Mayor Dewey Bartlett has signed an executive order prohibiting the kind of pay-for-promotion practice previously used by some Tulsa police officers; however, the Fraternal Order of Police president says the order does not apply to its members.
Mayoral Chief of Staff Jarred Brejcha told The Frontier Wednesday that the executive order was signed Monday and affects all classified employees, which would include police officers.
“Anyone that has been promoted, before accepting the position, will be required to sign an affidavit saying that they have neither received nor given any compensation or made any kind of arrangement outside of the city processes to secure that promotion,” Brejcha said.
Employees not covered by the executive order include sworn members of the Fire Department, employees of the City Council and the city Auditor’s Office and at-will appointees of the Mayor’s Office, city officials said.
Bartlett’s action comes nearly three months after The Frontier and its partner NewsOn6 reported that for several decades, some Tulsa police officers have paid superiors thousands of dollars to retire early so the officers could fill their jobs before the department’s annual promotion list expires.
Officers must complete a written and verbal test to compete for higher ranks and their names are placed on a promotion list in the order of how they scored on those tests. Those lists expire after one year and officers who have not been promoted must take the tests again to compete for future vacancies, known as “dying on the list.”
Payments to superior officers who agree to retire early reportedly range from $20,000 to as high as $50,000, and the practice — not sanctioned or overseen by the department — is believed to have occurred at nearly every rank.
Those who have made such payments to superiors include former Tulsa Police Sgt. Vic Regalado, who was elected Tulsa County Sheriff in April. In March, Regalado told The Frontier and NewsOn6 “there’s absolutely nothing wrong” with paying a superior to retire early.
City Auditor Cathy Criswell told The Frontier that the practice would seem to be addressed in the section of the city’s ethics rules that states city officials may not solicit or receive gifts or favors that may influence their performance of official duties.
“If, say, you are not supposed to receive a gift or monies or so forth that will influence your carrying out your duties, I would say that this (pay-for-promotions) would fall under that because of the way it is influencing these guys from carrying out their duties in that they basically resign, they take the money and resign,” Criswell said in March interview.
In a letter to Bartlett Wednesday, local Fraternal Order of Police President Patrick Stephens said the order “could only apply to the Chief.”
“Since the ranks below Captain are promoted based solely on the order of final scores, an inducement could not change the fact that the Chief had to promote the top candidate.”
However Stephens’ letter fails to note if the promotion list expired without a vacancy to fill, candidates on the list would have to take a new test. Depending on the outcome of the new test, the order may change.
Stephens’ letter concludes that the union has “found no evidence that the Chief has ever been induced to promote or not promote anyone” in higher ranks where he has some discretion.
“Since no other officer in the Police Department has the authority to promote, we do not see the applicability of your order to the Police Department or to any officer covered by the Collective Bargaining Agreement.”
Stephens told The Frontier he could not confirm or deny whether the pay-for-promotion practice ever took place in the Police Department.
“What I am saying is that no random person can be promoted,” Stephens said.
Bartlett’s move was applauded by We The People Oklahoma, a citizens group that has criticized the practice and called on the city to end it.
“This is a step in the right direction and we applaud Mayor Bartlett and his staff for recognizing the severity of this issue and doing something to attempt to rectify this by putting this executive order in place,” said Marq Lewis, the group’s founder.
Brejcha said the Mayor’s Office is working to change the city’s promotion policy for classified employees to make the pay-for-promotion practice less likely to occur.
For example, Bartlett would like to see the Police Department promotion policy look more like the one used by the Fire Department, Brejcha said.
“The Fire Department list for promotions does not expire,” Brejcha said. “So if you are on that list, eventually you are going to get promoted.
“So we have looked at the time frame we hold open the police promotions list so it doesn’t arbitrarily get cut off after a short period of time, and therefore, by eliminating it, we are essentially able to cycle through an entire list.”
Bartlett, in an interview with NewsOn6, said the he signed the order because the practice “didn’t pass the smell test.” When asked what the consequences would be if city employees violated the order, Bartlett said that had to be determined.