The idea of a policy forum featuring the mayor and all nine members of the City Council to discuss areas of common interest appears to be dead, according to the councilor who proposed the idea.
District 9's G.T. Bynum said Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr. told him at a Nov. 22 meeting he was not interested in participating in such a forum. Bynum proposed the idea in August, and the council voted unanimously in favor of it. The purpose of the event -- which Bynum had hoped would take place this fall at a location outside the Inner Dispersal Loop -- was to develop a consensus between the mayor and the council on what the short-term and long-term goals of the city should be. The meeting would have been open to the public and was to have been moderated by a neutral third party.
"He indicated to me he doesn't have any faith that it wouldn't turn into a public beat-up session on him," Bynum said, explaining the mayor's reluctance to participate.
Bartlett and the council have been squabbling for months over a number of issues.
But Bynum said after the mayor left the Nov. 22 meeting, he and Terry Simonson, the mayor's chief of staff, discussed the possibility of achieving the same goals through an alternate arrangement. Essentially, Bynum said, the mayor's office would examine the council's compendium of needs -- a list of priorities for the city that council members developed during their annual retreat -- and determine if there were any areas of common interest. If there are, Bynum said, he and Simonson discussed the idea of working out a new approach for the mayor and council to discuss those.
"We'll just have to see. I don't even know what those areas are at present," Bynum said of any common ground the council and mayor might be willing to explore. "But that could accomplish the same thing for us if we found areas of agreement without exposing (the mayor) to the kind of situation he's worried about, with nine councilors in a public forum."
Bynum said he hopes something workable can be salvaged. After the council approved the idea of the forum on Aug. 26, Bynum met with Bartlett to gauge his interest, but he said the mayor told him them he wasn't ready to participate. Bynum said the mayor told him them he wanted to meet with each councilor individual in an attempt to hash out his differences with them before agreeing to meeting the entire council in a pubic forum.
The mayor apparently decided in the interim the policy forum was not a good idea, though Bynum hopes his exchange with Simonson will bear fruit in another form.
"As I told the mayor, any way we can identify those areas of shared interest and improve communication, I'm on board with," he said. "I'm not married to one approach. If he doesn't want to participate in it, there's not much that can be done. But as for this other approach Terry and I discussed between the mayor and council, if he wants to give it a shot, I think it could end up being very productive."
Bynum said he intended to send the mayor's office a memo outlining his understanding of what he and Simonson had discussed, encouraging the administration to examine the council's compendium of needs and determine what areas of common interest might exist. Bynum was hopeful five or six such areas might be identified by Bartlett.
"From there, I think it would be appropriate for the mayor to reach out to the council, possibly picking five or six councilors who might be willing to work with him on a handful of policies," Bynum said.
The District 9 councilor cautioned that the idea was still in its early stages, adding that he did not even know if Simonson had brought the subject up with Bartlett yet.
"He and Terry agreed with me that the level of communication between the mayor's office and the council is terrible and needs to be improved from both sides," Bynum said. "The level of communication we've had in the first year is not acceptable if we are going to move Tulsa forward. I think the fact that they recognize that is a positive step."
Bynum said if the idea moves forward, he would hope the new approach could be in place by the end of the year.
"That would be ideal," he said. "I think once we have those areas of common interest identified, it would move fairly quickly. The other thing that would be great about this approach is that it would instill a team-based approach to policy development, which we haven't had in this first year (of the Bartlett administration). We did work together on the (passage of) the rainy day fund, but everything else has either been a council initiative or something (the mayor) comes up with, and he hands it off to us."
The first hurdle in the process, Bynum said, is to get the mayor on board.
"Terry and I both thought it was a good idea," he said. "The councilors I have talked with want to work with the mayor and understand the need for everyone to be at the table together."
Bynum sounded an optimistic tone about the chances of something being worked out.
"I feel better about the odds of this happening than I did the policy forum because it achieves what the council was hoping for, which was a unified approach on policy development while addressing the mayor's concerns about grandstanding," he said.
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