San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz (left) Councilmember Pam Couch (center) and Councilmember John Thomaides (right) discuss a collective bargaining agreement with San Marcos police at Monday night’s city council meeting. Photo by Sean Batura.
By SEAN BATURA
The city’s approval of its first collectively bargained agreement with its police officers is on hold until next month.
The San Marcos City Council voted unanimously at a special meeting Monday night to postpone action on the deal, which would set forth conditions of employment and increase police pay for its present roster of 95 officers by $1.8 million during the next three years.
The sticking point is a funding provision at the end of the contract saying the agreement is “null and void in its entirety” if the city fails to appropriate the funds “sufficient to meet city obligations hereunder.”
San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz proposed that the contract include language saying the city would prioritize meeting its debt obligations and fully funding “customary” pay increases for all city employees before addressing the meet and confer requirements.
From the seeds of Narvaiz’ suggestion grew a much larger discussion about the value of a re-opener clause, which would maintain the contract for some time while the city and police renegotiate if the city should be unable to fulfill the contract.
The proposed contract includes just such language in the event of a tax rollback election that leaves the city with less money than originally budgeted. The deal gives the city and the police 60 days to reach a new agreement on salary and compensation issues before the deal is voided.
The council later directed staff to draft language that would include the broader re-opener. The language would stipulate that if the city projects tax shortfalls because of an economic downfall, then it could re-open the agreement.
“I’ll vote on this the way it is, but I felt it important to try to put verbiage in there that says that there’s a commitment from this council, that there is an order to meet our obligation, to take a look at the whole organization and make sure that rewards can be given throughout the organization … ,” Narvaiz said. “The police and the fire associations have stated publicly in a number of discussions that they are as much of a team player as anyone, and that they know that there may be times when these discussions may have to be reopened, and that they would do so in good faith.”
The council voted, 6-0, for the tabling, with Councilmember Kim Porterfield having left before the vote.
City representatives will meet with the San Marcos Police Officers Association (SMPOA) during the next few weeks to discuss the proposed change. The city council will examine the new contract provision on Dec. 1 and possibly hold a vote at its second December meeting. In the meantime, SMPOA will hold another vote of police department members on the next iteration of contract. More than 50 percent of department members must cast votes in favor of the contract before it can be executed.
Members of the San Marcos Police Department (SMPD) approved the latest version of the contract during a SMPOA meeting on Sunday. SMPOA President Danny Arredondo said Monday night that 76 percent of police department members voted for the contract, 15 percent voted against, and nine percent abstained from voting. Of those who voted, Arredondo said 83 percent cast votes in favor of the agreement and 17 percent opposed it.
Councilmember John Thomaides, sworn to his third term Monday night after carrying 63.4 percent of the vote in his Nov. 3 election, said he would be fine with tabling the contract until January. However, Thomaides said the city should be cautious about including a re-opener clause.
“If we put in a re-opening clause, I think that sends the message — I don’t think that’s fair to the police union who is negotiating this contract,” Thomaides said. “I think they’re requesting a contract that’s been hashed out over 11 months at a cost of $100,000 to the city, and I think if we are willing to sign it, we should stand behind it. You could really open up a can of worms each year when you say that all needs have to be met, because who decides what are the needs? That’s the decision of the council and the city manager, and then the police union might say, ‘Well, wait, we don’t like those needs.’ So, every year you’d create an adversarial relationship between those who are waiting for funding and those who are deciding who will be funded. So, I think we ought to think real carefully about how we go about re-writing anything.”
Narvaiz replied that she wants non-civil service employees to know that the council intends to see that they are fairly compensated each budget year.
Councilmember Chris Jones said he supports a re-opener provision, but for different reasons than Narvaiz.
“I can’t in a good mind say that, if something arises, and we are unable to pay this forward, that I would let everything that we negotiated in this contract just go null and void, I’m sorry,” Jones said during the Monday meeting.
The latest iteration of the police meet and confer agreement, which entails increases in base pay, education incentives and longevity, among other benefits, would cost the city an additional $317,572 for the first year of the contract, $610,040 for the second year and $918,527 in the third year, for a total of $1.8 million in increases. The city has already budgeted funds for the first year of the contract.
Thomaides said he had been under the impression that the contract would cost the city about $300,000 per year for three years, and was “disappointed” to learn that it was “much more than that.”
Said Thomaides, “I just think that in this difficult economy, that a $1.8 million increase — with the fire contract still to come — just isn’t fiscally responsible.”
Thomaides said he anticipates that the fire fighters will expect a very similar contract to emerge from their own meet and confer negotiations, though there are fewer members of that department — 60 members to the police department’s 92.
City Manager Rick Menchaca said “different market conditions” necessitate offering across-the-board wage increases rather than the performance-based wage increases offered to non-civil service employees. Menchaca said the investment in training and certifying police officers, and the difficulty in retaining them, is greater than non-civil service positions. Councilmember Pam Couch said it is important to keep in mind that the families and friends of police officers carry the burden of having to wonder whether their loved ones will be coming home after a given day’s work.
“And it’s harder to replace a public safety officer because of the background (check) and the training they have to go through than it is with other positions,” Menchaca said after the Monday meeting. “(Civil service pay and non-civil service pay) are both at market. For the most part, they’re both at market. But, now, on the non-civil side, what we’re trying to change there is that whole compensation model to, in time, reward our top performers. On civil service side, they don’t go on a performance basis because it’s not on how many arrests you make and how many tickets you make. It’s a totally different evaluation system.”
Earlier this month, the city council voted to pay up to $45,000 more to the law firm Denton, Navarro, Rocha and Bernal (DNRB) for its work in negotiating police and fire department meet and confer contracts on behalf of the city. DNRB also is drafting the actual employment agreements with the SMPOA and the San Marcos Professional Fire Fighters Association (SMPFFA).
As of Nov. 2, the city had paid DNRB more than $70,000, which is the amount of the original contract. DNRB has represented the city in about 14 nine-hour rounds of meet and confer negotiations with each professional association. Thomaides cast the lone vote against the additional $45,000.
The city will continue meet and confer negotiations with the fire fighters — a whole separate contract — on Wednesday.Email | Print