On May 20, the Mayor and Tulsa City Council unanimously approved sending five proposed amendments to the City Charter to the public for a vote. The proposed amendments were approved by voters on August 25.
According to the City Charter, the City Council is required to periodically review the City Charter and submit to voters such amendments as are necessary to provide for representative, efficient and economical administration of City government.
The amendments are as follows:
On November 8, 2011, the citizens of Tulsa voted to change their City Charter to select their elected officer (i.e., the Mayor, the City Auditor, and City Councilors) through non-partisan elections, instead of partisan elections, in which political parties selected their candidates for these offices in a “primary election”. However, when those amendments to rely on non-partisan elections were approved by the voters, they did not remove obsolete references to partisan “primary elections” in some sections of Tulsa’s Charter. This Charter Amendment is commonly referred to as a “housekeeping” amendment, to eliminate now obsolete language and avoid any misunderstanding or confusion in the future.
When Tulsa’s current Charter was originally drafted, the authors (as was the custom of the day) used masculine pronouns to refer to a subject or subjects whose gender or groups also included people who were not men. For example, “his” was used in reference to the City Auditor and “him” was used in reference to a firefighter. Previous generations have been taught that, in this context, these pronouns should be read as including both men and women. However, generally speaking, the pronouns “he”, “his”, and “him” refer to males, and “she”, “her”, and “hers” refer to females. This Charter Amendment will replace gender-specific male pronouns and will generally modernize them with more inclusive, gender-neutral, plural pronouns, such as “them” and “their”.
Currently, Tulsa’s Charter provides that all appointed members of authorities, boards, commissions shall serve until the expiration of their terms and until their successors are appointed. This provision, using the mandatory term “shall”, has been interpreted to mean that these appointed members cannot be removed from their position for any reason, including excessive absenteeism or any other inappropriate conduct during their appointed term. This Charter amendment will add the following qualifying language regarding these appointed member’s terms of office:
“unless disqualified and removed by the Mayor and City Council, prior to the expiration of their terms. as prescribed by ordinance.”
Simply put, this amendment will authorize the Mayor and City Council to adopt ordinances which provide grounds for when appointed members of authorities, boards, commissions can be removed from their appointed positions and the procedures that must be followed to remove them.
Currently, Tulsa’s City Attorney is appointed by the Mayor after that appointee’s qualifications for office is certified by the Personnel Director, who administers the City’s Civil Service merit system. The City Council currently has no mandated involvement in this appointment and the Mayor, subject to Civil Service rules and due process, is the only person who can discipline or terminate the City Attorney’s employment. This Charter Amendment will provide the City Council a role in the City Attorney’s appointment. Additionally, it will require the Mayor and City Council to work together in hiring a City Attorney as “the Mayor's appointment of the City Attorney shall be subject to confirmation by a majority vote of the entire membership of the Council.” And it will give the City Council a role in selecting the attorney who gives it legal advice.
Tulsa’s current Charter states that the City Attorney is “the chief legal advisor and attorney for the city and all offices, divisions, departments, boards, authorities, commissions, and agencies…” One of the City Attorney’s duties is to “assist and advise the Mayor”, without including other elected officers; specifically the City Auditor, the City Council, and City Councilors. This omission can lead some to believe that the City Attorney does not have the same obligation to advise the City Auditor, the City Council, and City Councilors as is clearly provided to the Mayor. This amendment will clarify that the City Attorney’s duty to “assist and advise” shall equally apply to the Mayor, the City Auditor, the Council, and Councilors.
This Charter Amendment also clarifies another duty of the City Attorney that relates to the enactment of ordinances and resolutions. The City Attorney is required to “approve as to form and legality all ordinances and resolutions adopted by the Council or state in writing the reasons for not approving”. This requirement of City Attorney approval has been misunderstood and leads some to presume that if the City Attorney does not approve an ordinance or resolution, it acts as a veto, which is not the case. To avoid this erroneous conclusion, this amendment clearly states that “absence of any such approval shall not prevent the Mayor and Council from adopting and approving any such ordinance or resolution.” Additionally, the requirement that the City Attorney state the reason for not approving an ordinance or resolution need only be provided in writing “if requested” by the Mayor or Council. As amended here, the Charter would give the Mayor or Council the option to request the rationale in writing, while also allowing for other communication methods provided by Oklahoma law, such as executive sessions.
Each proposition appeared on the ballot as follows:
"City Charter-Deleting Any Reference to Primary (Partisan} Elections"
“Shall the City Charter of the City of Tulsa, Article VI, ‘Election and Qualification of Officers’, Section 3.3, ‘Refund of Filing Fee’, and Section 5, ‘State Laws Apply to All Elections’, be amended by deleting any mention of primary (that is, partisan} elections?”
“City Charter-Replacing Gender-Specific Pronouns with Gender-Neutral Pronouns and other Gender-Neutral Words”
“Shall the City Charter of the City of Tulsa, Article VI, ‘Election and Qualification of Officers’, Section 3.3, ‘Refund of Filing Fee’ and Section 7, ‘Qualification of Officers’; Article VII, ‘Removal and Recall of Officers’, Section 1.2, ‘Grounds for Recall’; Article XI, ‘Fire Department’, Section 3, ‘Firefighters--How Appointed’ and Section 4.3, ‘Decision’, be amended to replace gender-specific pronouns with gender- neutral pronouns and other gender-neutral words?”
“City Charter-Removal of Members of Authorities, Boards and Commissions”
“Shall the City Charter of the City of Tulsa, Article XII, ‘Miscellaneous Provisions’, Section 4, ‘Creation of Advisory Boards and Commissions’ and Section 11, ‘Expiration of Terms and Appointments’ be amended to allow the Mayor and City Council to remove members of authorities, boards, commissions and agencies, after enacting an ordinance or ordinances for that purpose?”
“City Charter-City Attorney Appointed by Mayor to the Classified Service and Confirmed by City Council”
“This is a proposed amendment to the Tulsa City Charter, that currently provides the Mayor with sole executive authority to appoint the City Attorney to either the City's classified or unclassified service, which would amend the current Article X, ‘Civil Service Commission and Merit System’, by adding a new Section 4.1 to be entitled ‘City Attorney appointment’, requiring the Mayor to appoint future City Attorneys to the Merit System’s classified service, and the Mayor's appointment shall be subject to confirmation by majority vote of the entire City Council.”
“Shall the City Charter of the City of Tulsa, Article X, ‘Civil Service Commission and Merit System’ be amended by adding a new section, Section 4.1, to be entitled ‘City Attorney appointment’, providing that the person appointed by the Mayor to the office of City Attorney, which office is created by City Charter Article III, Section 4, shall be appointed to the classified service, and shall be subject to confirmation by the City Council?”
“City Charter-City Attorney Duties Listed in the City Charter”
“This is a proposed amendment to Tulsa's City Charter. The current Charter states that the City Attorney assists and advises the Mayor. In fact, the City Attorney advises not only the Mayor, but also the City Auditor, the City Council, and Councilors. Likewise, the City Attorney is required to approve as to form and legality all City ordinances and resolutions, but the current City Charter does not state what effect absence of approval has on an ordinance or resolution. In fact, the absence of the City Attorney's approval would not necessarily prevent the enactment of an ordinance or resolution.”
“Shall the City Charter of the City of Tulsa, Article III. ‘Mayor’, Section 4, ‘City Attorney’ be amended, by stating, at Section 4.C., that the City Attorney assists and advises the Mayor, the City Auditor, the City Council and Councilors, and by further stating, at Section 4.D., that the City Attorney approves as to form and legality all ordinances and resolutions, or declares, in writing if requested, the reasons for not approving them, provided that absence of this approval shall not prevent the Council and Mayor from duly enacting an ordinance or resolution?”