After only 10½ months on the job, Chamber of Commerce President Kyle Smith is leaving the position, he said Friday.
“My departure was not a planned departure,” Smith said. “There was a clash of circumstances that I became faced with, and I had to make a decision from an integrity standpoint and for the person of Kyle Smith, both from a personal standpoint and as a professional.”
Smith was a project director for Workforce Tulsa before taking the Sand Springs chamber’s helm last June. He was hired by the chamber’s Board of Directors in a unanimous vote, reports show.
Brent Kellogg, now the chairman of the board, said he is “sad to see Kyle go. He has been very good for me and he has done some great work for the Sand Springs chamber.”
Kellogg said Friday that the chamber will post the job opening within a week and will begin accepting applicants soon.
He said a selection committee will make recommendations to the Board of Directors, which will then vote on a candidate.
Smith, who is originally from Chicago and also worked in Detroit before landing in Tulsa, said he hopes to stay in the area, although he does not have another job lined up yet.
“I love Tulsa. I love Sand Springs,” he said. “Being newly engaged, I was thinking of moving to Sand Springs. But at this point, I just need to reevaluate.
“At this point I’m not planning to leave the area. If I could find something here, that’s definitely the ideal choice.”
Despite data showing that Smith brought 11 new members to the chamber in his first eight months on the job, he said his proudest accomplishment during his time in Sand Springs “is really just getting to know the people. I remember walking into meetings and not knowing anyone … to now feeling like I have forged real bonds with” the leaders of the city.
“It has been great just being a part of that organic growth.”
The chamber under Smith’s leadership also saw its largest fundraiser on record.
Last year’s annual golf tournament, held Oct. 2 at the newly renovated Canyons at Blackjack Ridge Golf Course, featured 36 foursomes and grossed $25,000, which Smith told the Sand Springs Leader in February was nearly double the previous year’s gross income.
Smith said his biggest challenge has been “building an infrastructure for the chamber that we could use to track and communicate more efficiently with our members.”
He said he had begun “to shift the culture in the chamber to less of an exclusive membership.”
He cited a community networking event on Thursday night sponsored by TTCU and held at Bright Morning Farm “that brought so many people from outside of Sand Springs to the city.”
Asked whether community buy-in was an issue, Smith responded that “membership buy-in was an issue. Members said they had been with the chamber for years or decades and had never had any communication (from the chamber) except when it was time to renew” their membership.
Then, “when you run up against something like the pandemic,” he added, “you have to ask yourself, ‘Is this (membership) a need or a want?’”
Inevitably, some members’ bottom lines were so impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic that they canceled their memberships.
Nevertheless, Smith strikes a positive tone about the city.
“I think Sand Springs is on the right track,” he said. “I know there are some people who want to pull and some people who want to push. But if Sand Springs continues to be on the same page while embracing diversity — diversity of all kinds — we will be better for it.
“I still believe it’s a hidden gem.”
Smith said the city is “poised to grow. I wish I was going to be there to be along for the ride.”
“I’m appreciative to the city of Sand Springs for embracing me,” he added. “I’ve grown a lot since I’ve been here. I’m a better person and a better professional today because of Sand Springs, and I appreciate that.”
Kellogg, meanwhile, said he is hopeful that the process of finding a successor to Smith can move quickly.
“There are a lot of exciting things going on in Sand Springs,” he said. “We want to make sure the Chamber of Commerce is fully resourced and ready to help facilitate all of our members in the best way possible.”
Kellogg said Smith “has been great to work with. Kyle brought many new perspectives and ideas to the Chamber of Commerce.”
“In his tenure, he connected us with some great new partnerships we hope to continue,” he said. “He has represented the Sand Springs Chamber of Commerce very well over these past months.”
Kellogg said Smith also made great strides in improving the chamber’s internal infrastructure and processes.
“We recognize life is full of seasons and transitions,” he said. We are very grateful for the season that Kyle Smith served the Sand Springs Chamber of Commerce, and we are certain Kyle will find success in his next ventures.”
Kellogg said potential applicants for the position of president of the Sand Springs Chamber of Commerce should email a resume to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sand Springs’ new police chief is also one of its newest residents.
Police Chief John Mars — who was officially sworn in at Monday night’s City Council meeting — closed on a house in the city earlier that day.
“As police chief, it’s very advantageous — I guess the word is necessary — to live in the community you serve,” Mars said last week.
Originally from the Chicago area, Mars and his wife raised their two daughters in a different Tulsa suburb: Jenks.
“Our kids went to Jenks (schools), so we wanted to remain there. We didn’t want to uproot them,” he said.
But now, with one daughter married and living in Illinois and the other attending college at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, “we went ahead and sold the house,” he said.
“It was a natural fit for timing and necessity.”
Don’t expect Mars to need a map to get around town, though. This year marks his 30th on the Sand Springs police force.
He joined the department in 1991 and was promoted to lieutenant in 1996. By 2007, he had advanced to captain of the Patrol Division, and in 2016, he became the Police Department’s deputy chief.
His first official day as chief was March 8.
“I am very pleased and accepting of this great opportunity to serve our citizens of Sand Springs,” Mars said Thursday. “When you have the opportunity to serve your community, the more you want to continue.
“As I moved up through the ranks, the more I moved up, the more people I was able to reach,” he said. “That gives me a better opportunity.”
Mars said he sees a kind of symbiosis in how the Police Department and community interact.
“The community supports us,” he said. “Sitting here in a new building that the citizens of Sand Springs made sure we had — they raised the funds.
“Some areas of the country don’t have it like we do here in Sand Springs,” he added. “We are very fortunate.”
And what do residents get in return? Mars said he believes they get dignity, respect and transparency.
“We’re very specific about what we do here in the department and about keeping our public informed,” he said. “We want that transparency. Our policies are published openly on the web.”
He added, “Here in Sand Springs, our Police Department culture is based on value and behavior. … People find safety in relationships. We’re going to have a good relationship with our community. It’s our culture.
“And regardless of the circumstances, people are going to get the same dignity and respect from our Police Department.”
Mars points to protests across the country demanding accountability from law enforcement in regard to interactions with people, especially people of color, as an area where transparency and respect can go a long way toward stopping problems before they start.
“We didn’t have that so much here in Sand Springs,” he said. “And I think part of that is based in how we do our community policing and how we keep our citizens informed about what’s going on over here in the Police Department.”
Mars has no intention of trying to fix what isn’t broken.
City Manager Mike Carter, who preceded Mars as police chief, “put into effect a very good community policing program here in Sand Springs,” Mars said. “So we have that strength and strong culture, and that is intact, and we’re going to maintain the strength of those programs.”
That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have some ideas for progress.
Mars is moving forward quickly with an effort to seek accreditation for the Police Department through an Oklahoma Association of Chiefs of Police program called OLEAP, or the Oklahoma Law Enforcement Accreditation Program.
The program gives law enforcement agencies in the state a path to demonstrate that they meet commonly accepted minimum standards and best practices for efficient and effective operations.
The program is endorsed by the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training, or CLEET, as well as the Oklahoma Municipal League. Since its inception in 2001, 16 agencies have been accredited and five more have been certified.
Mars said the Police Department will begin the on-site part of the process in June, when a review team “will come in and take a look at our operation, our policies, … everything. Property storage is really big with these folks, and this new facility has improved that” for the Police Department.
“We have a history of very good chiefs who have been very innovative and brought us to where we are today,” Mars said. There are two sides to that for me: ‘Oh, my gosh — how am I going to fill those shoes?’ But also, ‘Oh, my gosh — I have learned so much from them.’”
Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been granted in the Tulsa World Media Co.’s third local business stimulus program aimed at helping companies succeed in our rapidly evolving economic environment.
The program is available to locally owned and operated businesses and provides matching advertising credits for use in print and digital products, as well as the Tulsa World’s broad suite of digital services, such as website design, text marketing and managed email marketing.
Lee Enterprises, which owns the Tulsa World Media Co., provides news, information and advertising in 77 markets and has this program available in each one.
Up to $5 million is available to local businesses through monthly grants ranging from $250 to $15,000. The grants will be awarded in April, May and June.
“We appreciate those businesses who have reached out to us so we can provide much needed marketing grants,” said Bernie Heller, president and director of local sales for Tulsa World Media Co.
“We’ve designed this local business stimulus program to meet the need of our local businesses so they don’t just recover but thrive in today’s business climate.”
Heller said the program can help a local business trying to serve and connect with customers in new ways.
“Tulsa World Media Company is a full service digital agency, designed specifically to serve our local business owners,” he said. “We are the leader in local content, marketing and advertising.
“With this program, one of our strategists can help work on a plan that best fits your business as things start opening up. The time is now to plan for this new world we are living in.”
To apply, businesses should visit tulsaworld.com/pages/local-business-stimulus.html.
Legislation that would allow for the creation of so-called public safety districts to help municipalities fund police, fire and emergency medical services through property taxes was signed into law by Gov. Kevin Stitt on Monday.
And area municipal leaders are praising not only the measure but also Rep. Jadine Nollan, R-Sand Springs, for her role in helping to shepherd it through the Legislature.
Senate Bill 838, the “Oklahoma Public Safety Protection District Act,” has long been sought by leaders in Tulsa and Oklahoma City.
The bill will allow municipalities, with a 60% vote of the people, to impose a property tax assessment of as much as 5 mills, or $5 per $1,000 in assessed value, for public safety purposes.
Proceeds from the assessments — which are being called “fees” — could be used only for police, fire and emergency medical services.
This will be the first time in many decades that Oklahoma municipalities can access property taxes for operating expenses.
The legislation aims to relieve budget pressure on municipalities, which depend almost entirely on sales- and use-tax revenue for operations.
In many communities, those taxes are not keeping up with inflation.
A provision in the measure expressly excludes such assessments on agricultural and industrial property, and the public safety districts will be confined to municipal corporate limits.
Unlike in other states, Oklahoma cities and towns may access property tax revenue only for sinking funds used to pay off bond issues and other debts but not for regular operating expenses.
“I am very thankful for the efforts of Rep. Nollan for sponsoring the public safety districts bill,” Sand Springs City Manager Mike Carter, who was the city’s police chief for six years before assuming the city manager’s helm in March, told the Sand Springs Leader on Thursday.
“She continues to show herself to be a great leader who has always looked to put the safety and welfare of our citizens as a top priority,” he said. “At a time in our country where we need to make sure that we are able to hire the best public servants we can, this bill will allow communities to determine the level of service that they want to see.
“I have full faith that our governor will also be a champion of public safety by signing this into law,” Carter said last week.
Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum also singled out Nollan for praise in a Facebook post last Wednesday morning.
“For decades, police officers and firefighters in communities across Oklahoma have been reliant on one source of revenue — sales tax — for their livelihoods,” Bynum wrote.
“When the economy was in a downward cycle and people spent less, the people who protect our communities would have their jobs endangered. Yet, every business that lasts knows you need diversified revenue to avoid that very situation with your own company.”
Bynum called the bill’s passage through the state House and Senate “a historic step” toward changing that situation.
He added: “I am so thankful for the bipartisan coalition of legislators in the Oklahoma House of Representatives who passed legislation that will allow local communities to decide for themselves if they want to diversify the revenue their first responders rely upon for their jobs. …
“We have been working toward this day for years, and in particular I want to thank State Representative Jadine Nollan, who led the charge and never gave up. As she told me last night, knowing that this could help protect the jobs of first responders and give their families some peace of mind made all the work worth it.”
Nollan told the Sand Springs Leader on Thursday that she is “grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of this team effort of supporting firefighters and emergency medical first responders, as well as police.”
“Oklahoma is the only state in the nation which funds public safety solely with funding from sales tax,” she said. “State sales-tax revenue is the most volatile revenue stream in our state. When it’s good, it’s good. When it’s bad, it’s really bad.
“This legislation will offer voters within a municipality the opportunity to vote whether to diversify and better stabilize funding for public safety,” Nollan said. “The goal is to ensure safe schools and safe neighborhoods, as well as to attract better economic development opportunities.
“I appreciate the kind words from City Manager Carter and Mayor Bynum and all of the organizations and individuals that worked with us to get this legislation passed.”