Tulsa Firefighters Ask Federal Judge For Right To Campaign In City Elections

Thursday, July 28th 2011, 11:53 am

By: News On 6

Ashli Sims, News On 6

TULSA, Oklahoma -- The Tulsa Fire Department union representatives asked a federal judge to force the city to allow them to campaign for candidates in city elections.

The firefighter union says Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett is violating their first amendment rights with an executive order saying they cannot actively campaign for city-elected positions even while they're off duty and not wearing a uniform.

"We've been involved in elections in the city of Tulsa since our inception. We go way back. Actually, I've been involved in elections for the last 30 years," said Dennis Moseby, president of the firefighters union.

Union members go door to door, handing out flyers, talking to voters and endorsing candidates.  That all abruptly ended earlier this year.

"All of a sudden out of nowhere we get the Mayor telling us we absolutely cannot do that anymore, so yes it was a shock to us. it was a shock to us," said Moseby

Mayor Dewey Bartlett signed an executive order which prohibited public employees from campaigning in city elections.

The union asked a federal judge to temporarily suspend that order.  City attorney Gerald Butler argued the city charter is pretty clear.  "Any employees of the fire department are prohibited from any political activities apart from expressing a private opinion or voting."

It may be the law, but it's apparently never been enforced.

News On 6 covered the firefighters campaigning in 2006 and in 2002.

In fact, when Mayor Bartlett was candidate Bartlett he asked for the union's endorsement.

Bender says that doesn't matter.  "If you ask anyone who is a candidate for office in Tulsa county they're going to go to the union's to ask for an endorsement, because that base is significant. They could put a lot of people on the street."

Bender says that's part of the reason behind the law.  "To prevent a group of city employees from in essence taking the city hostage by going out and handpicking candidates and having those candidates elected."

Moseby disagrees.  "So we're no different than anyone else out there. We just want to vote for a mayor that's for public safety."

6/22/2011 Related Story: Tulsa Firefighters Union Files Lawsuit Against Mayor, City

The firefighters union says a federal judge needs to step in now, because the city's party primary elections are just a month and a half away.

And those primaries could actually decide up to six city council races.

Both sides will file briefs with the court by next Tuesday and a ruling is expected after that.


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