More than fixing potholes: Mayor’s goals include mortality, graduation rates

"I ran because I was morally outraged by the life expectancy disparity between north Tulsa and the rest of the city, and because ... we should be growing."

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James Wagner, chief of performance strategies and innovation for the city of Tulsa, discusses how Mayor G.T. Bynum and the City Council put together its list of objectives to accomplish over the next four years. KEVIN CANFIELD/The Frontier
James Wagner, chief of performance strategy and innovation for the city of Tulsa, discusses how Mayor G.T. Bynum and the City Council put together a list of desired outcomes to track the city’s overall well-being. KEVIN CANFIELD/The Frontier

On the campaign trail, G.T. Bynum insisted Tulsans should expect their candidates for mayor to present concrete proposals, and then should hold them accountable for achieving them.

Turns out he meant it.

Less than two months after taking office as mayor, Bynum has come up with a list of eight outcomes or goals he wants his administration — and hopefully future administrations — to work towards.

They include:

  •  Increasing the average per capita income
  • Reducing/eliminating the disparity in life expectancy between south Tulsa residents and north Tulsa residents
  •  Improving city employees’ morale
  •  Increasing the population growth rate
  •  Decreasing the number of violent crimes
  •  Improving the city’s high school graduation rate
  •  Decreasing the number of traffic fatalities
  •  Improving the city’s pavement index score
Mayor G.T. Bynum has identified eight primary goals, or outcomes, his administration will focus on. Graphic by Kassie McClung
Mayor G.T. Bynum has identified eight primary goals, or outcomes, his administration will focus on. Graphic by Kassie McClung

The list doesn’t end there. It has another 13 outcomes the city will monitor as well.

“The eight outcomes we are targeting are intended as the first round in what we hope will be a snowball effect over time,” Bynum said. “These were chosen to reflect the priorities discussed in the Mayor-Council retreat, and the specific commitments voters chose to pursue via the citywide mayoral election.

“We want to focus our energies on these initial eight this year, as we develop our process.  You don’t want to spread yourself too thin when establishing a new approach.”  

For those sticklers who want to take Bynum up on that accountability thing, he’s going to tell the whole world where the city currently stands on each issue  — call that the “baseline”  — and where he plans to take it, the “target.”

The mayor says he’s not worried about those metrics being used against him someday by a political opponent gunning for his job.

“I want people to hold us accountable.  I want us to have measurements by which we are tracking our progress,” he said. “The greater transparency we can have in this regard, the better it is for Tulsans – regardless of the political consequences for me.”

Bynum added: “I also believe the more we can replace political rhetoric with black-and-white data, the better it is for the citizens.”

James Wagner, chief of performance strategy and innovation for the city, oversaw creation of the list and will be responsible for tracking outcomes. The difference between the eight major goals and the other 13 is a matter of impact, Wagner said.

“The (eight) that we selected are what I think of as the highest level, if you will,” Wagner said. “If we succeed on these, than a lot of other things are related to that.”

Wagner noted, for example, that if the city can increase per capita income, that would likely decrease the percentage of income individuals spend on housing and transportation, another administration goal.

“We tried to pick ones I consider the roll-up outcomes,” he said.

In addition to the eight primary goals, or outcomes, Mayor G.T. Bynum has identified, the city will also be monitor 13 other aspects of city life with the expectation that strategies and targets will be developed for them as well. Graphic by Kassie McClung
In addition to the eight primary goals, or outcomes, Mayor G.T. Bynum has identified, the city will also monitor 13 other aspects of city life with the expectation that strategies and targets will be developed for them as well. Graphic by Kassie McClung

During a City Council/mayor retreat last month, Bynum sat down with councilors to create a broad outline of areas where the city needs to improve.

The meeting ended with general support for focusing on four areas of city life and city government: well-being, opportunity, the city experience and inside City Hall.

Wagner, in consultation with the mayor, then went to work to come up with a list of more specific, measurable areas  — such as high school graduation rates or per capita income  — that could help accomplish the broader goals.

The city has data showing where it stands on most of the areas it is trying to improve on, but Bynum and his staff have yet to set targets showing where they want to end up, or strategies for how to get there.

“Essentially, you want to set a stretch (goal) but one that is attainable,” Wagner said.

The city will use data from other communities and other resources to come up with the targets, Wagner said, and department heads are already working to come up with strategies to reach those targets.

“One of the kind of key objectives of this is getting all the departments that are touching this to work together to make an impact on these outcomes. … We here in the Mayor’s Office, we don’t (claim) to be experts,” Wagner said.

“We really want the department heads to be creative about that and give them the ability to own those strategies.”

There may be instances, Wagner said, where a  program or strategy established by one city department could help the city reach an outcome that is not directly related to that department’s mission. A Parks and Recreation Department youth program, for example, might help address crime problems.

“I just think it’s an opportunity for the city to recognize that we have a role in all of these things (outcomes), whether it’s a large role, or a small role, we play a role,” Wagner said. “And for the 3,600 people that work for the city,  for them to have a connection to the purpose that goes beyond their day-to-day job is incredibly powerful.”

The process will also include engaging individuals and organizations outside of City Hall — a prospect Bynum is excited about.

“It gets us out of our silos, and allows the citizens a very tangible way to track our progress,” he said.

Bynum said all of the outcomes will be difficult to achieve, and that he’s not necessarily more interested in pursuing one over the others.

“That said, I ran because I was morally outraged by the life expectancy disparity between north Tulsa and the rest of the city, and because I wanted us to get back to the expectation that we should be growing,” he said.

“The latter is the ultimate market test on a city’s appeal. So the life expectancy gap and population growth are nearest and dearest, if I had to pick two.”

Bynum said he plans to build on his first round of desired outcomes and continue to track the city’s progress — or lack thereof  — throughout his time in office. The hope is that by the time the next mayor takes office Bynum’s administration will have shown the benefit of such an approach and it will be continued.

“That’s what you see in other cities where this has worked,” Bynum said. “New mayors bring new outcomes they want to focus on, but the process stays in place to the benefit of the citizens.”

Bynum said only a handful of cities have designed outcome-based governing programs as true communitywide efforts.

“Many of them have the ‘inside City Hall’ focus we reference, but few have the cross-community focus we propose pursuing,” he said. “Tulsa has the chance to be a national leader in civic improvement through this approach, and I am excited by the progress we are making so far.”

Wagner plans to present the list of desired outcomes to the City Council on Jan. 25, and the official rollout of the program likely won’t happen until mid-March. At that point, the work will really just be beginning.

Wagner said he expects to conduct an annual review of the program, and that the ability to pivot will be key to its success.

“Create a prototype, try it out and see if it works,” Wagner said. “If it does, scale up. If it doesn’t, change strategies.”

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Kevin Canfield

Senior Staff Writer

Kevin has been working the Tulsa city hall and county beat for nearly a decade. He hails from a newspaper family and Okies enjoy the Connecticut native's accent. In newspapers, Kevin's done everything from copy editing to covering high school football. If you see him around town, make sure and ask him about the time he went to the O.J. Simpson trial or when he was an extra in a zombie movie. Contact him at 918-645-5452 or kevin@readfrontier.com
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