Dating back to the early days of the Constitution, the president was required to give a report on the condition of the country. That soon became known as the State of the Union address. Since then every Governor and many mayors have done the same for their political jurisdictions. Mayor Dewey Bartlett delivered his State of the City address for 2012 last week.
The State of the City address is really both a look backward and a look forward. It's a moment for taking stock on how we are doing with previously stated visions and for casting new visions as time and circumstances require. It is also a look to see if we are doing the right things and whether we doing those things right. It's a look both internally and externally from the city government perspective. It is, in effect, the mayor's report to the shareholders of the City of Tulsa.
Internally, the city has met and continues to achieve greater financial stability than just two years ago. Almost without exception, everything that pointed to a city in decline and going backwards due to the financial crisis has been halted and reversed to a position of greater stability and reliability.
Recognizing that the citizens own the government and that all city employees work for the citizens, there has been a significant and noticeable shift in the importance of transparency, accountability, and openness. Over the past year city government leaders have taken city hall to the neighborhoods where hundreds of citizens actually got to meet, talk with, and ask questions of those who run the city departments most likely to touch their lives. These weren't political speeches but problem solving forums.
In the category of something talked about for years but never gotten done, finally the city will have a 311 call center for city information on services and to report problems. We've had 911 and 211 for years and finally our city government has achieved a great service for the citizens.
Operationally, the private sector never closes the hood in an effort to make their businesses run better. In city government, historically the hood was seldom opened. Then came the nationally acclaimed KPMG efficiency study which provided the city with a road map (more like a treasure map) on how and where to find ways to operate more efficiently like a business, to lower the cost of government and save taxpayer dollars. In just the first year, at least $3 million of savings has been found with another $20 million already identified to go after. The significance of the KPMG study will bear fruit for many, many years and prepare Tulsa to be in a better place to bear any future fiscal crisis.
The city also adopted its first Energy Sustainability Plan to find ways to reduce or conserve the use of energy across hundreds of city owned buildings. These are savings that will just keep on giving as costs continue to rise.
Safety and security always come first for any city. The city has started to rebound from the days of the deep recession by having more police and fire academies and getting the right equipment needed in the hands of the professional police officers and firefighters.
Finally, there is the city's role to support and build up the local economy. Sometimes that means getting out of business's way so the private sector can do what it does best: create jobs. There, the city has worked hard to replace the red tape with the red carpet. Businesses want and need a community with good infrastructure, a good airport, good public amenities, and a good transportation system. On all of these fronts, the city has made progress in the right direction. Street work, airport improvements, flood controls, public property upkeep, and progress implementing PlaniTulsa has all happened in this past year.
Since the political question of the day seems to be: "Are you better off today than four years ago," we can certainly say that as a city, Tulsa is better off than it was just two years ago.
Is the work done? No. Is it ever done? No.
Government's role in the lives of citizens is always changing, always judged, and never what some people want or more than what other people want. But for those who try, it's important to remember the words of Teddy Roosevelt, when he said:
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
When we look at the condition of many of America's cities and find them continuing to struggle, filing bankruptcy, battling with their citizens over priorities, continuing cutbacks and layoffs, neglecting their infrastructure needs, and expecting a federal bailout of their problems, Tulsa is doing better than just OK. We are on the right track.
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