There's a new twist in the tug-of-war over police pay raises. It's a legal dispute that involves the mayor, the police union and the city council; and Tulsa voters almost got roped into the controversy.
The problem started when contract talks broke down between the city and the police union. It went to arbitration and the city lost, but Thursday, the mayor tried a legal strategy that would overturn that decision and give the city some leverage for continued negotiations.
After an afternoon long discussion of legal strategies and implications, city councilors decided not to call an election on police officer pay raises. It came after plenty of legal advice they had to do it under state law.
"Our backs are pushed up against the wall. They're saying you shall do this," said Tulsa City Councilor, Karen Gilbert.
The same lawyers telling councilors they had to call the election for this fall were telling them the election would be legally meaningless. That's because an election on union contracts doesn't count if it's not in the same budget year; even the city manager admitted that.
"We can't go backwards and open books that have already been closed. The books would have been closed June 30th," City Manager, Jim Twombly said.
The lawyer for the union said the mayor's request for what would be an illegal election was clearly a legal strategy.
Jim Moore, FOP Attorney, Jim Moore, said, "They think if they call election but don't hold it, they can void the entire police contract, the officers get nothing, they don't even get what the city offered them and that's why they're fighting so hard to call an election that can't be held."
Mayor Bartlett wouldn't comment on whether the election would actually matter, but implied it would be a new bargaining chip for negotiations that can actually continue through the end of the month.
"I think we have the right to negotiate, we still have an opportunity to make an acceptable contract," Bartlett said.
The council eliminated the bargaining chip with a unanimous vote not to call the election; despite legal advice they had to do it as a duty of the office.
Several councilors said they were willing to take their chances legally.
As it stands now, the arbitration ruling stands, giving police officers step raises that will boost pay for younger officers.