by James Wagner
From time to time I’m asked how everyday citizens can be involved with helping make Tulsa a better place to live. My role as a city planner requires me to be involved with many public meetings and the work to provide technical analysis and professional advice that inform the decisions made by elected officials or appointed boards. However, I often find that many of the people involved in decision-making are there as a result of who they know. Most often they’ve been appointed by an elected official (like a city councilor or mayor) who has selected them to serve in a position because they needed someone they knew and trusted to serve on that board. While there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that approach, it doesn’t always result in engaged citizens who have great interest or experience in the area in which they are serving. While it doesn’t take a lot of experience to serve on a board or commission, I think whoever serves should be someone who is at least interested in the topical area the board is addressing. So, I wanted to provide a few ways in which interested citizens can become engaged.
Join a group of advocates.
There are many advocacy groups in Tulsa. I’ll name a few here, but there are many more. These groups are usually formed initially around a single issue, but often broaden their scope to many areas of interest.
Get appointed to a board or commission.
The city of Tulsa and Tulsa County have lots of authorities, boards and commissions (some call this the ABCs of city government). These can be highly specialized boards like the Sales Tax Overview Committee or boards with big responsibilities like the Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority (the water/wastewater people) and the Tulsa Authority for the Recovery of Energy (the authority responsible for the city’s trash service). Here’s a list of some that I find rather interesting:
City of Tulsa Authorities, Boards and Commissions – this page will give you all you need to know about the city’s ABCs.
- Tulsa Housing Authority – oversees federal HUD funding for the city of Tulsa
- Transportation Advisory Board – Makes recommendations to city council and the mayor on issues relating to transportation, including roads, public transit, bicycle and pedestrian transportation, freight and air travel.
- Tulsa City/County Library Commission – sets the budget and policies of the Tulsa City/County Library system.
- Tulsa Development Authority – Promotes revitalization efforts around the city
- Tulsa Economic Development Corporation – Promotes projects that create jobs for low income Tulsans
- Metropolitan Tulsa Transit Authority – Oversees the city’s public bus service. Some really interesting things are on the horizon for Tulsa Transit, so this would be an interesting board to get involved with.
- Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (and other planning commissions) – Makes decisions about the city’s land development, including rezoning and long-term planning issues. If you don’t live in the city of Tulsa, each city (Bixby, Jenks, Owasso, etc.) has its own planning commissions and they’re always looking for fresh ideas and perspectives that represent the direction of the community. You can talk to a city councilor to ask to be appointed.
- Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee – this committee makes recommendations to the city of Tulsa and INCOG on
Serve on a nonprofit board.
For those that aren’t into the government scene as much, there’s hundreds of nonprofits that are always looking for board members with time to help make strategic decisions on the direction of the non-profit. This usually involves one meeting per month and the requirement that you help with fundraising efforts.
This group numbers 3,000+ members with work “crews” that focus on Urbanism, attracting young professionals (defined roughly as those under 40) to Tulsa, diversity and even sustainability. You start by being a member of a crew and move on to leadership if you’re interested. It’s a 3-year track to be on the Leadership Team and after you’ve done that you can even run for chair of TYPros, which is another 3 years ending with a spot on the Tulsa Regional Chamber Board. This isn’t just a bunch of young kids socializing. TYPros is a serious organization with serious goals to change how the city looks, works and plays.
Run for office.
For those who really want to jump in with both feet, there’s always the potential of running for elected office. There’s always a need for engaged, smart people on city councils and school boards. While this takes a bit more planning and probably a lot of time talking to and getting to know constituents, those with the time to dedicate to it may find that it’s a rewarding (even if not financially) way to shape the future of Tulsa.
While these are just a few ways you can jump in, there are of course many others. The movers and shakers in Tulsa are always looking for more people to join the ranks to help move forward. Don’t be afraid to attend a meeting and figure out what you can do.
James Wagner is the Principal Transportation Planner at INCOG, the Tulsa metro’s transportation planning agency responsible for auto, transit, bicycle and pedestrian planning.