An effort to answer several questions regarding proposed mediation between Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr. and the City Council over a number of disputes between the two parties that have arisen in recent months will be the topic of discussion in a special council meeting at 4pm Thursday, Aug. 12 at City Hall.
In late July, Bartlett proposed the two sides sit down with a pair of mediators in an attempt to work out their differences over several issues. Relations between the mayor and the council have gotten progressively worse during the past several months, most notably over an investigation into whether Bartlett's chief of staff, Terry Simonson, lied to the council about a federal grant that was used to rehire laid-off police officers.
Since then, the two sides have become embroiled in a number of arguments, including whether the council violated the state's Open Meetings Law by taking a procedural vote during an executive session and whether the council had the authority under the city charter to authorize an investigation into the Simonson allegations.
Through his attorney, Joel Wohlgemuth, Bartlett proposed that former federal Magistrate Sam Joyner and retired state Supreme Court Justice Daniel Boudreau serve as mediators for the process. That prompted District 9 Councilor G.T. Bynum to respond with an Aug. 2 letter to the mayor he said was designed to help move the process forward.
Bynum indicated he was interested in pursuing mediation, but only under a number of stipulations -- that the mediators be mutually agreed upon by the council and the mayor, rather than be selected by the mayor alone; that Bartlett enter into such mediation with the understanding that responsibility for the current acrimony can be assessed on all sides; and that the mayor's attorney "refrain from further rhetoric and threats until we've had the chance to discuss the possibility of mediation in more detail."
"I believe it would be difficult for either party to enter mediation amidst continually escalating hostility," Bynum states in his letter.
The councilor said last week Bartlett had not responded directly to his letter, but he indicated he was not disappointed by that.
"No, because it's my understanding the mayor is prepared to be involved in discussions regarding the issues related to mediation," he said.
Given the unprecedented state of antagonism that exists between Bartlett and the council, Bynum said one of the biggest stumbling blocks to reaching a resolution is that no one is quite sure what issues are even eligible for mediation -- or how that process might develop.
"I think right now, the issue is that we don't know what the answers are, and the councilors overall don't know what our options are," he said. "I'm not even saying we should definitely do mediation. My interest is in understanding what our options are."
Bynum said he is leery of "flying blind" by simply engaging in mediation with the mayor without taking the time to have those questions answered.
"We need to figure out who would participate and how they would participate," he said of the Aug. 12 meeting. "All that is on the table for discussion and explanation."
A number of councilors expressed a desire last week to meet informally with the mayor without lawyers present to hash out some of their differences, Bynum said, and that idea is still being considered.
Bynum stressed in his letter that the opinions he was expressing were his alone.
"I send this to you solely as one councilor out of nine," he states. "I wouldn't dare speak for any of my colleagues. But I did want you to know of my individual interest in your offer. If you'd be amenable to the requests above, please let me know."
Bynum said it was his understanding that District 6 Councilor Jim Mautino also had sent a letter to Bartlett responding to his mediation proposal, although he did not know the contents of that letter. But he took it as another sign that various parties in the dispute want the bickering to come to an end.
"My chief interest in your offer is in bringing a necessary conclusion to this low-point in Tulsa municipal history," he states in his letter to the mayor.
Bynum said he believes many of his council colleagues feel the same way.
"A number of us have agreed we need to get these issues resolved," he said. "The real question mark is what issues we should be looking at, and can we be going into mediation over them and how do we go about resolving the issues that are out there. I'm eager to get this done."
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