Tulsa city councilors and the mayor’s office met virtually on Wednesday for their annual retreat to lay out priorities for the coming year.
Many big plans from 2020 are still on the table because they got derailed during the coronavirus pandemic. Those include neighborhood revitalization, raising all city employees’ pay to at least $15 an hour, and making permanent a joint mental health response team that includes Tulsa police, fire and mental health professionals.
The Equality Indicators are still on many councilors’ minds. The annual report gauges disparities across a wide variety of social and economic measures, and councilors had started digging into potential policies last year to close some of the gaps. First-term District 9 Councilor Jayme Fowler said he likes the idea of the Equality Indicators and wants to see another metric added: access to quality schools.
Fowler said wealthier families have better access to charter and magnet schools.
"The City of Tulsa has some of the most segregated schools in the united states, and it is stunning. And I've studied it well over a decade. I've looked at the patterns, I've driven through the neighborhoods thoughout the city, I've walked the campuses. I'll just say this: We can do better," Fowler said.
Other councilors who mentioned the Equality Indicators talked about court fines and fees and other justice-related issues that still need their attention. Council Chair Vanessa Hall-Harper said she’s happy to continue that work.
"But what I don't want to forget or put on the back burner as it relates to our Equality Indicators is that there is still a need and desire — certainly from my constituents — for citizen oversight of law enforcement and independent monitoring of investigations," Hall-Harper said.
Mayor G.T. Bynum first proposed such an entity, the Office of the Independent Monitor, in January 2019. The Tulsa police union has opposed it, and last year, the city council voted down a proposal by Hall-Harper to have Tulsans vote on it.
Councilors also said Wednesday it's worth reviewing the city’s winter storm response policies. Councilor Phil Lakin said his hilly south Tulsa district struggled with snowy streets city crews don’t currently plow.
"And I had a lot of pleas from people saying, 'Hey, now that the arterials are fixed, can you please come take care of these hills that are the pathways for so many of us getting out of our neighborhoods?'" Lakin said.
Dozens of water main breaks that left hundreds of Tulsans at a time without running water caught the attention of Councilor Mykey Arthrell-Knezek.
"But maybe we really need to look into the most innovative ways to replace those water lines so we don't have as many breaks," Arthrell-Knezek said.
Mayor G.T. Bynum had a specific to-do list, including limiting COVID spread, finalizing an operating agreement for Zink Dam and finishing excavation of a mass grave at Oaklawn Cemetery potentially holding victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.