Ready to work
As Mayor-elect G.T. Bynum prepares to take office, he readies his staff and aligns his priorities for Tulsa.
Mayor-elect G.T. Bynum says he gave himself one night to celebrate his June 28 election victory over incumbent Mayor Dewey Bartlett.
The celebration went into the early hours, but when he awoke at 5 a.m., Bynum was ready to go to work to be fully prepared when he’s sworn into office Dec. 5.
In reality, his work began immediately after accepting Bartlett’s phone call conceding the race. In the three weeks after the election, Bynum and his business partner went through the legal process for Bynum to leave Capitol Ventures, the consulting company he founded.
“I had said during the campaign that I’d be a full-time mayor and that starts with the transition,” Bynum explains. “This is a business I started on my own ... just two weeks after my daughter was born, so I’ve always thought in terms of watching her and it grow. It was a little bittersweet to leave it behind, but I’m just so excited to get into the mayor’s job. I’m leaving one good thing for another one.”
Bynum’s Tulsa roots run through the mayor’s office. His great-great grandfather, R.N. Bynum, was Tulsa’s second mayor. His grandfather, Robert J. LaFortune, served as mayor from 1970-1978, and his cousin, Bill LaFortune, served as mayor from 2002-2006.
Even Bynum’s current Philtower office has ties to the mayor’s office. Bynum says it was for many years occupied by Tulsa’s 30th mayor, James M. Hewgley Jr., who rented the space following his departure from the mayor’s office.
“This was his office for decades,” Bynum says. “It happened to be available, so we thought, ‘That’s good karma,’ because he was such a great man. We knew we could work out of his office for a few months and put us on a good path to City Hall.”
Bynum has spent a lot of time reading biographies of various presidents to learn how they handled their transitions into office. He jokes that there aren’t many books that provide insight into the transition from citizen to mayor. Because of the city charter’s change to non-partisan elections four years ago, there is a five-month gap between election and installation.
“I came across this great quote about (Abraham) Lincoln, where he referred to creating his staff after being elected as a constantly shifting crossword puzzle because one decision impacts all these others,” Bynum says. “As soon as you change that decision, it makes other things move around, which is definitely the case. The great thing about having so much time is it has allowed us to be very deliberate and very mindful with each ask and each hire.” (At press time, Bynum had hired 10 staff members. More on that on that later.)
When it comes to running the mayor’s office, Bynum is comfortable and ready to work on policies. He credits his time working in Sen. Don Nickles’ and Sen. Tom Coburn’s offices and his eight years on the city council in preparing him for that aspect of his job.
It’s the management of thousands of employees that is a big challenge for Bynum entering the mayor’s office. That’s why he reached out to a lot of CEOs from major companies in Tulsa for advice.
“Thankfully, all of them have been incredibly generous with their time and offering to provide me their advice on how you run an enterprise, how you make it a great place for the employees and how you stay focused on your mission.
“I’ve met with Chet Cadieux at QuikTrip, Steven Bradshaw at Bank of Oklahoma and Randy Foutch with Laredo and have a number of others to meet with. It has been incredibly helpful.”
As soon as Bynum and his team step into the mayor’s office, they will have a lot of work to do in a short amount of time. Bynum has met with all the former mayors since winning his election. He says the biggest piece of advice has been the same across the board.
“What I learned from all of them is your first 100 days are so important to set the tone for the whole administration, so we’ve spent a lot of time looking at things, “ Bynum says.
“We’re fortunate that I ran on a pretty specific agenda from a policy standpoint. I ran on making us nationally competitive, changing our relationship with the county, changing the way we work with the schools and doing more to make sure kids in north Tulsa have the same opportunities as kids in the rest of the city.”
It’s the last point that helped ignite Bynum’s urgency in running for mayor. A father of two, he says reading a report on the life expectancy of north Tulsa children was the catalyst in his decision to seek the mayor’s office.
“It was when I heard the life expectancy disparity between a kid that’s born in north Tulsa and a kid born in south Tulsa is 12 years,” Bynum says. “If you heard someone’s being robbed of 12 years of their life, that’s terrible.”
The obligation he feels to improve that statistic is rooted in more than just civic improvements.
“My first thought was, ‘What if those are my kids?’” Bynum asks. “The parents of those kids love their kids just as much as I do. Who is trying to help them? Who is doing their part to change that? They ought to have a mayor who’s doing everything possible to change that.”
Bynum says he has four years to do his best possible job. After that, he and his wife will decide whether he will run again and then leave it to the voters. During his campaign, Bynum said he would serve a max of two terms if all goes as planned.
“I have no idea what I’m going to do eight years from now,” Bynum says. “I didn’t have any idea eight years ago what I’d be doing right now. I didn’t know 18 months ago what I’d be doing right now.
“I didn’t run for this to climb a ladder. I ran for this because I love this city and I love the job of mayor. It’s a dream come true to have been elected. Now I want to be the best mayor of Tulsa. That’s my only focus, and you’ll see that in the work that we do.”
Brandon Oldham, mayor’s aide; Kimberly Madden, mayor’s executive aide; Michael Junk, deputy mayor; James Wagner, chief of performance strategy; G.T. Bynum; Jack Blair, chief of staff; Amy Brown, deputy chief of staff; Jonathan Townsend, assistant to the mayor for community development and policy; Christina Starzl Mendoza, assistant to the mayor for community development and policy; and Nick Doctor, chief of community development and policy.
All in a day’s work
Just because he hasn’t taken office yet doesn’t mean Bynum isn’t pounding the pavement. He describes a typical day in the life of a full-time dad and mayor-elect.
G.T. Bynum awakes and does household chores, reads the Tulsa World, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal before helping kids Annabel and Robert get ready for school.
Breakfast at Atlas Grill, then proactively tackling a mountain of work before the day’s meetings begin.
10 a.m.-3 p.m.
Meeting after meeting after meeting after meeting, most of the time in 30-minute increments.
Picks up kids from school.
Works from home while kids do homework.
Dinner, sports practices or school activities.
Kids go to bed. More working from home while wife Susan does law school homework.
Meet three of the mayor’s top staffers
Tulsa’s city charter allows the mayor to hire up to 17 at-will positions in his office. Mayor-elect G.T. Bynum says in reality the budget makes it possible for him to hire six to eight people to fill his staff. No one from the previous administration will remain on staff. Bynum says everyone did a great job, but there was a clear mandate for change in the election, so they will start with a clean slate.
Two positions, deputy mayor and chief of staff, were filled immediately since they would inform future hires. Bynum says all other positions were filled well before he becomes mayor so his team can immediately go to work.
To prepare for making his staff appointments, Bynum studied books about leaders, including Steve Jobs and a couple of highly successful coaches.
“When you think of successful leadership, you have to look at successful coaches,” Bynum says. “Both Bill Belichick and Mike Kryzewski, they don’t say, ‘Here’s my system, and I’m going to find people to fit. I need a square peg to fit in a square hole.’ They go and find the best players they can, and then they develop their system around them.
“I wanted to find the best people I could and figure out what job might work. We have visited with a number of people in that regard.”
Michael Junk, deputy mayor
Duties: Responsible for the City’s partnerships with federal, state and tribal governments.
Background: Manager for Bynum’s mayoral campaign; former state policy director for Sen. James Inhofe.
As soon as he received Bartlett’s concession, Bynum pulled Junk aside to ask him to be deputy mayor.
“It’s a role some mayors have used and others have not,” Bynum says. “In my mind, the use of it is really specific to his skill set, which is having someone that can go work with our federal delegation and our state government in leveraging other resources that are available to improve the City of Tulsa.”
Junk worked in the U.S. Senate for a decade in the offices of Sens. Tom Coburn and Jim Inhofe. “He also will be my other set of eyes and ears when commitments require my attendance in more than one place at a time,” Bynum adds.
Jack Blair, chief of staff
Duties: Working together, he and Deputy Chief of Staff Amy Brown will assist in the day-to-day administration of the City.
Background: Current policy administrator for the Tulsa City Council; previously worked as an assistant attorney general for the Muscogee Creek Nation.
Less than 24 hours after Bynum won, he called Blair to request a meeting before the next council meeting.
“Of course, classic Jack, he thought I wanted to meet with him to get research on what other people had budgeted in the mayor’s office, never thinking I wanted to ask him to come on board,” Bynum says. “So, I met with him and he had all this research put together, and I told him, ‘I think you and I have worked so well on the council, I can’t imagine being mayor without you on the team. I’d really like you to come be chief of staff.’ He very correctly wanted some time to talk to his wife about it and think about it. Then he said he was on board.”
Amy Brown, deputy chief of staff
Duties: In tandem with Blair, she will assist in day-to-day operations.
Background: Formerly Bynum’s aide on the Tulsa City Council; currently completing her law degree at the University of Tulsa; previously worked in Mayor Kathy Taylor’s administration.
“Amy brings an in-depth understanding of the City’s operations, its land use policies, its policy development processes and my thinking on virtually every area of City governance,” Bynum says.
On Nov. 6, Bynum announced the remainder of his team members: former Mayor Kathy Taylor, chief of economic development; James Wagner, chief of performance strategy and innovation; Nick Doctor, chief of community development and policy; Jonathan Townsend, assistant to the mayor for community development and policy; Christina Starzl Mendoza, assistant to the mayor for community development and policy; Kimberly Madden, mayor’s executive aide; and Brandon Oldham, mayor’s aide.