By G.T. BYNUM
Mayor of Tulsa
As we look ahead toward 2021, it’s important to look back at 2020.
A roaring pandemic hasn’t stopped our goal to make Tulsa a globally competitive, world-class city, and the work that was put in over the past year in the midst of these unprecedented times has been remarkable.
2020 started off on a high note in February when American Airlines announced they were investing $550 million into its Tulsa Maintenance Base; the single-largest capital investment in Tulsa’s history.
A few weeks later in March, we were quickly thrown into responding to COVID-19. We responded early on with a Safer at Home order to give our hospitals enough time to get the personnel and personal protective equipment they needed so they wouldn’t be overwhelmed. Around that same time, we instituted a hiring and travel freeze at the city, and in May, we made the difficult decision to institute furloughs for city employees so we could bridge the budget deficit.
The summer of 2020 was one of the most trying and historic times in Tulsa’s history. June 29, 2020, will forever be a day to remember in Tulsa, as Tulsa Police Sergeant Craig Johnson was shot in the line of duty following a traffic stop, passing away the following day. Officer Aurash Zarkeshan, who accompanied Sergeant Johnson and was critically wounded in the same incident, showed courage and strength over the course of the next few months in his recovery. Officer Zarkeshan is now back on light duty, and from here on out, October 15 will be known as Officer Aurash Zarkeshan Day in Tulsa.
Over the summer, we also conducted our first test excavation for potential mass graves from the 1921 Race Massacre at Oaklawn Cemetery. Then in October, we went back to Oaklawn to conduct our second test excavation, which yielded the finding of more than 11 coffins in a single grave shaft, which is consistent with a mass grave. Our work to uncover what happened in 1921 continues as we approach the 1921 Race Massacre Centennial in 2021.
In July, Tulsa was the first city in the metro to pass a mask mandate to help slow the spread of COVID-19. The mandate worked, as many municipalities without such mandates showed higher rates of infection. I’m thankful for the Tulsa City Council’s broad support of that measure, and for the amendments they made to the mandate to continue to support public health as our battle against COVID-19 continues into the new year.
In 2020, even in the midst of the pandemic, we hired new police and fire chiefs, broke a city record by completing $320 million in street projects while bidding out nearly $240 million in capital construction projects, hosted Oklahoma’s first drive-in naturalization ceremony at Tulsa’s historic Admiral Twin Drive-In theater, broke ground on the Zink Dam modification project to create a lake in the Arkansas River, competed at the highest levels when we tried to attract Tesla’s new Cybertruck Gigafactory, used CARES Act funds to help with Tulsa’s COVID-19 recovery, and so much more.
Lastly, I want to thank all of the Tulsans who supported me in my second mayoral campaign in 2020. I’m honored to serve Tulsa for the next four years in this capacity, which has truly been one of the largest joys of my life.
I invite you to read my 2020 Annual Report, which is available at www.cityoftulsa.org/Mayor.