Last Thursday, Tulsa City Councilors and Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr. were united in their pursuit of a municipal bucket list of goals they developed. At their standing committee meeting for urban and economic development, Bartlett briefly joined the nine councilors to officially set aside their rancorous past.
After years of media headlines highlighting the bitter, fractured relationship between the mayor and councilors, the buoyant meeting was a welcome relief. As they gathered around the table, the frenemy tension of the past has washed away.
So what united this group of city leaders? In one romantic word: bureaucracy. Task forces are the ties that bind government leaders together. The council approved and the mayor signed an executive order with an 18-item agenda that covers initiatives with specific and measurable goals to improve the city they love.
Our city leaders are also big fans of plans; occasionally, one actually seems to work. With these new goals, at least a few are bound to make their mark.
"This really is a historical day that all of us individually and collectively should be very proud of," Mayor Bartlett said before signing the executive order putting five new task forces in place to accomplish the leaders' goals.
The mayor said he appreciated District 9 City Councilor and Council Chairman GT Bynum for his leadership on the new plans.
District 8 City Councilor Phil Lakin said, "I'm very proud of this document. I can't wait to quantify our progress on each of these goals and at the end of the year really state to the public where we are, where we have succeeded and where we have failed as well."
The nine city councilors were jovial as they gathered around a table at City Hall to share a pen with the council's former enemy.
"You know, we're going to need that pen back," Lakin joked. "We're going to frame it."
Bartlett was kind enough to return the pen, and was soon ushered out of the meeting room. With the photo opportunity over, let's unpack these initiatives and the four new task forces created to implement some of the bigger projects.
The initiatives focus on five areas, and include: developing the economy; developing transportation plans for future needs; improving public safety; making local government efficient and reliable; and beautifying Tulsa.
A River Development Task Force will program the river corridor and will be required to "deliver actionable steps to the Tulsa City Council and the Mayor" by Dec. 1, according to city-provided release.
An Energy Industry Task Force will be "populated with local energy executives (current and retired), to recruit and grow the energy industry," the release stated.
A Business Services Task Force "should include architects, developers and small business owners who have been recently affected by city of Tulsa projects," and others who frequently interact with the city from a commercial perspective. This task force has the fuzziest objectives but must come up with a draft of a "services contract" for the council to consider. The contract would establish "ground rules" for how the city's actions affect the city and citizens, according to the release.
These three task forces will head up the economic development component of the mayor and council's agenda. Other goals for developing Tulsa's economy include: developing corridors and Main Street programs (like the Kendall-Whittier Main Street program highlighted in this week's City section); implementing PlaniTulsa; and developing local businesses and promoting tourism.
The second component of the agenda is focused on making local government more efficient and reliable. Initiatives include continuing to follow through with the KPMG efficiency study; feeding the rainy day fund; updating the capital improvements project list; and implementing new technologies (like 3-1-1 and open-source software).
The director of the Management Review Office is tasked with developing an efficiency list, similar to a capital improvements list, that will detail "cost outlays necessary for long-term efficiencies and the project savings from each," the release noted.
A third component is all about the future of Tulsa's transportation. The council and mayor want to capitalize on the opportunity to create an intermodal transportation facility by connecting the inland Port of Catoosa with the airport. The facility would improve the city's "ability to transport goods through rail, plane and barge" and help Tulsa "compete internationally," the release stated.
Mayor Bartlett and the council also want to see the final "outer loop" of the Gilcrease Expressway completed, which would provide easier access to one of the least accessible areas of Tulsa.
The fourth component of the agenda is beautifying Tulsa. City leaders want Tulsa to be "America's Most Beautiful City" by increasing public art and improving code enforcement. A Tulsa Beautification Task Force was created to draft steps designed to return this title to T-Town.
So, how is this new task force supposed to bring beauty back? "By all means necessary," stated the release. These means include: illegal sign removal, graffiti abatement, median upkeep solutions (short and long-term), hardscaping standards, zoning, parking lot specifications, neighborhood beautification programs, bus bench standards, and a roaming maintenance crew.
The fifth and final component of the agenda concerns public safety. A Public Safety Task Force was created to "draft steps that will make Tulsa 'America's Safest City,'" according to the release. The task force will review criteria used to evaluate safety, and set measurable steps to greatly improve Tulsa's position with respect to each point; then they will investigate best safety practices and policies in other cities.
The task force will address concerns with regard to police, fire, EMSA and other public safety services.
And there we have it. The councilors and the mayor were able to sit down and discuss improvements to the city. Just before the mayor signed the executive order, District 2 City Councilor David Patrick said, "It's amazing what can happen when adults get together."
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