Kathy Taylor greeted a visitor to City Hall on Monday morning with a gentle reminder that addressing her as Mayor Taylor isn’t appropriate these days — at least not when she’s inside City Hall.
“There is only one mayor” here, she said, as she escorted the visitor to what was, before Dec. 5, the Mayor’s Office.
Yes, former Mayor Kathy Taylor is back to work at City Hall, and she occupies the same office she did when she was mayor — and the same office her successor, former Mayor Dewey Bartlett, occupied the last seven years — but the nameplate on her door these days says nothing more than “Kathy Taylor.”
She’s just fine with that. And, for the record, the city’s chief of economic development loves being back in her old office.
“It’s great,” she said, laughing. “It’s very comfortable, and I love these offices. I love the boards, to be able to write on. Yeah, it’s good.”
She’s even brought a few games to work. A cannister of “Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty” and a knot of magnetic, multi-colored balls sit on the small conference table just outside her office.
“Sometimes people come to meetings and they want toys to play with while they’re talking, so that’s what these are,” Taylor said.
Don’t let the toys fool you. During her four years as mayor, 2006-2009, Taylor earned a reputation for being a hard-charging executive who did not brook incompetence.
Expect that same insistence on excellence from her in her new role. But this time around her job is different, and she has the benefit of her experiences as mayor and her time away from public life to inform her.
“I tried to be very reflective about how I approached issues when I was here before and what I should continue to do and what I should do differently,” she said. “I think I was really in a hurry to get a lot of things done before.”
Those things included keeping The Drillers in Tulsa and building a new downtown ballpark for the team; responding to the 2007 ice storm; and helping ensure that money was there to complete the BOK Center.
“A lot of things at that time I felt required immediate attention and resolution. … I’m going to approach this in a much more methodical way.”
Taylor said she spent her first week back at City Hall getting up to speed. She’ll spend much of the rest of the month in a similar fashion, meeting with city employees, trust authority members, business leaders and others to help get herself oriented.
“We have a great group of people at the city working every day to move things forward,” Taylor said. “I want to understand where we are and help support them and the city to be successful.”
Taylor’s first order of business will be to review the city’s development processes and policies to ensure that city government is a help, not a hindrance, to the local businesses, big and small, that provide most of the city’s jobs.
That means looking at the entire development process, from “dirt to certificate of occupancy,” she said.
“What I want to do is make sure we get the process in a way that our city is viewed as one of the best cities in the nation to not just live but to develop companies,” Taylor said.
It starts by ensuring that existing businesses have the city’s support and that their needs are being met, Taylor said,
“Because they are the best advocates for bringing in other businesses,” she said. “If they talk to a Tulsa business and they are not happy with their processes or support from the city, or their ability to recruit workforce, etc., then we are unlikely to find additional expansion.”
As the city continues to work to boost its aerospace, oil and gas, and manufacturing bases, it will also be looking to attract businesses that supply services and goods to those industries, Taylor said.
Creating affordable housing will also be a key to the city’s development strategy. Taylor said the city —including her own administration — hasn’t always focused on housing as much as it should have.
Whether in north Tulsa, downtown, or any other parts of the city, housing is key to economic development.
“So that will be one of the things we’ll be working on,” she said. “Retail follows rooftops. You really have to have good, stable, safe affordable housing in order to attract retail.”
Fair or not, former Mayor Dewey Bartlett’s administration’s economic development record may be remembered more for two high-profile developments that didn’t happen — proposed malls near Turkey mountain and another in east Tulsa — than for its successes.
Taylor, 61, said the city will continue to pursue “new to market” retail establishments, but that the focus will be on creating an easy and reliable environment for local developers to do their work.
“Developers are really the ones that attract retail, they are the ones that have the spaces, and we’re not in the business of retail development,” she said. “We certainly want to have a presence, be supportive of developers and make sure that they know Tulsa is a good place to put retail.”
In keeping with Mayor Bynum’s approach to problem solving, Taylor plans to reach out to organizations and entities to partner with City Hall to help solve problems and spur development.
She noted the city is fortunate to have great tools, including trust authorities, businesses, philanthropists and real estate assets that can be harnessed for the betterment of the city.
“We want to make sure we leverage each of these to the best way possible, and that requires a real team effort where all of these tools are working in concert,” Taylor said.
Another key to the city’s continued economic growth is one Taylor’s boss touts all the time: education. But she’s no stranger to the issue. She served as former Gov. Brad Henry’s chief of education strategy and innovation, and since leaving the Mayor’s Office in 2009 she has played key roles in establishing and operating Reading Partners and Impact Tulsa.
Taylor said she’s glad Bynum is making the issue a priority.
“Because for economic development, we have got to have a workforce to be able to continue to expand, attract and retain businesses.”
Bynum has set out goals and desired outcomes by which his administration will measure the city’s progress — or lack thereof — in a variety of areas, including economic development.
Taylor said she will put in place similar metrics to gauge how her office is performing.
“Once I kind of get through my education process, we’re going to do a strategic planning process,” Taylor said. “And from there we’ll look at things we need to measure. But that will be a group effort.”
Fifth Day on the Job
Monday was Taylor’s fifth day on the job. Most of Bynum’s staff began work the same day he did, Dec. 5. But Taylor said she wasn’t planning to go back to work at City Hall and had other plans for her future, like learning French and doing a bit more traveling. So when she got the call from Bynum and agreed to go to work for him, it came with the understanding that she would need some time to redirect her life.
“So I really spent December — in addition to reordering my life — getting kind of up to speed on what’s happening,” she said.
She’s not concerned that her political past will prevent her from working effectively with business leaders of a different political stripe. She was, after all, a Democratic mayor defeated by a Republican candidate, Dewey Bartlett.
In fact, Taylor prides herself on her ability to work across party lines when it comes to economic development and what’s best for the city.
“This is my favorite space,” she said. “I love the economic development space. I loved doing it when I was (state) secretary of commerce. I know the players. It’s great.”
Taylor said she loves having a specific mission to focus on and the team of people with whom she works.
“It’s a great team,” she said.
And she’s even got her old office back back, just down the hall from Bynum’s. So when he comes looking for a former mayor’s perspective on an issue, and he has, Taylor is there to help.
“Just as he would with any other former mayor,” she said. “I just happen to be right here.”