TULSA - The Tulsa City Council's unanimous decision to defy a request by the mayor to call a special election -- a request backed up by city attorneys who said they'd be breaking the law if they didn't comply -- has city councilors wondering what the next step might be.
Councilors were told in no uncertain terms that the way the city attorneys interpreted state law, they had to call a special election to essentially overturn binding arbitration which had favored the Fraternal Order of Police in a contract dispute with the city.
Council Chair Karen Gilbert told KRMG "they said that we were breaking the law, and they didn't necessarily come out and say that we were going to jail, but that we were breaking the law."
She joked that "I'm still waiting for an officer to show up."
But the possible consequences the councilors were warned about are no joke.
"There's the possibility of being sued, along with being held in contempt. They even told us we could be thrown out of office," Gilbert said.
But she made it clear her conscience wouldn't let her vote any other way, despite those possible consequences, out of fairness to the police officers.
"We felt as a council -- obviously, eight to zero -- that you know what? We promised these guys that we would do it, and by golly, we need to do it. What does it showing when we go out and try to recruit new officers to come to our city to protect us? 'We might be able to pay you, but we might not?'"
"We need to make ourselves look better than pulling an agreement from the people that protect us," she added.
And she agreed with Councilor Blake Ewing's assessment that, in her words, "the whole situation is embarrassing."
She went on to say that a group of councilors have sat down with the mayor every other Tuesday since August of last year to talk about the budget shortfall, and try to find ways to avoid another problem in the next fiscal year.
"In all those meetings, that topic of finding dollars to pay our police and firemen has never been brought up," she said. "Unfortunately, that concern was never brought to us, especially during the arbitration hearings, and even during the time when they were trying to negotiate before it got to the arbitration hearings."
She called that lack of communication "very disappointing."