If Mayor-elect G.T. Bynum was hoping to make a splash with the unveiling of his Mayor’s Office staff, he’s succeeded.
The group is diverse and young — the average age is just shy of 35 — and sure to bring a new look and energy level to the 15th floor of City Hall.
It better, because the oldest newcomer — who is actually not a newcomer at all — is former Mayor Kathy Taylor, a woman not exactly known for lollygagging through life.
Taylor, 61, will serve as Bynum’s chief of economic development. Bynum takes office Dec. 5.
“When you look at her background as a corporate executive of a Fortune 500 company, her time as (Oklahoma’s) secretary of commerce, her time as our mayor, her time leading a foundation, and its focus on entrepreneurial activity … I do not think there is anyone in the world more qualified to lead our economic development opportunities than her,” Bynum said.
Taylor was Tulsa’s 38th mayor, serving from 2006 to 2009. She chose not to seek re-election that year, but returned to politics in 2013 to run against incumbent Mayor Dewey Bartlett. She lost in what was one of the most expensive and hotly contested mayoral races in the city’s history.
“I’m honored to be part of a team with a leader that I obviously respect and I think is both a visionary and energetic,” Taylor said. “I love the city of Tulsa. I’m really excited about the opportunity.”
She joins a mayoral team of 10 that includes INCOG transportation planner James Wagner; the Tulsa Regional Chamber’s senior vice president of economic development, Nick Doctor; an elementary school teacher; and the president of the Coalition of Hispanic Organizations.
Wagner will oversee a new department in the Mayor’s Office — the Performance and Innovation Office. The department, which will replace the city’s MAAP department, will use data and performance metrics to assist city departments in determining the best strategies to implement programs — and to test proposed programs.
Doctor will lead what Bynum describes as his policy shop — the Community Development and Policy Office.
Doctor and two other newcomers to the Mayor’s Office, Jonathan Townsend and Christina Starzl Mendoza, will be charged with implementing existing programs, such as Vision Tulsa, and getting some of Bynum’s initiatives off the ground and running.
Bynum, 39, said Bartlett and other mayors have warned him it is easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day operations of the city, leaving little time to proactively pursue the goals that got him elected.
“Nick and his team will really be leading a lot of those initiatives,” Bynum said.
Mendoza will play a key role in keeping the administration engaged with and responsive to the city’s Hispanic community. As the fastest-growing population in the community, it is important for the Mayor’s Office to know how city policies and proposals will affect the Hispanic community, Bynum said.
“It’s important to me that Hispanic Tulsans, one, feel welcomed in Tulsa, and two, feel like they have a voice in the Mayor’s Office,” Bynum said.
Townsend, who spent the last five years teaching at Burroughs and Walt Whitman elementary schools, has also been a community activist in north Tulsa. He will play an important role in implementing the new mayor’s education initiatives.
“His work will be executing on the things that our education cabinet determines needs to be done,” Bynum said.
The mayor-elect said the primary criteria he used in picking his staff was to get the best people — especially when it came to his core four: Deputy Mayor Michael Junk; Chief of Staff Jack Blair; Deputy Chief of Staff Amy Brown, and Doctor.
“I love reading books about how coaches put teams together, and both Bill Belichick and Mike Krzyzewski — two of the greatest coaches of the last 50 years, in different sports — both focus on getting the best players that they can and then figuring out the system to use those players,” Bynum said. “These are just people I wanted to get on the team, and we would figure out the right fit.”
With the core four in place, Bynum began looking for the best people he could to help him accomplish his goals. That meant finding individuals who were smart, loved the city and were willing to work hard, he said.
Age and political affiliation never entered the conversation.
“I still, right now, don’t know what their political affiliations are (and) don’t care about their age, though now, looking at the group after the fact, I recognize that it is a young group,” Bynum said. “But Michael and I both came from an environment working in (U.S.) Senate offices, where that is the norm. That is not unusual. You have a lot of responsibility thrown at you.”
In his new staff, Bynum believes he has found a group similarly drawn to big challenges — in this instance in the Mayor’s Office.
“That attracts people who are doing great things in other fields to leave those fields and come join us,” Bynum said.
Bynum’s staff includes four women, two people from the African American community and one from the Hispanic community. Though he did not base hiring decisions on race, gender or ethnicity, his goal was to put together a team that reflected the community as a whole, Bynum said.
We picked them “because they were incredibly smart, because they were incredibly passionate and hardworking, because I thought they were the type of people that wouldn’t be a ‘yes man’ but would be willing to challenge my assumptions,” Bynum said.
Bynum is well aware of Taylor’s political affiliation, of course. Despite not having held a public office since 2009, she remains in many people’s minds the embodiment of the Democratic Party in Tulsa.
Indeed, Bartlett and many of his supporters did everything they could to persuade Tulsans during this year’s mayoral race that a vote for Bynum would put Taylor back in City Hall.
Bynum said he’s ready for the slings and arrows his selection of Taylor will surely bring.
“We knew that we wanted a game-changer in economic development because so much of what we’re going to be doing is going to be focused on getting Tulsa growing again, and that obviously led us to really getting a dream candidate for that job,” he said.
Bynum said it is important to note that Taylor’s hiring is the only change he has made in department heads and that he and his staff will be relying heavily on the outstanding existing city staff.
“We have a lot of really talented folks that are going to be part of this new group that have been at the city for years,” Bynum said.
Bynum has served on the City Council since 2008, and three of his new staff members — Blair, Brown and Doctor — have worked for the City Council. Those experiences and the relationships developed over that time will make a difference when it comes time to govern, Bynum said.
“We recognize that one of the most important relationships we will have, if we are going to be successful as a team in the Mayor’s Office, is with the City Council,” Bynum said. “I think (staff) is going to work very well with the council in a way that people in Tulsa are not used to seeing.”
Bynum did not release his staff members’ salaries. He said their pay will be dependent on what’s left in the Mayor’s Office budget when Bynum takes office. Taylor will not be taking a salary.
Deputy Mayor Michael Junk
Bynum says Junk will be his “right-hand man.”
He will “be where I can’t be and because of his unique skill set (will) lead our initiatives with the federal, state and tribal governments, which I don’t think we as a city have been doing a good enough job of historicically, “Bynum said
Chief of Staff Jack Blair
Blair, 45, has been policy analyst for the City Council for 12 years. The University of Oklahoma Law School graduate worked in private practice and for the Trust for Public Land. He and his wife have a daughter.
Bynum said Blair and Deputy Chief of Staff Amy Brown will assist him in the day-to-day operations of city government.
Blair has already made changes to his life to prepare for his new job — he got a cell phone, his first in a decade.
Bynum: “He is the classic guy who prefers to be behind the scenes, does not want to be in the spotlight, and every positive initiative that has come out of the City Council in the time I have been there, Jack Blair has been the guy behind the scenes doing the legwork on them. He is brilliant and universally respected.”
Deputy Chief of Staff Amy Brown
Bynum: “Amy Brown is one of the most talented people I’ve worked with in public service. We worked closely on a broad range of initiatives during her time as my aide, and she knows the workings of the city government thoroughly from her time working in both the council office and the Mayor’s Office.”
Chief of Economic Development Kathy Taylor
Taylor, 61, was Tulsa’s mayor from 2006-2009. She challenged incumbent Mayor Dewey Bartlett in 2013 but lost. She has served as Oklahoma’s secretary of commerce and tourism and workforce development. She is currently chairwoman of the Leadership Council for ImpactTulsa. She is a founder of the Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation. She is married with one daughter.
Performance Strategy and Innovation Chief James Wagner
Bynum said he initially met with Wagner to see if he would be interested in a transportation role in his administration. After speaking with him, however, Bynum decided Wagner would be a perfect fit for implementing the “Money Ball” (so named after the book about Oakland Athletics’ general manager Billy Beane, who turned a small-market team into a contender by seeking out market inefficiencies) initiatives he hopes to implement at City Hall.
Bynum: “Man, he’s fired up about it. We did the intercity visit in Cincinnati and he went and met with (city) staff in Cincinnati to see how they were doing things. Then he rented a car and drove to Louisville to meet with the staff to talk with them so that he could try to mirror best practices.”
Community Development and Policy Chief Nick Doctor
Doctor, 31, last worked for the Tulsa Regional Chamber as senior vice president of government affairs. He has also worked as a City Council aide. Doctor graduated from the University of Tulsa with a bachelor of arts degree in history and political science. He received a master’s degree in political management from Washington University. He is married.
Community Development and Policy Assistant Jonathan Townsend
Townsend, 27, was a teacher at Walt Whitman and Burroughs elementary schools for five years. A Central High School graduate, Townsend graduated from Oral Roberts University with a bachelor’s degree in government. He earned a master’s degree in Educational Leadership Studies from Oklahoma State University.
Townsend ran twice unsuccessfully for House District 73. He is married.
Bynum said he’s known Townsend through his activism and got to know him better when they found themselves speaking at the same campaign events.
“I got to see how passionate he is about issues that impact north Tulsa,” Bynum said. “At the same time, he’s an educator by profession and so it was important to me because I had such an emphasis on education in our campaign.”
Community Development and Policy Assistant Christina Starzl Mendoza
Mendoza is pursuing a master’s degree in human development and family science from Oklahoma State University. Bynum said he’s impressed by Mendoza’s intelligence and leadership experience in the Hispanic community.
Bynum: “She’s razor sharp. So that combination of things really led me to pitch her on joining our team.”
Executive Aide Kimberly Madden
Aide Brandon Oldham
Oldham, 30, most recently worked on institutional advancement at the University of Tulsa Law School and as director of Student Affairs at the University of Oklahoma. Oldham earned two degrees from OU: a bachelor’s degree in public relations and a master’s degree in adult and higher education.
He will assist Bynum with daily operations and correspondences.