The City Council has approved a new five-year agreement between the city and the Police Department’s main union, despite two council members’ concerns about the secretive manner in which the agreement was reached.
Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan and Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco said they were unaware of an Oct. 8 session at City Hall run by a state-appointed mediator at which the other three council members signed a memorandum of agreement to settle the Police Benevolent Association contract.
At Tuesday’s council meeting, both voted to support the agreement, saying their concerns were with the process, not the contract itself. “I’m concerned about the lack of transparency, how it all came about,” Scirocco said.
The mediator was assigned by the Public Employee Relations Board after a council majority in April rejected a proposed four-year contract which included a 10 percent wage increase. Mayor Joanne Yepsen and Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen attended the subsequent mediation sessions. At the Oct. 8 session, they signed the agreement, as did Accounts Commissioner John Franck, whose third signature effectively bound the five-member council to approve the deal.
City labor attorney Jeff Honeywell said he’s been through a similar mediation process numerous times, and there was no violation of the state’s Open Meetings Law when Franck’s presence created a council majority because the meeting was about collective bargaining, which can be exempt under the law.
“It’s not a violation of the Open Meetings Law when you’re meeting for advise of counsel, which is what’s going on in collective bargaining when I’m present,” Honeywell told the council.
The new agreement is retroactive to the expiration of the last PBA contract at the end of 2012. It calls for 3 percent raises for officers in 2013, 2.5 percent in 2014, and 2 percent raises in 2015, 2016, and 2017. The police officers also agreed to health insurance coverage changes that will save the city money, and for the first time agreed to a drug- and alcohol-testing program Mathiesen had sought.
Madigan, who shortly after the deal was reached said she should have been involved because of the contract’s potential cost implications and implied a tax increase was possible, said Tuesday that the total cost to the city will be about $1.45 million. She said the retroactive pay — about $850,000 — can be covered from existing reserve funds and the city surplus, and no increase will be needed in the proposed 2016 city property tax rate.
“This is a good fiscally responsible contract for the city. Neither side got everything it wanted,” Yepsen said.
With the PBA contract settled, the city’s only remaining unsettled labor contracts are with the separate unions representing firefighters and the Fire Department’s administrators.