In the end, it was ordinary Tulsans, not the people charged with running the city, who delivered a new city flag on Wednesday.
Even the city councilors who formally approved the flag had to admit that.
“The good thing about the way this worked out is the public — the citizens themselves — have made a difference on their own,” said Councilor Blake Ewing. “When we stopped being bold, you got to keep being bold.”
The vote was 7-0. Councilors Connie Dodson and Vanessa Hall-Harper were absent.
The City Council’s action put an end to more than a year of wrangling over an idea that was initially welcomed with open arms.
Tulsans Jacob Johnson and Joey Wignarajah went before councilors in 2016 to explain their plan to fund and run a private city flag design competition. The goal, they told councilors, was to create a symbol Tulsans would embrace and be proud to display.
But when the winning design was unveiled in early 2017, some councilors balked at formally approving it because of concerns that the social media campaign had not been inclusive enough. Critics of the process also questioned why Tulsans were not given the option to vote for “none of the above.”
So the flag, officially, wasn’t adopted. But Tulsans didn’t seem to care. Everywhere you turn these days, there is the design — on flags, on T-shirts, on ball caps and even on beer cans.
Johnson and Wignarajah estimated Wednesday that they poured $30,000 of their own money into the project and that donors had pitched in an equal amount. And that was just cash. Conducting the design competition and promoting it required help from countless volunteers, they said.
But on Wednesday night, holding a huge new Tulsa flag, they said the effort — and the cost — had been worth it.
“Councilors absolutely should have taken the time to hear from anyone that wasn’t supportive, but also it allows the community to adopt it, and proves, undeniably, that it was the people’s flag,” Wignarajah said.
The previous city flag is the city’s seal on a white background. An ordinance prohibits the city seal from being attached to anything without express permission from the city.
The winning design is made up of multiple elements, each representing a different aspect of Tulsa and Oklahoma history. The dark blue, cream, red and gold flag includes a shield with a red circle and a beige star.
The shield represents the Native American tribes that were forced to relocate to this region of the country and is also an acknowledgment of a similar design on the Oklahoma state flag.
The red circle represents the blood shed and lives lost in the 1921 Tulsa race massacre, and the beige star in the center represents Tulsa’s bright future.
Johnson told councilors before the vote that he and his family have chosen to live in Tulsa because it is a place where regular folks can make a difference.
“This is an idea I believe in, and that is the environment I want to live in,” he said.
Councilor Ben Kimbro, a strong supporter of the new flag, used an email from a constituent to support his contention that the flag can and will be embraced by all Tulsans.
“I would like you to vote for the Tulsa flag,” Kimbro said, quoting the email. “I am 80 years old, and I love it.”
Marathon route: In other business, councilors voted 6-0 to approve a special event permit for the Williams Route 66 Marathon on Nov. 18. Councilor Phil Lakin recused himself from the vote.
Gathering Place Park Director Tony Moore spoke in opposition to the proposed route — which would pass along Riverside Drive in front of the park — because of how it might affect access to the park and potentially interfere with park operations.
Moore said Gathering Place fully supports the race. He asked councilors to take the long view and give the new park’s officials time to better understand the potential impact such events might have on park operations.