Tulsa’s city manager seeks to calm City Hall’s storms.
Given its recent history, it’s easy to question how any sane person could want to jump head-first into the madcap world of Tulsa city government. But that is exactly what Tulsa City Manager Jim Twombly has done. And he couldn’t be happier to do it.
Since accepting the post in April 2011, Twombly has sought to be a unifying and calming force in a challenging political environment.
“I think a city manager’s role is to try to work with staff, citizens and elected officials to come to an understanding of how a city should go,” he says.
Before becoming Tulsa’s city manager, the St. Louis native cut his teeth down the Turner Turnpike in Oklahoma City’s city manager’s office, serving as an assistant to the city manager for five of his 12 years working for the city. Twombly says his experience in Oklahoma City provided him with a firm foundation from which to jump comfortably and effectively into his Tulsa position and cites former Oklahoma City City Manager Don Bown as his motivation for becoming a city manager himself.
Twombly’s passion for city government and civic service has even become something of a family industry. His son Chris recently accepted a position with the City of Austin.
Despite his enjoyment of his time in Oklahoma City and the wealth of knowledge he acquired there, Twombly eventually came to understand that being buried on the office’s depth chart stood between him and achieving his goal.
“I realized that I would have to go somewhere else if I wanted to be a city manager,” he says. “A number of people from that office went on to be city managers.”
Twombly’s position as Tulsa’s city manager represents something of a departure for a city government structure that has come to be defined by a strong, CEO-style mayor.
“I’m really in a hybrid position, you might say,” Twombly says, and adds that the introduction of a city manager into a mayor-led structure offers the opportunity to streamline and bring a higher degree of efficiency to the city’s operations. “I think (Tulsa) Mayor (Dewey) Bartlett recognized the need for a more unified organization and management” by fusing the traditionally divergent governing apparatuses.
Twombly says the civic awareness and activism of Tulsa’s citizens has been something of a surprise, mentioning citizen reaction to recent issues concerning the city’s trash collection service as an example. “I have never had the level of citizen concern that we have had here.”
It is that civic activism and effectively working with it that Twombly counts among the basic elements of his position, and he sees the combined forces of city government and citizen activism having an influence that reaches far beyond Tulsa’s city limits.
“We’re shaping the future of the whole northeast Oklahoma region,” he says.
In shaping that future, Twombly believes that maintaining open communication and a constant pursuit of consensus throughout all aspects of city government promises to lead the city and region in a positive direction.