Tulsa Council Chairman G.T. Bynum at end of his post
BY BRIAN BARBER World Staff Writer
Friday, November 23, 2012
11/23/12 at 7:44 AM
Read continuing coverage of Tulsa’s City Council.
Council Chairman G.T. Bynum, as he prepares to step down from his leadership post, is proud to have helped bring calm to the storms at City Hall.
Bynum on Dec. 3 will hand the leadership reins over to Councilor David Patrick, who has served as vice chairman for the past year. The post is transferred annually.
It was the council elections in 2011 in which four incumbents were ousted from office after a long stretch of controversies and bickering that gave Bynum and the other councilors their direction.
"This was a clear mandate from the public that the City Council needed to prove it could work with the mayor," he said, "that the city government could work inside City Hall.
"I think people believed government was working just fine fixing the streets, policing the city and putting out fires, but that the politicians were messing every thing up and embarrassing the city."
Only Bynum and Councilor Jack Henderson stood for and won re-election that year. They were joined by seven others who had not been part of the previous council - six of whom had never before held elective office.
"Across the board, our goal was to show Tulsans that if you put the right people in office, government can work and elected officials can have honest disagreements and act like adults," he said.
"In that regard, this year has been a great success."
That doesn't mean there haven't been tough issues to deal with, Bynum said, but they have involved "honest debate and dialogue."
This is a true "citizen legislative body," he said, rather than one dominated by people who have held office for years.
As a result, it has brought a fresh perspective to city issues, Bynum said.
The council also has been one, because of its inexperience, to want to experience things firsthand, taking lots of field trips.
Over the past 12 months, councilors have toured the Tulsa Zoo, the airport industrial complex, the Port of Catoosa, Magellan Midstream Partners and each of the nine council districts.
They also spent several hours one day using Tulsa Transit bus service to get groceries as part of an experiment, met with the leaders of three area tribes and have begun regularly sitting down with officials from the city's three school districts to discuss ways to collaborate.
"Sometimes we might feel like we know all we need to know about a situation, but it's good to get out of the bubble of City Hall," Bynum said.
"And I think spending time with each other outside of meetings has helped the personal dynamics of this council stay as positive as they have."
Bynum points to two changes involving Mayor Dewey Bartlett that have improved the council's working relationship with the administration.
One is the hiring last December of Jarred Brejcha as the mayor's chief of staff. Brejcha has made a strong effort at communicating with councilors and working with them on initiatives.
Early in the year, the administration and the council held a joint retreat to come up with legislative issues they could tackle together.
Brejcha's predecessor, Terry Simonson, was a controversial figure at City Hall and frequently at odds with the council. Simonson resigned from his post last fall following the revelation that he got his son preferential treatment in pretesting for the fire academy.
The second change that Bynum thinks has helped is the fact that Bartlett is facing re-election in 2013.
"I think he's a little more incentivized to work with the council than he was during his first two years in office because if he didn't, everyone would assume he was the problem," he said.
Many of the major things the council has worked on this year have not been of its making, Bynum said, such as the new trash and recycling service.
"There were a lot of Tulsans who felt left out of the process of changing the trash system and turned to their councilors to be heard, even though we really didn't have much say in it," he said.
The new system that launched Oct. 1 was developed by the city trash board, with the council approving the rates.
It was a similar situation with the proposed Vision2 tax package, which was put on the fall's ballot by the Tulsa County commissioners and was rejected by voters.
Councilors in a matter of weeks had to cobble together a public input process to determine how $158 million quality-of-life funding for the city would be spent if the initiative had been approved.
Bynum, as chairman, also led the charge to change the council meeting schedule from having committees on Tuesday and regular meetings Thursday to having everything on Thursday.
"Going through the election last year, a number of people who would have been fantastic councilors approached me about wanting to run but couldn't miss work two days a week," he said. "I think Tulsa lost out because of that."
This helps get back to the original intent of having Tulsa's City Council be made up of true part-time legislators who take time away from their day jobs to serve, Bynum said.
"This is better than having people sitting around the council office wondering what the next scandal is going to be," he said.
Bynum hopes that the positive example set by this council has set the standard for years to come. "When a new councilor comes in, they learn how to do the job in the first year," he said. "That impacts the way they do the job in the future. And I think we've shown the public that it can be done in a constructive way."
Original Print Headline: Bynum at end of his post
Brian Barber 918-581-8322
G.T. Bynum: "Across the board, our goal was to show Tulsans that if you put the right people in office, government can work."