City councilors direct city attorney to create charter amendment
BY KEVIN CANFIELD World Staff Writer
Friday, February 22, 2013
2/22/13 at 11:35 AM
Read continuing coverage of Tulsa’s City Council.
Proposed amendments to the City Charter that would increase city councilors' pay and give them the power to confirm or deny the mayor's choice for city attorney are a step closer to a public vote Nov. 12.
Councilors voted 8-0 with one abstention Thursday to approve resolutions directing the city attorney to prepare the necessary documentation to place the proposals on the ballot. The vote is not an endorsement by councilors of either charter amendment but is simply the next step in the process of placing the amendments before voters.
The proposed charter amendments must be approved by the City Council and mayor before they are placed on the ballot.
Councilor Blake Ewing abstained but did not say why he did so.
Salaries: The proposed amendment dealing with councilors' salaries calls for increasing their annual pay to $24,000 from $18,000. The last time councilors, whose city jobs are considered part time, received a pay increase was in 2002, when salaries went from $12,000 to $18,000.
Councilor Jack Henderson, who has sought a pay increase for councilors before, is behind the proposal. He said after Thursday's meeting that the pay increase is long overdue.
"Any time somebody spends millions of the city's dollars on a daily basis and then we get paid less than what the people do that clean the building, there's a problem," he said.
Under the proposed charter amendment, councilors' annual salaries would be set at $24,000, and councilors would receive annual increases equal to the increase in the previous year's Consumer Price Index.
The annual increases could not exceed the projected percentage growth of the city's general fund in the year they are awarded.
As now proposed, the increases would take effect at the beginning of the next City Council term in December.
If the formula had been in place all along, councilors would have seen their salaries increase by 18.5 percent from 2002 to 2013.
During that same period, the inflation rate was 24.8 percent and city employees' salaries increased by an average of 33 percent, according to a City Council staff report.
Councilor Phil Lakin said during a Thursday afternoon council committee meeting that he wants to make sure councilors are not receiving larger pay increases than nonelected city employees.
Jack Blair, the council's policy administrator, told Lakin that "there is still time to work out the details" as the document works its way through the City Attorney's Office.
City attorney: The proposed charter change pertaining to the city attorney is being pushed by Councilor G.T. Bynum, who described the amendment Thursday afternoon as a "small structural change that helps our council and mayor work together in a less antagonistic way."
The city attorney is now appointed by the mayor with no input from the City Council. Under the proposed change, the mayor would appoint the city attorney, but the appointment would be subject to City Council approval.
In addition, the charter amendment would require that when the city attorney's position is vacated, the interim city attorney be someone from within the civil service system.
Bynum said some past interim city attorneys were political appointees from outside the civil service system.
That was a problem because it meant they could "be removed by the mayor at any time, yet they were acting as the city attorney, but they were beholden to the mayor for their employment," he said.
The proposed amendment change would return the city to the process it used before 1990, when Tulsa switched from a city commission-style of government to the current mayor-council system.
"Historically in our system of checks and balances, the city attorney is the referee," Bynum said. "As it has been since 1990, one side of those checks and balances is picking the referee.
"Hopefully, (going forward) the appointment of city attorneys will have the full confidence of both branches of government."
The proposal would not affect the current city attorney.
Council salary comparison
All listed except Oklahoma City and Wichita have a mayor/council form of government, as does Tulsa.
Source: Tulsa City Council
Original Print Headline: City Council backs plan for public pay-hike vote
Kevin Canfield 918-581-8313