The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

September 5, 2013

Lack of support on city commission for emergency clause delays union vote

By Dale Denwalt, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Two Enid commissioners’ definition of “emergency” has delayed until 2014 an election requested by the city employees union.

The local chapter of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees hoped to have its election in November. They distributed petitions, gathered signatures and earlier this month, turned in enough to earn a spot on the ballot.

During the Enid City Commission Thursday, however, there were not enough votes to put a rush on the election which, if passed, would let them collectively negotiate.

City staff had prepared an emergency clause, which allows measures to bypass the typical waiting period for ordinances and resolutions to become effective. There must be five “yes” votes, though, and supporters of the clause could only muster four.

The next available regular election would be next year. According to state law, the next available date for municipal elections would be in January.

Ward 5 Commissioner Tammy Wilson and Ward 6 Commissioner David Vanhooser both voted against the clause, and both for the same reason, they said.

“There was nothing nefarious or anti-employee,” Wilson said.

They voted that way because calling the election – in their interpretation – does not meet the criteria of an emergency. According to the ordinance they considered Thursday night, the emergency clauses states, “It is immediately necessary for the preservation of the public health, peace, and safety of the City, and the inhabitants thereof.” I don’t have a problem with them having an election. I think it should go to a vote of the people,” Wilson said. “But I don’t know that I agree with doing the emergency part.”

Vanhooser cited the same reason when questioned after the meeting.

“The emergency clause is not to be used for convenience. And there’s nothing wrong with waiting [...],” he said. “It’s not going to make a hill of beans.”

Vanhooser added that the city has adopted emergency ordinances in the past, including authorizing work to repair a sewer line break. More routine votes, though, do not pass muster.

“Passing a zoning ordinance because it will help the developer get it done right now, because he didn’t file it in time is not an emergency. It may be an emergency to a developer, but it’s not an emergency affecting anything other than his timeline,” he said.

The election ordinance was separated into two votes – whether to call the election and whether to classify it as an emergency so it could appear on the November 12 ballot. Both commissioners also voted against the first portion because it was part of the motion that was made.

“This election is not something that we get to pick. They have the right to do it,” Vanhooser said.

An emergency clause needs five affirmative votes to pass. The three other commissioners present, and the mayor, all voted in favor of the clause. Ward 2 Commissioner Mike Stuber was absent from the meeting.

As the votes were tallied, Ward 3’s Ben Ezzell turned to the AFSCME representatives present.

“Sorry guys,” he said.

After the meeting, AFSCME Local 1136 President Joey Breeze said the outcome was disappointing.

“It pushes the contract further back. It prolongs everything,” he said.

The group was planning on having the vote in November.

“It might take us a little longer to get it done. but we’re going to get it done,” Breeze added. “It gives us more time to get our ducks in a row, and make sure everything we’re doing is in the proper way to see that it passes.”

AFSCME is asking the public to support them in forming a municipal employees union, which would let them collectively bargain for rights and benefits.

“We’re not going to give up. We’re not going to go away. All we’re asking for is equal treatment. Police and fire have a bargaining agreement and we believe that we’re as important to the city and the workings of our city as anybody is,” Breeze said.