Interview with Mayor Bill LaFortune

By David Arnett, Publisher    
Monday, 06 February 2006
First in our series of interviews with Mayoral Candidates is the man currently holding the office, Tulsa Mayor Bill LaFortune.

Question: How would you define Tulsa in 10 words or less?

LaFortune: Tulsa is a city undergoing a wonderful renaissance that has been fueled by its own citizens in their foresight and vision.

Question:  With their vision in play, what is your vision for Tulsa?  Where do you see us going long-term?

LaFortune:  My vision for Tulsa is to see a city over the next four years that has new and fabulous iconic facilities, research facilities, significant riverfront development, and continuing strong job growth.  Where new amenities and facilities provided by Vision 2025 come online and attract visitors and new companies and new young professionals like Tulsa has never seen.

Question: What specific goals have you set for these next four years?

LaFortune:  To continue strong economic momentum that Tulsa currently enjoys.  To do that by completing the Vision 2025 projects and implementing the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan and also fixing the streets with the funds from the general obligation bond approved by voters in April 2005.

On the public safety front, the top priority is to continue the very aggressive building of the ranks of Tulsa Police officers that we have under way.  We are committed to adding 50 new officers above attrition each year for a total of 200 officers during my next term and reach a level of 2.6 officers per thousand residents in Tulsa – the national average is 2.3 officers per thousand.

Question:  Do you feel like you have built a quality staff and do you expect changes in the next term?

LaFortune:  We have a very good staff.  Any time an administration successfully runs for reelection, it is a good time to reevaluate staff.  I am pleased with the staff, but certainly there is room for improvement.  Like I did in the first term, I plan to conduct a critical but constructive analysis of each person’s position and make decisions based on that review.  Just like the Bush Administration, there may be some department heads and cabinet level people who move on and must be replaced.

Question:  So overall, you feel your administration is operating smoothly?

LaFortune:  We made the change several months ago to move Allan LaCroix into the Chief Operating Officer position and he has done a magnificent job in overseeing city departments.  Those were the areas of the greatest concern for citizens.  He has shown some very good leadership and has been a real asset to this administration.  Clay Bird as Chief of Staff has worked very hard and is growing daily into a more capable manager.  Sam Roop as Chief Administrative Officer brought a great deal of private sector experience and good perspectives from his time as an elected city councilor.  He has been very reform-minded to advance those departments under his watch to be more efficient.  He has consolidated the purchasing procedures and realized significant cost savings and better functional coordination.

In particular, there are 15 ordinances that are out of date, but still apply to development permitting.  We are now working to repeal those we don’t need or update the process to one permit that applies to development.  We intend to cut the time it takes to get a permit for development in the City of Tulsa by 60 to 90 days.

Question:  How do you feel the substantive conversation between your administration and Tulsa citizens has gone and how do you think you can increase the level of effectiveness and frequency of that ongoing conversation?

LaFortune:  The best method of increasing conversations is face-to-face contact.  I would challenge anyone’s record in the time I have spent out in the community.  We are constantly on the road in the City to business expansions, neighborhood meetings, school events, and other things.  I think the best dialogue with citizens happens when you are present with them in person.

Of course you also reach people through the media, but what is reported is not controlled by the Mayor’s office and not necessarily what is said.  I think the daily paper has on most occasions gotten the message out correctly, but we live today in a world that is not newspaper-driven.

We are putting together a fabulous Web site for the campaign soon to launch.  In its entirety, people will be impressed to see all the things we have achieved.  The many accomplishments will, I believe, blow people away.  We are very proud of our record.  We have done a lot and when the fog of so many events over the last few years is lifted and when you stop and look at how far we have come – it is impressive.

When I took office, Tulsa was six months into the worst economic slide the City has seen outside the depression.  It forced difficult decisions to cut $30 million out of our City budget forced most departments to be cut by at lease one-third while we kept police and fire whole (with the exception of the academes) and even increased their budgets over the last four years.

To inherit what we did and yet keep the City viable so the economic turnaround could happen was a tremendous task.  Now economic experts say Tulsa is in full economic recovery and 2006 is going to see the best economic growth Tulsa has experienced in over a decade.  You only get there through leadership and we have done it and now great things are happening.  Unemployment was about 6.7 percent then and now it is less than 4 percent.

Question:  Next on Tulsa Today’s list of questions for all mayoral candidates is: Will you pledge not to lie, steal, cheat or hang with those who do?

LaFortune: Absolutely yes.  I have tried to make a career of that.

Question:  Why should we trust you in this important job at this important time?

LaFortune:  Because I have a proven track record of leadership and vision and effectiveness.  And you trusted me to guide the city through one of the worst economic downturns in the city’s history.  You trusted me to be the person who could lead an initiative to pass successfully – very successfully – a number of projects that have been needed by the city for decades, so that the city could remain competitive.  I think the passage rates of the initiatives I’ve led show a level of confidence in the leadership.  Vision 2025 ‑ in the city proper, my jurisdiction ‑ passed 62, 65 percent, larger than it did countywide.  And the GO bond had a huge percentage approval rate ‑ in the midst of a City Council issue that everyone was talking about.  Those passage rates, to me, show a level of confidence in my leadership, because as you know, the bottom line does come down to the mayor.  Some would say we did that with a large coalition.  Well, yes, we did – we couldn’t have passed it without a very strong coalition of Tulsa County and other city officials and the chambers across the county and the neighborhood associations and everybody else that got on board – but the bottom line came down to, can the mayor get this done or not?  I got it done.

Question:  Other criticisms of you, reflected in the City Council goal established for the economic development study, directs that study to look at the city proper.  Now, anyone who hasn’t had their dog eat their MBA should know that all money is regional, and that report, as it came back, spoke a little bit about Tulsa being a regional economy.  Do you feel it validated your position?

LaFortune:  Absolutely.  I do believe it’s important to have a city-specific strategic economic development plan, and it needs to dovetail with, for example, the Tulsa Metro Chamber’s Tulsa’s Future and with what’s going on with the county and with 4 to Fix – but any person who’s really studied the issue understands that you’ve got a metropolitan economy, and you’ve got a core city which has to do well, and you’ve got suburban communities that surround it whose wellness is directly related to the wellness of that core city.  Most of the leaders that I know in those communities fight for their communities, but they also understand that Tulsa itself, as a core city, has to do well.  That was the whole impetus of Vision 2025.  My position has always been that yes, I am the Mayor of Tulsa, and I care about the City of Tulsa first and foremost, but regional cooperation that benefits my city is something that I would be neglectful if I did not understand and pursue that cooperation.  I think regional cooperation should be a win-win for both sides.  Everybody benefited from Vision 2025 – and everybody gave up something, too.

Question:  Do you feel as though you’ve been caught between the good old boys who want to change nothing and the young Turks who want to change everything, with both groups ready to sink the boat just for their own respective advantage?

LaFortune:  I think there’s some of that.  It’s always of interest to me that we made certain pledges and commitments when we ran for office the first time, and we made it very clear that we intended to bring together the entire area and have a Vision and move forward with the process to get to an initiative that would benefit everyone – and then we did it.  And that whole concept was supported by the powers that be in this city and those who just wanted to see Tulsa move forward.  So, yes, I think there has been some of that, but I haven’t let it distract me.  Am I cognizant of it?  Yes.   Has it stopped me in terms of moving forward?  No.

Editor’s Note:
Tulsa Today will seek interviews with all the major candidates for the office of mayor for publication prior to the primary and again before the general election.

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 07 February 2006 )