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Friday, March 29, 2013

Hales Backs Compromise on Cop Union Talks: "Let's Not Play Games With the Public"

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Fri, Mar 29, 2013 at 3:49 PM

Mayor Charlie Hales today explained his office's decision, reported yesterday, to hold the city's upcoming bargaining talks with the Portland Police Association partly behind closed doors.

In an interview with the Mercury, he said he'd prefer to have all the talks be public, on city property. But with mediation on the Department of Justice settlement and the city's budget crisis both bearing down at the same time, there wasn't time to draw any proverbial lines in the sand.

Instead, the city is sticking with a compromise much like the one it reached with the PPA in 2010, before both sides falsely declared, after a couple of sessions, in a story reported by the Mercury, that all meetings would be open. The mayor has also promised to allow "community review" of the contract after it's negotiated and before it's approved by the Portland City Council.

"I'm less concerned with how the negotiations look and more concerned about the outcome," Hales says. "What matters is the agreement produced and does that agreement pass the acid test of a bureau that's credible with the public and is spending its money wisely and where we have a good work environment for our officers."

Hales, at a forum last year, had decried the secret negotiations after candidates were asked about the Mercury's story. The compromise, in light of those comments, is notable.

Today, he said his preference would still be talks conducted "in a glass cube, with mics on, and in the light of day." But with a "perfect storm" of conflicts looming—including changes related to the DOJ settlement, touchy discussions over subjects like overtime and layoffs, and the backdrop of pension reform plotting in Salem, he didn't want to fight it out with the PPA over ground rules.

His comments last year, he also argued, were more about the city breaking a promise. He says he's not willing to do that.

"I'd rather people know that right up front," he said, "and not deceive people by saying, 'They're all open,' and have people actually meeting in a bar to work it out. Let's not play games with the public."

PPA President Daryl Turner, when asked for comment on the arrangement, said, at first, "That's what they say. We haven't really talked about it amongst ourselves and decided what we're going to do." He also said he hadn't spoken personally with the mayor yet about contract talks.

Later, though, he also said it was a "fair compromise" and referenced the past arrangement in which, after talks were declared "open," some were still held in private.

"When we have it at the PPA, whether it be at our office or somewhere else, we'd have them in private," he said. "I don't think there's going to be any reason to suspect there's some hidden agenda. It worked fine last time, and I don't see any reason to deviate."

Hales won't say what his priorities will be.

"Not yet," he says.

Last time, former Mayor Sam Adams paid dearly in pay hikes and benefit bumps for, essentially, two major policy tradeoffs: random drug-testing and the union's agreement to stop grieving the city's Police Review Board.

Talks are expected to start up soon, with a schedule still being finalized. Hales says the city has had preliminary discussions with the PPA on ground rules and scheduling issues but has not exchanged contract proposals. He also acknowledged that the talks would be concurrent with DOJ mediation.

Portland Copwatch's Dan Handelman welcomed the chance for review. But he said he was disappointed the meetings wouldn't be public and worried that the two sides might not even mention controversial items outside the private sessions—giving the public an incomplete glimpse at the full scope of contract talks.

"It's up to the city to make sure that doesn't happen," Handelman says. "It's not going to be the PPA."

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