POSTED ON SEPTEMBER 8, 2010:
Ground Rules, Redoubled
Still desperately seeking mediation, public policy forum will court no squabbling
No Arguing. “This is a discussion about policy, not a discussion about who wronged who or why somebody got sued,” District 9 Councilor G.T. Bynum said.
Before Councilor G.T. Bynum gets around to discussing what he hopes to accomplish through his planned public policy forum for the city's elected officials, he believes it's necessary to talk about what the forum is not intended to do -- and that is serve as another avenue for the mayor and the City Council to iron out their differences.
"Not at all," the District 9 Councilor said of that notion. "The forum, to me, was something we should do to in addition to (mediation). I didn't think we should be talking about public policy in a mediation process."
Bynum acknowledged that many citizens might be confusing his proposal calling for a public policy forum that would include all nine city councilors and Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr. with a recent proposal by Councilor Bill Christiansen calling for informal talks between the mayor and the council over resolving their various differences. The event being shepherded by Bynum is intended to steer clear of those controversial issues and instead focus on developing a consensus between the mayor and the council on what the short-term and long-term goals of city government should be.
"This is a discussion about policy, not a discussion about who wronged who or why somebody got sued," he said.
Bynum's proposal met with the unanimous approval of the council on Aug. 26, and the District 9 councilor said he will be meeting with Bartlett this week to determine his interest in participating. The proposal Bynum put together indicates the forum would be open to the public and would be moderated by a neutral party -- "ideally a city father with extensive knowledge of the city's inner workings and who understands the dynamic between the mayor and council as established by the City Charter," as it states. The forum would be held somewhere outside the Inner Dispersal Loop and would be modeled on City Council retreats designed to come up with goals everyone can agree on.
It also would differentiate between short-term and long-term goals and close by establishing a timeline for action. Bynum's strong hope is that the forum can be scheduled for sometime in September. He said he would do whatever he could to make that happen.
"The earlier we can do this, the better," he said. "The sooner we can get the focus back on public policy and away from this current situation, the better. The longer this vacuum continues, the more we're going to have this bickering and things that don't improve the lives of the average Tulsan."
Bynum hopes the forum helps settle some basic issues he believes should have been resolved long ago.
"A lot of the problems I think we have arise from the fact that there is not a shared vision for moving the city forward among policy makers," he said. "I'd be hard pressed to tell you what the mayor's priorities are, and I think he'd have the same problem naming mine."
Bynum said the council already has undergone a similar process through its retreat, where councilors submit their ideas and priorities for their colleagues to consider. If anyone objects to a proposal, it is eliminated from consideration. By the end of that process, Bynum said, the group emerges with a handful of ideas everyone can get behind.
"We come out of that with five or six different things that we ought to focus on as a council," he said. "That's helpful for the council, but we need city government as a whole to get more focused than it is. The mayor is part of that. We can't continue to have the mayor on one side and the council on the other. This will provide a venue for doing that."
Bynum structured the forum the way he did for a number of reasons, he said, pointing in particular to the stipulation that it be held outside downtown.
"One of the important aspects of this is public participation," he said, indicating that he is aware that many citizens have been alienated by the legal wrangling between the mayor and the council -- "all that stuff that's important to people inside City Hall and unimportant to everyone else.
"My goal is simple to make this accessible to people who have not always gone to City Council meetings," he said. "That's why we're taking it outside the IDL where parking is more accessible, to a part of town where we haven't always had meetings in the past."
Bynum said he favored holding the forum at the Lemley Campus of the Tulsa Technology Center at 3420 S. Memorial Drive.
"They have a large auditorium to house a large number of people, and it's in a part of town that we don't always hold meetings in, and that should make it easier for people to attend this who don't always attend (City Council meetings)."
Bynum said the first priority of the forum would be to establish short-term goals.
"But we would also have long-term goals in mind," he said. "Development of the river is obviously not something that's going to get done in the next 10 months, but there are things like that we can be ambitious about, and we should be."
Whether the forum would be a one-time event or a continuing proposition remains to be seen, Bynum said.
"I think we should see how the first one goes and see if everyone thinks we can do it again," he said. "We should have done this months ago. We're playing catch-up now."
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