Coalition Presses City Councilors For Transparency, Engagement As Tulsa Spends Virus Funds

Sep 23, 2021

Credit Matt Trotter / KWGS

A coalition of local organizations told city councilors they want to see transparency and community engagement as Tulsa spends its allocation from the American Rescue Plan Act over the next two years.

ACTION Tulsa Project Organizer Christy Emig said the $88 million the city is receiving from the coronavirus relief package represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve the lives of Tulsans who are worse off just because of where they were born or the color of their skin.

"We have lots of reports on where those inequities already exist, but then you double down with the impacts of the coronavirus. And if we're trying to recover out of that, then just making sure we're getting input and feedback from a diverse group of people around that," Emig said.

The city has allocated nearly half of this year’s ARPA funding based on recommendations by a working group consisting of the mayor, four city councilors and city staff. Councilor Lori Decter Wright said that process was established to get money out quickly.

"On this, it was, like, 'Let's hear what the immediate needs are,' and as you know, we've already taken action on some of them. There's two years of funding. So, obviously, we can't allocate or earmark things for a year that we don't have funds for yet. So, there is space for this and intention to do it," Decter Wright said.

ACTION Tulsa is calling on officials to spend at least $15 million on initiatives aimed at racial inequalities.

"In the federal government's guidelines and guidance, they name specifically racial equity. So, there's a lot of different ways you can talk about equity. They name racial equity specifically, and we think that's particularly relevant to this conversation," said Greg Robinson.

City Councilor Phil Lakin said there have been discussions about using virus relief funding toward initiatives a working group has developed from an ongoing review of the Equality Indicators, an annual measure of disparities in the city.

"We have got to get to a point where we're starting to make progress on those items. And so, we are — I am, at least, as a member of that organization — trying to find ways to spend some of that ARPA money so that we can make good on some of the hopes and promises that were made during that process," Lakin said.

Lakin said a list of changes to municipal court policies and operations could be considered soon and would potentially qualify for ARPA funding.

ACTION Tulsa is also asking the city to consider partnering with Impact Tulsa or another organization with experience addressing inequality to help with any community engagement.