Ten People We Watched in 2016
Newspapers annually highlights individuals predicted to be newsmakers. Here, we review the “10 People We Watched in 2016.”
G.T. Bynum will be sworn in as Tulsa’s 40th Mayor on Dec. 5. Bynum defeated incumbent Dewey Bartlett Jr. in June, where Bynum received more than 50 percent of votes.
“I ran for mayor because I didn’t feel like as a city we were challenging ourselves enough to progress,” says Bynum.
Bynum’s priorities upon entering office include working to reestablish Tulsa as a nationally-competitive city and strengthening the relationship between the City of Tulsa and Tulsa Public Schools.
Bynum served on the Tulsa City Council for the eight years leading up to his run for mayor. During that time, he focused largely on fiscal restraint, public safety and infrastructure. Among his achievements are helping to enact the largest streets improvement package in Tulsa’s history, serving as chairman of the Arkansas River Infrastructure Task Force from the time it was formed in 2013, and crafting budget amendments that put Tulsa Police Department helicopters back into service and doubled the number of police academies.
Kelly Dunkerley was elected Mayor of Jenks in April 2015.
With the opening of FlyingTee in June, local businesses have joined RiverWalk Crossing in the past months with more on their way, including Andolini’s Pizzeria and Maryn’s Taphouse and Raw Bar.
The city is also seeing new commercial projects, including Simon Premium Outlets, located south of the Creek Turnpike, to open in mid 2018; Thrive Apartments to open in January in downtown Jenks; the nearly completed Gateway Mortgage headquarters, which sits at Main Street and Highway 75 and will include a commercial center with shopping and a hotel; and the recently announced Jenks Crossing, a commercial and residential development near 111th Street and Highway 75.
Ground was broken in September for the Downtown Commons park in downtown Jenks, located on A Street between Second and Third streets. The property will feature a stage, green space and public restrooms. Its expected completion is early 2017.
Local restaurateur and Glenpool Vice Mayor Momodou Ceesay celebrated 20 years of Mamadou’s Restaurant in Glenpool in November.
In July, Ceesay opened Mamadou’s Restaurant and Sports Bar at 200 Civic Center in downtown Tulsa. The restaurant sits below 5th Street between the Aloft Tulsa Downtown hotel and the newly renovated Central Library at 5th Street and Denver Avenue.
Mamadou’s downtown is the host of the University of Tulsa’s Philip Montgomery Radio Call-In Show, held Monday nights, and the location for TU football away-game watch parties.
Ceesay has lived in Glenpool with his wife and four children since 2000. He came to Oklahoma from Gambia after being encouraged by his cousin who was recruited to play soccer at Rogers State College (now Rogers State University).
Ceesay served as Mayor of Glenpool from 2013-2015 and has served on the Glenpool City Council since 2012.
Jeffrey Dunn served as the 2016 chair of the Tulsa Regional Chamber. Dunn is a Jenks High School graduate and president of Mill Creek Lumber and Supply Company.
Dunn’s areas of focus as chair in 2016 consisted of addressing the state’s education crisis and the April Vision Tulsa vote.
The Vision Tulsa package, at a total of just under $885 million, was approved in April.
The package consisted of three propositions involving public safety, transportation and economic development. Dunn served on the Vision campaign’s steering committee.
Included in the economic development portion is $10 million allocated for Tulsa, Union and Jenks public schools to aid in teacher retention, recruitment and training efforts.
Dunn also played a significant role in maintaining Williams Companies headquartered in Tulsa, traveling with Governor Mary Fallin and Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett to meet with Williams representatives.
Dr. Deborah Gist took the helm as superintendent of Tulsa Public Schools in July 2015.
In January 2016, the school district officially approved a five-year strategic plan called Destination Excellence. Some of the changes instituted with the strategic plan are the use of new English language arts resources and literacy supports, innovative models for math classes at Clinton Middle School and Hale and McLain junior high schools, and the adoption of personalized blended learning at Memorial Junior High School and Whitman and McClure elementary schools.
In November, Gist met with area school districts and city officials regarding how to best use the $10 million of education funding included in Vision Tulsa’s Proposition 3. They proposed a new-teacher induction program and professional-development opportunities for all teachers.
Other district achievements in 2016 include implementing a new K-12 English language arts curriculum and launching two Tulsa Teacher Institutes in order to improve staff retention.
Daniel Regan served as Tulsa’s Young Professionals’ 2016 board chair.
Regan is a fourth generation Tulsan with a passion for cities’ urban cores. “I’ve always had a fascination with downtowns, so to be able to have some impact on downtown Tulsa is wonderful.”
Regan is also active in politics and the community, and he holds the role of vice president of downtown Tulsa’s largest commercial property management company, Kanbar Properties.
Regan’s areas of focus for 2016 were largely based around encouraging greater engagement of young voters under age 40 and ros’ 2016 Street Cred event. Street Cred is ros’ annual community redevelopment initiative.
Street Cred: 66 was held in April along Route 66, with the goal of emphasizing the need for transit and multi-modal options in that area.
Street Cred highlighted two of Tulsa’s transportation plans: the east-west Bus Rapid Transit () line, which will be funded through Vision Tulsa, and the GO Plan, Tulsa’s bicycle-pedestrian master plan.
Sherry Gamble-Smith joined the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce in 2014 and became its executive director in October 2015.
Gamble-Smith grew up in north Tulsa and graduated from Central High School. Her father had a church on Greenwood Avenue.
Over the past four years, the chamber has seen its membership grow from close to zero to over 100, with chamber leaders making an effort to reestablish its connection with city leaders, local foundations and the private sector, an effort that Gamble-Smith is continuing.
For example, the chamber hosted Juneteenth 2016, held June 16-19, which engaged a number of community groups and local businesses.
Beyond Juneteenth activities, the chamber has continued working to expand its offerings to its members and the public. Plans on the horizon include the revival of the chamber’s business planning classes and its business incubator, the start of legislative luncheons and membership mixers, increased partnerships with city groups and organizations, and the formation of a young professional group.
Michael Patton, a born-and-raised Tulsan, became executive director of Legacy Land Trust in May 2015 after 26 years of working for the City of Tulsa and then the M.E.T., 21 of those years as the M.E.T.’s executive director.
Patton has spent his professional years focused on benefiting nature through his recycling endeavors with the City of Tulsa and the Metropolitan Environmental Trust. His current role with Legacy Land Trust involves focusing on land preservation. A portion of Legacy’s efforts also revolve around the water treatment and maintenance of Tulsa’s watershed.
Patton joined Legacy with his own personal mission to encourage developers of urban areas to create green buffer zones along with their developments, because “green space matters,” Patton says.
Patton’s passion for parks and the outdoors runs so deep that he named his first child, Braden, after his favorite park, located at 5th Street and Yale Avenue.
“For some people, nature is just background scenery, but for me, it’s a conversation,” he says.
JAMES PEPPER HENRY
James Pepper Henry was named Gilcrease Museum’s Executive Director in March 2015.
Henry’s maternal grandmother is Muscogee (Creek) Indian, and his maternal grandfather is Kaw.
As soon as Henry entered his role, he began working towards the creation of a proposal to have Gilcrease Museum included in the Vision Tulsa package. The museum’s $65 million expansion project was added to Vision Tulsa’s Proposition 3, which passed in April.
The project will involve a general reconfiguration of the museum’s floorplan to create an improved visitor experience, expanded and more convenient parking, and the creation of a Grand Entry atrium that will serve as both an entrance into the museum and an event area.
Other planned additions include a casual cafe on the museum’s lower level, a 12,000-square-foot signature traveling space and an expanded children’s area.
“Gilcrease is Tulsa’s most valuable asset,” Henry says. “I want to see Gilcrease reach its full potential; our facility needs to match the prestige of our collection.”
In September 2015, Michael Spurgeon became Broken Arrow’s fifth city manager in 11 years.
When he came to Broken Arrow, he took the reins of a growing city that had recently hit 100,000 citizens and was in the midst of its downtown resurgence.
Two areas where Spurgeon feels that he was able to leave his mark in downtown were the construction of the downtown fountain, which opened in September, and the removal of the vacant Assembly of God Church at 305 N. Main St. in order to make way for redevelopment.
The city is also working on a future partnership with its business and education communities to create an innovation district that would include high-tech businesses, start-up companies, business incubators, and educational partnerships.
Among Spurgeon’s priorities after taking the helm was improving transparency. Some of the ways he has done that include providing online video recaps of city council meetings, publishing an annual financial report, and conducting phone and social media campaigns.