In the second exclusive interview with candidates for mayor, Tulsa Today spoke with former-Councilor Bill Christiansen at his business offices at Riverside Airport. Christiansen has served for ten years on the City Council under four mayors and now seeks the top job for the City of Tulsa.
Question: What was the inspiration for you to run for Mayor?
Question: What was the inspiration for you to run for Mayor?
Christiansen: Being on the City Council for ten years and experiencing a myriad of different events and situations where I felt; golly, if I was lucky enough to be mayor, I would do things differently.
Question: Would you change the relationship between the Council and the mayor’s office?
Christiansen: Not at all. I think that if you have a person in the mayor’s office that is a leader that can build relationships in a positive way like I did on the Council then it is a good system. But if the person in the mayor’s office thinks they are the boss of the city and not the leader of the city then the mayor/council form of government that we have in Tulsa today can get bogged down. If the guy or gal in the mayor’s office handles it properly and builds good relationships with the nine councilors – obviously, not everyone will agree all the time, but if you are respectful and communicate well, I believe it works.
Question: You have featured concerns about public safety in your campaign, how would you make Tulsa more secure and safe?
Christiansen: The first thing I would do is hire more police officers. The second is to roll my sleeves up and get the 911 center to be more efficient. There are a lot of stories that when people call 911, they get put on hold. I think that is unacceptable and it has been going on for a number of years now.
When I was on the Council, I headed a task force that came out with recommendations from experts we brought in that suggested improvements, but it is still bad. More police officers and a more responsive 911 call center would go a long way.
Let me give you an example. Right now the three police substations are only open Monday through Friday from 8 am to 4 pm. They used to be open 24/7. They are designated as “safe place” locations. So someone may go to a “safe place” and it is closed. I think it is prioritizing different things and, admittedly, different administrations have different priorities.
It gets back to working with other elected officials to let them know what your priorities are and to listen to their priorities and to come to some agreement.
Question: The second part of any proposal to do something for Tulsa is how are you going to fund the program? You have served on the Council under mayors LaFortune, Taylor, and Bartlett and the city has gone through dramatic reductions in sales tax receipts because of downturns in the economy so, if you are going to increase staff hours at police substations, how are you going to pay for it?
Christiansen: The first thing is that I am going to lead by example. I’m not going to pay my mayoral staff tremendous salaries. I have already made the pledge that nobody in my office will make more than the mayor. Currently under the Bartlett Administration, there are several people on his staff that are making a LOT of money. The people who go to work for me are not going to be in it to be wealthy; they are going to be in it to give back to the community. So the first thing I am going to do is to lead by example and probably not use the entire budget the mayor’s office is allowed.
I saw this morning that the mayor has a hiring freeze. All of a sudden, we have a shortfall. Correct me if I am wrong, but it was less than 90 days ago that he gave the public information guy, Lloyd Wright, a significant pay increase. I find that ironic because as the mayor you are supposed to lead by example and set good examples. It would be like me coming to my employees and saying they must suffer pay cuts or insurance benefits because things are really rough. Then the next day I drive up to work in a new car – it just doesn’t work.
Question: But you said before the interview that you didn’t want to do any mudslinging so answer how you are going to fund increased police protection?
Christiansen: I am going to go from department to department and I believe there are a lot of funded unfilled positions in different departments. I am going to look at overtime expense because the police are in a record year for overtime because we don’t have enough officers. I am not going to spend a million dollars to have someone come in and do a study because we have good employees that can do a lot of that internally. I will find the money to have that police academy and to do the things I need to do for public safety, but first and foremost I am going to gain the support of the employees because I am going to lead by example. I also will base my review of city government on the zero based budgeting standards.
I’m not criticizing Mayor Bartlett for his hiring freeze; I am criticizing him for giving an employee a raise when that individual was already making a reasonable salary.
Question: The KPMG study that analyzed Tulsa’s city government is being implemented so are you saying that you will continue with that guideline or that the employees can do a better job than what was done?
Christiansen: I’m saying I will not do any new studies. Certainly if we have a study on the table, I would be a fool not to look at it, but I would use city employees to analyze it.
Question: So are city employees not analyzing the KPMG recommendations?
Christiansen: I’m not down there anymore. I hear they are participating. Golly, it is taking a long time to implement the KPMG recommendations.
The [Bartlett] administration has an office dedicated to management review and when they go to a specific department to look at changes, they consult employees. You have to remember that KPMG study was finished in 2010. It appears that it is taking a longer time than I thought it would to make those changes. The Bartlett chief of staff at the time suggested these changes would happen much faster.
Question: The Chamber of Commerce in Tulsa has been the contracted agent for economic development for decades. Do you, after ten years as city councilor, believe that they are a good contractor and has the job been well done.
Christiansen: Now that the “Metro” Chamber has become the “Regional” Chamber, I think it is important to make sure the regional expense is not being done on the backs of the Citizens of Tulsa. They get money from the Hotel/Motel Tax for the Convention and Visitors Bureau and they have been using that money to market everywhere in the Northeastern [Oklahoma] region. But I do say to you that they have a program now that is reaching out to the region to gather money for the effort from a broader base. As long as everyone else is paying their fair share to the Chamber for such services, I think I can live with that.
There are some other things for economic development that I have in mind that could be done to capitalize on the other areas of the country that are increasingly unfriendly to business. California is a very good example – between state and federal taxes, some are paying 75 percent or more.
The City of Tulsa needs boots on the ground selling the greatness of the citizens of Tulsa, the educational system, the climate, the low cost of living, etc. We need to do a better job of targeting small and large businesses in other areas of the country that are no longer business friendly whether it is from taxation or regulation. I don’t think we are tooting our horn loud enough right now. That is what I would do as mayor.
Question: How would you do that? Hire more people? Do that solicitation yourself or push the Chamber to do more? You have been a counselor with opportunity to review reports and make public statements so what would you do differently?
Christiansen: I would do all three. I would be a very proactive mayor in selling Tulsa. I would work with the Chamber in their efforts. But I say to you, we need more boots on the ground whether it is a contractor or a city employee or whatever.
During my last two years on the Council, someone suggested we needed a retail development specialist on staff – going out to national chains to invite them to add locations in Tulsa. We need to be out shaking the bushes for businesses that could come to Tulsa. I went to the Chamber and they said, “We don’t do that.” So I, with relationship building with eight other councilors and the mayor, got $100,000 and the mayor implemented a retail development specialist office within the City of Tulsa. From what I hear, it has been very successful.
So I think you have to give the Chamber the opportunity to do it, but if there is reluctance and we think it is a good thing to do then we need to do it. I would love to have someone in my administration that would be responsible for marketing Tulsa.
Question: What are the major differences that set you apart from the other major contenders in this race for Mayor?
Christiansen: The biggest difference is that I want to be the leader of the city rather than the boss. I believe the latest two administrations have not listened to the citizens’ thoughts and ideas as much as I will. I want to be the leader. I want to come up with an idea and then take it to the citizens and market it to them and gain their support and gain the other elected officials’ support. The difference between a leader and a boss will be really evident. I think I was a leader on the Council in that when I came up with an idea, I was able to, through relationship building, talk with the other Councilors. We may change some things and make compromises, but we would get the job done.
I did the “take home” policy change on city vehicles many years ago that began as a big idea, but ended up with a smaller idea, but got it passed by the council and implemented by then-mayor Bill LaFortune. That one idea has saved millions of Tulsa tax dollars in the years it has been on the books.
The other thing is that I will take my responsibility to represent all the citizens of Tulsa very seriously in key issues that have a direct impact. For example; the TARE Board and with trash disputes, I had a citizen stand at a recent meeting and say that everyone in the city was involved in the change of trash services except Mayor Bartlett. He has a seat on the TARE Board, but sends a surrogate. I’m not going to do that. I will occupy my seat on the TARE Board and on TMUA – whether you agree with what chemicals or the other are used to purify the water or not, but I will be in those meetings. This mayor has elected not to attend those meetings or at least the majority of them.
The third thing I will do is maintain the confidence of the citizens of Tulsa when it comes to making sure their money is spent properly. Another example of that problem is EMSA; the mayor has a seat on that board but sends a surrogate. There have been multiple reports of lavish expense if not waste.
I will be there for the citizens on issues that affect them. That is what sets me apart from the other two major candidates because they have established themselves as “boss” types and I am not going to be that type of mayor.