Nearly 80 percent of Mayor Dewey Bartlett’s 164 new appointees serving on authorities, boards and commissions reside in three City Council districts in midtown and south Tulsa, a Frontier analysis of Mayor’s Office records show.
The districts – 4, 8 and 9 – account for approximately 40 percent of registered voters. District 4 in midtown has the most appointments with 51, or 31.1 percent, followed by District 9, also in the midtown/downtown area, with 46, or 28 percent, and District 8 in south Tulsa with 30, or 18.3 percent.
The council districts with the least representation on authorities, boards and commissions are 3, 6 and 7, which combined account for about 30 percent of the city’s registered voters but mustered only 10 appointments, or about 6 percent.
District 3 had just one appointment. It has 7.6 percent of the city’s registered voters.
The remaining districts, 1, 2 and 5 are home to approximately 30 percent of the city’s registered voters but combined account for just 27 appointments, or 16.5 percent of the total.
The city of Tulsa typically does not ask applicants to authorities, board and commissions to identify themselves by race.
The city’s authorities, boards and commissions range in power and influence. But many, including the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, the Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority, the Tulsa Airport Authority and the Tulsa Authority for the Recovery of Energy, make decisions that affect the day-to-day lives of every Tulsan.
The Planning Commission, for example, plays an important role in establishing and implementing the city’s land-use policies, while TMUA oversees the city’s water and sewer services and sets, with City Council approval, water and sewer rates.
The Tulsa Authority for the Recovery of Energy, better known as the trash board, is charged with overseeing trash pick-up and the Airport Authority runs Tulsa International Airport.
District 7 City Councilor Anna America, one of several councilors pushing for more diversity on city boards, said she does not believe Bartlett purposely appointed people from midtown and south Tulsa.
“But what happens are people look where they are comfortable in the circles around themselves, and if you don’t really make a very deliberate, on-going effort to go beyond that, then what you will get are people who look like you,” she said.
America wasn’t referring just to race.
“They are the three richest districts, they are three of the whitest districts” she said of 4, 8 and 9. “There are many, many people in there who I know are serving well and doing good things for the city, but they don’t represent the city as a whole.”
Bartlett last week made no apologies for the lack of geographical diversity in his appointments, saying other factors weigh more prominently in his decisions.
“It (district) is probably a discussion (point), but it’s not a priority,” Bartlett said. “The top priority is: What is the mission? What is their capacity? And do they have the skills?”
He said he’s not sure why so many of his appointments have come from Districts 4, 8 and 9.
“Other than they might have more experience in the purpose of those particular boards, they might have more time, or they might be retired,” Bartlett said. “I don’t know. They may seem more involved in the community. There is a wide variety of reasons.”
The mayor said every chance he gets, whether at speaking engagements, in conversations with councilors or just out and about, he seeks out individuals willing to volunteer their time to the city.
Sometimes those efforts bear fruit, sometimes they don’t. But the mayor said his intent always is to be inclusive and to promote diversity, which he praised as a admirable goal.
“But sometimes we only have one (choice), and we’re lucky to have that particular one,” he said. “Sometimes, with the experience that is required, there are not too many of them around, and you look for someone who has the time, the capability and the desire.”
America said that’s not good enough — not for the current administration or any future administration.
“This is what happens when you don’t try harder, frankly,” she said.
Different parts of the city — outside Districts 4, 8 and 9 — have a lot more working-class people and a lot more middle-class people, and they need to have a voice on the city’s authorities, boards and commissions, America said.
“So if you don’t have the soccer moms and the working-class families and the seniors living on a retiree’s income and the young singles, all of those types — the young professionals — with a voice in those decisions, you get decisions that don’t reflect the needs of this community,” she said.
America said she is not proposing that the city establish some kind of quota system for its authorities, boards and commissions. She does believe, however, that the mayor and the City Council should make it a priority to make those entities more diverse, not only as it relates to council districts, but to race, gender and profession.
One way to help accomplish that is to look at the makeup of the authority, board, or commission a person is being nominated for, America said.
“So if there are 15 members on this board, we know about them so we can look at this new person and say, ‘Does this person bring some depth and some missing strength to this board, or is this somebody who is very similar to everybody else on that board,’” America said.
Tulsa’s mayor is responsible for filling 303 positions on 42 boards, according to figures provided by the Mayor’s Office. The 164 appointees reviewed by The Frontier do not include reappointments made by the mayor or individuals appointed by Bartlett who are no longer serving.
Since the mayor does not appoint every member of every authority, board or commission, it is not accurate to assume that the mayor’s appointees reflect the overall make-up of those bodies. However, most authorities, boards and commissions are composed of a significant number of mayoral appointees.
That is, in part, why city councilors have put Bartlett’s appointments on hold. The mayor, who took office in December 2009, was defeated by City Councilor G.T. Bynum in the June 28 mayoral election. The long period of time between Election Day and Bynum’s inauguration has left Bartlett in the unprecedented position of serving more than five months as a lame duck.
Councilor Phil Lakin has been the most direct in making the argument for holding up Bartlett’s nominations until Bynum comes into office, telling The Frontier last month that he and some other councilors have “a difficult time making long-term appointments to authorities, which are well outside of the purview of the power of the council and our oversight as elected representatives, by a mayor who is leaving office.”
Bartlett insisted that he intends to continue making appointments.
“They want the new mayor to make the appointments,” Bartlett said. “It’s not their responsibility. If they want me to do that, they should ask for my resignation. I won’t give it to them.”
He also dismissed the notion, suggested by at least one city councilor, that he is appointing friends and campaign contributors to boards as a way to thank them for their support.
“There are a wide variety of resources (for securing appointees),” Bartlett said. “These are not necessarily my friends and supporters as a particular councilor or two might have stated or insinuated.
“These are people that are very publicly spirited that want to help our city. They use their experience, judgment, capability, their contacts — whatever it is — and we evaluate them from that perspective.”
Bartlett works with staff members David Autry and Pam Rosser to keep the city’s authorities, boards and commissions filled. Rosser said Bartlett considers a number of factors, including the existing makeup of the board, when making his appointments.
“I can say, if anything, he has not looked at his friends, or anyone who supported him,” Rosser said. “And he’s never asked, ‘Does this person support me? Is this person a Democrat or Republican?’
“That is one of the things I admire, he just wants to find the best people to fill the boards.”
Bynum said Friday that his own research into upcoming appointments he will be responsible for filling found the same disparities reflected in The Frontier analysis. Tulsa has a long history of electing mayors from midtown — including himself — and that has obviously had an effect on who ends up on the city’s authorities, boards and commissions, Bynum said.
“I have talked with some people who just say it is really hard to find other people in other parts of town that want to or can serve on these, and I reject that notion,” Bynum said.
The mayor-elect said he has already begun reaching out to his fellow city councilors as well as organizations around the city in search of possible appointees. His immediate goal is to diversify the applicant pool, which he must do to reach his long-term goal: to diversify the overall makeup of the city’s authorities, boards and commissions.
That includes getting more female representation, Bynum said, adding that his limited review of city appointments found twice as many males as females on authorities, boards and commissions.
“Groups throughout the campaign, when I talked to them, whether it was at Rotary Clubs, churches in north Tulsa, I told them if I got elected, I needed their help,” Bynum said. “It wasn’t enough just to win the election. If we want to do great things in the city, we need people to step up and be willing to help. And first and foremost, it is service in this regard.”
Bynum said he does not believe Bartlett intentionally chose people from Districts 4, 8 and 9, nor are his remarks intended to disparage individuals from those districts who are serving on authorities, boards and commissions.
“I don’t want to punish good people who are doing a fantastic job from midtown or south Tulsa by taking them out of a job they are doing really well,” Bynum said. “And so what you have to do is balance the need to diversify these without being overzealous with it.”
Bynum said, at the end of the day, he will make his appointments based on who the best person for the job is.
“But I want to be challenging myself to be looking at a broad range of options before I make up my mind on who that person is,” he said.
It may turn out that the person most responsible for changing the makeup of the city’s authorities, boards and commissions won’t reside in the Mayor’s Office. He or she will be in the city’s IT Department.
The city of Tulsa has no database to track appointments, so it has no easily accessible information from which to compare administrations, for example, or to pull up City Council appointments.
It will be hard, for Bynum, or any mayor, to make changes if he does not have a firm grasp of the numbers. The Frontier had to type in information drawn from appointees’ paper applications to come up with its mayoral appointment figures. And at least one city councilor questioned the appointment figures from his district.
Bynum said his research consisted of going through the list of authorities, boards and commissions posted on the city’s website — a site officials acknowledge is not always up to date.
“I am going to be the mayor of Tulsa in 87 days and I’m having to go through the website and click on each authority, board and commission and look at their member list and when they expire and who the other people are on it to identify what their overall makeup is,” Bynum said. “My hat’s off to whoever is doing that right now because if that wasn’t on there we would really be at a loss.”