County Commissioners Say Cooperation, Collaboration Key to Success
By D. J. MORROW INGRAM
VOTERS SAY YES! Tulsa County voters once again approved a “4-to-Fix-the-County??? proposition which provides funds to continue improvements to county facilities including Expo Square. Here County Commissioners Wilbert Collins, Randi Miller and Bob Dick celebrate the election results.
GTR Newspapers Photos
The question, “Can’t we all just get along?” has resonated through local government recently and the resounding answer from the County Commissioners is “absolutely.” GTR Newspapers sat down with Tulsa’s county commissioners recently to get their views on what’s happening in our community.
County Commissioner Randi Miller, a Tulsa native, has served two terms on the Tulsa County Commission representing District 2 and served two terms as a Tulsa city councilor where she served as chairman during her second term. She is in her fifth year as an elected official and is currently running for Mayor in the City of Tulsa.
“It is important we continue to work with the legislature, city commission and all local governmental entities,” Miller says. “The Tulsa area has a lot to offer but we must be ready to move forward when opportunities arise. That means we must all be on the same page.”
A key concern of Millers is the loss of jobs realized in the last two years.
“You can’t claim a ‘full economic recovery’ when people who once made annual salaries with six figures are now working $10 an hour jobs. It is imperative we work on bringing jobs to our area that pay well. Otherwise we are going to continue to see a ‘brain drain’ and we will not be able to keep our young professionals in the area.”
Miller advocates having someone on board that works full time to bring jobs to the area.
“We need someone who is working in conjunction with the Chamber, knocking on the doors of every potential employer who might bring these quality jobs to the Tulsa area.”
Another concern Miller cites is public safety and says a closer working relationship between the city and county might be the answer. Miller says she is proud to have been on the commission that brought the operation of the jail back to the sheriff. Additionally she said that while the jail was operated under contract with an outside vendor she worked hard to find ways to cut costs by negotiating with the Department of Corrections and found ways to lower costs related to the incarceration of those charged with misdemeanors.
“The Tulsa area has so much to offer—a relatively low cost of living, warm-hearted people, strong higher education, arts and culture —and all of the improvements Vision 2025 is bringing not only to the downtown area with the new arena but to all of the surrounding communities,” she says. “The county has done such a superb job of working closely with the public to make positive things happen. We need to extend that cooperation.”
County Commissioner Bob Dick attended Tulsa public schools and graduated from the University of Tulsa with a B.S. degree and later a law degree. He has been a public servant his entire career beginning with the Tulsa Police Force, from which he retired as Chief of Police in 1987 and later as Police and Fire Commissioner. He has held elected office since 1988, first as Police and Fire Commissioner and then as County Commissioner for District 3. He has served as chairman five times.
“As Tulsa goes, so goes the region,” Dick says, commenting on the importance of regional cooperation. “The passage of the new ‘4 to Fix the County’ reflects on how a good relationship between city and county leadership can work to get things done. We will always have friendly competition among the communities and some angst over issues such as water but those things work themselves out if you are all working together.”
As County Commissioner, Dick says he is proud that they [the commissioners] have been able to deliver on promises made to constituents and cited the improvements at Expo Square as a good example.
“In the early ‘90s we realized what poor conditions existed at Expo Square. We knew we had to do something or shut it down. We got to work and developed a Master Plan for the grounds and received tremendous response.”
The first ‘4 to Fix the County’ provided the funds to allow major renovations at Expo Square and it became a source of pride for citizens.
“We made it very clear to the citizens what would happen if they supported the ‘4-to-Fix-the-County’ propositions. The ballot message was concise and our promotion of it was very open. The result was the confidence of the voters the first time in 2000 and again in 2005.”
Dick praised the cooperative efforts of all involved in Vision 2025 and said he hoped voters would have patience with the progress.
“Any time you have projects as large as those funded by Vision 2025 you will have some lag time between the election and cranes in the air. We’ve already seen progress on some of the small projects around Tulsa County; now we are seeing definite progress on the arena.”
The development of the river will be the next major focus, he says.
“It has been critical we work with the Corps of Engineers because it is and always will be a river. We use it for flood control. But plans are progressing and I am enjoying the process.”
The most contentious issue the Commission has faced is the building of the bridge in south Tulsa/Jenks. Dick says he regrets the issue has become so divisive but it isn’t a new issue because the bridge is in the Master Plan for the area.
“It’s a matter of public safety,” he says. “If this particular bridge doesn’t work, another will.”
Finally, Dick says the area needs to find ways to make Tulsa a ‘cool’ place to work and live to attract and keep young professionals.
“I am thrilled to see a younger generation getting involved.”
County Commissioner Wilbert Collins is a native Tulsan who was first elected to public office in 1998 representing District 1. He is currently chairman of the Commission.
“Through regional cooperation we have been able to make improvements that affect the entire region,” Collins says. “If there is anything we can be proud of it is our ability to bring many parties to the table—the city, chamber, area residents—and work together on economic development and capital improvements. Both ‘4 to Fix the County’ votes demonstrate that better than anything else.
“That type of cooperation was rather unheard of when we forged the first proposition,” Collins says. “We were also able to bring Vision 2025 to success through the same type of collaboration. Voters want it, expect it and deserve it.”
Collins says there are many things going on in the Tulsa area that are great opportunities.
“Tulsa has begun to prosper again and people are beginning to see that it pays to invest in the area.”
The recent purchase of multiple downtown office buildings by a developer and the long-range plans for those buildings, the progress on the arena, and all of the progress being made by Vision 2025 is encouraging.
“What I enjoy most about being on the Commission is the ability to work with other leaders to figure out what needs to happen and then getting things done.”
Collins says the south Tulsa/Jenks bridge will continue to be a challenge.
“We may not have had as much input as we should have,” he says. “But the bridge has been on the Master Plan for a long time. For the safety, economic development and convenience of those living in the area we need to find a way to make a bridge happen.”
Collins says he will run again for office this year when his term is up.
“There is nothing better than having constituents come and say ‘thanks’. That is why I do it.”