That does a city councilor wear to an 8am Saturday meeting at a coffee shop?
If he's Blake Ewing, a blue hoodie and jeans feels appropriate. Others sported a more casual-Friday-at-the-office look, though Councilor Skip Steele wore a suit jacket and Councilor Jack Henderson a full suit-and-tie, though Henderson, it turned out, left the four-hour meeting early to attend a funeral.
Along with individual sartorial choices, the nine-member council, with Mayor Dewey Bartlett (button-up shirt and slacks with a belt, for the record), gathered Jan. 26 to begin choosing which goals should have their backing as a group.
Among the likely new goals: Supporting a rapid transit bus system along Peoria Avenue, forming a new committee studying neighborhood improvements near East 61st Street and South Peoria Avenue, improving police records-management technology and organizing an entrepreneurship challenge contest "that's going to make national news," according to Ewing.
It's the second time in two years such a goal-setting meeting has taken place away from City Hall. Last year, the group met at Harwelden Mansion, not formally adopting the goals discussed at that meeting until March. This year, The Phoenix café (owned by Ewing) hosted the event, and again no formal action was taken by the council.
Discussion Saturday ranged far and wide after a ten-minute delay in getting started. The meeting began with an approximately seven-minute video on magnet trains, an issue brought to the group by Steele, who said he wants the city to consider "where a system like this would be located in the city of Tulsa."
Such technology is not in use anywhere in the United States, a fact Steele acknowledged but said shouldn't prevent the city from considering where train stations might best be put as long-term plans develop.
The topic sparked no major disagreements between councilors, but it underscored a lack of clear understanding about whether discussion should focus on 2013 or include longer-range topics.
Talk about a goal of getting water in the Arkansas River, for example, led Ewing to remark that the project is so large in scope the group would be "setting ourselves up for heckling" if it's included as a goal.
With goals adopted last year, meeting moderator Robert Gardner attempted to review what's taken place since they were approved by the council as top priorities.
Talk about investing in under-utilized areas, a goal set last year with a focus on east, west and north Tulsa, led to the meeting's most intense disagreement.
Henderson complained that the process has failed to include input from councilors representing those parts of Tulsa explicitly included in the goal. His District 1 includes the northern part of the city.
But others noted that city planners had briefed the council in 2012 on progress in redeveloping three sites on city-owned land, including the Evans-Fintube area, which formerly housed foundry operations.
"I remember the visits, but I didn't realize it was connected to this particular task," said Steele, whose District 6 includes eastern Tulsa. Councilor Jeannie Cue, who serves District 2 in southwestern Tulsa, also said she didn't make the connection.
Ewing questioned whether Henderson's concern involved disagreement over the sites selected or missing out on the process, suggesting Henderson contact the mayor's office with his concerns.
"Otherwise, we turn our committee meetings into some ridiculous dog-and-pony show," Ewing said. When Henderson then questioned Ewing about whether he heard councilors say they didn't understand the connection between the goal item and planning staff briefings, Ewing offered a sharp rebuke.
"Wake up in the council meetings and pay attention," Ewing said, leading Henderson to roar back that "I'll keep doing what I've been doing." Henderson left the meeting soon afterwards, with Gardner informing the group he was attending a funeral.
Another disagreement didn't involve a shouting match, but the topic of expanding the Gilcrease Expressway led some councilors to question whether the idea has truly broad support.
"I don't necessarily know there's been a proven need for it yet," said Councilor G.T. Bynum.
Despite the effort made by Gardner to more or less systematically go through goals adopted last year, some seemed to get short-shrift. For example, none of the recommendations by the Business Services Task Force were discussed. That group had recommended a new website to make it easier for new business owners to find out what permits they need from the city.
Broad topics of seeming agreement included what Councilor Phil Lakin described as a recommendation by the Entrepreneurship Subcommittee, a part of the Economic Development Commission.
"We raise a prize, have people from all across the country come to Tulsa to compete, and then, if they won that prize, they'd have to set up shop here for some period of time," Lakin said. Both Bynum and Ewing expressed support for the concept, and Bartlett also seemed to talk up the idea.
"We've got a lot of assets we could throw into this," he noted, with discussion including the city's supercomputer and office space in City Hall. Bartlett left the meeting early because of a family illness, Gardner told councilors. News reports later said Bartlett's mother, Ann, died later that day.
Rapid bus service stretching well into north and south Tulsa also seemed to have support as a feasible goal, despite funding challenges. The project may cost roughly $25 million to start, with more than a million in yearly operating costs.
"To me, it makes sense, and a lot of communities are doing this," Ewing said. While he said there are "lots of federal dollars" for the project, Bynum said "there's some skepticism about whether we can rely on that," though he said he also supports the project.
"It is within our power this year to fund a bus rapid transit system," Bynum said.
Cue talked about a desire to form a commission studying the East 61st Street and South Peoria Avenue neighborhood, where several low-income subsidized apartment complexes have been described as high-crime areas.
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