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Verner foresees police cuts

In state of the city address, mayor says she’ll proceed without guild input

Spokane Mayor Mary Verner’s annual state of the city address Monday made a dire prediction about the likelihood of winning police concessions to prevent job losses next year.

“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 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 strive, as always, to deliver excellent customer service. But, folks, we simply cannot expect to do a whole lot more with a whole lot less,” she said. “Our dedicated work force will help us to prioritize, and we will meet the essential, mandatory, nondiscretionary and priority services of city government.”

Verner and the City Council agreed earlier this year to push for half the forecast $7 million deficit to come through union concessions – and that 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 did not rule out a last-minute agreement with the guild before she presents her budget proposal to the 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 creation of the city’s new Municipal Court, restoration of Crime Check, completion of several street paving projects, hiring of someone to coordinate improvements to biking and walking routes, restoration of alley trash pickup, and efforts pushing economic development along East Sprague Avenue 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 negotiations to give investigative powers to the city’s new police ombudsman.

The proposal was introduced by Councilman Bob Apple, and Councilmen Mike Allen and Richard Rush say they will support it, meaning it 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 investigative power.

Verner said it’s too early to tell if the ombudsman needs the power to investigate wrongdoing. “He has not indicated at this point that he needs any more additional authority,” she said.

Verner said Apple’s proposed resolution complicates contract negotiations. “Right now we’re focusing on money because we have to deliver a budget.”

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