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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane Police Guild approves contract with city

By Mike Prager and Jonathan Brunt The Spokesman-Review

A tentative labor contract for the Spokane police union appears dead on arrival in City Council chambers because it fails to embrace the recent voter-approved mandate about investigating officer wrongdoing.

At least four of the council’s seven members Friday reiterated pledges all had made earlier to reject any proposed labor contract with the city’s police force that fails to include provisions allowing for the independent oversight added to the City Charter earlier this year by overwhelming vote of Spokane voters.

The tentative agreement, already approved by union members but requiring City Council ratification, was publicly unveiled Friday by Mayor David Condon, who acknowledged he was unhappy with the plan but stressed it still makes improvements in police oversight.

Condon characterized the proposed contract as a part of a process that likely will continue to be negotiated.

“Frankly, my patience is wearing thin,” he said.

Even so, he signed off on the proposed contract, which states that it “satisfies all requirements of the City Charter.” But the contract does not give the police ombudsman the power to investigate alleged officer misconduct separately from the police department’s own investigation. That power was put into the charter in the February vote.

The contract includes a 2 percent pay raise each year for four years, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2012; an agreement to negotiate the use of body cameras, which the city already has pledged to buy for $730,000; and increases in employees’ health insurance costs.

The contract now goes to the City Council, which is holding meetings to take public comment starting Nov. 13.

All current City Council members have said in the past that they support independent power for the police ombudsman to investigate wrongdoing.

Council President Ben Stuckart said Friday he will vote no on the tentative contract because it includes unsatisfactory language governing the ombudsman.

“The minute we approve that TA (tentative agreement), we are locked in on it,” he said.

Councilman Steve Salvatori said he’s unwilling to approve a contract without an agreement on an independent ombudsman that meets the language of the charter amendment approved by 69 percent of voters last February.

He said he would prefer a locally crafted solution to police oversight rather than having federal authorities possibly impose one.

Condon said a review of the department underway by the U.S. Department of Justice will look at the question of independent police oversight.

Even after Condon agreed to the deal with the Spokane Police Guild, representatives from the guild, the mayor’s office and the City Council tried to reach a separate deal on the ombudsman’s power that could have been approved by ordinance. But a letter the city received Thursday from a guild attorney raised doubts that a side deal is possible.

In her letter, guild attorney Hillary McClure said city administrators already agreed not to give the ombudsman independent investigative power during contract negotiations.

“There are issues raised in the ordinance that appear to me to fall under the category of proposals that the city had on the table but that were not included in the TA,” McClure wrote. “It feels like as soon as we made the agreement, the city is asking for things that the city had removed from the table to get the TA done.”

Councilwoman Amber Waldref said she will vote no on the contract unless an agreement to create independent oversight can be reached.

“I’m holding out hope that there may be a way to bring everybody together,” she said.

Councilman Jon Snyder said he’ll vote against the contract because of its lack of independent oversight, adding that he’s also concerned about the amount of wage increases.

An attempt to reach Snyder’s opponent in Tuesday’s election, John Ahern, was unsuccessful Friday.

Candidates running for the other contested council seat in Tuesday’s election, Michael Cannon and Candace Mumm, also have said they would reject a guild contract that didn’t fully comply with the charter. Cannon reiterated Friday night that he would vote against the proposed contract. An attempt to reach Mumm was unsuccessful.

Guild President John Gately said he believes officers are agreeing to provisions that will improve oversight and the quality of police service. A Police Ombudsman Commission created in October is an important step, he said.

The Guild also agreed to let the commission open or reopen investigations to be conducted by the department’s internal affairs officers. The agreement has a 180-day time limit on all investigations.

The agreement prohibits the ombudsman from conducting separate “disciplinary investigations.”

The key issue centers on the ombudsman’s ability to conduct “non-disciplinary investigations” outside of the internal affairs process. The agreement doesn’t give the ombudsman that power. McClure, the guild’s attorney, stressed in her letter that the guild believes that authority must be bargained and approved by the union.

Aside from the ombudsman language, the tentative contract calls for 2 percent salary increases annually from the start of 2012, when the previous contract expired, through the start of 2015.

It also increases employee contributions for medical coverage starting next year.

The cost of the salary increase is about $450,000 a year for each of the four years, not counting the give-back on health care premiums. The cumulative total increase is about $1.8 million by the end of 2015, when the proposed contract would expire.

The tentative agreement also provides education benefits to guild members, including full tuition reimbursement for approved classes and extra pay for those with associate’s or bachelor’s degrees starting in 2014.

Gately said the education provisions bring Spokane up to date with what’s offered by other departments and put Spokane in a competitive position to hire trained officers.

In addition, the contract calls for establishing a policy on the use of police body cameras, addressing concerns about privacy for victims, witnesses and others who are recorded on video, Gately said.

The tentative contract said if an agreement can’t be reached between the department and the guild, either party can call in a mediator from the Public Employment Relations Commission.