On Thursday September 1st I, along with several other candidates put on a nice shirt and tie and headed down town to City Hall as a part of the process for getting a job with the City of Tulsa.
I was there to take this picture for my second political mailer in my Tulsa City Council bid. Having arrived early before my photographer I waited in the lobby of One Technology Center along with another candidate who was also waiting in the lobby. He was not running for city council however, he was a candidate for one of the coveted Tulsa City firefighter academy positions. He asked me if I was waiting for an interview as well, probably hoping that I was since a fat bald guy would not be much competition for him. A few minutes later another firefighter candidate showed up. Sizing each other up, they talked about the various stages of testing and interviewing that they had already gone through and their confidence about whether or not they would make it into the program. One of the candidates, having gone through the process once before but not making it, felt that he had learned from his mistakes and was a shoe in this time.
I had no idea how relevant this experience would be until a few days ago when news broke that Dewey Bartlett’s Chief of Staff, Terry Simonson, was accused of using his influence at City Hall to procure a slot for his son in the process even though all the slots were already full.
One of the things I learned about the process of applying for the TFD academy in preparation for this post, was how difficult it is to become a Tulsa City Firefighter. The gentlemen I witnessed were preparing for the 4th step of 6 required to qualify for entrance into the firefighter academy. At any step a candidate can be kicked out of the running. Even those who make it through all 6 steps are still not guaranteed a spot in the academy because the academy itself is by no means a guaranteed certainty. The City may not be able to afford a spring academy, or there might not be as many openings as they had hoped. Indeed, the last academy boasted 49 graduates from a starting pool of 375-400 candidates, each getting washed out either in 1 of the first 6 steps or in the academy itself.
Simonson has been accused of using his position of authority as the Mayors Chief of Staff to get his son past the first hurdle of the application process, being one of the first 100 callers to apply. Tulsa processes candidates in batches of 100. To get in, you have to call. If you cant get through then you miss your opportunity. Allegedly, Terry's son missed that opportunity and was added after the fact because of his father's request.
Despite the fact that this seems to be a gross violation of the ethics rules that all city employees are bound to obey, it is just bad form. Sitting next to the two men who had made it so far into the process on their own made an impact on me. I could see in their eyes how important this was to them, everything about their demeanor, and their speech screamed, "I want to be a Tulsa Firefighter so bad I can taste it!" If they get through to the end everyone will know that they beat out hundreds of candidates to get there. They will feel the pride of being the best of the best. To start that process by cheating is dishonorable.
For a wonderful contrast between this scandal the right way to do things we need to look no further than Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer who refused a shot at FDNY because it would have required a special exception and special treatment. Meyer understands that a man can not attain honor by acting dishonorably.
You may ask yourself, what is the big deal? Why is this important? I'd say ask the hundreds of candidates that follow the rules if it is a big deal. Ask the people also tried and failed to call in that day but didn't have a father that works for the Mayor to help if this is a big deal. This is a big deal because it is a another alleged violation of the ethics ordinance from this administration, another investigation, and another controversy.
After I wrote this piece, but before I posted it, Terry Simonson tendered his resengation as Mayor Bartlett's Chief of Staff.