The schedule of the upcoming MAPS projects has been a hotly debated topic in recent City Council meetings. Tensions flared on Tuesday, when the Council approved the timeline in the absence of one of its most independent members. Ward Two City Council Member, Dr. Ed Shadid, has been noted by his peers to be a well-researched, passionate Council member, who exhaustively studies matters brought before the City Council. Fellow Councilman, Pete White of Ward Four, testifies to Shadid’s work ethic, “He spends more time researching than anyone on the Council. I donâ€™t always agree with his conclusions but I like hearing what he has to say.” And Ed Shadid had a lot to say about a recent Council vote concerning MAPS-3. While on a recent vacation with his family, he spent “at least” 30 hours researching issues that needed to be addressed in the upcoming Council vote regarding the MAPS-3 timeline options (Option 1 pushes up the timeline for convention center construction 30 months, Option 2 pushes up the construction 21 months). How is it, then, that a new Council member, so eager to make his mark and to have his opinions and concerns heard, missed this important vote?
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.
However, if Salyer had been present as well, the timeline would likely still have been approved, since she was in favor of the accelerated timeline. Shadid would also not have impacted the vote that allows the convention site to be constructed on the grounds of the former Ford dealership. White was the only council member who voted against this. Therefore, he and Shadid would have been on the same losing side. Speculations on alternative outcomes are essentially rendered inconsequential, as Shadid was not present and the Council majority refused to grant him a deferral.
Pete White told us, “The priority list might have changed a little bit, but the vote outcome would have been virtually the same” had Shadid been present. White continued, “I was never optimistic that the outcome of the vote would be any different than it was.” For instance, Councilman Greenwell voted against Option One because he favored Option Two. Either way, one of the timelines was going to get approved (with a difference of start dates of only nine months), whether Shadid was present or not.
White points out, fairly, that this is the consequence of democratic action. The Convention Center is being built as part of the MAPS-3 package, whether we like it or not. It was passed through by a majority of voters, and the plans for its construction are being carried out by elected officials. However, he remarks on the “real” difference between the two options, “It’s like putting your kids to bed and given them a choice between a bath or a shower. There is no third choice.”
White is careful to make a distinction between the Council member’s decision not to differ the vote until Shadid could be present, and the actual topics upon which they voted. “These are two separate issues.” And, they really are.
There is an unwritten rule on the city Council that if you ask for a one-time referral due to extenuating circumstances, it is granted. This understanding is built into the nature of the relationships and bonds of the City Council members. Shadid knew it, but was still willing to bear an incredible expense to make it back in time to be present at the meeting. The idea that he would be granted a deferral by fellow Council members seemed a fore-gone conclusion. White also makes reference to the “unwritten rule” concerning deferrals in the case of extenuating circumstances, “you can get a deferral one time if you need it. It has been an understanding.”
However, this “unwritten rule” is not an unspoken rule. In fact, on May 31st, Councilmembers Marrs, Salyer and Ryan suggested during a Council meeting that a Council member only had to ask for a continuance or deferral if they needed more time. This suggestion is matter of public record.
On the subject of Shadid’s deferral, White was distressed, “I feel badly for him because he had called me the evening before and told me the situation and based on the way the Council has generally dealt with that I didnâ€™t think it was necessary for him to spend that kind of money to get back in time for the vote. My own experience on the Council, going back to the 80s, is it’s a matter of courtesy to extend a vote in a Council members absence. To say I’m disappointed is an understatement. This is not the kind of conduct expected of the City Council. Civility has previously been a hallmark of this group.”
When we spoke to Jim Couch, City Council Manager, he was more reluctant to admit to reassuring Shadid that the deferral was a sure thing, but he did seem surprised that the Council didn’t end up granting it. “I thought they would allow it,” he offered, “but at the meeting the Council made it clear they wanted to move forward with the vote.”
Shadid points out that the Council will have “lost absolutely nothing” in deferring the vote two weeks. His overriding point is that he was not given a chance to speak his mind about several issues that he was eager to address. White is doubtful that Shadid would have persuaded any Council members to change their mind because “their minds were already made up,” but the fact that Shadid was not even extended the common courtesy and the civility that this particular City Council has a reputation for, dismays him greatly. “That kind of divisiveness is not welcome on the Oklahoma City Council,” White said sternly. When questioned as to the possible causes for the City Council’s abrupt, out-of-character decision not to grant Shadid the deferral, White confesses, “I really donâ€™t know why they went against the pattern of civility.”
In order to guard against future mishaps, Shadid spoke to Couch, proposing a solution. “I told him, ‘Jim, we need a mediator to improve communication and work toward civility. This kind of behavior is not acceptable. We need objective criteria on when continuance is allowed and not allowed.” A clear standard on referrals can prevent similar situations in the future. It remains to be seen if this is an example of a simple misunderstanding, or a portent of future friction within the council.