the United States will shoot a man in the face and still remain in office”, so he was disqualified;
Council District 9, then current Mayor Dewey Bartlett, whose prediction, made after he consulted Terry Simonson outside our luncheon room, was “The elected officials of the City of Tulsa and County of Tulsa will work harmoniously together for the consolidation and efficiency of all local government services and betterment of the lives of their citizens in the metropolitan Tulsa region”, which clearly has not happened, so he was effectively the last one standing and winner of the Tontine.
However, it then fell to me to inform Dewey Bartlett that our beloved Auditor Phil Wood, who was deceased, in a weak moment during the late 1990s had sought investment advice from then Councilor Sam Roop who recommended he put it all in WorldCom stock. Therefore, at the conclusion of the 25th Anniversary luncheon, Dewey received no payoff but was given the invoice for the cost of the luncheon.
If you are still reading and still believing, be careful when you start walking—you may find one leg longer than the other.
Lunch is on me if you are the first to identify with some specificity the location of the photo above of the first eleven elected officials under the new city charter.