and his vision for 2017
This year Tulsa welcomes a new mayor at the helm who is generating a fresh attitude of community spirit and cooperation. Mayor G.T. Bynum was sworn in as Tulsa’s 40th mayor this past December after serving more than eight years as a city councilor representing District #9. “Being Tulsa’s Mayor is my dream job,” says Major Bynum. “I ran because I want my kids to grow up in a city that has high expectations for itself. I want Tulsa to compete at a higher level and everything we do in the mayor’s office over the next four years will be done with the purpose of making Tulsa more competitive nationally.”
If Bynum’s past success as a city councilor is any indicator of his future performance as mayor, we are sure to see a different Tulsa at the end of his term. In the past eight years, Bynum authored the largest street improvement package in Tulsa’s history, he found the budget to get police helicopters back in the air to increase our safety, and he spearheaded Tulsa’s first city sales tax cut in history.
Bynum won the recent mayoral election by focusing on three major goals including economic development, education and public safety. In response to our questions, Mayor Bynum gave us his thoughts below:
TL: What are your goals for Tulsa in 2017?
Mayor Bynum: We are reorienting the city’s focus to being nationally (instead of regionally) competitive. The overarching focus of my administration is to get Tulsa growing again. Our population base has been stagnant for 15 years. To offset growing costs and balance the budget, the city must have growth. The only other option is to cut budgets which is what we have had to do in the past 10 years.
TL: What are your economic development plans?
Mayor Bynum: In cooperation with our surrounding communities, we want Tulsa to compete for business with cities the size of Dallas and St. Louis. I have named former Mayor Kathy Taylor as our chief of economic development. She will seek collaboration between groups in Tulsa to attract business and people. Her first project will be to settle the retail development issues for commercial development at Helmerich Park at 71st and Riverside. The project has been on hold pending legal negotiations since August of 2015. The issue is the selling of parkland for retail development including REI as an anchor tenant. I want the citizens of Tulsa to have their voices heard and I would like to present a compromise proposal that can be agreed upon by all.
TL: What are your plans for education?
Mayor Bynum: I have created an education cabinet made up of leaders from Tulsa, Union and Jenks Public Schools as well as leaders from our higher education institutions with whom I will meet on a regular basis to help address issues including teacher shortages and child safety. I want Tulsa to be the premier place in Oklahoma to receive an education.
TL: What are your plans to improve safety and reduce crime in Tulsa?
Mayor Bynum: The Vision Tulsa tax began collecting funds January 1. A portion of that money is dedicated to public safety and we plan on hiring 165 new police officers who reflect the demographics of the neighborhoods in which they work. We are also hiring additional firefighters and developing plans to make pay more competitive for our first responders.
TL: What will Tulsan’s see first from the Vision Tulsa tax package?
Mayor Bynum: We are working on a schedule now. We have just begun collecting Vision Tulsa sales tax January 1. Over a period of 13 years, we will raise $884.6 million to fund a variety of projects including the reconstruction of Zink Dam, a new low-water dam in south Tulsa, a BMX facility at Expo Square and an extensive renovation of Gilcrease Museum. Nick Doctor, who has joined my team as chief of community development and policy, will coordinate Vision Tulsa implementation initiatives between the city’s engineering, planning and finance departments. Nick joined our team from his position as the senior vice president of government affairs for the Tulsa Regional Chamber. We are pushing to publish a calendar this month.
TL: What items did not pass in the Vision Tulsa tax package that you wish would have?
Mayor Bynum: I would still like to see us make “raw space” happen. The maker movement is still a new trend in economic growth in which individuals or groups create and market products that are recreated and assembled using unused, discarded or broken electronic, plastic, silicon or virtually any raw material and/or product from a computer-related device. Tulsa still has an opportunity to be a leader in this area.
TL: Tulsa has not had a deputy mayor in quite some time. You have named Michael Junk as your deputy mayor after serving as your campaign manager and Sen. Jim Inhofe’s state policy adviser based in Tulsa. What will he do for you?
Mayor Bynum: Michael will be representing the city of Tulsa as deputy mayor with federal and state governments, as well as any number of other entities. It is important they know his level of authority within my administration.
TL: Are you targeting any new neighborhoods or areas for renewal?
Mayor Bynum: North Tulsa revitalization is a major focus of our administration. When I learned that life expectancy is 11 years less in North Tulsa than in midtown, I decided to work to help solve that problem. I also am asking Kathy Taylor, our chief of economic development, to work on encouraging more retail in North Tulsa, including the development of a grocery store.
TL: What is your favorite thing about Tulsa?
Mayor Bynum: My favorite thing about Tulsa is that residents proved in our mayoral election that they still believe in the spirit of high expectations which built this city over decades. I believe Tulsans wants to set aside differences to build a better city for the next generation and that’s what we will do during my administration. I also love Tulsa because most of the people I love in the world are here including my wife, my kids, my family and my friends.
TL: What advice does your grandfather, Robert LaFortune who served as mayor of Tulsa from 1970-78, give you?
Mayor Bynum: He tells me to be accessible to people and do what you determine is the right thing for Tulsa, regardless of the political ramifications.
Mayor Bynum has appointed an innovative and fresh leadership team including Michael Junk, deputy mayor; Jack Blair, chief-of-staff; Amy Brown, deputy chief-of-staff; Kathy Taylor, chief of economic development; James Wagner, chief of performance strategy and innovation; Nick Doctor, chief of community development and policy; Jonathan Townsend and Christina Starzl Mendoza, assistants to the Mayor for Community Development and Policy; Kimberly Madden, executive aide; and Brandon Oldham, mayoral aide.
Mayor Bynum is encouraging Tulsan’s to participate in city commissions, boards and authorities by applying online at CityofTulsa.org/our-city/boards-and-commissions.aspx.