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Police union challenges Mayor Ed Murray on outside hiring of administrators

As the Seattle Police Management Association pursues a complaint through a state agency, the mayor stands his ground and warns of potentially contentious contract negotiations.
Interim police chief Harry Bailey (left) and Mayor Ed Murray with police chief nominee Kathleen O'Toole

Interim police chief Harry Bailey (left) and Mayor Ed Murray with police chief nominee Kathleen O'Toole Credit: Allyce Andrew

A Seattle police union is pushing back against city legislation enacted earlier this year that allows assistant chiefs to be hired from outside the department's ranks.

The Seattle Police Management Association, which represents captains and lieutenants, filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the city with the state's Public Employment Relations Commission on May 7. Mayor Ed Murray signed the legislation in January. The measure changed a 1978 city ordinance that had said the chief of police could only appoint assistant chiefs from the ranks of captains and lieutenants within the department. In the complaint, SPMA asks the commission to issue an order requiring the city to restore the original ordinance.

"We have no intention at this time of withdrawing the complaint," said Seattle Police Capt. Eric Sano, president of SPMA.

Last Monday, the mayor nominated Boston's former police commissioner, Kathleen O'Toole, to be Seattle's next police chief. Murray told Crosscut this week that he is asking O'Toole to bring in at least one outside assistant chief.

In the interview with Crosscut on Tuesday, the mayor also said that there could be tough negotiations between the city and its police unions on the horizon. Murray stressed that the unions will likely need to make concessions , in order for the city to comply with a federally-mandated police reform process that is currently underway,

As for the hiring policy, Murray said that Merrick Bobb, the monitor overseeing Seattle's police reforms, had made it clear that Seattle needed to change its prohibition on bringing in command staff from outside the department.

The department's seven assistant chiefs, known collectively as the command staff, are each in charge of a bureau. Each bureau oversees different types of department activities, such as precinct operations, reform compliance, or homeland security. Annual salaries for those who have held assistant chief posts in 2014 have almost uniformly been $185,900, according to police department budget documents obtained through public disclosure requests. 

When the legislation changing the hiring ordinance first surfaced late last year in the City Council, SPMA wanted to negotiate over it with the city.

"Nobody was willing to bargain with us," SPMA's Sano said. He adds: "It was never our position that the new chief should not be able to bring in outside assistant chiefs."

According to Murray, SPMA asked him to restrict the chief to only two outside hires. But he said no.

"That is a decision that has to be left up to the chief of police," Murray said. "And I was unwilling to make trades related to something around reform."

While Sano does not believe that a new chief would immediately sweep aside and replace the entire command staff, he is concerned that over time additional outsiders will be brought in, narrowing the career paths for the department's captains and lieutenants.

"Next thing you know, we don't have any advancement opportunities," he said.

An unfair labor practice complaint manager at the Public Employment Relations Commission will review SPMA's complaint, which centers on what the document calls the city's "unilateral change" in promotion opportunities for lieutenants and captains. The complaint says the city was required to bargain over the change. If the manager decides there is a "cause for action," then the complaint will be assigned to one of the commission's examiners and a hearing will be scheduled. SPMA will have one chance to revise the complaint if the manager initially finds no cause for action. If the manager ultimately determines that the complaint is unfounded, it will be dismissed.

The Seattle City Attorney's Office believes that the change to the ordinance is not subject to collective bargaining and does not constitute an unfair labor practice, a spokesperson for the office confirmed.

Providing a backdrop for the complaint is the police management association's long-expired labor contract with the city. The contract was effective through Dec. 31, 2011. Sarah Butler, a city personnel department spokesperson, said that a new contract is under negotiation but she could not offer details. The city's contract with the Seattle Police Officers Guild, which represents sergeants and patrol officers, expires at the end of this year.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, May 28, 4:37 p.m. Inappropriate

"Next thing you know, we don't have any advancement opportunities," [Capt. Sano] said.

Well, Capt. Sano, perhaps you should consider looking for employment outside of the City of Seattle? Lots of people move to find work they want, and police don't need special treatment in that regard.

ba

Posted Thu, May 29, 12:14 a.m. Inappropriate

For 36 years, Seattle police captains and lieutenants have had a monopoly on all promotions to assistant chief, and unearned entitlement that has no doubt contributed to the troubles in SPD.

Seattle citizens deserve the best in our police command staff, and we sure can't get it by artificially limiting the pool of candidates the chief can select from. Time to end the incestuous relationship and let our captains and lieutenants compete with outsiders. If they are as great as they seem to believe, they should do fine.

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