Tulsans will have an opportunity to vote on seven proposed City of Tulsa Charter amendments in a special proposition election on November 14, 2017.
Why is the City Charter important to local government operations?
A City Charter is known as the “Home Rule”.
Once a municipal charter has been adopted and approved, it becomes the prevailing law of the municipality in all matters pertaining to the local government of the municipality (Title 11 Oklahoma Statutes, Section 1-102.1.)
When a charter is in conflict with any state law relating to municipalities in force at the time of the adoption and approval of the charter, the provisions of the charter shall prevail and shall operate as a repeal or suspension of the state law on matters of local concern. 11 O.S. Sec. 13-109.
What process is used to amend the City of Tulsa charter?
A city charter can be amended only by a vote of the people living within the city. (Oklahoma Constitution Article 18, Section 3(a)). The legislative body of the city (in our case, the City Council) approves a proposed charter amendment to be submitted to the voters. Our City Council adopted a Resolution requesting the County Election Board to hold an election, and this Resolution was delivered to the Election Board. If a given Charter amendment is approved by a majority of the voters voting on it, and then approved by the Governor, it becomes a part of the City Charter.
What does the amendment to Summary Nuisance Abatement, Proposition 1, do?
The ballot reads: Shall the City Charter of the City of Tulsa, Article I, Section 3, ‘General Grant of Power’, Paragraph ‘O’ be amended to clarify that the City of Tulsa may summarily abate a nuisance re-occurring on the same property under the same ownership within twenty-four (24) months of a previous nuisance abatement on that property?
Summary abatement is the removal of a nuisance without any hearing or notice. Currently the City may abate a nuisance on property within 24 months of a previous nuisance abatement on that same property. The City then bills the expense as a special tax against the land owner. Under the ordinance, there is no notice, posting or hearing required on the subsequent violations within the 24 month period. Thus, if subsequent violations occur within the 24-month period, the City is allowed to clean up the property and bill the owner.
However, The State statute, Title 11 O.S. Sec. 22-111B allows for subsequent summary abatement only within a six month period. Amending the Charter will clear up any confusion regarding the City’s lawful practice versus the State Statute. As Home Rule applies, the City charter prevails over state laws regarding municipalities.
The amendment will clarify the language and remove questions about the City’s process allowed for summary nuisance abatement on the same property within a two year period.
Why should the Charter be changed to outline a new process to notify Councilors of special meetings as proposed in Proposition No. 2?
The Ballot reads: Shall the City Charter of the City of Tulsa, Article II, Section 3.1, ‘Meetings’, be amended to allow the required notice of special meetings of the City Council to be delivered to Councilors electronically?
The amendment addresses the procedures for notifying Council members of special meetings, which are held infrequently.
The City of Tulsa Charter requires that each member of the Council be served personally or notice of a special meeting be left at the “usual place of residence.”
The amendment simplifies the process by recognizing the use of technology. Currently Council staff must drive to all of the nine districts, or to a Councilor’s place of business, to deliver notice of a special meeting. The amendment allows the delivery of a notice by text or e-mail, which is now a standard protocol for receiving most information. This amendment would not affect requirements for public notice of special meetings.
Why does Proposition No. 3 amend the Charter to include emergency measures on City Council resolutions, in addition to ordinances?
The ballot reads: Shall the City Charter of the City of Tulsa, Article II, Section 10, ‘Effective Date of Ordinances and Resolutions’, be amended to clarify that the City of Tulsa may adopt resolutions as emergency measures, and state the effective time thereof, in the same manner as it does ordinances?
Currently, Article II City Charter, Section 10, “Effective Date of Ordinances and Resolutions” reads as follows (emphasis, numbering added):
(1)Ordinances adopting budgets, making appropriations, pertaining to local improvements and assessments, or adopted as an emergency measure shall take effect at the time stated therein. (2)All other ordinances and resolutions shall take effect at the time stated therein, but not less than thirty days from the date of first publication. (3)Ordinances adopted by vote of the electors shall take effect at the time stated therein or, if no time be stated, thirty days after the election. (4)An ordinance or resolution adopted as an emergency measure to provide for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, welfare, or safety shall describe the emergency in a separate section. (5)The vote of at least two-thirds ( 2/3 ) of the entire membership of the Council shall be required to adopt any ordinance or resolution as an emergency measure.
The City frequently enacts resolutions as emergency measures. The underlined portions of sentences (4) and (5) above clearly contemplate resolutions to be adopted with an emergency clause. However, the first sentence refers only to ordinances adopted with emergency clauses, and makes no mention of resolutions. By making this minor change to Section 10 it will remove all doubt about adopting resolutions with emergency measures.
How would the amendment to the City Charter under Proposition No. 4 impact general elections for City office?
The Ballot reads: Shall the City Charter of the City of Tulsa, Article VI, ‘Election and Qualification of Officers’, be amended to hold elections for City offices in August of an election year, require candidates for City offices to file their candidacy in June, and provide for run-off elections, whenever necessary, in November?
The present Charter provides for a primary election in June, a run-off primary (if necessary) in August, and the general election in November. Candidates file their candidacy in April. Officers are sworn into office in December.
If a candidate is unopposed at the time of the April filing, he or she is deemed elected a full eight months before taking office. If opposed, a public official may be elected at the primary in June, but must wait six months to take office. The length of time between the election and taking office, while the outgoing official continues to serve, is not optimal for the continuity of City business and enacting ordinances. This proposed Charter amendment places the general election at the end of August, leaving only three months before swearing-in.
Proposition 5: Why is there a need to change the charter to restructure the Election District Commission?
The Ballot reads: Shall the City Charter of the City of Tulsa, Article VI, ‘Election and Qualification of Officers’, Section 10.1, ‘Election District Commission’, and Section 10.2, ‘Adjustment of Election District Boundaries’ be amended to provide that the Election District Commission shall consist of five (5) members, to be appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the City Council; that two (2) members shall be affiliated with the political party having the largest number of registered voters in the City, two (2) members shall be affiliated with the political party having the second largest number of such voters, and one (1) member shall be a registered independent voter; stating the duties of the Election District Commission, namely, to adjust the boundaries of the City’s Election Districts following completion of the Federal Decennial Census?
Citizens must be represented, and they must be represented equally. For this reason the Federal Government conducts a national census every ten years, and publishes its results. The City of Tulsa has an Election District Commission, which uses this census to adjust its Council districts, to maintain, as closely as possible, equal representation for all Tulsans. The existing Charter, Article VI, Section 10.1 provides for a three-person Election District Commission, of which two members are appointed by the two largest political parties, and one member is appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the Council.
The proposed Amendment expands the Election District Commission to five members in order to provide for better representation. All five members are to be appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by majority vote of the entire Council. This Amendment allows for members of different parties, plus one “independent” voter. It also forbids any two members to reside in the same Council district. The Commission must adjust the districts so that each is as equal in population as possible, and all citizens can enjoy equal and robust representation.
City employees are now prohibited from taking part in political activities surrounding municipal elections. Will Proposition 6 allow City employees to campaign?
The Ballot reads: Shall the City Charter of the City of Tulsa, Article X, “Civil Service Commission and Merit System”, Section 10.1, “Political Activities Prohibited”, and Article XI, “Fire Department”, Section 5.1 “Political Activities Prohibited”, be amended to permit municipal employees, including firefighters, to attend public meetings and express their views, and to permit political activities by municipal employees, including firefighters, when off duty and not in uniform?
The amendment will mirror State Statute, Title 11 O.S. Section 22-101.1, which specifically allows political activity:
Municipal employees may attend and express their views at city council meetings, or any other public meetings of municipal entities. Any municipal employee may actively participate in partisan and nonpartisan political activities. Provided, the political activity in which the employee participates shall be exercised only during off-duty hours and while not in uniform.
The change will allow City of Tulsa employees to campaign while off-duty and not in uniform
Currently, City employees, including firefighters, are forbidden to take part in any campaign for the election of a City officer, except to vote and to privately state their opinion.
Elsewhere in the Charter are provisions ensuring employees cannot be coerced to support, oppose or donate to candidates; those protections will remain in place and will not be affected by the proposed change.
What does it mean to repeal the “Brown” ordinance in order to prohibit the use of public safety sales taxes for anything other than public safety, as requested in Proposition 7?
The ballet reads: Shall the City Clerk of the City of Tulsa, Article II, ‘The Council’ Section 7.1, ‘Budgets’ and Article III, ‘The Mayor’, Section 1.4, ‘Executive and Administrative Powers and Duties’, Sub-Section C, be amended to prohibit any revenues derived from the 2017 Public Safety Sales Tax from ever being used for any purpose other than public safety as described therein, and to revoke the ability to amend any portion of Title 43-I Tulsa Revised Ordinances which could permit such other use?”
In the Spring of 2016 the voters of the City enacted a Public Safety Sales Tax intended to provide revenue to be used for public safety (police, fire, 911). At that election, the voters also approved Title 43-I of Tulsa Revised Ordinance (commonly called a “Brown” ordinance, after former City Attorney Darven Brown, who first devised it). Title 43-I allows the public safety tax revenues to be spent for purposes other than public safety only if the City Council conducts public hearings, publishes notice of the intended other use, and holds a news conference.
The “Brown” ordinance makes it difficult, but not impossible, to spend the public safety tax on municipal purposes other than public safety. The Mayor and Council are charged with the creation of a budget each year, and – within limits – they have the authority and discretion to allocate moneys as they think best. The proponents of this Charter Amendment wish to have an absolute prohibition (sometimes called a “Lock-Box”) on public safety taxes ever being devoted to anything besides public safety. To establish this prohibition, that portion of the “Brown” ordinance, Title 43-I, which would allow repurposing of the funds, must be repealed.