BY KENNY BELFORD
Normally you wouldn’t think much of the political affiliation of any mayor, but Tulsa’s Dewey Bartlett is making the case it matters a lot. So far he keeps revealing unflattering attributes that were legitimate complaints about George W. Bush. He may have inherited problems, which all current mayors across America are facing, but it’s becoming more and more obvious he’s a wader that’s been shoved in the deep end.
The firing of Tulsa’s Chief of Police was shameful. His administration released the information to the media and public before he ever had a conversation with the chief. That’s either incompetence or a display of a shameful management style.
We’re all familiar with the issue of budget problems, causing us to lose veteran police officers. It’s in the news daily. But there’s a part of the story we didn’t know, until now.
It seems the mayor could have avoided firing and laying off police officers, some of which were terminated then rehired only a few weeks later at a cost to Tulsa of $316,768 in needless severance pay. He could have avoided any of that, but he took, according to him, “the conservative route.”
Our mayor created an upheaval in one of our city’s most important departments. He wreaked havoc on the lives of Tulsa police officers, all needlessly.
Here’s what the Tulsa World reported:
An e-mail from a Department of Justice official to Mayoral Chief of Staff Terry Simonson proves the federal grant money used to rehire 35 police officers could have been used to retain them instead.
The March 5 transmission from Carole Poole, acting deputy director of programs for the bureau of justice assistance, states that one of the grant’s purposes is to retain jobs as long as the need is properly documented. “Documentation of retained jobs would have included City Council minutes or memos between mayor and human resources or anything documenting the potential layoff situation,” she wrote. “Sorry – that is probably not the information that you want to hear.” The e-mail is obviously written in response to Simonson asking her for clarification about the requirements. The 35 officers came back to the force March 1, a month after they had been laid off.
The e-mail surfaced after the Tuesday morning City Council committee meetings in which Mayor Dewey Bartlett defended his delay in using the money for officers, saying he took the “conservative route.”
Councilor Bill Christiansen held up a council vote last week on a budget amendment to get answers from the administration on whether the $3.27 million in Justice Assistance Grant funding could have been used to retain the officers. Since the city laid them off instead, he argued, they were out of work a month and paid out a total of $316,768 in severance, vacation, and compensation pay. Bartlett maintained that the verbal information his staff received from the DOJ, which administers the grant, indicated the layoffs actually had to occur to use the money for officers. Others may have differing views, Bartlett said, but there’s no point in trying to “replay history.” The city has had enough problems recently not following the rules regarding Housing and Urban Development grant funding and doesn’t need them related to other federal money, Bartlett said.
After learning of the e-mail from the DOJ to Simonson, Christiansen said he is “very disappointed in this administration.”
The story published in the Tulsa World reveals Dewey Bartlett was aware they had funds available to them from a federal grant to retain the police officers, every single one of them. He made the decision to intentionally create this mess, probably as a method to weaken the union representing the police. He also didn’t make the City Council aware of the grant funds, which certainly doesn’t speak well about Bartlett’s management ethics.
After learning this, the Tulsa City Council would be well served to adopt a skeptical view of any of Bartlett’s future statements and policy recommendations. They may even have an opinion about a city with declining operating revenues wasting almost a third of a million dollars on his “conservative route.” Bartlett has certainly weakened any credibility he hoped to create.
Councilor Bill Christiansen isn’t the only one “very disappointed in this administration.” Dewey Bartlett hasn’t even been in office six months and he’s already established he’s not up to the task. He’s not part of the solution, he’s now become part of the problem. He’s well on his way to earning the moniker, Mayor Doofus Bartlett.
– Kenny Belford lives in Tulsa, OK and is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer