Tulsa City Councilor Raises Questions About Terry Simonson's Leave

Wednesday, October 12th 2011, 10:53 am
By: News On 6

Emory Bryan, News on 6

TULSA, Oklahoma -- The Tulsa City Council is questioning why Terry Simonson continued to handle city business after being placed on administrative leave.

Simonson has since resigned, but remains on the job while his responsibilities are transitioned to other people.

Tulsa City Councilor Bill Christiansen said he was contacted by someone who received e-mail from Simonson the morning after he was placed on leave, and who questioned why he was still working.

Simonson was placed on leave by Mayor Dewey Bartlett on September 19, 2011, so that an inquiry could take place into Simonson's request for his son to get into a firefighter training program. Though the leave started on a Monday at 6 p.m., Bartlett announced it days before and Simonson continued to work as usual until the leave started.

3/23/2011 Related Story: Favoritism Allegations Lead To Suspension Of Tulsa Fire Chief, Bartlett's Chief Of Staff

The Tulsa City Council learned Tuesday that Simonson's administrative leave was handled in an unusual manner, since his access to City Hall and the computer system was not restricted. Personnel Director Erica Felix-Warwick told the Council typically the employee would lose electronic access to city assets, and would be asked to not enter city facilities, even though the implementation of the policy varies.

Simonson's administrative leave ended with his resignation on September 29, 2011 and during that announcement, Mayor Dewey Bartlett said Simonson would be working from home to transition his duties.

9/29/2011 Related Story: Tulsa Mayor's Chief Of Staff Terry Simonson Submits Resignation

Instead, Simonson has worked from City Hall on several occasions.

A City of Tulsa spokesperson said Simonson was cleaning out his office and the Mayor's comment that Simonson would work from home did not mean Simonson could not enter City Hall.

After city personnel became aware that Simonson was using his city of Tulsa e-mail, Felix-Warwick said Simonson was sent a letter outlining the policy for administrative leave.

City Councilor Bill Christiansen said allowing Simonson to keep working while on leave "sets a poor example for other city employees" who might face similar action.

As for the consequences of violating the policy, Felix-Warwick told councilors she believed the administration would have to answer that question.

Simonson's administrative leave was with pay, and he remains on the payroll until his resignation becomes effective October 15, 2011.

Statement from Mayor Dewey Bartlett's Office:

With respect to sending e-mail while on administrative leave, no violation of policy occurred or no rules were broken.

General guidelines apply for administrative leave for civil service employees who are put on an extended leave and remain employed with the City of Tulsa.

Employee conduct during administrative leave would be evaluated as part of a disciplinary or termination hearing.

In this case, the due process did not apply because Mr. Simonson was an at-will employee and submitted his resignation within a few days of being placed on administrative leave.

When on paid administrative leave, the employee is expected to be responsive to inquiries from his employer and be on call if needed - in this case to be available at any time to speak to the external review committee.

Mr. Simonson was made aware of the general guidelines (below) regarding work activity after 12 p.m. on Sept. 27, the first day of administrative leave, but he had already sent and received several emails, mostly dealing with an upcoming citywide event. Again, no rules or policies were violated. 

General Guidelines concerning city of Tulsa paid administrative leave:

  • The purpose of paid administrative leave is to provide separation for the employee under investigation so an inquiry can occur without improper influence or other conflict.
  • During periods of paid administrative leave, the employee should refrain from entering city facilities and attending official functions. (In some cases employee ID and keys will be held by City Security) Should the employee need to return to the facility, permission should be obtained in advance and the reason for the visit explained.
  • If employee's personal contact information changes, the employee should contact his or her Department and City HR. Employee is to be ready, willing and available to be contacted and report to work within normal business hours in order to provide information or respond to the official investigation.
  • Employee should not have any communication (telephone, email, etc.) with any internal or external customer in an official capacity as an employee.
  • Any documents, emails, or other communications created regarding City business, regardless of whether it is created on a City or personal device, are subject to the Open Records Act.