By Emory Bryan, The News On 6
TULSA, OK -- Tulsa City Council members have some strong words about firefighters and the mayor has some strong words for the councilors.
It's all because of a campaign controversy over firefighters influencing city council elections.
A city councilor refers to it as thugery, talking about the firefighters union campaigning. The union calls him a bully. And, the mayor says she can't stand by and watch all this without commenting.
For the last two months, off duty Tulsa firefighters have played an active part in several Tulsa City Council campaigns.
The councilors they oppose think that violates the city charter and maybe even federal law.
"It's not my position that needs defending, it's the rule of law," said Tulsa City Councilor John Eagleton.
Councilor and Attorney John Eagleton says the campaigning violates federal law that prohibits government employees from using their position to influence elections.
Firefighters say they're doing what their supervisors, including the mayor, have told them is OK.
"We are complying with the letter of the law they've given us and we won't cross that. If they tell us to be quiet and they have a lawful reason to do that, we will stop," said Firefighters Union President Stan May.
Off duty firefighters are wearing T-shirts and putting out signs showing who they support, in addition to knocking on doors.
Tulsa City Councilor Bill Martinson thinks it's not only illegal, but unfair, especially since so many firefighters live outside the city limits.
"Let the citizens of Tulsa decide who they want to represent them," said Tulsa City Councilor Bill Martinson.
Mayor Kathy Taylor reacted strongly to the council's criticism of firefighters, and late Thursday repeated to employees the rules they should follow. The firefighters say they are following the rules and exercising their rights.
"They're trying to bully us into not stating our opinions or not being able to give all of the facts in a situation. We are off duty. We are not in uniform," said Firefighters Union President Stan May.
The firefighters say they'll continue to work the neighborhoods this weekend, trying to help their candidates before the election next Tuesday.
Memo To City Employees From Mayor Kathy Taylor:
Sent: Thursday, September 03, 2009 6:14 PM
Subject: Political Activities
I wanted to clarify what is and is not permitted by city employees in political campaigns as outlined by the "Hatch Act" (5 U.S.C §1502). According to information on the U.S. Office of Special Counsel website (www.osc.gov/ha_state.htm), to the extent this Act applies to municipal employees the permissible and prohibited activities as specifically outlined in the act, are as follows:
Covered state and local employees may-
Covered state and local employees may not-
Clearly, those employees who are subject to this federal law are not prohibited from exercising one of the most important constitutional rights of our democracy - freedom of speech.
Under any circumstances, personal political activities should only occur when you are on your own time and not dressed in city uniform. Oklahoma Statutes Title 11 O.S. §22-101.1; City of Tulsa Personnel Policies and Procedures, 805.
I have every confidence that city employees will conduct themselves accordingly. Thank you.