Tulsa City Council, Attorney's Office Argue Over Authority To Change Budget

Tuesday, March 1st 2011, 5:40 pm
By: News On 6

Emory Bryan, News On 6

TULSA, Oklahoma – A squabble is still going on at Tulsa's City Hall over who controls the budget.

Both the city council and the mayor have a role to play, but trying to clarify what that is led to yet another argument Tuesday.

The council disagrees with the City Attorney's office, both on a new legal opinion and on what impact it will have on the balance of power.

2/28/2011 Related Story: Tulsa City Council To Discuss Mayor's 'Misconduct' This Week

The City Council took on the Legal Department and both sides came away unhappy with the discussion.

"I'm astounded by their lack of understanding. They have mischaracterized this opinion beyond belief," David Pauling, Interim City Attorney, said.

"The answers to most questions were circular, vague, they were confusing and they did not answer the question posed," Councilor Rick Westcott said.

The debate was over the balance of power to initiate changes to the city budget.

The mayor's office initiates many routine changes several times each week. The Council has initiated only six changes this budget year, but City Legal says they can't do that from now on.

"After the mayor suggests to this council what to do, then this council takes action," Bob Edmiston, Assistant City Attorney, said during the meeting.

Edmiston says the council can change the mayor's recommendations and with the power of an override, councilors still have oversight.

But City Attorney David Pauling says the first step in the process must be with the mayor.

"And creates an imperial mayor," Councilor Rick Westcott said during the meeting.

The undertone of the legal question was Mayor Bartlett's relationship with the Council.

"Mayor Bartlett wanted it to happen like this," Councilor Henderson said.

And it was contentious at times.

At one point, the attorneys stood up to walk out, but eventually continued answering questions after being threatened with a subpoena from the city council.

Councilor John Eagleton disagrees with the new opinion, but says it won't impair the council's ability to oversee the budget.

"It's not business as usual but I do not believe there is going to be a permanent erosion of the council's prerogatives," he said.

The question is whether the mayor and council will take this to a legal showdown if the council makes another self-initiated budget change. That could lead to a court case, but it could also settle the issue for good.