Racism Claimed During Tulsa City Council Committee Meeting

Tuesday, August 11th 2009, 5:27 pm
By: News On 6

By Chris Wright, The News On 6

TULSA, OK - During a meeting on Tuesday, a Tulsa City Councilor accuses fellow councilors of racism.  The accusations stem from a heated debate Tuesday over a loan to the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce.

The racism accusation was made during a debate over a $1.4 million loan.  The money will be used to open several businesses on Peoria.  The Greenwood Chamber of Commerce thought the loan would not have to be repaid, but the City of Tulsa disagrees.

What had been a run-of-the mill Urban and Economic Development Committee meeting of the council suddenly erupted into a heated exchange on Tuesday.  Even after things settled down, Councilor Jack Henderson was not backing down, and Councilor Bill Martinson was still surprised about the accusation.

"I've seen racism in this city.  For some reason, this smelled of racism," said Councilor Jack Henderson.

"I'm terribly offended. I think it was way out of line," said Councilor Bill Martinson.

The controversy comes from what's called a 108 Loan from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.  It was given to the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce for north Tulsa business development.

The proposed businesses would be built on a vacant lot on Peoria, which sits just north of another development which used to contain an Albertson's grocery store. The idea is to generate some more money and encourage more businesses to come and open up in north Tulsa.

The Greenwood Chamber was under the impression the 108 Loan would act as a stimulus and any profit the new businesses made would be used to develop more businesses.

"There's no guarantee now that profits generated from the development are going to be recycled back into the community," said Rueben Gant with the Greenwood Community Development Association.

But, the Tulsa City Council says it was simply following procedure and its decision in no way was motivated by racism.

"I don't know why the Greenwood Chamber is so upset that the city council basically approved a 10-year commitment.  I don't know why they're upset over that," said Tulsa City Councilor Bill Martinson.

The Department of Grants Administration says both sides have a point.  It says it's not unprecedented for a 108 Loan to be repaid, but it's very rare.