Sometimes the best solutions come from the simplest sources. In this case, misunderstandings have been ironed out, resources pooled and work streamlined after the conclusion of a City-County Collaborative Government Advisory Committee.
The committee is a long phrase for a simple premise: grab six Tulsa County directors and six city of Tulsa officials, pair them off to powwow and brainstorm about mutual issues, then come together to discuss new ideas.
Done and done. After six advisory committee meetings beginning in February and held once a month through June, a batch of easy solutions is being implemented to save taxpayer money, extra labor and time.
District 9 City Councilor G.T. Bynum proposed the idea for a joint committee to the City Council last year. But several councilors, including District 1 City Councilor Jack Henderson and District 3 City Councilor Roscoe Turner, were wary of the idea and it was voted down by the council, 5-4.
But Mayor Dewey F. Bartlett Jr. chose to go ahead with the idea anyway, and established the committee via an executive order in 2010.
The chairmen of the committee were Bartlett for the city and Commissioner Fred Perry for the county. Perry, who was re-elected last year, said voters told him repeatedly that they wanted the city and county to work more closely together.
Perry said he, Mayor Bartlett, former mayoral chief of staff Terry Simonson and Bynum "decided to match up" counterparts from city and county departments, including purchasing, human resources, information technology, administration services and public works.
A total of 14 people served on the committee, including the two chairmen. Perry said between two and 20 new ideas came out of each monthly meeting. Since June, these new ideas are being put into motion.
With winter approaching, it's comforting to know that city and county crews have started to compare notes and routes to clear roadways and disperse salt and sand more quickly.
During February's blizzard, the road crews from the city and county began tag-teaming their efforts, said Perry. "Rather than having two crews going out" to similar locations to clear areas almost side-by-side, said Perry, "County crews are going to go in and do some city neighborhoods." And vice versa.
And this just scratches the surface of minor changes that are making a big difference. Both the city and county are now getting various commodities -- like, tires for government vehicles, and salt and sand for roads -- at a discount price.
Tulsa's city charter "has some language in it that has kind of inhibited" extensive volume purchasing, said Perry, in response to questions about why it isn't done more often and with more items.
However, the two entities have now combined their vendor lists, Bynum mentioned recently. Bigger vendor lists promotes more competitive bidding from the vendors, and offers both the city and county -- and by extension, Tulsa taxpayers -- a better bargain in the process.
"We're finding that we're able to get things at a lower cost when we go to get items," Perry said.
One of the most popular ideas implemented so far is the creation of two new minor illness clinics.
Both city and county workers have the same insurance, Community Care of Oklahoma, so it was possible to open these clinics, one on Charles Page Blvd. and one at City Hall, where a physician and a few nurses treat workers for cuts, bruises and minor ailments. And employees can access vaccinations and flu shots, too.
The two entities' human resources directors are also planning an equipment and safety rodeo for the spring, a friendly competition between workers who handle heavy machinery. "These are fairly comprehensive safety competitions," said Michael Willis, Tulsa County public information officer.
City and county employees work their way through obstacle courses set up once a year to improve safety on the job. Now that these efforts will be combined, why not challenge each crew to a friendly rodeo hoedown to see who might be able to get their backhoes into a tight spot between two cones? "This is fun but also offers safety training" at the same time, said Willis.
Through new interlocal agreements, the city and county are now sharing equipment and materials for construction sites, while streamlining water and sewer line repair and manpower during specific projects. Perry gave the example of the widened streets near the intersection of 101st St. and Memorial Dr.
"They now have multiple lanes there," said Perry. "The city provided the materials and the county did labor and equipment."
Perry said the county and city have been cooperating on projects like this "all along, but some of the new ideas are the sharing of equipment." The county has specialized waterline repair machinery that the city can now access as a result of the collaborative committee. "Now we're able to get roads and waterlines up faster, and we're able to get projects done faster," Perry said.
But there are always new ways to improve. "We always have to keep in mind that there are 13 other communities out there," including Jenks, Broken Arrow and Owasso, said Perry. "So we have to look for ways to cooperate with them, too."
Other projects on the horizon include "the possibility of a jointly developed park in South Tulsa," among other suggestions, according to a Tulsa County news release from April.
As the committee meetings drew to a close in early summer, City of Tulsa Engineer Tom Raines said, "If nothing else comes from our effort with this committee, the meeting we had with our field people opened the doors to better communication, and a better understanding of each other's need and abilities."
As with any relationship, whether at the dinner table, in a marriage, or between two municipal entities, misunderstandings can be avoided, time and money can be saved, and even a friendship or two can form when people decide to talk it out.
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