Tulsa City Attorney Says Council Can't Change Budget

Tuesday, February 22nd 2011, 12:21 pm
By: News On 6

Emory Bryan, News on 6

TULSA, Oklahoma -- The Interim City Attorney said Tuesday the City Council doesn't have the legal authority to change the City budget. His opinion conflicts with 20 years of standard practice at City Hall.

Interim City Attorney David Pauling has written an opinion, which he said would be issued later today, that finds the ability to initiate amendments to the budget rests solely with the Mayor.

Pauling said the opinion was a response to a request from Mayor Dewey Bartlett to clarify the role of the Mayor and Council in the budget process.

"It's not appropriate for the Council, on it's own, to initiate without the Mayor being at the table, a budget amendment" said Pauling.

His opinion that only the Mayor can make budget changes contradicts 21 years of history at City Hall.  But it is what the City Charter intends, says Pauling.

Several Councilors expressed astonishment at the decision from Pauling and repeated their skepticism of his opinion, which culminated last week in a second vote of no confidence in his abilities.

2/18/2011 Related Story: Tulsa Council Overrides Mayor's Veto Of 'No Confidence' In City Attorney

"I don't know about what you guys feel, but I am complexed as a Councilor to be sitting here listening to somebody I have no confidence in trying to tell me something," Councilor Jack Henderson said.

"I don't trust his opinion," Councilor Rick Westcott said. "I don't trust his work."

The issue came up after Councilors initiated and approved a budget amendment restoring pay raises for firefighters. Bartlett vetoed the amendment, setting up another legal dispute over the balance of authority between the Mayor and Council.

Read the veto letter

"The Council controls the budget," said Councilor G.T. Bynum, who started the questioning of Pauling. "It is outrageous to say the Council cannot initiate amendments to the budget."

During the discussion, several Councilors returned to their offices to retrieve stacks of budget documents that detail their role in the budget process, and dozens of previous budget amendments which went through the system without question.

"This goes against everything I've done in 9 years on the City Council. The citizens of Tulsa need to take notice that with this opinion, their rights are being taken away," said Councilor Bill Christiansen.

The council plans to somehow challenge the opinion, which has at least temporarily stopped their ability to tweak the budget.

"Some of these things will have to be challenged in court to get some of these things straightened out so maybe we can figure out what we're trying to do," Councilor Roscoe Turner said.

The Council amendment would have spent an additional $376,000 on firefighters. In his veto letter, Bartlett mentioned the impact on the firefighters contract and the role of the council in changing terms during the budget year.