POSTED ON NOVEMBER 24, 2010:
Chess? Checkers? Solitaire?
Mayor Bartlett pushes envelope in exploring the potential of city charter's "strong executive" style of leadership
Taking his oath of office in an afternoon ceremony in the spacious new ballroom at the Tulsa Convention Center on Monday, Dec. 7, 2009 -- an event marking his induction as Tulsa's 39th mayor -- Dewey Bartlett Jr. was having a very good day. Surrounded by family members, friends, colleagues and well wishers, the Tulsa native had finally realized his long-held dream of becoming the chief executive of his hometown after a previous run at that office in 1992 fell short.
The swearing-in ceremony quickly gave way to a high-spirited reception at another downtown location, the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, where the new mayor mingled with another large crowd, enjoyed music and refreshments, and looked forward to his first full day in office. As that event wound down, Bartlett and his wife Victoria met some friends afterward to continue their celebration, then drove home. The new mayor, full of anticipation, knew he needed his rest as he prepared to take the reins of power in a city that had faced a number of financial challenges over the past several months, yet seemed poised to recover as the new year beckoned.
But Bartlett's sleep was anything but peaceful. He found himself in the midst of a disturbing dream, one in which he arrived at City Hall on his first day in office only to find the streets piled high with ice and snow, and a horde of angry citizens outside protesting the inability of his administration to clear the roads.
"It was a terrible dream," Bartlett recalled.
But it was only a dream. When his alarm went off, the new mayor awoke, glanced out the window and discovered, to his immense relief, the city had not been struck by another paralyzing ice storm. He smiled and shook off the uneasy feeling, chalking the dream up to first-day jitters. After all, no matter what awaited him at City Hall, it couldn't be as bad as that, right?
The mayor got up and went about his day, heading west across the Arkansas River for a breakfast meeting at Ollie's Station Restaurant in the Redfork district, then back to his office to greet some constituents. Sometime around the middle of the morning, he recalled, his finance director, Mike Kier appeared at Bartlett's office door, his face grave. In his hands was that month's sales tax receipts report from the state Tax Commission.
"I've got very bad news," said Kier, an understated veteran of city government since 1975, a man not given to hyperbole or drama.
But even Kier couldn't contain his disappointment with the information he carried in his hands, a report that reflected how much tax revenue the commission had taken in from Tulsa businesses for the period from mid October to mid November. Included in that sum was Tulsa's share, funds the city relies on heavily to meet all its obligations.
"It's way down -- much, much, much worse than we thought," Kier said.
"You're kidding," the mayor replied, struggling to absorb what Kier was telling him.
"No, it's really bad," Kier said. "We're going to have to do something quickly."
"What do you mean?" the mayor asked.
"Well, if this goes on another month or two like it looks like it might now, we're going to have to have some very, very deep serious cuts in our budget," Kier told him. "And it will most definitely require layoffs."
"What? Layoffs? What do you mean?" the mayor replied.
Kier laid the whole scenario out for him. It was shaping up to be the worst financial crisis in Tulsa since the Great Depression, with unprecedented sales tax declines that would seriously challenge the city's ability to meet even the most basic services -- and this after the city's budget already had been trimmed twice since July.
Even as he hastily convened his department heads for a meeting that afternoon to begin discussions of how the new administration would deal with the crisis, Bartlett found his mind racing as he tried to reconcile that gloomy assessment with what he had been told was the city's relatively stable financial situation in the weeks since his election in early November.
"It was a surprise to everybody," the mayor said of that sales tax receipts report. "Everybody thought that we as a city had weathered the storm, that things were not going to get worse -- that things would remain the same but not get worse -- then begin to improve. The budget forecasts were based upon that premise. And it was for that reason that Mike Kier became very concerned because it was obviously quite a bit different.
"Intense is an understatement."
The crippling storm the mayor had expected to see when he looked outside his window that morning may not have materialized in the form of freezing precipitation, but it certainly had arrived in another, more long-lasting, form.
Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr.'s first day in office probably couldn't have gone any worse, but 10 months later, he was still trying to put a positive spin on it as he reflected on that dream and his first year as the city's chief executive.
"Well, it didn't snow," he said, laughing, on a warm, breezy September afternoon from a conference room on the 15th floor of City Hall that overlooks Tulsa's east side. "It's funny now, looking back. I woke up, and I looked outside and saw the sun, and I thought, 'Oh, great, everything's OK now.' So that morning was great until Kier walked in."
What Went Wrong?
To a great extent, that financial crisis has overshadowed every other aspect of the first year of the Bartlett administration. Even today, with sales tax receipts flat or even slightly better than the previous year's figures -- the free-falling, double digit-figure declines of the previous year having mercifully ended several months ago -- there remains an unwillingness in the mayor's office to declare victory over the recession.
The worst is over, the mayor says, unless ...
"There is an asterisk to that because if a bad event like 9/11 happens, I wouldn't say it would be as bad, but that would definitely have a negative effect on us as a city, as a country," Bartlett said. "So we can't assume that we can start spending money. We have to be very conservative in how we approach our business and how we spend money. If we spend money, we have to do it in such a way it gives us an opportunity to become more efficient and save money, or make money and increase our revenues."
Even though many of the cuts to the city budget that the financial crisis necessitated have been restored, leaving city government in much the same shape it was 18 months ago, there are some side effects that have taken root and show few signs of dissipating. The No. 1 item on that list undoubtedly would be the mayor's poor relationship with the City Council.
Bartlett quickly acknowledges that was probably the first casualty of the financial crisis that greeted his administration.
"The economy had a lot to do with it," he said. "We had to make some very fast decisions that had an effect on groups that were and are strongly supported by the City Council -- and that had a lot of influence on getting several city councilors elected. That was mainly the major unions -- the police union and the fire union.
"The mayor's office administration, we saw that those two unions were going to have to make a considerable sacrifice for the well-being of the city in some way shape or form, and some of the councilors did not support how we were approaching it," he said. "And that began a pretty severe decline in our relationship."
That version of events is largely supported by two councilors who initially counted themselves as Bartlett supporters but who now find themselves seriously disillusioned with the mayor. District 8's Bill Christiansen and District 2's Rick Westcott espouse many of the same political philosophies as the mayor. But to hear them tell it, that's pretty much where the similarities end. Neither one thinks Bartlett has been the kind of mayor he expected.
"Let me start by saying when he was elected, I was really looking forward to working with him. He had a Republican, small-business background and had been on the City Council," Christiansen said, indicating that he while he would not have described himself as friends with Bartlett, they had been acquainted for several years and had always gotten along.
"Having said all that, I think this first year has been a train wreck," he said. "I hate to characterize it like that, but there's been too many mistakes, oversights and mischaracterizations. I would have expected a lot more. And he's still making catastrophic mistakes. I'm disappointed."
Westcott's assessment was not much different.
"What I would say to the mayor is, his administration will fail in every respect if he does not begin to work with the City Council in a genuine, meaningful, collaborative way," he said. "I hope it doesn't fail. I've known Dewey for a long time. I don't want anybody's administration to fail, especially somebody I've known for a long time and who is a fellow Republican. I want Dewey Bartlett to succeed."
Westcott believes the mayor's biggest mistake has been taking a dismissive approach toward the council on issue after issue.
"I think his style of governing was always there, but it became more apparent as time went on," Westcott said. "Despite his having served on the City Council, I don't think he's demonstrated an understanding of how city government works, that it's a collaborative effort (between his administration) with the City Council."
Westcott's perceptions contrast sharply with those of Terry Simonson, the mayor's legal counsel and chief of staff. In an interview last spring, Simonson -- who has known Bartlett for two decades -- described his boss as easygoing and open-minded.
"He seemed very easy to be around, he wears well, he likes to have fun and he's open to ideas," Simonson said. "He embraces new ideas. He loves collaboration, he loves what comes out of collaboration, and I like that, too."
But make no mistake, Simonson added. Once the mayor has arrived at a decision, he isn't likely to be swayed.
"What people don't realize about him if you know him is, he may have that very pleasant, calming exterior, but inside, his convictions are steel," Simonson said.
The mayor's chief of staff continued to stick by those thoughts in November.
"One of the hallmarks that has come through in the last year is, you can compromise and negotiate different strategies, but not principles," he said of Bartlett's approach. "I think tough times require tough choices, and this year has been a year of making tough but necessary choices. You're always going to have people not like the choices you make, but he was elected to do that, whether it's popular or not."
Still, many councilors argue it is the way Bartlett goes about implementing his agenda, rather than his agenda itself, that has led to so many problems.
District 9 Councilor G.T. Bynum, who worked on Bartlett's mayoral campaign and his transition team, is particularly disappointed at the turn things have taken.
"Mayor Bartlett's political philosophy is very much in synch with that of a number of us on the council," he said. "And yet, we've had all these horrible problems. Everything you can point to that has been a negative for him this far, you can chalk up to poor communication between the mayor and the City Council."
District 7 Councilor John Eagleton recalled introducing the mayor to a community group in December 2009, shortly after he took office. Eagleton described Bartlett in glowing terms then, presenting him as someone he liked and respected.
"That's not an introduction I would give today," he said, declining further comment.
District 5 Councilor Chris Trail believes Bartlett has trouble distinguishing between personal and political disagreements.
"I actually like the mayor," he said. "I campaigned for him. I don't have issues with the mayor. I have issues with the way it seems like he takes things personally, and they're not."
The mayor's relationship with the council began to deteriorate within a few months of his taking office, degenerating into a game of political one-upmanship by the middle of the summer, with each side seemingly escalating the battle on an almost-daily basis. For those who weren't keeping score over the past several months, the chronology of the dispute goes something like this:
In December, Bartlett and his management team quickly came to the realization that deep and painful cuts -- up to 10 percent -- would have to be made in every department in order to keep the city from going broke. As the mayor indicated earlier, that was particularly true of the sizable agreements the city had with the Fraternal Order of Police and the firefighters union.
Bartlett sought 5.2-percent wage cuts and benefits concessions from the police and firefighters. The only other option, he insisted, would be laying off 155 police officers and 147 firefighters.
"We told them exactly what was going on," the mayor said. "Didn't sugarcoat it. I was very direct with them. They were very direct with me. We told them what the deal was. And at the end of the day, the Fire Department took a vote and agreed to the concessions, and the police department said no, they would not agree to those concessions. From what I understand, they did not think I would issue layoff notices."
Christiansen and Westcott both said they gave the mayor credit for his initial no-nonsense approach to solving the budget crisis. But that period of goodwill was not destined to last, particularly when layoff notices were extended to 124 officers on Jan. 29.
"I was disappointed in the way he handled negotiations with the police union and the firefighters union," said Westcott, a former police officer.
The mayor insisted the wage and salary concessions were the only alternatives to the layoffs, while some FOP officials insisted that a federal grant could have been used to keep many of those officers on the job -- something the mayor and his administration were aware of, FOP officials maintained. Three deputy chiefs eventually wrote a letter to Chief Chuck Jordan making that claim official and initiating an investigation into the matter by the City Council. A private investigator hired by the council implicated both the mayor and Simonson in his report, alleging both men may have made misleading statements about the grant to the council -- a misdemeanor crime.
Things rapidly spiraled out of control after that. The council tried to refer the matter to the city's legal staff for possible prosecution, but that office excused itself, citing a conflict of interest. The council later asked the state Attorney General's Office to weigh in on the matter, but that request was refused. The council's investigation has been stymied ever since, with no determination of the guilt or innocence of Bartlett or Simonson having been established.
Meanwhile, the enmity between the mayor and the council only grew, epitomized by a confrontation between the two at a meeting in June. The mayor demanded access to an executive session of the council, but the council voted in the closed meeting to have him removed.
Other skirmishes followed. Three Bartlett supporters filed suit against the council in July, alleging it had violated the state's Open Meetings Act when it voted to remove the mayor from the June meeting. An anonymous complaint was made to the city's Ethics Advisory Committee in late summer over $16 worth of business cards with the official city seal that had been made for the mayor's wife, charging that was an improper use of city funds. That flap ended with the committee refusing to hear the complaint and the mayor reimbursing the city for the cost of the cards. Councilors also lodged an ethics complaint against the mayor in August over his retention of Joel Wohlgemuth as his lawyer, arguing that Wohogemuth's contract work for the city on other issues presented a conflict of interest.
The mayor fought back by initiating a campaign to have council attorney Drew Rees removed from office, arguing there is no provision for his position under the city charter. Rees -- backed by the council -- has refused to resign.
The two sides duked it out over the municipal budget, as well. Councilors rejected a series of revenue-raising proposals put together by Simonson on the mayor's behalf and instead found funding from other sources to restore a number of city services that had been cut earlier in the year. When the mayor vetoed their changes, the council overrode him, placing Bartlett in the position of being the first chief executive in the city's history to earn that dubious distinction.
The mayor proposed mediation to resolve the numerous differences between the two sides, but councilors rejected that bid, many of them arguing that many of the legal issues between the two sides are not something that can be resolved through mediation.
At a Standoff
The charges flew back and forth all summer, not losing steam until September. Since then, the two sides seem to have settled into an uneasy truce, though it doesn't take much to get things stirred up again.
Bartlett continues to attribute many of his problems with the council to those contentious negotiations with police officers and firefighters in January.
"That's probably where things began to decline, even though the police and fire departments now, I think we get along just fine," he said. "There's still a lot of bad feelings toward those events that were budget related."
But the mayor acknowledges the real trouble started with the disagreement over the federal grant used to rehire police officers and what he refers to as the council's "so-called investigation" -- something it lacked the authority to initiate, he has maintained.
Christiansen agrees the issue of the federal grant was the turning point in the relationship between the mayor and the council, arguing that the decision to lay off the police officers was unnecessary and cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in payouts at a time it could scarcely afford that kind of expenditure.
"That was, at best, total incompetence," Christiansen said of the administration's interpretation of how the federal grant could or couldn't be used. "He hires a guy (Simonson) to be his chief and staff and attorney to guide him in all the decisions for the citizens of Tulsa.
"At that point, we went our separate ways," Christiansen said. "It was really handled inappropriately. I listened to every statement Mayor Bartlett and Terry Simonson made, and I felt like there were a lot of things that should have been checked on before it cost taxpayer dollars, and they didn't do it."
As divisive as the council's investigation of the mayor and his chief of staff turned out to be, Trail argues he and his fellow councilors had no choice but to look into the allegations of the three deputy chiefs.
"The investigation was nothing personal," he said. "It was what we were asked to do by the citizens. We had to do it. If we hadn't, it would have looked like we were sweeping it under the rug."
From Westcott's perspective, other factors have contributed to the falling out between the mayor and the council, particularly the list of fee increases Bartlett proposed in the spring to help restore the city services that had been cut. When the council shot down those increases and countered with budget amendments of its own that restored those services without raising any fees, it appeared to make the mayor angry, Westcott said.
"He vetoed our budget, specifically our amendments, and that's not the way a fiscal conservative should approach the budget," he said.
Westcott also maintains the day-to-day operations of the new administration leave a lot to be desired.
"He's missed several deadlines of several different issues," Westcott said. "It does not appear there is anyone on the staff paying attention to those things ... There have been several examples over the course of the year where he's missed deadlines. I find that very disappointing. That's basic stuff."
Simonson has a different explanation for what went wrong. In many instances, he said, the problems between the mayor and council have stemmed from a different interpretation of the power and authority the city charter grants to the executive and legislative branches of government.
"He's a calm, steady person, but he takes the oath of office to uphold the charter deadly serious," Simonson said of Bartlett. "His view of that document is, if the charter doesn't say you can do it, you can't. The City Council's view is, if the charter doesn't say we can't do it, we can."
The mayor's chief of staff also took exception to the claim that Bartlett has not made a good-faith effort to communicate with councilors, pointing out that when he took office, the mayor met each Wednesday afternoon with them to discuss issues.
"It seemed to make sense to try to set up a time on a day they weren't meeting when we could do that," he said.
Bynum supports that claim, expressing his belief that -- initially, at least -- the mayor seemed to bend over backward to work with the council.
"He tried to make an effort to meet with every councilor in their district, and I didn't go a day without getting a phone call from him," Bynum said. "Now, I couldn't tell you the last time that happened. It seems he's gone to the other extreme ... At the outset, he was highly deferential to the council. Now, it's the exact opposite. The only time he comes down here is to take potshots at our staff. I hope that changes."
But Simonson says councilors simply may not understand all the demands the mayor has faced during a particularly rugged first year.
"What they see as a lack of communication and collaboration is him exercising his duties under the charter," Simonson said. "He has not intended to leave them out, but he was going about the day-to-day business of running government."
Bartlett doesn't deny that all the dramatics of the last year have taken a toll on him. But he believes he did the right thing.
"For those who were not approving of my decisions, it gave them a lot of ammunition or a lot of reason to criticize me or whatever we would do, and that became a distraction," he said. "But at the same time, that goes with the territory. I understood that very well from the experiences I've had both in my own political career and also that of my father's (former Oklahoma governor and U.S. senator Dewey Bartlett), so I understood that very well.
"But I also understood that you stick to your guns and positions when I knew what we were doing was right, and I was not misleading. I was going to defend myself vigorously."
As he embarks on his second year in office, Bartlett is ready to put the travails of those first 12 months behind him. While much of his first year was spent simply reacting to the changes the city's economic collapse brought, the mayor and his management team now can examine things from a long-term perspective.
The comparative luxury of being in that position is something Bartlett long has been anticipating.
"I knew eventually this would be behind us, and if we didn't start to look toward the future sooner after all this began to hit the fan, when we did get out of it, we wouldn't be ready for the future," he said. "Now we're in position. We're ready. We're moving ahead. It's amazing how many cities around the country have either had to declare bankruptcy or are so far in debt they're barely surviving. We're in good shape financially, and we have a lot of things going forward that will be paying off in a reasonable amount of time."
It's not as if the mayor's administration hasn't enjoyed its share of success over the past year. Simply surviving the economic challenges of his first 12 months in office is something to celebrate, Bartlett said.
"Getting us through this mess -- that's a triumph," he said before citing a long list of accomplishments that includes:
• Avoiding arbitration with the FOP and firefighters union while hammering our new contracts. "That is extremely significant in light of the financial problems we have gone through and the hostility that those negotiations had," he said. "Not going into arbitration saved us several hundred thousand dollars in legal fees and related fees."
• Restoring the city services that were cut back or eliminated because of tumbling sales tax receipts. "We have now rehired all the laid-off police officers," he said. "Practically all the services that had been curtailed in the previous administration have now been restored. The (police) helicopters are back, the (highway) lights are back on, we've restored concessions to the Fire Department, furlough days have been cut in half and the downtown area is really taking off."
• The conversion of several parcels of publicly held land to private hands. "We've sold or are in the process of selling 42 separate tracts of land that the city owns since I came in office, and most of them will result in something being built," Bartlett said. "Most of them will be owned by a tax-paying entity, so taxes will be paid, jobs created, etc."
• The adoption of a new comprehensive plan for the city through the PLANiTULSA process. "The completion of PLANiTULSA successfully is the beginning of what will be a very strong revitalization of the entirety of the city, but specifically the downtown and near-downtown communities," he said. "That will be huge."
Some members of the council pointed to other positives that have occurred under the Bartlett administration. Westcott said he appreciated the mayor's strong support for the completion of the Gilcrease Expressway, as well as his administration's efforts to privatize the city's sales tax collections -- a move that already has yielded results with the recent announcement that the state Tax Commission has stepped up its attempts to collect delinquent taxes from some Tulsa businesses.
Bynum praised Bartlett's decision to sign an executive order banning city employees from texting while driving.
"That was a great move," he said. "That showed real leadership statewide."
From Simonson's perspective, there's one more accomplishment that perhaps outweighs all the others put together.
"Certainly, the high point has been getting the KPMG initiative funded, launched and the first phase completed," he said, referring to an intensive audit of all city services that was completed just a few months ago. "That pointed out just how much work there is to do to make this government run better."
The decision to seek that audit originated on the mayor's woeful first day in office. In September, it finally was delivered. Since then, the city's newly created Management Review Office, led by City Auditor Preston Doerflinger, has been combing through the report, leading the evaluation and implementation phase.
Bartlett said he will be sorely disappointed if the KPMG report doesn't wind up having a big impact.
"It has the potential of being extremely significant in how it affects the bottom line of this city, its ability to make money and its ability to avoid tax increases," he said. "It's a huge opportunity."
Bynum goes even further, especially in regard to how the study will determine the ultimate success or failure of the Bartlett administration. Short of something unexpected occurring in the next three years, he believes the KPMG report could be Bartlett's biggest accomplishment.
"This is a way for him to set his mark on this city," Bynum said. "Initiating the KPMG study is Dewey Bartlett's legacy. The potential impact that study could have is the most fundamental shift in government here in the last 30 years. If he does nothing else the next three years, it would still be significant. I believe people are going to be talking about that day for many years."
Not everyone is as sold on the enormity of the KPMG study. Local political blogger Michael Bates (batesline.com) is among those hesitant to pin too many hopes on the changes the report will bring.
"I think pursuing the KPMG study was a good idea and has the potential to do a lot of good," he said. "I'm just afraid he's undermined his ability to make it happen."
Bartlett's leadership style and personality have left him without the support he needs to make significant change, Bates said.
"I don't know of any other mayor who succeeded in alienating all nine city councilors, but he's succeeded in doing that," he said.
Westcott appeared to confirm Bates' view when he said of the study, "While I agree that it has a lot of potential to result in cost savings for the city, the mayor seems to think the council should have a reduced role in studying and implementing the recommendations from KPMG," he said. "That gets back to my initial disappointment in his communications with the council."
Local developer Jamie Jamieson is even less enthusiastic about the potential impact of the audit. He said he was distressed to hear the mayor refer to the KPMG report as a "vision."
"It's very far from a vision -- it's just a way to cut costs," he said. "No organization can cut its way to prosperity. We have to increase our top line."
The way to do that, Jamieson believes, is by creating a sustainable, walkable city that is attractive to young professionals. Tulsa should be doing everything it can to retain those young people who already live here and attract new ones from elsewhere who are eager to embrace that lifestyle, he said.
Jamieson, one of the leading proponents of the city's new comprehensive plan and a frequent critic of the way development has unfolded in Tulsa over the past several decades, believes Bartlett should be focusing his attention on those issues.
"The alacrity with which he sets about implementing PLANiTULSA should be the defining element of his time in office," Jamieson said, adding that the mayor needs to ensure the city staff at all levels buys into the plan.
"And that's where I see the current problem," he said.
Jamieson, who serves as vice chairman of the city's Transportation Advisory Board, believes there are conflicts lurking between different departments in city government that he fears could derail much of what PLANiTULSA has to offer.
"I see a talented and progressive Planning Department, albeit one that's thinly staffed, and a Public Works Department whose culture and outlook goes back to the 1950s," he said. "And that absolutely has to change right away. Public Works has some good people -- good, hard-working people who are far from over-resourced -- but, culturally, they're really perpetuating an approach to land use patterns that has long since been discredited.
"Tulsa, as a result of this, is losing ground to other cities and states are responding much faster to a changing world than we are. And they're the ones getting the federal grants."
Bates said he applauded the mayor's recognition that the city should have its own planning capability for land use -- one of the recommendations included in PLANiTULSA -- and he was especially pleased to see him making the commitment to locating the funding to make that a reality.
"I've been pleasantly surprised," he said of the mayor's actions in regard to implementing the PLANiTULSA recommendations. Bates said long-range plans of that type often wind up gathering dust because other, more urgent issues force them to the side. "So the fact that he's given that his attention is a pleasant surprise," he said.
Jamieson said he didn't mean to imply he was faulting the mayor for not moving more quickly to implement the changes called for in PLANiTULSA -- after all, he said, it was only approved in July -- but he nevertheless doubts the mayor fully understands what is necessary to make the new comprehensive plan a success.
"Instead of talking about livable neighborhoods, the mayor's preoccupation has been with the (completion of the) Gilcrease Expressway," Jamieson said, noting that Bartlett often cited that as one of his priorities during last year's mayoral campaign. "I think he's flat wrong."
Jamieson argues that completion of the expressway will simply open new land for development, placing additional infrastructure demands on an already overburdened city and perpetuating the culture of sprawl.
"That's absolutely the wrong thing to do," he said. "We have to concentrate on condensing our city."
Completing the Gilcrease Expressway is not the way to do that, he said, nor will it help Tulsa stop its young people from leaving for Austin or Portland.
"They're not motivated by expressways," Jamieson said. "They're motivated by funky, urban neighborhoods."
Jamieson believes Tulsa is relying increasingly on the goodwill of its local philanthropic community to bail it out of its own bad decisions.
"It's time to grow up and start making sensible, responsible decisions about our infrastructure," he said. "With this kind of strategic leadership, it would be a great deal easier for the mayor to develop a mature and purposeful relationship with the council that felt like we had developed the right list of priorities. If he was more focused on this, he and the council wouldn't be running around like headless chickens fussing about business cards."
Then and Now
Jumping into the mayoral race in June 2009 after Mayor Kathy Taylor unexpectedly announced she would not seek re-election -- a decision precipitated in large part by what she described as a lack of civility in city government -- Bartlett immediately began promoting himself as a candidate who could work harmoniously with the City Council, having been one himself from 1990 to 1994.
Bartlett thought that experience would serve him well when he moved into the mayor's office last December. But he quickly realized the atmosphere was considerably different than it had been almost two decades earlier.
"The economy was better, much better," he said, describing the difference between the two eras. "Having a decent economy makes things so much easier, very much easier. We were able to add services, didn't have to worry about if we wanted to increase money to fix potholes. We didn't have to take money from other projects. Money wasn't falling off trees, but it was not a big problem."
The City Council got along very well with then-Mayor Roger Randle, he said, as everyone adjusted to the city's new mayor-council form of government after having abandoned the city commission approach in 1989. Everyone, it seemed, was on their best behavior.
"That first City Council, the two terms I was in office, people were very agreeable with each other, very congenial," he said. "We all had the understanding that whatever was good for the city was good for our respective districts. I personally had that motto, that philosophy. That worked very well for us."
No one would be likely to describe the current atmosphere at City Hall in similar terms. Jamieson said it was ironic that Bartlett billed himself during the campaign as the candidate who would end partisan bickering at City Hall. If the core of Bartlett's campaign was to get along with people, he has obviously failed, the developer said.
"But the ability to get along with people is not a strategy," Jamieson said. "In fact, it's not always necessary. The key is to be an effective leader. It's more about having the right strategies and getting them implemented -- not that I'm opposed to getting along with people."
Bartlett managed a smile when asked what his late father -- the state's first Republican governor and a politician highly regarded for his ability to work with members of both parties -- would have thought of the situation his son now finds himself in.
"Boy, I really wish he would have been around," Bartlett said. "It would have been interesting to see what he thought. His advice would have been, I think, what I did, which was, don't take it personal, speak directly, don't lie, don't mislead, think of ways to bridge the gap, don't get personal, but, obviously, understand the situation and behave like a gentleman but defend yourself."
Bartlett has not given up hope things will get better between the council and himself.
"Obviously, I haven't had a good relationship with the current City Council, but hope springs eternal," he said. "I do believe we can achieve a good, professional relationship. And I'm convinced that we will."
Bynum struck a conciliatory tone, as well, pointing out that his differences with Bartlett are not longstanding.
"Growing up, I looked up to him," Bynum said. "I always viewed him as one of the good guys. Do I think the last year has gone the way I thought it would during the election? No, but he has the ability to turn it around, and I hope he does."
Others are far more skeptical.
Christiansen said tensions between Bartlett and the council have been eased somewhat since summer, but he doubts the mayor's willingness to change his approach.
"I don't believe Mayor Bartlett has compromise in his body," he said. "It's always his way. I don't believe you can be an effective leader and not have compromise in your body. There's checks and balances in our system. Nobody always gets their way."
Christiansen and Westcott both said the mayor continues to make mistakes in his dealings with the council, bypassing that body by imposing a $25 application fee for potential firefighters in October -- a decision that later was reversed after council complaints -- and attempting to take over management of TGOV, city government's television operation.
Westcott -- who, along with Bynum, has worked hard on Arkansas River development throughout his time in office -- was particularly irked recently when the mayor invited a Branson, Mo., developer to town to discuss riverfront development. Westcott noted that Bartlett introduced the developer to members of the County Commission, but not himself or Bynum.
"I don't want to sound petty, but he owes me -- as a city councilor -- the courtesy of inviting me to that meeting if there's any development proposed in my district, especially if he knows it's something I've been working on since I was elected in 2006," he said.
Trail said he was convinced he and the mayor were on the same page when both took office last December. He doesn't believe that anymore.
"A lot of the things he said, I was behind 100 percent," Trail said. "I'm still waiting for those things to happen."
The freshman councilor has found his limited interactions with the mayor less than satisfactory, particularly in regard to the advice he said Bartlett has given him about dealing with his constituents.
"There have been conversations we've had where he's said, 'You need to grow a pair and do what you think and not what they think,'" Trail said. "For a public servant to say that, that blew me away because I need to be a voice for them, not to them."
Bates put it another way.
"He's got to get out of his bubble," he said of the mayor. "He's got to get into contact with people in other parts of town, outside his social circle, and actually listen to their concerns. He's got to realize the priorities of people who live in north Tulsa or on the east side or the west side are not the same as those who live in the midtown Money Belt. I don't get the sense he has a lot of exposure to those concerns."
For Bates, the Bartlett saga is yet another political cautionary tale.
"Once again, we have a Republican mayor who could be a leader in reforming city government, streamlining it, making it more productive on behalf of the citizens and lessening the burden on taxpayers, but, once again, we seem to be squandering that opportunity," he said. "I'm more disappointed with the Republican leaders who backed him during the election just because he had a famous name and enough money to run his own campaign, regardless of if he had the personality or the wisdom to be a good mayor."
Simonson regards the last year as a major learning experience for both the Bartlett administration and the councilors.
"It's almost as if we had to learn to talk to each other again," he said. "There's nobody bad on the council. But there was a lot of stress over the tough decisions that had to be made, and often in tense situations, people say and do things they otherwise wouldn't."
He sees better days ahead.
"There's a number of things we're going to do that the council should think is good for the city," he said. "I think our agenda is shared by the council. I don't think there's a great divide there. We can get past all this if we just take things one step at a time."
Bartlett acknowledges he could have done a few things better, but he believes the whole issue of his struggles with the council quickly could be forgotten if the economy continues to improve.
"I do regret that the council and I did not see eye to eye on the situation," he said. "I've always thought that if I explained my situation thoroughly and clearly, eventually those that disagree with me would agree with my position. That's what my father always tried to do. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. When political positioning or posturing gets involved in that type of approach, it doesn't always work.
"But that's all history now, and it's all behind us," he said. "This time next year, it might not qualify as being a footnote. We are on to bigger and better things, and that's where we should be. People didn't elect me to revisit history and rehash. They elected me to lead the city forward, not backwards, and that's what we're doing."
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