Both Parties Entrenched As Public Feud Between City Hall And Bus Factory Continues
With the City of Tulsa and IC Bus of Oklahoma sitting down for negotiations over a contested lease on Thursday, the public relations battle continued to rage via the press.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Mayor G.T. Bynum forcefully denied allegations made in a press release issued and a P.R. campaign launched by the Illinois-based Navistar, IC Bus's parent company, that Bynum wanted to evict the company from the city-owned facility near the airport.
"That is not true," Bynum said, "and why they would say that to their employees and frighten their employees and their employees' families in the midst of this current economic crisis, for the life of me I can't understand it, other than it's a hardball negotiation tactic. It's also very cynical."
City Hall says that they are asking Navistar to abide by terms of their lease, signed in 1999 for $1 in perpetuity with some stipulations.
"The requirement of Navistar as part of that lease is that they would hit benchmarks as it relates to employment, which they have done, and also that they would properly maintain that facility moving forward, which they have not done," Bynum said, adding that a city-contracted inspector found deficiencies.
In an interview with KWGS on Thursday, Rodney Tharp, the IC Bus facility's plant manager, denied that anything in the building is unsafe, or that any part of it is structurally unsound.
"We take exception to those comments," Tharp said. "All of the things that he mentioned were in reference to the plant being an unsafe environment. Quite the contrary."
Tharp declined to speculate on Bynum's motives for tussling with the company over the lease requirements, but openly aired some theories.
"Is it about making sure the facility is safe, which we're committed to do and have been doing for 20 years, or is it about getting $28 million instead of $1?" Tharp posited.
Tharp also reiterated Navistar's claim that they had been threatened with eviction, pointing to a letter sent by City Hall in January that said the company's lease would be terminated unless they agreed to enter negotiations with the city. Pressed on the letter's contents, Tharp said even if it wasn't a true notice of eviction, it still had a chilling effect.
"I can tell you when a landlord sends you a termination notice, for us and the 1,600 people here at the plant, we took that as they wanted us out, or they wanted us to be able to change the lease," Tharp said.
At his press conference Wednesday, Bynum insisted that he wanted the company and its jobs to stay in Tulsa, but was steadfast that the city's prescribed maintenance requirements were, in fact, requirements.
"That's how you get a 1,000,000-square-foot facility for one dollar for two decades, because you agree to properly maintain it," Bynum said.
The company and the city spent all day Thursday in negotiation meetings. Tharp said City Hall had agreed to extend the deadline by which both parties must reach an agreement to May 29th, by which point he hopes the matter will be resolved.