Mayor's Manager Motion.
A move by Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr. last week may have been an attempt to head off a proposed city charter change that calls for the creation of a city manager form of government for Tulsa. But his appointment of Jim Twombly to the city manager post by executive order was not well received by some members of the City Council.
Councilors G.T. Bynum, Chris Trail and Rick Westcott, while praising Twombly's abilities as an administrator, characterized the move largely as window dressing.
"The job duties are not that of a city manager," Bynum said. "When two of the three largest departments in the city don't answer to him, I don't know how you call him a city manager. Jim Twombly is a great guy, but he's not a city manager as we know them in Oklahoma."
Trail said he was glad the mayor realizes there's a need for a city manager in Tulsa, but added, "This isn't a change. We've changed some responsibilities is all we've basically done."
Westcott said a true city manager serves as the chief executive officer of a city and is authorized to sign contracts that bind the city to certain agreements. A city manager also has the ability to hire and fire employees.
"Jim Twombly does not have that authority, and the mayor cannot give him that authority," Westcott said. "If Mayor Bartlett wants to streamline his administration and free up his time to do other things, I have no problem with that. But he still needs to call it what it is, and it is not a city manager."
In announcing the move, the mayor said it would provide him with more time to concentrate on economic development and priority issues that concern citizens and the council.
"It is important that the citizens know what we are doing for economic development and have information on all the issues they most care about -- our streets, our public safety and our neighborhoods," Bartlett said. "This will give me more time to integrate with the community at large."
Twombly was already on the mayor's staff, serving as his director over administrative functions and city departments at an annual salary of $140,000. According to the mayor's office, those departments will continue to report to him, but he also will have the added responsibility of working all members of the mayor's staff and directors. Twombly will not have authority over the police and fire departments.
The mayor also indicated the appointment will help improve his often-rocky relationship with the City Council, providing another point of contact between his office and councilors and allow the council to receive information more quickly.
But Westcott was dismissive of the mayor's explanation. He said that under the proposed charter change that is being sent to voters later this year, the authority for hiring a city manager would not rest with the mayor.
"He or she would serve at the pleasure of the council, and the mayor would be a voting member of the council, so the mayor would have some input on those decisions," he said.
Bynum said that accountability issue was not as much a concern to him as the lack of responsibility and authority for the city manager under the structure the mayor has created.
"I don't think a city manager has to be chosen by the council," he said. "They can be chosen by the mayor, but what Mr. Twombly is doing is not a city manager. Under Mayor Bill LaFortune, Allen Lacroix was the (chief operating officer) for the city, and he had more departments reporting to him than Mr. Twombly does under this structure, certainly more employees. To refer to this position as a city manager is disingenuous."
Trail said the move caught many city officials by surprise.
"We had no idea it was going to happen," he said. "I heard there were some players involved who had no idea it was going to happen until 30 minutes before (the mayor announced it at a press conference)."
On the other hand, Trail said one recent addition to Bartlett's staff has had a positive impact on relations between the mayor and the council, referring to the hiring of ex-Speaker of the House Chris Benge as the director of intergovernmental and enterprise development.
"He's helping six or seven councilors with issues they're having," Trail said. "He's helping me with a meth summit for my district, and I know he's been helping councilors Westcott and Bynum with river development. I am very impressed with this man."
Trail said he didn't understand why Trail wasn't being given a more prominent role in the administration.
"You've got Michael Jordan, and you're not putting him in the game," he said. "If the mayor's office had had this man from Day One, it wouldn't be having the problems with the council it's having now."
Trail noted that many of his fellow councilors who were apprehensive about seeing Benge join the mayor's staff in November have changed their tune.
"He's definitely worth every dime he's getting paid," Trail said.
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