Maybe Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr. and the Tulsa City Council aren't so far apart after all.
An examination of the City Council's compendium of needs --a list of citywide priorities established by councilors during their annual retreat -- by the mayor's office has yielded a list of 21 areas in which the Bartlett administration and the council share an interest and can work together, according to Terry Simonson, the mayor's chief of staff.
Simonson's examination of the council's compendium of needs came after he and District 9 Councilor G.T. Bynum met shortly before Thanksgiving and discussed an alternative to a planned policy forum between the mayor and the council that Bynum had proposed and the council had approved. Bartlett had indicated he wasn't comfortable with that format, ending the idea of the forum, but Simonson and Bynum explored the idea of accomplishing the same goals through different means.
On a preliminary basis, it seems, they appear to have struck gold -- and perhaps have taken the first step in helping the mayor and council turn the page on their often-rancorous relationship.
"Once we got our hands on the compendium of needs -- which I had never seen before -- it was easy to identify common ground," Simonson said.
The mayor's chief of staff said he took a look at the list initially and then shared it with Bartlett, and the mayor's office now believes there are nearly two dozen priorities established by the council that the administration is eager to work on, as well.
Those include such topics as better usage and coverage of programs by Tulsa Government Access Television; conducting independent audits of the police and fire departments; finding other ways to fund public safety, such as a proposed fire utility fee; hiring more police officers; pushing for state and federal funding to build low-water dams on the Arkansas River; establishing a tax increment finance district along the Arkansas River; aggressively enforcing codes; implementing the city's new comprehensive plan; adopting a new citywide trash and recycling service; burying utility lines; ensuring the viability of the Oklahoma State University Medical Center; identifying better funding for the Tulsa Zoo; allowing the city to collect its own sales tax; and developing the city's new rainy day fund.
Others include addressing the police staff; assisting the Tulsa Metro Chamber to bring in business; supporting Arkansas River development; increasing neighborhood involvement; working with Tulsa Public Schools; funding time and attendance automation; and encouraging employee suggestions.
Many of those priorities are not foreign to the mayor's staff, Simonson said.
"Not a week goes by that someone in the mayor's office is not working on something on that list, as well as other things," he said.
Simonson said he sent the mayor's list to Bynum on Nov. 23. He said he hadn't received a response from the councilor as of Dec. 3, but he said that wasn't surprising, given the Thanksgiving holiday that had taken place.
The next step in the process, Simonson said, likely would be for him and Bynum to meet again and talk about how the two sides could collaborate. Simonson said he didn't have a preference for what form that might take, although he said it likely would involve members of the mayor's management team meeting with councilors or members of the council staff to begin discussions.
Simonson said it was his impression that a number of items on the council's list are issues that councilors don't wish to take part in directly. Rather, he said, they simply want to be kept apprised of what the mayor's office is doing.
"And as certain milestones are reached, they should be kept apprised when those occur," he said.
The long list of shared priorities helps illustrate that, despite the well-known differences the mayor and council have had during Bartlett's first year in office, there is considerable common ground between the two, Simonson said.
"I guess the old adage is, you're not going to see a story in the paper about all the planes that land safely," he said. "The only news coverage you see is when the mayor and the council clash. When you look at the council's compendium of needs and at (the mayor's) priorities, you see there are way more things that we share in common than we disagree about. Unfortunately, the things we share in common don't seem to be brought forward very often because good news doesn't sell."
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