Mayor G.T. Bynum claims to be a homebody, but his 2018 travel schedule says otherwise.
Bynum took 16 out-of-state trips this year. He visited New York City and Washington, D.C., five times each, took part in the annual Farnborough International Airshow in England and spent a week in November crisscrossing the country to speak at conferences in Charlotte, North Carolina; Washington, D.C.; and Los Angeles.
“I don’t like going on trips,” the mayor said. “But I have found this in my own business before, and I certainly feel this as mayor now: You have to be selling your product. You can’t hope that other people are just going to find out about it.
“We have a lot of special things happening in Tulsa right now, but somebody has to be out there making sure the world knows about it, and I think I have a responsibility to do that.”
Taxpayers made out well in the deal. Eleven of the mayor’s 16 out-of-state trips were donated at no cost to the city. The other five cost approximately $6,000 and were paid out of the Mayor’s Office travel and training budget, which is funded through a private grant and city funds.
The Mayor’s Office travel and training budget for this fiscal year, which began July 1, is $62,480 and covers training and travel for Bynum and other office staff. So far this fiscal year, about 51 percent of the budget has been expended.
Bynum said he typically declines speaking engagements if the city has to foot the bill.
“If someone wants to pay for us to go and share what we are doing in Tulsa, then I am going to take that opportunity almost every time,” Bynum said.
The mayor’s 2018 travel schedule included trips that have become annual rituals for the city’s top elected official: the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C.; the Tulsa Regional Chamber Intercity Visit (this year to Columbus, Ohio); and the airshow.
Bynum did not attend the Farnborough airshow in his first year in office, and he was skeptical about its potential benefit to the city. Then he went.
“It was an eye-opener,” he said. “They work you like a dog at that trade show. It was meeting after meeting after meeting after meeting, from sun up until sun down.”
The benefit of the trip for the city, Bynum said, is that he was able to meet face-to-face with the CEOs of the world’s largest aerospace companies, including those doing work in Tulsa. To make those same in-person contacts would require weeks of travel all over the world, the mayor said.
“So to go to that (airshow) and to talk about our commitment locally to developing the workforce and facilities we need to thrive was very important,” Bynum said. “The Spirit (AeroSystems job) announcement that was made … we discussed that in a meeting that the governor and I had with Spirit’s leadership back at the airshow.”
Bynum believes much of his travel this year stemmed from the attention Tulsa garnered in May when it was one of three cities worldwide to win the Cities of Service Engaged Cities award at a ceremony in New York City.
The city was recognized for The Urban Data Pioneers program, which brings city employees and the public together to find data-driven solutions to local problems.
“Before we won that, I don’t think people really realized what we were doing in Tulsa and the international significance of how we were using data to innovate and to empower both people throughout our organization but also people at the city,” Bynum said. “… Suddenly that put Tulsa on the radar for a lot of other organizations that became very interested in what we were doing and wanted to know more about it, and that is what led to so many of those other invitations.”
Another factor leading to the mayor’s busy 2018 travel schedule was a 2017 trip to Paris, where he attended the CityLab conferences put on by The Aspen Institute and Bloomberg Philanthropies.
The conference, which brings together mayors from around the world to meet with urban experts, artists and business leaders, helped establish a relationship between the city of Tulsa and Bloomberg Philanthropies that continues today.
“Our mere presence at CityLab did not lead to further work with Bloomberg Philanthropies,” the mayor said. “It was that we had a mutual goal of making cities more data driven.”
In July, Bynum attended the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative in New York City, and the city has benefited from Harvard’s expertise in reforming its animal welfare system.
Bynum noted that previous mayors, including his grandfather, Robert LaFortune, never had access to the kinds of training and best practices organizations such as Bloomberg Philanthropies provide today.
“When my grandfather was mayor back in the ’70s, he would go to the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting once a year, and that was about it,” Bynum said.
Times have changed, and so have the demands on a mayor’s schedule. So even a homebody like Bynum finds it necessary to get on a plane and go whenever there is an opportunity to sell the city — and someone else is willing to foot the bill.
“If I never had to get on another airplane for the rest of my life, I would be a happy guy,” he said.