Well, it's getting close to votin' day, as former President George Bush memorably called it.
Our mayoral election is scheduled for Nov. 12, barely three weeks away. T-town will be called upon to select a chief executive to oversee the 4,000-plus city workers and run the over $600 million enterprise that we call City Hall.
More importantly, we will be selecting a chief to orchestrate a strategy and push execution as the city gets deeply into the second decade of the 21st century: a time that will feature the toughest, most vexing and simultaneously exciting array of challenges ever to visit us.
Quality leadership is profoundly important: Mayors are hugely important figures in America. The initiative for doing new things, refashioning the way that the public realm engages with ordinary folks, and the way we face up to critical challenges, is with state and local governments at the moment.
We live in a hypercompetitive time. Tulsa is competing not just with communities in our region, but with Austin, Minneapolis, Seattle, New York City, Singapore and a slew of giant Chinese cities that you've never heard of. It's provincial as hell to imagine that we are simply competing with Oklahoma City and other middle-size places that are doing okay. Tulsa has done, and is capable of, doing great things. The minute we forget that, many of us would just as soon leave: middling is repulsive.
Three big challenges
How can we gin up our human/organizational assets from the Tulsa's Police Department, our court system, our over-large incarceration machinery, our social services cadre and what some call "community justice" to keep crime at low levels?
Does forestalling gang-related violence, all the trauma associated with property crime, the continuing social, neighborhood, and economic disruptions associated with our failed war on drugs -- does all this entail handing over the entire city budget to the cop shop? A look at the mathematical growth of policing outlays, and for that matter fire expenses over recent time, suggest we're on a completely unsustainable path.
Are there strategies that would allow us to conflate a new staffing regime, heavy community engagement, agile technologies and predictive models to get a superior handle on these problems without hiring academy after academy of new police officers?
Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan, presumably with Mayor Dewey Bartlett's backing, has instituted a "beat"-centric system that is clearly an attempt to reconnect Tulsa cops to neighborhoods. Jordan's gambit surely flows from the extremely effective, even epic north side community engagement he found during the Good Friday killings last year.
But we need to go beyond half steps and fully embrace more civilian oversight and a more aggressive implementation of what police science scholars call community policing. It looks like Bartlett, after almost four years, is finally on this path. Candidate Kathy Taylor is up to speed on this sea change and has somehow garnered the support of the police and fire unions, which will be essential to actually executing the new strategies and public safely culture needed to make it so.
PlaniTulsa & development futures
Downright miserable. That's how to describe the results we've witnessed over the course of the last four years in implementing Tulsa's imaginative, deeply citizen-involved PlaniTulsa process.
It looks more and more as though PlaniTulsa may be another paper/colored pencil exercise: one that has wasted millions of hours of citizen time and many hundreds of thousands of dollars.
This is a huge dishonor to thousands of citizen volunteers and blatantly inconsistent with any conception of a dramatically better civic engagement in T-Town. Much of the burden for this failure rests on Mayor Bartlett's shoulders.
Is there a fruitful, invented way to use the insight delivered by over 6,000 Tulsans via PlaniTulsa to actually guide physical, social, and some parts of our economic development and growth dynamic in T-town? Can we come up with a strategy that gives the development community and other business interests continuing influence in the pace and character of growth and change in Tulsa without granting them veto power?
The two instances of late in which the PlaniTulsa framework was in play are instructive. The Pearl District form-based zoning disaster and our more recent surface parking/downtown building demolition policy roll out are simply failures. Protestations to the contrary, the business community/development interests were informed weeks, sometimes months, even years in advance of proposed implementation strategies for form-based zoning and the hardly draconian surface parking/building disposition proposals that the Tulsa planning commission turned down a month ago.
What's clearly needed is a stouter, more engaged participation and a novel education campaign. We also need to engage the design community and our banking and finance gurus in creating demo projects and a "morphing" fund that could be used to push down the cost and make tangible the design requirements of adaptations that expanding businesses in Pearl or anywhere else might have to make as a consequence of Tulsa's new walkable, connectivity-centric planning model.
This is plausible, because we're not talking about an enormous amount of money. Candidate Bartlett indicated a willingness to be a party to the great experiment: that is really what PlaniTulsa is at its core. But his actions in staffing and executing some of the preliminary items that make up the plan and linking PlaniTulsa seamlessly to the city's capital improvements and development planning efforts have been minimal. Candidate Taylor, of course, has pointed out this mismatch and pledges to do better if given the big chair. This is an important distinction.
We need more rapid progress on quashing the racial and development challenges spawned by the stupidities of the "micro war" that was Tulsa in 1921. Tulsa Police Chief Jordan's recent admission that Tulsa cops played a highly dysfunctional role in the horrendous events of '21 is a good step forward. And the City Council's attempts to wrangle the Brady Street naming controversy is evidence that there is some appetite to attend to this foul legacy. But another part of what's needed are tangibles: aggressive, much more imaginative public/private efforts to find private dollars and hardy operators to reanimate retail, the small commercial/services and the puny grocery store offerings in Tulsa north.
This is will be an early test for post-election City Hall and part of the new mantle of a re-animated Greenwood Chamber of Commerce under the leadership of Thomas Boxley, Art Williams and others in the north side business/entrepreneurial community. And the Chamber should take a supporting, much more aggressive role in the coming year as well.
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