2017 Tulsa election: Proposition 6: City employees allowed to campaign

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The sixth of the seven charter change propositions on the City of Tulsa November 14, 2017, ballot would change the rules regarding the political involvement of city employees protected under civil service and sworn public safety employees. A yes vote on Proposition No. 6 would allow civil service city employees and firefighters to attend and speak at the public meetings of the City Council and any other municipal board and commission. They would also be allowed to campaign while off-duty and out of uniform.

Here are direct links to the current text of Tulsa City Charter, Article X, Section 10.1, Civil Service Commission and Merit System, Political Activities Prohibited and Tulsa City Charter, Article XI, Section 5.1, Fire Department, Political Activities Prohibited.

The mark-up below shows the how the text of Article X, Section 10.1, and Article XI, Section 5.1, would change if Proposition No. 6 is approved, with added text underlined, and deleted text stricken.

ARTICLE X. CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION AND MERIT SYSTEM.

Section 10.1. ‐ Political Activities Prohibited Permitted.

No person in the classified service shall take an active part in any campaign for the election of officers of the city, except to vote and privately state a personal opinion.

Municipal employees in the classified service may attend and express their views at city council meetings, or any other public meetings of municipal entities. Any municipal employee in the classified service 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. Any federal statutes restricting the political activities of certain municipal employees shall supersede the provisions of this section as to such employees.

ARTICLE XI. FIRE DEPARTMENT

Section 5.1. ‐ Political Activities Prohibited Permitted.

No chief, officer, or sworn member of the Fire Department shall take an active part in any campaign for the election of officers of the city, except to vote and privately state a personal opinion.

Any chief, officer, or sworn members of the Fire Department may attend and express their views at city council meetings, or any other public meetings of municipal entities. Any chief, officer, or sworn member of the Fire Department 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. Any federal statutes restricting the political activities of certain municipal employees shall supersede the provisions of this section as to such employees.

Prohibitions against soliciting campaign contributions would not be affected.

I can appreciate the proposition that city workers should be able to speak at public meetings, whether it is a situation unrelated to their job (a zoning case in their neighborhood) or an issue where their job knowledge could shed some valuable light.

The civil service bargain is this: The election result won't cost you your government job, but in exchange for that security, you agree not to act publicly to try to influence that result. This is the opposite of old spoils system, where public employees would campaign for incumbents in hopes of keeping their jobs and citizens would campaign for challengers in hopes of getting city jobs.

Even Franklin Roosevelt, that friend of organized labor and expander of government, opposed collective bargaining and strikes by public employee unions, seeing the hazard these practices would pose to the public interest. An unsavory alliance between public-employee unions and state and local elected officials have created political machines reminiscent of the old spoils system, and these political machines have driven local governments into default, unable to keep the promises that were used to buy the votes and volunteering of public-employee unions.

The current ban acts as a protection. A city employee whose political views might differ from the majority of his union can avoid having that dissent exposed in a way that could sour his relationships with union stewards, co-workers, and supervisors. When asked to campaign for a candidate or cause, he has a ready excuse to keep his views to himself. The proposed modification would strip that excuse away.

A more narrowly drafted modification allowing employees to speak on city issues would be worth considering, but a wholesale change to allow employees to campaign for or against the people who will decide their raises is a dangerous step in the direction of bankrupt cities across America. I'm voting no on Proposition No. 6.

MORE: A recent article in National Affairs details the rise of public-employee unions and the unique dangers posed by their participation in politics.

A 2012 Reuters story explains how San Bernardino, California, went from middle-class city to bankrupt basket case:

Yet on close examination, the city's decades-long journey from prosperous, middle-class community to bankrupt, crime-ridden, foreclosure-blighted basket case is straightforward -- and alarmingly similar to the path traveled by many municipalities around America's largest state. San Bernardino succumbed to a vicious circle of self-interests among city workers, local politicians and state pension overseers.

Little by little, over many years, the salaries and retirement benefits of San Bernardino's city workers -- and especially its police and firemen -- grew richer and richer, even as the city lost its major employers and gradually got poorer and poorer.

Unions poured money into city council elections, and the city council poured money into union pay and pensions. The California Public Employees' Retirement System (Calpers), which manages pension plans for San Bernardino and many other cities, encouraged ever-sweeter benefits. Investment bankers sold clever bond deals to pay for them. Meanwhile, state law made it impossible to raise local property taxes and difficult to boost any other kind.

No single deal or decision involving benefits and wages over the years killed the city. But cumulatively, they built a pension-fueled financial time-bomb that finally exploded.

MORE: City Finance Director Mike Kier writes, in his personal capacity, concerned that city employees who want to remain on the political sidelines lose their cover if Prop 6 is approved.

I am concerned that employee participation in political campaigns will undermine the existing merit system, which replaced a patronage system in the 1950s. Will employment decisions be based on merit, or will they be based on the employee's political activity? When political activities are allowed, they can be expected; and when expected they can be required. Employment decisions at all levels could be challenged as retaliation or reward for political activities. How will department heads and managers adjust to the political activities by employees or to expectations for their own activity? How will City Council staff members adjust from prohibited to allowed political activity, a change which most of the Council supports?

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on November 8, 2017 9:15 PM.

2017 Tulsa election: Proposition 5: Mayor picks redistricting panel was the previous entry in this blog.

Kevin Calvey: "Tax Increases Just Cover Up Corruption" is the next entry in this blog.

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