Making heads or tails of the police contract talks

23 Jan

I’ve been struggling to keep track of city business lately, but in these paranoid times, I can hardly get a straight answer out of anybody Downtown.  I thought I was alone in my concerns over city finances, at a time when management is crowing about an upturn in the economy (?), but most of my friends and people I talk to on a regular basis share a similar outlook – the city is spending too much on compensation, and at some point, the fiddler is going to have to be paid.  A lot of people I’ve spoken to lately believe there is a movement just off the radar to put a “public safety tax” on the 2016 ballot. 

Right now, the most important thing going on Downtown is the police contract talks. The police contracts were up December 31, and so far, there’s been proposals made by both sides – see the CPOA proposal here:

I got a copy of the city’s counter, but have not figured out what it means or how to post it. It’s not included with the agendas, you have to ask Chris Constantin for it. He sent me a copy that can’t be cut-and-paste. I’ll work on it. Tomorrow I’m going to talk to some folks who might be able to explain it to me.

The other day I talked to a friend of mine who spent about 20 years working for a California county, during which time she served as part of a “bargaining team.”She tried to fill me in on the basic workings of your average public employee contract talks. In the little county where she worked, it was done in the county administrator’s office, with the CAO serving as the negotiator. The bargaining teams would work with the CAO/negotiator, and then, in a separate session, the CAO would meet with the board of supervisors. The proposals would go back and forth, with additions or changes made, and eventually all parties would agree. At that time, the public wasn’t anywhere in the equation – people hadn’t started to ask about public compensation.

Now we have sunshine laws, the city of Chico is supposed to make available to the public all proposals made back and forth, before any decisions are made. I talked to a city of Chico official, who told me, the big difference in Chico is the use of a hired consultant to help out with the negotiation process. Nowadays, the process is not so friendly anymore, and council has probably been wise to bring in a consultant. I was told this consultant has cost a little over $100,000, which might be a cheap price to pay for some semblance of objectivity.   

When I’ve talked to various people about the contract talks, I’ve found, they are aware we spend a lot of money on compensation, and most people are also aware that in Chico, as in many cities in California, the lion’s share of compensation goes to the police and fire departments.

But people have a lot of misconceptions about how the contracts are made, myself included. Over the years I’ve tried to find out more, but people Downtown are very secretive. Which only adds to the speculation that something sneaky is afoot. The general picture is this: a bunch of sulking cops/firemen sitting directly across a table from council members, throwing ugly looks and veiled insults and threats at each other. One former councilor told a friend of mine, “it takes nerves of steel…” This only added to the mystique for me, I didn’t know what he meant, didn’t sound good. Sounded like racketeering. This is how many people who work in the private sector view the public sector unions – bullies, mobsters, Rod Steiger in “On the Waterfront”.

A few years ago, council voted to “sunshine” the proposals after each bargaining session. This didn’t seem like much to me – I still felt we needed to know exactly what went on in the sessions. I’d like to know the councilors’ reasoning behind their votes, but they all hide behind the veil of secrecy – they say they can’t discuss the details. They won’t even discuss it afterwards.

An insider recently told me, a lot of people think the cops’ proposal is outrageous. She told me, council members had thought the CPOA would be more reasonable in their demands, knowing that the proposals must be sunshined to the public, but instead they seemed to be surprised that the proposals were made public, coming to a recent council meeting to  complain. They felt the council had turned the public against them, when it was their own outrageous demands that have pissed people off.

Alot of my friends opine that Sorensen, Morgan, Coolidge and Fillmer told the cops to come up with an outrageous proposal that will make their eventual really sweet deal look pared down and more reasonable by comparison. Could be. We’ll have to see how this goes.

Also, let’s be sure to check the February campaign reports, in which lie the last contributions made in the recent elections. A lot of the big donors wait until the last minute so the voters won’t know where the money came from until after the  election is way over and pretty much forgotten. It would be interesting to see what the CPOA did with their money, as well as the Chico Firefighters Association. 



2 Responses to “Making heads or tails of the police contract talks”

  1. Michael Jones January 23, 2015 at 7:05 pm #

    Hi Juanita,

    I can copy most any document. If you can open the document on your computer screen, in MS Word you can go to Insert/Screenshot, that will copy it. Or also I use SnagIt, a software program that makes it easier to do the same thing. Sometimes you can print it to PDF, and then use character recognition. Or scan it.

    Public Safety tax will lead to bipartisan opposition. I’ve wanted more bipartisanship in Chico for a long (Councilor Guzzetti used to hiss at me that I was “a moderate” as if we don’t believe in anything). A sales tax increase proposal is just the vehicle we need. I think maybe Councilor Stone will ride an anti-sales tax platform to re-election. And true fiscal conservatives could get elected on the same platform. If Councilor Morgan votes for an increase in COPA compensation and supports a tax increase to help pay for it, he will be vulnerable.

    • Juanita Sumner January 24, 2015 at 6:19 am #

      You know what – the city clerk could post it on the website, save me a lot of trouble and name calling. I told Constantin that and he just ignored me.

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