Go ahead, watch the video.
Now let’s talk about the real news that came out of Wednesday night’s debate at TCC’s Thomas K. McKeon Center for Creativity downtown.
The televised event was sponsored by the Tulsa World, the Tulsa Regional Chamber and Rogers State University, and it was an informative affair.
That is, before perennial mayoral candidate Paul Tay bolted in front of the cameras just as Mayor Dewey Bartlett and City Councilor G. T. Bynum were about to give their closing statements.
Tay was upset that he and the other long-shot candidates for mayor, Tom McCay and Lawrence Kirkpatrick, were not invited to participate in the debate. While some debates do feature all candidates regardless of their chances of winning, many debate organizers exclude perennial candidates or those who have no organized campaign structure.
Here’s what stood out from the 55-minute discussion preceding Tay’s mad grab for attention.
Proposed REI development
Bartlett, in a shift from earlier statements on the issue, said it’s time for more public discussion of the proposed development on the southwest corner of 71st Street and Riverside Drive.
After the debate, the mayor said that while he still supports the REI project, it’s time to face the reality that some Tulsans do not.
“I think that we need to have a discussion about it, in much the same way we did (with) the sidewalk issue on Riverside Drive,” Bartlett said. “It might not satisfy everybody, but at least we move down the road and we don’t get the reputation for chasing developers off.”
Bynum remained noncommittal on the project, saying the Bartlett administration did a poor job of engaging the public on the matter before it became a source of controversy and that he wants more public meetings on the issue before making a decision.
“I’m a big believer that the citizens of Tulsa, they paid for part of that land (at Helmerich Park), they paid to maintain that land for several decades now,” Bynum said. “They ought to have a say in what happens.”
TPD buying rank
The candidates were asked what they would do about the practice by some Tulsa police officers of paying higher ranking officers to retire early so they could fill their vacant positions. An investigation by The Frontier and our media partner, NewsOn6, uncovered the practice in which senior officers were being paid $20,000 to $50,000 to retire early.
While The Frontier’s investigation was published March 16, nothing has been done to stop the practice. Records show three retiring sergeants may have engaged in “buying rank” in late March and early April. Sheriff Vic Regalado, the only person so far to publicly acknowledge buying rank, has said he sees nothing wrong with the practice.
Bynum called the practice unacceptable and faulted the mayor for not knowing it was going on.
“I think moving forward we have to have the policy that says this is not allowed,” Bynum said.
Bartlett said he would be issuing an executive order within the next week prohibiting the practice.
“That will put it to a stop without hesitation,” he said.
The mayor added that the city would continue to methodically look into whether any laws were broken or provisions of the ethics code violated. He indicated it could be some time before those determinations are made.
Mowing public property
Bartlett said the city has to live within its means. If the choice comes down to funding more police academies or providing more mowing cycles for city property, he’s fine with fewer mowing cycles.
“I think the public would like to see us take the latter (option), and that’s exactly what we’ve done,” Bartlett said.
Bynum criticized the mayor for including only five mowing cycles in his proposed Fiscal Year 2017 budget and said councilors are looking to change that. He also indicated that the city could work with the philanthropic community to address such issues.
The larger point, Bynum said, is that the mowing issue gives visitors a poor impression of our city.
“We need to hold ourselves to a higher standard,” he said.
Consolidating city and county governments
Both candidates said they do not support the idea.
Bartlett said it’s an impractical idea, noting, for example, that every police department in the county has different requirements for the job and different pay scales.
“But I will commit to the short-term goal of unifying city/county departments where it does make sense,” Bartlett said.
The city and county have worked together to consolidate services, such as their health departments and libraries, and that effort should continue where practical, Bartlett said. The city and county continue to discuss the possibility of combining their park systems, the mayor noted.
Bynum said he believes that because of his good relationship with the county leaders he could work with them to go through every function of government to see which entity is best suited to provide the service.
The mayor simply does not have the relationships with county leaders that such an exercise would require, Bynum said.
“He’s torched his relationship with them to the point that there is no trust,” Bynum said.
What keeps you up at night?
Each candidate was asked what issue keeps them up at night as it relates to Tulsa’s long-term future?
Bartlett said national security and protecting the U.S. border keeps him up at night. He noted that there are many high-profile targets in the country, including a major intersection of pipelines in Cushing.
Those pipelines carry crude oil, natural gas and get fuel to and from refineries all over the country, the mayor said.
“If it were to be bombed, if something were to happen to it, it would have a tremendous negative impact on the economics, security and vitality of our country — not just the city of Tulsa,” Bartlett said. “We have to control the borders of our country.”
Bynun said he stays awake worrying that Tulsans have grown complacent and given up on aiming high.
His concern, he said, is “that the days when people thought we ought to be America’s Most Beautiful City and ought to be the Oil Capital of the World have gone by the wayside. … I think we have to wake up. I think we have to quit settling for less.”
The nonpartisan mayoral primary is scheduled for June 28. Should a candidate receive more than 50 percent of the vote, that person would be Tulsa’s next mayor and be sworn in in December.
A runoff primary, if needed, would be held Aug. 27. The general election is Nov. 8.
Friday is the last day to register to vote for the primary. Visit the Tulsa County Election Board’s website for more information on how to register or what you will see on the ballot.