The Sunday Sampler is The Frontier’s weekly roundup of news and notes from Tulsa and beyond.
REI Breaks Silence On Its Plans for Tulsa
Recreational Equipment Inc. has been a case study in laying low.
Even as everyone and their brother has speculated about whether the national sporting goods and outdoor merchandise retailer is coming to town, mum’s been the word from the company’s headquarters in Kent, Wash.
Until now. In an email to The Frontier, the company comes as close as it ever has to acknowledging that it would be the anchor tenant if the controversial development at 71st Street and Riverside Drive is ever built.
The project is in limbo as the city attempts to resolve a dispute with dozens of residents who oppose the construction of a commercial development on land that for years was known as Helmerich Park.
But the email, from REI communications manager Bethany Hawley, seems to indicate the company would love to come to town and would do everything it could to make the Helmerich Park site work.
“REI has not signed a lease in Tulsa and will not do so until the city has resolved its discussion of the development with the community,” Hawley writes. “If it is developed for commercial use, the Tulsa community could have no stronger partner than REI. If we were to open a store in Tulsa, we will partner with local nonprofits each year to invest in outdoor places like trails and parks, as we do in all of our communities.”
Stranger than fiction: Mayor sits in on sheriff’s office meeting
Mayor Dewey Bartlett took part in the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office management meeting Monday morning.
Not really. Terry Simonson with the sheriff’s office invited him.
Or was the meeting the mayor’s idea?
Like most everything else in city/county relations, the answer depends on who you ask. Simonson says the sheriff’s office invited Bartlett to attend the management meeting; Bartlett says he asked if he could attend.
Either way, the visit is noteworthy because relations between the sheriff’s office and the mayor’s office have been strained for more than a year. The parties have been haggling over a new jail agreement for almost two years, and Bartlett, in his role as a Tulsa County Criminal Justice Authority trustee, has led the charge for more oversight of the jail.
The sheriff’s office holds a management meeting every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning that is usually attended by about 10 people, Simonson said.
On Monday, each member of the management team gave his or her report, after which the mayor was invited to speak.
“He talked about what the city and TCSO have in common, what they can work on together, and how it’s important to turn the page toward a better relationship between the two,” Simonson said.
Weigel has been running the sheriff’s office since former Sheriff Stanley Glanz resigned Nov. 1 after being indicted on two misdemeanors.
Simonson said Bartlett’s visit was part of a broader outreach effort being undertaken by the agency to reach out to mayors, city managers and police chiefs around the county.
Bartlett recalls that Monday’s meetings was initiated by him during an earlier meeting with Weigel at City Hall.
“I thought it would be in the best interests for us to talk and hopefully re-establish a very good relationship, and that happened,” Bartlett said. “We talked for about an hour and a half about a variety of issues.
“I said, ‘I’ll tell you what, I would like to come over when you have a staff meeting to come over and see you, see your members of your new team.’ ”
We may ever know who invited whom, but that’s not really the point. This is: Mayor Bartlett sat down with sheriff’s office staff, and by all accounts, the meeting went well.
For the mayor, that’s good news. City Councilor and mayoral candidate G.T. Bynum has said one of his goals as mayor would be to improve the often-fractious relationship between the city and county.
The preacher and Santa Claus
I’d walk by the guy all the time, curious but never interested enough to stop.
But don’t you always wonder? Who are these guys with their leather-bound Bibles, speaking the Lord’s word? (Their interpretation of it, anyway).
So I stopped and asked. His name is Leonard Micklin, an elder with Real Church — that has a real website— in Tulsa.
Micklin was living in St. Paul, Minn., in 1996 when the Holy Spirit called him to Tulsa, he said.
“I didn’t have to look around … for Billy Graham, I knew,” Micklin says. “Everybody has a calling on their life.”
So he drove down here lived in his car until he could find a place. He lived for a time in the old YMCA apartments across the street from the Tulsa County Courthouse.
For the last two years, he’s stood almost daily at the courthouse steps, peddling fire and brimstone.
That’s where he grabbed my attention, 10 yards or so from a man dressed as Santa Claus who was asking passersby to sign a petition supporting legalization of medical marijuana.
$50 million for your (transportation) thoughts
The story is that the mayor’s office sent the email to the Indian Nations Council of Governments’ executive director, who sent it to James Wagner.
Whatever the route, Wagner, INCOG’s principal transportation planner, was happy to see it in his inbox.
Because how often does someone offer you $50 million? But that’s exactly what Tulsa would receive if it were to win the Beyond Traffic Smart City Challenge.
The program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation, targets mid-size cities with populations between 200,000 and 850,000.
“We encourage cities to develop their own unique vision, partnerships, and blueprints to demonstrate to the world what a fully integrated, forward-looking urban transportation network looks like,” said the agency news release that Wagner received.
The city that presents “the most innovative, most forward-thinking plan to harness technology and reimagine how people move” wins.
Wagner gave an example of how a city might harness technology to improve its transportation system: an adaptive traffic signal control.
On some Tulsa streets, light signals are coordinated so a driver can go miles without ever hitting a red light. Planners call such stretches “green zones.”
Adaptive signals do one better, gathering data in real time to adjust the signals to respond to traffic flows.
Wagner used the example of 71st Street and Memorial Drive, where adaptive signals could help create a better flow of traffic into Woodland Hills Mall.
“Now, the signals don’t change to adapt to driving conditions,” Wagner said.
Having adaptive signals at that intersection could potentially eliminate the need to build wider roads to accommodate heavier traffic periods, thereby saving the city countless millions in infrastructure costs, Wagner said.
Other high-tech projects the city could consider pitching include mapping city streets for self-driving vehicles or infrastructure-to-vehicle technology, which notifies drivers of accidents so that they can take alternate routes.
The city will have to decide quickly if it’s up for the challenge. Applications are due Feb. 4. The five finalists will each be awarded $10,000 to refine their proposals, with the winner chosen in June.
Applicants for the Smart City Challenge are not required to provide any matching funds.
City Budgeting for Less
Mayor Dewey Bartlett’s email to employees this week announcing a hiring freeze was part of the larger process of putting together a budget for fiscal year 2017, which begins July 1.
What Bartlett did not include in his email was that he has asked department heads to submit budgets for next year showing 5 percent and 10 percent cuts over the current year.
The budgets were due about 10 days ago.
Bartlett’s budgeting directive was intended to grab people’s intention but not to scare them, he said.
“This is not a time when we want to assume we can go out and hire a bunch of people or spend a lot of money on things,” Bartlett said.
The message he was hoping to get across in the email is that funding going forward will likely stay the same, or perhaps dip.
“It’s not saying that we’re going to have a large number of layoffs or anything like that,” Bartlett said. “But we don’t want to give people a false hope that this is just an exercise and we have a lot of money.”
The mayor’s hiring freeze applies to employees paid in part or in full from the city’s general fund. That means most city departments are affected, including the police, fire and parks departments.
Organizations that receive funding from the city are also feeling the crunch. River Parks, for example, was told by the city to submit funding requests at 5 percent and 10 percent less than the current fiscal year.
As Bartlett noted in his email to employees, the city is again at the mercy of volatile sales tax collections. As the the primary source of revenue in the general fund, the city lives and dies with the tax.
The city budgeted for $272 million in general fund revenue this fiscal year, but five months into the fiscal year, collections — from all funding sources — are down by more $2.2 million.
“We must begin planning and preparing for potential scenarios now, rather than ignore possibilities and be ill-prepared down the road,” Bartlett wrote in his email to employees.
If there is a silver lining, it’s that there are still six months left in the fiscal year. Things could get better.
But not soon enough for the mayor and council, who must begin putting next year’s budget together in the spring.