Tulsans Will Vote on Lifting Prohibition on Some Political Activites by City Employees

Aug 18, 2017

Credit Matt Trotter / KWGS

Tulsa city councilors are sending voters a ballot measure in November that would let municipal employees participate in city political campaigns.

"Out employees at the City of Tulsa are being treated in an inferior way to other citizens here in Tulsa, other Oklahomans and other public employees, and they deserve better," said Mayor G.T. Bynum, who has pushed for the proposed charter amendment.

Most city employees are currently barred from participating in campaigns for elected city officials, and the amendment changing that will go to voters this November despite concerns from city attorneys over its legality.

City Attorney David O’Meilia said he can’t sign off on the proposed charter amendment, but the council may still move forward with it.

"This is a discretionary thing with the council. You all have the authority to submit to the voters charter amendments which you find are necessary to the representative, efficient and economic administration of government," O'Meilia said.

The city council had until Aug. 30 to approve sending the measure to voters. Councilor Blake Ewing said he would rather get it on the November ballot than have to pay for a special election.

"And run the risk of it being challenged by a citizen, and our city's legal staff either being forced to awkwardly represent something that they advised against or to hire outside legal to defend the charter change," Ewing said.

Complicating matters was a memo O'Meilia sent stating his position on the proposal. Bynum took it to mean city attorneys, not the city council, have "legislative determination" to send charter amendments to voters.

The city attorney can't settle a dispute over his own legal opinion, so the city has asked the Oklahoma Attorney General's office to review the matter. Bynum didn't anticipate an opinion from them until after the deadline to submit ballot measures for November.

The proposed charter amendment also makes clear city employees can give their opinions at public meetings and that their political activities must be done off-duty and out of uniform.