Now with more harmonica!
Mayor Dewey Bartlett wasn't exactly singing the blues with his annual State of the City address Sept. 5 at the Cox Business Center.
"This is the best time to be mayor of our great city. Maybe this is why we see a renewed interested in being mayor, who knows," a relaxed Bartlett said, a deep chuckle following the clear jab at former mayor Kathy Taylor, who in 2009 decided against seeking a second term but now is Bartlett's opponent in the Nov. 12 election.
Bartlett didn't allow much negativity to enter into his talk, with a crowd of roughly 950 people hearing him extol the virtues of the city -- though he did break out some bluesy harmonica for a quick second at the beginning of this speech.
"Playing this little blues harmonica reminds me of our city, of the musical heritage that is unique to Tulsa," Bartlett said, later going on to praise the revitalization of the Brady Arts District.
"Look at our choices for a perfect ending to a perfect day in Tulsa," Bartlett said, describing events at the Guthrie Green, the BOK Center, Cain's Ballroom, the Brady Theater and the Tulsa Performing Arts Center.
Even recent controversy was described by Bartlett with a positive spin, including the decision to rename Brady Street after a Civil War photographer, M.B. Brady, with no ties to the city. The move came in response to citizen requests to not honor a city founder, W. Tate Brady, in part because of recent research highlighting his ties to the Ku Klux Klan.
"Publicly, it appeared as a conversation over a street name. But it was really about reconciliation and unity," Bartlett said, adding that while he opposed a name change he thought the council "found a way to reconcile the issue." Unmentioned were the continued protests from citizens who want a more complete change to the street name.
Bartlett didn't mention anything related to the city's struggles with its green waste program, but he did tout a new education initiative to be based at Tulsa International Airport to help high school students learn a trade related to the aviation or aerospace industries.
"I'm announcing today: a concept," Bartlett began. "A concept that my staff and others in education and in the aviation-aerospace industry have been working on for two years. I've put together a task force to study the creation of a facility at the Tulsa International Airport. This facility could be new, it could be existing, it could be a tent as far as I'm concerned."
While Bartlett seemed to be acknowledging that many details remain unresolved, the main goal he said is to "offer a pathway to prosperity for students who have fallen through the cracks as well as those who have not yet had their creative light turned on." He went on to explain that high school students would have an opportunity for summer jobs with local aerospace companies as part of this initiative.
The non-expansion extension.
Health coverage will continue into the new year for thousands of low-income workers with an extension of the state's Insure Oklahoma plan.
Gov. Mary Fallin announced in a Sept. 6 news statement that state officials had successfully negotiated the extension with federal authorities.
The program, which has been reliant on federal funding, was set to expire at the end of this year when that funding source ran dry.
The uncertain status of the program had to do with Medicaid expansion, the option created by the federal government as part of the Affordable Care Act. Federal authorities expected that the expansion would be rolled out nationally, for the first time allowing low-income adults access to the safety-net health insurance program.
But a U.S. Supreme Court decision following a legal challenge to the health care overhaul explicitly cleared states to opt out of Medicaid expansion, leading to much uncertainty for a state-based program like Insure Oklahoma as federal dollars have instead been set aside for Medicaid expansion. Another sticking point had been Insure Oklahoma's cap on enrollment, unlike the federal government's Medicaid expansion plan.
Fallin's statement noted that the one-year extension of Insure Oklahoma only came about after "months in negotiations" with federal authorities.
While Insure Oklahoma's employer-based program will continue seemingly without major changes through 2014, the state will impose reduced eligibility for those on Insure Oklahoma's "Individual Plan."
Currently designed to help "self-employed individuals, unemployed individuals seeking work or employees working for small businesses that do not have access to group coverage," beginning Jan. 1 the plan will only be made available to individuals earning up to 100 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, currently defined as $19,530 for a three-person household, for example.
The program had been made available to eligible individuals earning up to double the federal poverty level. Fallin's statement estimated that 8,000 individuals will lose coverage because of this change.
But she emphasized the extension as a victory for the state.
"Insure Oklahoma has been around since 2005. It's been a success for thousands of small businesses that have used it to help their employees purchase insurance," Fallin said in a statement. "It's been a success for tens of thousands of families of modest means, who would be uninsured without it."
Good-bye summer, hello campaign season.
It wasn't marked officially on any calendar, but the day after Labor Day weekend seems to have been a clear signal to restart campaigning in the Tulsa mayoral race.
Kathy Taylor kicked things off with a formal news conference announcing her transparency plans for the city should she be elected mayor.
"In the 21st century, government accountability is much more than just answering questions when asked. It's about giving the citizens the information they need to hold the government accountable for using their tax dollars," Taylor said.
Her plans include having monthly face-to-face meetings with citizens, as well as having an open records request form be "front and center on the city's website" -- with Taylor also calling for improvements to make the city website "more user-friendly."
Taylor also said she would post more financial data online, including contracts.
"Currently, Tulsans' best information on how the city is spending their tax dollars is monthly static financials. But seven of the last 12 months have not been put online, so Tulsans can't tell how much has been spent," Taylor said.
Taylor said the "right policies in place will prove to the citizens the city will have a plan to be open with all the information, whether it's from the mayor's office or one of the many boards, commissions and trust authorities like EMSA and the trash boards who hold the keys to polices and purse strings."
She slammed Bartlett for his handling of the green waste controversy. Rather than bagged green waste being mulched according to plans, it has been burned with other refuse because of difficulty in efficiently separating the bags from the grass clippings, leaves and branches. Bartlett has said he only recently learned how the city has been handling the bagged waste.
Bartlett has a designee, City Manager Jim Twombly, sit on the trash board. In an interview, Taylor said it may not be necessary for a mayor to physically be present at the trash board meetings, but that it's a failure to not be involved enough to know what's happening.
"I think it doesn't matter whether you're there or you have a designee. You have an obligation to know what's going on, especially when you're moving into a multi-million dollar contract for the city," Taylor said.
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