Spokane Mayor David Condon is heeding the advice of Spokane City Council members who have pushed him to reopen contract negotiations with the Spokane Police Guild.
The mayor and guild agreed to a tentative four-year labor contract last fall, but that deal was rejected by the City Council in November. It was nearly rejected a second time in December before the council opted to delay a vote until Feb. 3.
City officials confirmed this week that administrators sent suggested changes in the proposed contract to the mediator working with the city and guild this week after Condon met Monday in a private session with the City Council. City spokesman Brian Coddington said he could not provide details on the city’s most recent proposal.
Early this year, City Council President Ben Stuckart sent a letter to Condon urging him to reopen negotiations to spare the council from rejecting the deal again.
Stuckart said Thursday that if the guild accepts what was proposed by the administration he likely would support the contract.
“In my opinion and in other council members’ opinion, the language they’re talking about meets all four points of the letter,” he said.
At issue is the level of police oversight allowed in the contract.
Voters last year changed the City Charter to strengthen the city’s police ombudsman authority and to give the ombudsman the right to investigate alleged officer misconduct separately from the police department’s own investigations.
But the original deal between Condon and the guild doesn’t provide that right. Condon last month proposed to instead allow a citizen advisory board to hire an independent contractor to investigate when the citizen board is unhappy with the police department’s internal investigation. Spokane Police Guild President John Gately appeared with the mayor at a news conference in December to talk about the plan, but he declined to endorse it.
Tim Connor, a member of the Spokane Police Accountability Reform Coalition, said he saw a version last week of what city officials were considering to propose in contract negotiations. He said that version would have largely incorporated into the contract the proposal Condon floated last month. But it also would have given the citizen board the ability to ask the ombudsman to conduct independent investigations rather than a separate contractor.
Connor said he’s not sure that was the final version proposed to the guild after the City Council met on Monday. He believes it would still violate the City Charter “by setting up a gantlet of new conditions” that have to be met before the ombudsman has the ability to investigate police misconduct.
He added that administrators should have given the public a chance to comment on their proposal before asking the guild to approve it.
City Council members have given two reasons for their rejecting and later delaying consideration of the guild contract.
A group of council members likely could accept the idea Condon suggested last month if the guild would agree to it in their contract. That would close the prospect of getting sued by the guild, though it would open the possibility of a lawsuit from the Center for Justice, which has threatened to sue if the city doesn’t live up to the City Charter.
Another group of council members has said the city should hold out for a deal with the guild that gives the ombudsman independent investigative power. The guild’s long opposition to independent investigative authority, however, makes that unlikely. That means the contract could be settled by an arbitrator, and it’s unclear how the ombudsman’s oversight role would be settled if the city and guild can’t agree and the deal is settled in arbitration.