Mayor’s Roundtable: Moral dilemmas, inequality pepper talks

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COMMENTARY

The two best things about the latest Mayor’s Development Roundtable included:

  • unexpected glimpses into today’s moral quandaries
  • and an acknowledgment of the challenges of overcoming inequality.

Tulsa’s Mayor G.T. Bynum began the program by focusing on the “moral dilemmas” we face. In times like these – when Tulsans are wrestling with the once-suppressed 1921 Tulsa massacre and the naming of the Brady Arts District after a Ku Klux Klan member – we must build welcoming public places that bring all types of people together.

Give recovering addicts a chance

The roundtable has long featured seven-minute “lightning rounds” where entrepreneurs share updates on notable economic and cultural projects. As Gary Brooks of Cornerstone Development concluded his rapid-fire, multimedia presentation on the $230 million remodeling of the old First National Bank, he broke the rules and said he would take an extra minute to make a different sales pitch.

Brooks had reported on the excellence of workers from OKC Metro Alliance’s Firstep recovery center, a long-term work-placement program for those recovering from substance abuse. Saying that he had a voice loud enough to be heard over the music that marks the conclusion of the lightning rounds, Brooks challenged business people to emulate First National’s redevelopment efforts and hire 100 Firstep workers. If companies have “stupid rules” that prevent the hiring of these people, who are overcoming great challenges, those regulations should be thrown out.

Author Nowak: OKC a ‘hub of innovation’

The next keynote speaker, Jeremy Nowak of the Brookings Institute, also began by noting the way that Trumpism informed his research. When writing their new book, The New Localism: How Cities Can Thrive in the Age of Populism, Nowak and co-author Bruce Katz consciously addressed the dangerous backlash against the dramatic structural shifts in the world’s economy that contributed to the Trump presidency and Brexit.

Nowak proclaimed, “Everything has changed,” and the failure of federal and state governments to respond to disruptive change has led to frightening popular backlashes. If you want to be optimistic, however, Nowak says, “Come to places like Oklahoma City.”

According to Nowak, OKC is emerging as one of the “hubs of innovation” transforming urban America. He quoted Matthew Taylor of the U.K.’s Royal Society, who said cities like us must, “Think like a system and act like an entrepreneur.”

Mayor to Mayor-elect

This was gubernatorial candidate and OKC Mayor Mick Cornett’s last roundtable, and he and Mayor-elect David Holt engaged in a conversation about our city’s future — a future in which 60 percent of kids are members of minority groups. As Holt noted, “We have every opportunity to fall apart” as this future nears, and that is why Holt’s One OKC must focus on unity.

Holt correctly said that MAPS for Kids has run its course, and there needs to be a refocus on school improvement. He called for the city to play a greater role in education. Quiet discussions about contributions that the city could make have increased after city councilman David Greenwell suggested a radical reform of school governance. (I believe Greenwell’s original idea could have been extremely divisive, dangerous and a recipe for increased segregation, but he and others are now pursuing a much more realistic and productive path to school improvement.) I hope any discussions of school reform will be as candid and evidence-based as the mayor’s roundtables have been.

Maybe Holt should invite Nowak to return to OKC, and, along with the renowned education scholars who advised MAPS for Kids, they could facilitate an open community discussion on partnerships between the city, OKCPS, the dynamic leaders who attend the mayor’s roundtables and our community’s diverse families.