Okla. fire union members reject 'media suppression' agenda item
Norman firefighters said the proposal was an effort to silence them after news outlets published concerns about the department's lack of mental health resources
By Mindy Ragan Wood
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN, Okla. — Members of the Norman Fire Department union this week rejected an agenda item designed to discourage firefighters from speaking to the media.
Most were stunned to see the item up for vote at Monday night's meeting, members and officials told The Transcript.
Union members were asked to support the hiring of a public information officer to "avoid leaks to the press by a high ranking union official," according to the agenda.
Following some discussion, members decided against hiring a spokesperson, said Nick Terhune, union president.
"It was voted down unanimously," he said.
A related item calling for the the union president to report "all policy violations to the fire chief, regardless of rank or favor," also failed.
If approved, a public information officer would be employed by the union and not the department, which is a separate entity, assistant city attorney Rick Knighton said.
Some members told The Transcript the items were an attempt to silence firefighters after the newspaper and other media outlets published concerns about the lack of mental health resources provided by the department.
"At the last local 2067 stated meeting there were a few concerning items on the agenda," a union member said on condition of anonymity. "It seems that certain members of the city are trying to infiltrate Local 2067 and suppress our voice.
"This a direct attack on out constitutional rights. I feel it's imperative that the citizens of Norman know what the individuals inside their city are conspiring to do."
It was unclear Tuesday who requested the item be placed on the agenda, which was sent to members via email from Jason Smith, an assistant fire chief and the union's treasurer and secretary.
Union members and Terhune said Smith is responsible for accepting agenda discussion items from members and posting them.
"If you have something you want on the agenda, you send it to Jason," Terhune said. "And then, Jason put its on the agenda and send it out to everyone. I have zero control over that."
Reached Tuesday, Smith declined to say if he compiles the agendas and referred The Transcript to Terhune, the union president. When asked again if he is responsible for publishing the agenda, Smith declined to answer and hung up.
A union member said no one spoke up to claim ownership of the item or defended it.
Knighton said because the union is separate from the department, the city has no involvement in its agendas.
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