by BRAD ROLLINS
More than two years ago, the San Marcos city council gave the local police officers and firefighters associations standing to formally confer with management on pay and workplace issues.
In 2006, council members designated the San Marcos Police Officers Association and San Marcos Professional Firefighters Association as representatives in arbitration proceedings after the groups won majority votes of each department’s rank-and-file employees. The first round of meetings was scrapped last year when City Manager Dan O’Leary resigned and shortly thereafter was hired as the city of Keller city manager. With City Manager Rick Menchaca now in his third month on the job, officials are laying the groundwork to restart parallel discussions with police and fire department employees under “meet-and-confer” provisions of state labor law.
Council members last week approved an emergency budget amendment providing up to $70,000 in professional service fees for Denton, Navarro, Rocha & Bernal, a San Antonio-based local government and labor law firm. Under their proposal, the city’s team will be led by Lowell F. Denton, a former San Antonio and College Station city attorney whose clients in labor negotiations include Houston, Austin, Galveston, Laredo, Waco, Corpus Christi and Bexar County.
The expenditure was approved 6-1 during a regular council meeting last week. Council member Gaylord Bose questioned the necessity of outside legal help sitting on the city’s side of the bargaining table. He said, “I know we need consultants because they are so much smarter than us but it seems to me all of a sudden we have to have experts, have to have consultants, for everything we do. Has it gotten to a point where we can’t trust our police officers and firemen and they don’t trust us?”
Neither police association president Danny Arredondo nor firefighter association president James Frye, whose term ends this summer, have publically outlined their memberships’ objectives. When the meet and confer system was originally adopted, officials said talks could encompass pay scale adjustments that include higher rookie pay. Police Chief Howard E. Williams has said he wants more leeway to hire sergeants and commanders using criteria other than a sole reliance on general aptitude test scores.