Regarding Police Assn Contract from Mayor & Mayor Pro Tem

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Steve Adler
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Joined: Fri Jan 16, 2015 2:12 pm

Regarding Police Assn Contract from Mayor & Mayor Pro Tem

Post by Steve Adler » Fri Dec 29, 2017 4:31 pm

An open letter to our colleagues and the community with thoughts on the contract with the Police Association from the Mayor and the Mayor Pro Tem:

Sometimes, we can find ourselves being faced with having to decide between only two choices. This can be frustrating, especially when it seems there is or should be a better choice.

Sometimes, we can’t do what we think would be best, because the better choice wasn’t among the two options given.

The Austin City Council faced just such a choice on December 13. We could only approve or reject the proposed police contract. The Council could not make a single change to the proposed contract even if by working together we all could have made it better, so we voted to postpone consideration of the contract in hopes of reaching a better, more collaborative outcome that better helps Austin achieve its goals of being a safe city for everyone.

To do that, we’re going to need to design a process to engage with each other, but what happens in the meantime? If we do nothing and we operate this next year without a contract with the Austin Police Association, then we’ll operate under the provisions of state law Chapter 143. This is certainly doable, but it’s far from optimal. Operating under Chapter 143 would mean we can’t use the hiring and promotion procedures we’ve developed and thus would probably not achieve the diversity we seek in the police force – and toward which Austin has made good strides. Under Chapter 143, we will probably not maintain all the community and civilian oversight of incidents this community has achieved over time and through steady collaboration among community activists, organizational leaders, city staff, and the Police Association.

There is a better choice. We don’t have to resolve the long-term contract right away.

We could enter into an interim contract for the time it will take the community to work through the outstanding issues. Everything would generally stay in place, except that we’d quickly negotiate an appropriate pay raise just for the interim contract and add some transparency and accountability elements. Basically, for an interim period we could operate under either the old contract or the proposed contract. We’d do this to give the community and the Association the opportunity and time to explore issues including community policing, new levels of officers, civilian oversight, and the appropriate duration of a long-term contract.

We believe the best way to move forward with an interim contract is to extend the contract negotiation period that would otherwise expire on December 29, 2017, for another thirty or sixty days. The City Manager has said that she will agree to such a thirty or sixty-day extension; negotiations, however, can continue only if both parties agree. And given that there’s a need for further negotiation after the Association had negotiated in good faith and received approval from its membership for the proposed contract, we propose the city reimburse the Association its costs associated with negotiating such an interim contract. That just seems fair.

If we proceed now under an interim contract, then we can have a discussion not only about the transparency elements that have been brought forward by the community, but also about financial aspects and reaching equitable safety goals. Council had no real opportunity prior to the vote to examine the financial numbers in the proposed contract that some suggested would lock taxpayers into property tax increases if we also wanted to increase substantially the number of police officers and did not want to cut other city spending. It was not clear how, if at all, the proposed contract incorporated the defining, strengthening, and expanding of community policing. Some of the community’s requests for additional oversight and transparency may well be achieved through resolution or ordinance, and with additional time the Council can collaborate with the Association and the community to implement these elements through direction to city management or inclusion in the contract.

It would be our recommendation that the parties involved consider extending the contract negotiation period beyond December 29 in order to prevent the contract from going to impasse and to give all of us another 30 to 60 days to negotiate an interim solution.

Even if we go into a period where we operate under Chapter 143, the parties could by agreement move into an interim contract that took us out of Chapter 143 at any time. This would make sense if we wanted to move out of Chapter 143, and if it looked like it would take an extended period of time to get to a new, negotiated long-term contract.

In retrospect, it is apparent that the contract negotiation process — which resulted in choices that Council could not approve — was not fair to anyone, not the Police Association, not the community activists and leaders who organized, and not the City of Austin staff who worked hard on the negotiations. There was a disconnect in the process that we have to study, understand, and not repeat in the future. We personally commit to work with our colleagues to communicate better among ourselves and with city management. The people who negotiated and organized in good faith are not to blame.

Clearly, there are several issues that need to be discussed in the community before the Police Association and city staff meet together at the contract negotiating table to discuss a long-term contract. Some of these are issues directly related to labor negotiations. Others are not, but need to be decided to inform such negotiations.

For example and as concerns transparency, some in the community have stated that Austin’s public oversight over policing trails many other cities and established best practices. Others point to what they say are significant gains we’ve made in oversight over the last ten years and say that Austin is a leader and model. We need an open, honest discussion of these issues and a process and forum to establish common facts and policy direction.

As another example, the Council has received studies indicating that we should be adding police officers so as to increase uncommitted time which could be spent out in the community giving people the chance to build deeper relationships with our officers. The Council, Association, and community need a clear outline of how we would measure the efficacy of community policing. Before we can act, we also need to see how increasing the number of officers over the next several years would impact future City budgets and the opportunity for future pay increases. Our public safety budgets represent almost 70% of our City’s general fund budget and the long-term choices we make in public safety are best made holistically and in consideration of long-term needs in social and human services and other budget areas.

It’s important to keep in mind that Austin is the safest big city in Texas and one of the safest in the country. We’re doing a lot right. That we pay our officers more than any other city in Texas helps us attract and keep the police talent which serves us so well. Of course, any system that is made up of people will be imperfect, and we can always improve. We need to get better, too. We need to give credit and thanks to our police force for keeping Austin safe even as we explore improvements that can make policing more racially just and equitable for everyone in Austin.

We would support both sides sitting down early in 2018 to negotiate an interim contract. As noted above, negotiations could include consideration of a salary increase along with consideration of including several of the civilian oversight elements, elements that it appears could be achieved through resolution or ordinance or inclusion in the contract. And then as a community we could talk about the larger issues that would need to be resolved before we could enter into longer-term contract negotiations.

We intend that these conversations would be focused, efficient, and inclusive of stakeholders representing different perspectives — and that they would have as their ultimate goal the laying of groundwork for a successful long-term contract negotiation that best helps us keep Austin safe and equitable for everyone.

At a time when many in our community are looking to better understand where we are, we invite our colleagues to weigh in, if they wish.