When it comes to guns in parks, Tulsa police know what to do, said Senior Assistant City Attorney Mark Swiney.
Or, more precisely, what not to do.
"The cops have been trained to understand that the state statute takes precedence over the city ordinance," Swiney said.
Even though the "sign at the park still says no firearms allowed," Swiney said, a city ordinance prohibiting guns in parks is in conflict with a state law, the Oklahoma Self-Defense Act, which notably began to allow open carry last year for those with the proper license.
Swiney presented the conflict to city councilors, offering the chance to consider amending the city ordinance to match with state law. But, in Swiney's words, "the city council didn't like it, and they said they're not going to do it."
At a March 14 meeting, some councilors did express concern about guns in parks.
"That's where kids play," Councilor Jack Henderson said. He and Councilor Skip Steele stated they were in favor of sending a letter "asking the state to change the law," in the words of Steele. No councilors present at the meeting voiced support for the state law.
Regardless of how the issue plays out, City Manager Jim Twombly called it "a good case in point" of conflict between the city and state legislation.
"There are times that the legislature steps in and does something on a statewide basis, and, you know, I think the feeling among many cities is they usurp the local governing boards' authority ... when it may be more appropriate that a decision is made at the local level," Twombly said.
But the city doesn't simply take in what's handed down by the state legislature. Occasionally, conflict spikes -- like with a 2010 lawsuit filed by the city challenging a sales tax collection mandate.
Often, however, it's the pressure of political lobbying that helps resolve the issue.
Twombly said that's what ultimately solved the sales tax dilemma the city encountered when the legislature "at the last minute, they inserted language in a bill" prohibiting a city from hiring private companies to collect sales tax.
Twombly said the city of Tulsa was concerned that the state's Sales Tax Commission was stretched too thin to effectively collect the dollars which are so crucial to a city's operating budget.
The decision to sue -- made by Mayor Dewey Bartlett, Twombly said -- had mixed results.
"We won at one level and lost at the next level," Twombly said.
He credited efforts by the Oklahoma Municipal League, or OML, for crafting a compromise.
"OML was very supportive, working with Tulsa and other cities. They put together a working group to work with the tax commission to help them be more responsive to cities' needs," Twombly said.
The result allows the city to hire private agencies to collect sales tax -- so long as the agencies receive special training from the state, Twombly said.
Sometimes city-state conflicts take on surprising twists and turns. After an attorney general's ruling in February prohibiting cities from enacting more stringent smoking bans than what's on the books under state law, Gov. Mary Fallin came out in favor of giving voters a say. She now publicly supports a likely 2014 petition that could give cities the right to pass such bans.
"The conflicts do come up from time to time, and one of the things that the mayor and council both agree on is the principle of local control," Twombly said.
But there is also strength in numbers. To push more local concerns, leaders Tulsa and nearby cities began meeting during the administration of Mayor Roger Randle, more than 20 years ago.
That effort, known as the Legislative Consortium, continued. It recently became known as the Council of Tulsa Area Governments because "consortium is such an old-fashioned word," said Darita Huckabee, a staffer with the Indian Nations Council of Governments who supports the group known as CTAG.
Collectively, they hire a lobbyist to fight for issues of local concern, Huckabee said. Currently, Scott Adkins of Adkins Consulting handles the job.
Only issues with the unanimous support of the group are part of its legislative push.
"I really think it's a secret to our longevity. We build consensus within our group before we ever head out to the capital," Huckabee said. Members are from Bixby, Broken Arrow Claremore, Collinsville, Coweta, Glenpool, Jenks, Mannford, Owasso, Sapulpa, Skiatook, Sand Springs, Tulsa and Tulsa County.
This year, among other issues, the group is pushing for a change in state law that would require a district judge to reinstate a police officer fired for use of excessive force. Currently, the appeals process is structured so that an officer can be reinstated by an arbiter.
She described the cities' argument: "Putting an officer back to work who has been found to use excessive force is dangerous to the public, and it's dangerous to the officers left in the department."
But the group's efforts have no guarantee of success. A push related to collecting sales tax on online purchases has not gained much traction in the legislature, nor has an effort to increase cities' share of motor vehicle licensing fees, Huckabee said.
On the guns in parks issue, Tulsa faces a "tall order" if the goal is to change the law, Swiney said. At the March 14 meeting, he noted that when the state law relating to concealed carry was first passed more than 10 years ago -- before open carry -- the city's Parks Board "was very, very unhappy" about the provision and voiced a desire to change the law.
The news coverage after the March 14 meeting has already caught the attention of Bryan Hull, president of the Oklahoma Open Carry Association.
"We're of the opinion that it's pretty obvious that parks are not crime-free zones, and people who are licensed to carry for the protection of themselves and their family don't pose a threat to other people," Hull said. He added that his group plans to hold a rally soon at a Tulsa city park to raise awareness of the rights of licensed gun owners.
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