POSTED ON JANUARY 9, 2013:
Grading the Council
Looking at the progress on goals
In January of last year, Mayor Dewey Bartlett and city councilors met away from City Hall, instead gathering at Harwelden Mansion. The site of many a Tulsa wedding, the meeting laid the groundwork for a more amicable relationship between mayor and council after a 2011 filled with conflict.
The group also hashed out a list of goals they agreed to work towards in 2012.
So how did they do? UTW asked councilors, Bartlett and a few other noteworthy observers, including mayoral candidate Bill Christiansen, to weigh in with their thoughts on progress made towards these goals -- and to give a letter grade.
Not everyone responded -- including Bartlett, who was unavailable -- and most declined to get too precise with their analysis. But here are the comments from those who shared thoughts about 2012:
Develop the Economy. A goal developed during a time of true uncertainty regarding one of the area's largest employers, American Airlines, this included various ideas about how to best accomplish economic growth.
Councilor Arianna Moore expressed strong support for river development, included as an element of the goal. In an emailed statement, Moore -- who wasn't on the council when the goals were approved -- called it a "key element" for the city's economic future, citing how creation of a recreational area would draw visitors who "will also be spending money in our restaurants and shops, increasing sales tax income for the city."
Councilor Jeannie Cue gave the city a "B" when it comes to river development. "We did not get water in the river, but there was a vote," she noted, citing further announcements by the George Kaiser Family Foundation about developing a large new parks project not far from the river. She also noted continued trail renovations.
Bill Leighty, a member of the Tulsa Metro Area Planning Commission and the Transportation Advisory Board, praised the Kaiser Foundation, QuikTrip (which has helped with park development) and Blue Rose Café (a business near the river) for contributing to the area near the Arkansas River.
"Unfortunately, when it comes to optimizing the river corridor, our elected officials do not fare so well. Overall, I would give the administration and council a D," Leighty wrote in an email, citing a lack of improvement to Riverside Drive as well as what Leighty described as misguided support for a south Tulsa dam he wrote was too costly to support. He also criticized the limited funding provided by the city to the River Parks Authority.
Cue gave the city an "A+" for working to bolster Main Street programs related to redeveloping older, commercial parts of the community in need of some revitalization.
"The City Council allotted funds for the first time in many years" to support Main Street programs, Cue explained, also describing how the Red Fork Main Street program in west Tulsa has recently hired an executive director.
Also listed under this goal is an effort to implement PlaniTulsa, the city's comprehensive plan. Leighty criticized Bartlett for failing to implement the plan.
So, too, did Christiansen, a former longtime councilman, writing in an email that implementation is "way behind schedule."
He added: "Mayor Bartlett delayed this process when he came into office three years ago. Many of the goals and objectives that are put forth would be satisfied if the new comprehensive plan with updated ordinances were already in effect ... This alone would have accelerated the growth and development of Tulsa."
Councilor David Patrick noted the failure of Vision2 as important context when evaluating the goals, several of which he described as "going to take multi-years and multi-funding packages."
Make Local Government Efficient and Reliable. Under this goal, the council listed a priority to "feed" the city's Rainy Day Fund. Moore also expressed support of this goal. "Due to the volatility of sales tax ... feeding the Rainy Day Fund is a goal I would like to see continue," Moore wrote.
Sales tax is by far the city's largest revenue source.
Cue gave the city an "A" for progress toward the goal of implementing a 3-1-1 system designed to provide a single number for customer service, adding that software and hardware equipment has been purchased. The system should be "up and running" this year, according to Cue.
Develop Transportation Plans for Future Needs. Developing a multi-modal transportation facility, an idea backed by Moore, was included as a priority. "Traffic and congestion in the 71st and Memorial area in District 7 could be alleviated with more frequent MTTA stops," she wrote in an email, referring to the Metropolitan Tulsa Transit Authority, which operates the local bus system. "In addition, more attention to pedestrian safety would hopefully promote more walking to and from stores in the area instead of driving less than a block to another store. Personally, I know I don't feel safe crossing Memorial on foot, even in a cross walk."
Leighty criticized what he described as "the mayor's obsession with committing to a 25-year, $250 million dollar plan to complete the outdated Gilcrease Expressway which leads to nowhere," giving Bartlett "an F-minus." He wrote that the City Council is "sympathetic" to improving transit service, but gave the group an "incomplete" until they respond to recommendations from the Transportation Advisory Board.
Beautify Tulsa. Undoubtedly a worthy goal, the city did allocate funds for a new citywide patrol to pick up litter or otherwise improve the city's appearance. It just wasn't mentioned by those who responded to UTW's request for comment.
Improve Public Safety. Christiansen wrote that the city needs to do more in this area, noting the recommendations made in December by the Public Safety Task Force. He wrote in an email that the task force "made very good recommendations that need to be acted on in a timely fashion."
The task force recommended increasing the staffing to handle 911 emergency calls, as well as increasing funding for public safety, among other recommendations. "Additional funding needs to be found to bring police, fire, and the 911 center up to proper manning levels," Christiansen wrote.
Speaking of all the goals, when it comes to 2012, "it seems like it went awfully fast," said Patrick. "I think we've tried to stay true ... when we made our decisions, to see how it affected these goals," Patrick said.
He said a similar summit with the mayor is set for later this month.
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