Mayor Dewey Bartlett and City Councilor G.T. Bynum each tried to convince Tulsa police Thursday night that they were the candidate who supported public safety the most.
Everyone at the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 93 knew that was coming. What they may not have expected was how Bynum would use the public safety issue to drive home a broader theme of his campaign — that Bartlett doesn’t show up to do the hard work of governing.
Time and again — whether discussing police budgets, the Vision Tulsa package, or public safety funding — Bynum hammered home the point.
Speaking of the Vision Tulsa package, the city councilor said: “I think that you have to look at who does the actual work and follows through to achieve the things you want to do, not just proposing things, never following through … and hoping other people do it.”
Bynum used the debate to remind voters that Bartlett attended only three of the City Council’s 25 Public Safety Task Force meetings in which the details of the public safety tax were hashed out.
He also accused the mayor of advocating for more funding sources for the city while at the same time providing no leadership when the state Legislature was considering the creation of Public Safety Districts. The proposed legislation, which would have allowed municipalities to use property taxes to fund public safety, never made it to the floor for a vote.
Bartlett never took the bait, saying only: “It’s very easy to sit back and take pot shots at things, but at the end of the day, somebody has to make the tough choices, the tough decisions and explain it, and explain it well. And we’ve done that.”
The mayor reminded the full house that he was the one who first came up with a plan to provide a dedicated source of public funding. During the years of discussion on the issue, Bartlett said, it was he who stuck to his guns and insisted that the Vision Tulsa package include funding for public safety and not include a tax increase.
“The passage of the Vision Tulsa — not only was my idea — but (so was) the rallying of the whole community of a wide variety of interested parties and doing it in such a way that (it was presented) to the public that they would support it,” Bartlett said.
The mayor was referring to his insistence that the Vision Tulsa package include a public safety component, which reportedly polled well with the public but was opposed by some city councilors and, for a time, the Tulsa Regional Chamber board.
Tuesday’s forum was just the second time the candidates have debated since announcing their intentions to run months ago.
So far, Bartlett has not responded to an invitation by the League of Women Voters of Metropolitan Tulsa, which has scheduled a mayoral candidate forum shortly before the primary. The League said Wednesday it was moving forward with plans to hold the forum with or without Bartlett.
The nonpartisan mayoral primary is scheduled for June 28. If one candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, that person becomes the city’s next mayor and takes office in December. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent, the race will ultimately be decided in the general election in November.
The other candidates for mayor are Paul Tay, Tom McCay and Lawrence Kirkpatrick. They were not part of Tuesday’s forum.
Jerad Lindsey, the FOP’s political action committee chairman, said after the forum that officers’ primary concern is that the city have the funding to provide competitive benefits and wages.
“The biggest fear that overshadows everything is we’ve experienced layoffs in the past when we went through the Great Recession” in 2008, Lindsey said. “The economy has had a little bit of a slowdown due to oil prices, and people get jittery.
“That is the biggest issue that my members express to me on a daily basis, is pay and benefits. We fall further behind and we have a hard time recruiting.”
Bynum and Bartlett did their best to assuage those fears during the debate.
Bartlett said one of the best ways to ensure proper funding for public safety is by growing the economy and diversifying revenue streams, which would lead to more tax collections.
Commitment to public safety matters too, Bartlett said, noting that under his administration the percentage of the general fund spent on public safety has gone from approximately 56 percent to 62 percent in the last four years.
He also assured officers that the dedicated public safety funding in Vision Tulsa would help address police needs and fund academies.
“It’s obvious I have been supportive of the entirety of public safety ever since I have been mayor,” Bartlett said.
Bynum said the first step to ensuring that police officers are paid properly and receive sufficient benefits is that the city have a mayor who has their backs and does does not see them as an obstacle to creating a budget, but a priority.
Bynum advocated for diversified revenue streams, too, but said the next mayor has to not just be “hoping it happens, but actually doing the work to get it done.”
And so it went.
After the forum, Bartlett said Bynum’s assertion that he was disengaged from the process of putting the public safety package together was simply not true.
“He’s a lobbyist. He’s a part-time city councilor, and he has a different perspective than I do,” Bartlett said. “He’s wrong.”
It is unrealistic to expect that the mayor can be in every negotiating session with the FOP or in every Public Safety Task Force meeting, Bartlett said. That is why he has staff who keep him well informed on the issues.
“He can talk about wanting to do something, but the realistic side is that that is simply not feasible,” Bartlett said. “If he is going to spend all of his time negotiating a contract, what is going to happen when the Williams Cos. decides to say they might be bailing out (of town).
“Is he going to be at both places?”
Bynum said he understands that the mayor can’t be everywhere at once, or attend every meeting, but when it comes to public safety, which he claims is his top priority, he needed to do better.
“Don’t claim that it’s your top priority and then not show up to negotiate with our police officers, not show up to negotiate with our firefighters, not show up when the major public safety initiative of the last 30 years is being put together, and then say it’s your top priority,” Bynum said.
And don’t argue that your staff keeps you informed, Bynum said.
“The citizens of Tulsa didn’t elect his staff,” Bynum said. “The citizens elected him to be their representative, and if he doesn’t want to do it, I’m happy to do it for him.”
Apparently, Bynum made an impression on the FOP. Within an hour and a half after the debate ended, the FOP contacted the media to say its members had voted to formally endorse the city councilor for mayor.
“Because he’s just passionate about the job and he has shown that he highly supports public safety through all of his actions on the City Council,” said FOP member Ron Bartmier, president of the state FOP.
Bynum said he was honored to receive the support.
“I have always put public safety ahead of politics as a city councilor, and I will continue to do so as mayor of Tulsa,” he said.
“I am thankful — during National Law Enforcement Appreciation Week — that the Fraternal Order of Police has joined so many others in believing in our campaign’s vision that, working together, Tulsa can do better.”