October 12, 2009

Without wage concessions, Verner says 22 cops will lose jobs

The Spokesman-Review
 

Spokane Mayor Mary Verner’s annual State of the City Address on Monday made a dire prediction about the likelihood of winning police concessions to prevent job losses next year.

“In 2010, we will see 22 commissioned police officer positions eliminated from the budget,” Verner said.

The comments mark a new tone in Verner’s public assessment of the Spokane Police Guild’s apparent unwillingness to make concessions to save jobs. Although the guild missed a negotiating deadline in August, Verner had previously expressed hope that a deal would be made. Not anymore.

The likely loss of police jobs was one of numerous points in her speech, which focused on pushing for quality service during an economic downturn.

“We will always strive to deliver excellent service. We simply cannot expect to deliver a whole lot more with a whole lot less,” she said. “Our dedicated workforce will help prioritize to meet essential needs with the resources that remain after budget cuts.”

Verner and the City Council agreed earlier this year that they would push for half the forecasted $7 million deficit to come through union concessions and that if unions didn’t participate, unions that didn’t agree to cuts would face job loses equal to the amount demanded through concessions.

In an interview after her speech, Verner still did not rule out a last-minute agreement with the guild before she presents her budget proposal to City Council on Nov. 2

“At this point, we have to plan as if we’re not going to have concessions with the Guild,” Verner said. “They’ve not yet sent me any indication that they’re going to meet the budget and the timeline for the budget.”

Besides the loss of 22 police jobs, Verner predicted the elimination of additional 42 city positions through retirements.

Among the city’s accomplishments in the past year, Verner noted the city’s new Muncipal Court, the restoration of Crime Check, completion of several street paving projects, the hiring of someone to coordinate improvements to biking and walking routes, the restoration of alley trash pickup and efforts pushing econonimc development along East Sprague and in the University District.

Meanwhile, new pressure is emerging on negotiations between the administration and the guild from City Council.

Next week, the council will consider a nonbinding resolution asking the mayor to push the guild during contract negotiations to give investigatory powers to the city’s new police ombudsman.

The proposal was introduced by City Councilman Bob Apple and councilmen Mike Allen and Richard Rush say they will support it, meaning it only needs support from one more member for approval.

As part of a federal criminal case against a police officer accused of civil rights violations, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has acknowledged that a broader criminal investigation of the Spokane Police Department’s handling of a fatal confrontation with an unarmed janitor is being conducted.

Rush pointed to an Oct. 6 decision by the state Public Employment Relations Commission related to the Seattle Police Department that he said may indicate that the city doesn’t have to seek union approval to give the ombudsman investigatory power.

Verner said it’s too early to tell if the new ombudsman needs the power to investigate wrongdoing.

“He has not indicated at this point that he needs any more additional authority,” Verner said.

She said Apple’s proposed resolution complicates contract negotiations.

“Right now we’re focusing on money because we have to deliver a budget,” she said.


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