Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum prepares to speak during a City Council meeting earlier this year. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier

Mayor G. T. Bynum has recused himself from negotiations with River Parks Authority over a new master lease because his wife, Susan Bynum, works for the law firm representing the authority in the negotiations.

Bynum said he has had to recuse himself twice since his wife accepted a position with Frederic Dorwart, Lawyers, earlier in the summer.

The other instance involved Gilcrease Museum’s sale of a piece of art. The museum is owned by the city, and the Dorwart law firm was involved in the sale, Bynum said.

“Every mayor that comes in, at least in the last 15, 20 years, their spouses have had different levels of employment,” Bynum said Thursday. “Each of them is a different situation. And so there is not a kind of cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all approach on this.

“That is why, on the outset, as soon as we knew where Susan would be working, I immediately met with the legal team at the city to make sure I was doing the right thing.”

Bynum established a recusal protocol in December that gives Deputy Mayor Michael Junk authority to serve as mayor when Bynum is unable or unavailable to perform his duties.

In May, anticipating his wife’s employment at the Dorwart law firm, Bynum sought further guidance from the city’s Ethics Advisory Committee.

“I do not anticipate my wife ever working on a matter that comes before the City,” Bynum wrote to the EAC, “but in an abundance of caution believe it necessary to establish this protocol. … While the City Legal Department believes this protocol is appropriate, I would appreciate the EAC’s consideration of it and guidance moving forward.”

The committee’s response, issued Aug. 15, makes clear that a conflict of interest exists and that the mayor’s proposed recusal protocol does not go far enough.

“The presence of the conflict of interest discussed herein will not only require the Mayor’s recusal from participating in City business, but will prohibit the Mayor from discussing the subject matter with the Deputy Mayor, a member of the Council or any other City official who is participating in its consideration,” the opinion states.

The opinion goes on to suggest that the Mayor’s Office create administrative precautions, sometimes referred to as a “Chinese Wall,” to guard against “inadvertent, yet prohibited discussions of the subject matter or related issues by or with the recused Mayor.”

Bynum said his staff is essentially doing that already.

“One, they know to keep an eye out for anything I should be recusing on,” Bynum said. “But so far it has only been a couple of things. And then, two, after I have recused I am not the decision-making authority anymore, and they are not to talk with me about it.”

The Dorwart law firm does work for the George Kaiser Family Foundation, which is building A Gathering Place for Tulsa park, and the Bank of Oklahoma, where the city of Tulsa has its operating account.

It also provides pro bono representation for River Parks Authority, to whom A Gathering Place was gifted,  Tulsa Community Foundation and Tulsa Stadium Trust. The trust oversees operations of ONEOK Field and some land adjacent to it.

Frederic Dorwart told the Frontier in an emaiL that his firm’s pro bono work for various organizations in the city will not be affected by the EAC’s opinion.

“We are really pleased and excited to have Susan in the firm,” Dorwart wrote. “The ethics opinion won’t have any impact on the pro bono work we do for the city and our other clients. We’ll continue, even if we lose the benefit of GT’s good input.”

Then-candidate for mayor G.T. Bynum and his wife, Susan Bynum, check election results on Election Day, June 28, 2016. Photo by Michael Wyke

Bynum proposed a 50-year master lease with River Parks Authority in March that would preserve the Turkey Mountain wilderness area and park space along the Arkansas River. The proposed lease also identified areas previously designated by the city as potential locations for commercial development.

The city and River Parks Authority have been negotiating the terms of the agreement ever since, with the Dorwart law firm representing River Parks Authority.

“The issue with River Parks, under normal River Parks business, there wouldn’t be a problem,” Bynum said. “But because River Parks and the city are negotiating over the lease, I have taken myself out of it.”

The city is being represented in the talks by Junk, Chief of Staff Jack Blair and Chief of Community Development and Policy Nick Doctor.

“I honestly don’t know where any of that stands now,” Bynum said.

The Dorwart law firm’s representation of Bank of Oklahoma could potentially make it necessary for Bynum to recuse himself on other issues, according to City Finance Director Mike Kier.

The city accepts requests for proposals for bank services every five years, and the Bank of Oklahoma has been selected the last few times, Kier said.

The mayor is not involved in creating the RFP, evaluating responses or in preparing a recommendation, Kier said, but he is the person who receives the recommendation and signs the agreement with the bank that is awarded the contract.

Given the Ethics Advisory Committee opinion, those responsibilities would now fall to Junk, Kier said. The city is expected to issue requests for proposals for its next bank services agreement in about two years.

Kier said in the rare instance when the city might negotiate a bond sale that included Bank of Oklahoma, or an affiliated financial institution, the mayor would not be able to participate in those negotiations.

The finance director said he is not worried about the possibility that Bynum would not be part of the decision-making process for the city’s bank services.

“I would like to think that we are professional staff,” Kier said. “It is our job to, in an even-handed way, make sure we have a proper evaluation from whatever banks make proposals, and that we’re in a position to make a solid, defensible recommendation.”

Bynum struck a similar note, saying he’s still the person making the decisions on 99 percent of the issues his administration is working on.

“And in a couple of things that I have recused on, I am not necessarily the subject matter expert anyway,” he said. “I put in place a chain of command which the City Council unanimously approved, and so I have complete faith in those folks to follow through and do what is right on any given particular issue. ”