The Spokane City Council this afternoon made good on a promise to reject any proposed labor contract with the police department that lacks union acceptance of independent investigative authority for the city’s police ombudsman.
The council voted unanimously to reject the tentative contract agreement with the Spokane Police Guild that was negotiated by Mayor David Condon and his staff, specifically citing the lack of investigative authority for the ombudsman despite an overwhelming voter mandate.
The contract talks go back to the negotiating table. Council members said they hope the guild would go along with calls for independent investigative power. A city charter amendment approved last February by 69 percent of voters calls for independent ombudsman authority.
“We are not there yet, and we need to take this step,” said Councilman Jon Snyder prior to voting against the contract.
Councilman Mike Allen said the tentative agreement “does not rise to what the citizens voted on.”
Public hearings that were to start on Wednesday are being cancelled because the two sides cannot agree on what constitutes independent investigative power.
The council is separately considering an ordinance that would provide for independent investigative power. That proposal and the tentative agreement were to be the subjects of the three public hearings, which are now postponed indefinitely.
Councilman Steve Salvatori said he wanted assurances from the guild that it would not challenge independent power for the ombudsman, but the guild apparently is not willing to do that.
Councilwoman Amber Waldref said, “I think it is unfortunate we couldn’t get to that place. I think it is unfortunate we were put in this position.”
The tentative agreement, previously approved by guild members, was not listed on the agenda, but was added late this afternoon after council members spent 30 minutes huddling with their attorneys in private session.
When asked about the surprise vote, Council President Ben Stuckart said, “We’ve been waiting long enough.”
Just prior to the vote, Stuckart said he doesn’t want the city to be stuck with an unfavorable contract for the next few years.
Erin Jacobson, assistant city attorney who worked on the negotiations, told council members in open session that the guild was not willing to approve any addendum or supplemental agreement to allow for greater investigative independence.
At issue is whether the ombudsman would be allowed to conduct “non-disciplinary investigations” outside of the internal affairs process. The contract agreement did not give the ombudsman that power.
The guild argued that the creation in October of a separate citizen ombudsman commission to oversee the office is providing the independent power called for in the charter amendment and the guild was willing to accept that change.
The guild’s attorney, in a recent letter, said that the issue of investigative authority must be bargained and approved by the union.
The tentative contract also called for 2 percent salary increases annually from the start of 2012, when the previous contract expired, through the start of 2015, plus monetary benefits for college education.
The cost of the contract was $1.8 million in additional salary at the end of four years, not counting the education benefits.
Councilman Mike Fagan in an interview said that he voted no for more than one reason. He wants an independent ombudsman, but also believed the salary increases were “too fat. It’s too rich. As far as I’m concerned I think the Police Guild owes the citizens of Spokane.”