Oct. 13, 2004 - A move has been made by the Oro Valley town council to resolve the hotly debated meet and confer issue that has divided the town's police department for nearly three years.
While the Police Officers Association, the group that brought forth the original ordinance that would grant the town's public safety workers the right to meet and confer, is happy about the move, the Oro Valley Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 53 remains firmly against it, threatening to sue the town for its right to represent its members at the bargaining table.
The ordinance has been dubbed the "meet and confer" ordinance because language in the document gives officers the ability to negotiate wages and benefits as a collective body. But the ordinance does more than grant the right to negotiate, it also sets up the system wherein a group representing all the safety workers is chosen, through an election, and then negotiates on behalf of everyone. It also sets up a system for settling grievances through the chosen representative.
The ordinance was brought before the council at the request of Councilmember Terry Parish during the Oct. 8 council meeting and passed 5 to 2 with Mayor Paul Loomis and Councilmember Kenneth "KC" Carter voting against it.
Acting Town Attorney Tobin Sidles declined to comment on what is specifically different in this new ordinance from one that was proposed by the OVPOA last year, but not considered. The group sued the town for denying it the right to seek voter approval of that ordinance.
At the time, then town attorney Mark Langlitz said the town took issue with the "language of exclusivity" contained in the ordinance. "If 55 percent (of Oro Valley police) want to join AZCOPS and want to exclusively represent all police, we can't do that," Langlitz said at the time to the Northwest EXPLORER. "It would mean silencing the minority."
Although he helped to rewrite the ordinance, Langlitz declined to comment on the issue when reached by phone Oct. 7, saying he was no longer with the town, having taken a position with the county attorney's office.
The new ordinance does include a change in language from using "official and exclusive" when describing a group elected to represent public safety workers, to using the "official representative."
Loomis, in voting to deny the ordinance, said he still felt language of exclusivity existed in the document. Carter said he felt that FOP President Herb Williams and Police Chief Danny Sharp should have been present to answer any questions and have input on the ordinance and asked that the item be continued.
During the discussion, Councilmember Barry Gillaspie said the town did enact "a quasi meet and confer ordinance" for a few years and both groups were able to come to the table this year to work out their terms.
"The end game is to bring some harmony to the public safety department," he said, adding that the ordinance will bring due process, choice and a bargaining committee to the employees.
"I don't believe the town is obligated to negotiate with multiple parties anymore. We're growing, we're getting bigger," he said.
Although Vice Mayor Paula Abbott was behind the deal worked out last year for two members from each group to be represented in negotiations, she supported the ordinance this year, saying it "follows the democratic process I believe in."
The ordinance was opposed by several members of the FOP because they said it cuts off their ability to negotiate for themselves and forces them to surrender that right to whatever organization has a majority membership. While many Oro Valley officers belong to both the OVPOA and FOP, both groups said the majority vote will likely favor the OVPOA. Nearly a dozen OVPOSA members attended the meeting to express support for the ordinance.
Fueling the interest in the Police Officers Association was the case of Sgt. James Bloomfield, a 14-year veteran fired after an internal affairs investigation determined he had lied to superiors about an affair with another officer's girlfriend.
Bloomfield appealed his firing to a grievance board which had the power to reinstate him, reinstate him with a lesser discipline or uphold the firing. The Oro Valley Employee Grievance Board upheld the firing on a 3-2 vote.
The way the department's command staff handled Bloomfield's investigation was a concern to officers and caused some to join the OVPOA.
Officer Dan Krueger, president of the OVPOA, an affiliate of the Arizona Conference of Police and Sheriffs, (AZCOPS), has been with the Oro Valley police department for 10 years and said the officers have been trying for as long as he can remember to get such an ordinance in writing and adopted by the town.
Krueger said this ordinance does not grant exclusivity, but "establishes a process where all members can vote." Officers, he said, can still choose which group represents them. He said, to him, getting the ordinance passed was not about choosing one organization over the other, but about having someone who can represent the public safety workers on issues such as wages and grievances.
"We don't want to freeze out anyone," he said in an interview following the meeting. "I think some people feel like they are losing a voice. I have faith that whoever is chosen to represent us will negotiate in the best interest of everyone."
Krueger said the OVPOA members did compromise on what the association wanted and what appears in the final ordinance. For example, he said in their original proposal it would require at least 30 percent of the town's public safety workers to request an election to chose which group represents them in any given year. In the new ordinance anyone can call an election, even if it is just one person.
Williams could not be present at the council meeting, but sent a letter to the mayor and several other town officials that was read at the meeting. In the letter, he objected to the ordinance, writing that "any proposal passed by the council granting exclusivity and limiting our ability to represent FOP members during negotiations will result in litigation against the town." In a subsequent interview, he said he does plan to meet with the Attorney General regarding the legality of the ordinance and is considering filing suit. He said he feels such action is "unfortunate" because it will cost the town, and in turn the taxpayers' money on lawyers and legal fees.
He said he believes that the process used last year where members from both organizations negotiated together was "fair and benefitted all police department employees."
He said Parish bringing the item to the agenda shows "that he is biased in favor of the Oro Valley Police Officers Association." Williams also said he thought the move was a political payback to the OVPOA, which campaigned in favor of four councilmembers including Parish. He pointed to a letter published shortly after the council election in May by AZCOPS attorney Martin Bihn in which Bihn celebrated the election of the council in writing, "This is a huge step in Oro Valley because these candidates committed to immediate enactment of meet and confer."
In the same letter he wrote: "Realizing that we could be litigating against the town for years, AZCOPS and the Oro Valley POA decided to replace the city council in the next election. This is a fundamental AZCOPS principle, - we will first try to work with you, if you refuse, we will take you out."
Williams said he felt because the FOP chose to stay out of the election and politics altogether and situate itself as a service-based organization, that it now is paying the price.
"We're typically not involved in politics. Now its coming back to haunt us," he said.
Another officer, Mike Schuh, said the ordinance was contradictory, allowing officers a choice of membership in one section and then stating later only one organization will be chosen to represent the officers in another section. He said because a majority of the officers have currently chosen OVPOA to represent them, "as an FOP member, I will never have the opportunity to be represented." He said the ordinance will "drive a wedge through the officers."
Schuh also asked that Parish abstain from voting on the ordinance due to a perception of some as having a conflict of interest, being a police officer and former president of an AZCOPS organization in Pima County.
At the meeting, Parish denied being biased on the issue, saying he was not a union member. Parish resigned his membership in the Pima County Deputy Sheriff's Association Sept. 27.
In an interview Oct. 7, he said he was "disappointed" that was the perception because he made efforts to meet with everyone to develop a compromise on this issue. He said the end product is the result of give and take between the FOP, OVPOA and the Oro Valley Police Department and town management.
He said he thought most of the meetings between the groups were positive and that he left the last meeting feeling that, while neither the FOP or OVPOA was completely happy, they had reached an agreement. He said he was "a little surprised" at the feelings of opposition expressed at the council meeting.
Williams said while some of the meetings did seem to go well, he did not believe his concerns were heard and was not able to see the final ordinance before it was approved by the council.
Parish said he brought the item forward because he thinks such an ordinance is "essential to have open lines of communication."
He said in the past, there was a perception that the town could pit the two existing police organizations against each other in order to get what it wanted, which he said was not always to the benefit of the workers.
This ordinance, Parish said, protects all of the public safety workers in the town.
While some members may think this ordinance will squeeze the FOP out of Oro Valley, Parish said the ordinance will actually "force them to work together."
He said the issue of meet and confer has been very divisive, not only in Oro Valley, but across the state, and the intent of the ordinance is not to change the ability of a public safety officer to belong to one organization or the other, or no organization if that is their choice.
At the same time, Parish said, in a way, the ordinance is exclusive in nature.
"It allows the public safety employees to put forth a united front when negotiating with the town."
He said he was pleased to hear members of OVPOA say at the meeting that if they were elected to represent the workers they would like to include members of the FOP in that process.