The recent public disagreements between me and the Tucson Police Officer’s Association are unproductive. Issues of public policy, budgeting, transparency and ultimately negotiating labor benefits have been wrapped up in what has become an unfortunate sideshow. At the core of recent media coverage is the city budget, serious fiscal challenges and the need to balance those with legitimate concerns over adequate and fair compensation and benefits packages. Clearly the processes we now have in place aren’t working.
What we need is to adopt a model through which the taxpaying public can assess the costs and benefits of what is being proposed, is allowed a public comment opportunity, and one that assures contacts between the governing body, staff and labor council representatives are disclosed so allegations of threats or back-door negotiating are eliminated. I have proposed to our city manager that he and his staff look to a model that exists in Costa Mesa, California, to reframe how we address these important issues in Tucson.
The Costa Mesa program is called Civic Openness in Negotiations. Referred to as “COIN,” it checks the boxes that our process presently lacks. An outside, independent negotiator is hired. In our process upper level city administration leads the “negotiations.” That’s a stacked deck. Outside independence levels the playing field.
At the heart of my advocacy to eliminate the sick-leave sell-back program is a concern over its cost to the city General Fund. In the COIN model, before contract talks start, and independent economic analysis is done that assesses the fiscal impact of each contract term being proposed, and the results of that analysis are made public for 30 days prior to the start of negotiations. We’re spending taxpayer money. They deserve that transparency and the opportunity to comment on the package in order to guide the participants.
Claims have been made that improper contacts occurred between my office and members of TPOA. In the COIN model, each council member must disclose if he or she had any communications with representatives of the employee association related to terms being negotiated, wages, hours or working conditions. Let’s lay it all out for the public to see so accusations have some basis in fact.
As our budget process has evolved, the public has seen proposals from the city manager that involved compensation and benefits. In the COIN model, any offers or counteroffers, along with their fiscal impact to the taxpayer, must be made public. As the process evolves, the cost implications are tracked in an open and transparent fashion.
The recent media coverage accurately points to how financial issues can easily lead to tension and disagreement. The process we’ve allowed to develop in the city of Tucson lends itself to exactly those results. If nothing else, the situation that now exists between me and TPOA calls for a solution. That solution must include an open disclosure of contacts between elected officials and labor partners, costs of the various proposals being negotiated, an opportunity for the public to comment on how their tax dollars are being spent, and that process being facilitated by an independent outside negotiator so the parties involved enter the negotiating table on an equal plane.
I’ve proposed to the city manager that he look to the Costa Mesa model of Civic Openness in Negotiations as the framework from which to build a new, solutions-based meet-and-confer process for us in Tucson. I regret the distractions the recent media coverage of my proposals and the TPOA reaction has generated. And yet if they result in our moving to a more productive, open and less-contentious process, then the community will have gained in the end.