Tulsa City Councilors Claim The Firefighters' Union Is Violating The Law

Tuesday, September 1st 2009, 5:06 pm
By: News On 6

By Emory Bryan, The News On 6

TULSA, OK - City of Tulsa firefighters are actively campaigning for candidates in the city council races. 

Some Tulsa city councilors think that is a violation of the law. 

The argument has city councilors, some of them lawyers, disagreeing with the City Attorney, who works for the mayor.

"This is one more instance of you twisting definitions and phrases to redefine," said City Councilor Rick Westcott.  "Deidre I have never been more disappointed in a city official as I am with you as city attorney."

Councilor John Eagleton believes it's illegal for firefighters to take part in political campaigns.  The city attorney believes the city can't legally stop all the campaigning.

While the city charter and the legal opinions of it are clear that firefighters cannot campaign while on duty or in uniform, there's less clarity on what it means to be in uniform and what defines actively campaigning.

"I understand the complaints there may be firefighters in City of Tulsa T-shirts, that's a violation; union T-shirts, not a violation," said City of Tulsa Attorney Deidre Dexter.

The union president watched the arguments back and forth, and says firefighters are staying within the rules.  Tulsa City Councilors Martinson and Westcott both say firefighters are out intimidating voters.

"These union members are making veiled threats like, ‘Gee, Mrs. Jones it would be awful if your house caught fire and we didn't have enough manpower to respond,'" said Tulsa City Councilor Rick Westcott.

"When you are afraid of the very people you expect to protect you, we have a huge problem on our hands," said Tulsa City Councilor Bill Martinson.

"The part about any citizen threatened by a fireman is not true," said Firefighters Union President Stan May.

The firefighters union printed hundreds of campaign signs and T-shirts for candidates they believe will support them.

Whether it's OK for firefighters to hand out the signs and wear the shirts remains a legal argument that won't be resolved until after election day.