Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Cops Get Contract

Posted By on Wed, Aug 8, 2007 at 4:00 AM

It’s official: The Boise Police Union has a new contract.

The Boise City Council officially approved the new contract during a special meeting Wednesday morning, following a vote of approval by the members of the Boise Police Union on Monday night.

The contract was approved by a five-to-one vote, with Council member Alan Shealy casting the only vote against the contract.

"This deal puts me out of my comfort zone, and I, reluctantly, will not be supporting [the contract]," Shealy said in council.

Shealy pointed to the offer the city made to the police union in February, a deal that would have made the force the best paid in the region, but that was rejected by union members. At the time Shealy said he would be hard-pressed to better that contract, and today he said he hadn’t changed his mind.

"I want to do right by them and do right by the city of Boise," Shealy said. He explained that his opposition to the contract came from the fact that the city has a finite amount of money with which to fund the entire city.

"We have to look solely at the tax-supported budget," Shealy said. "It’s not out of rancor or any vindictiveness at all."

The rest of the Council seemed pleased to put the issue to rest, while staying within the budget.

"I’m really pleased we were able to find a way to reach an agreement with the union," said Council President Elaine Clegg. "I’m very happy with the contract."

In general, Boise police will receive an across-the-board 3 percent cost-of-living increase annually, as well as a .5 to 1 percent market-adjustment raise effective April 1, 2007. The main variation from the contract offered in February is a larger increase for the most senior officers.

Additionally, entry level starting pay was increased to $36,000.

The contract also allows the department more flexibility in training its officers, and compensates officers three hours of pay when a court appearance is canceled at the last minute, or the defendant fails to appear.

The union also agreed to move to a single health-care plan, rather than the multiple options available in the past. The move provides a "substantial" savings to the city, although those savings will be used to fund additional benefits.

Many of the larger issues surrounding long-term insurance for retired employees have yet to be worked out, but Police Chief Michael Masterson the union and the city have agreed to ongoing talks to find ways the city can meet its legal obligation.

One of the biggest changes since February is that the contract will be for four years, rather than the two years the city had favored.

Most Council members alluded to the long and acrimonious negotiation process that lasted more than a year since the last contract expired. In recent months, negotiations turned particularly nasty, with union leadership making personal attacks on Mayor Dave Bieter and one of his aids, Jade Riley, who served as a go-between in the negotiation process. But everyone seemed ready to move on from the controversy.

"This has been a cloud that has hung over us," Bieter said, but later added that people are already moving on.

"There is a really strong relationship between the community and the police department."

Masterson had two words to describe how he felt—"relieved," and "pleased."

"It brings a contract to a group of hard-working and dedicated people," he said.

While Union President Kip Wills could not be reached for comment, Masterson said he was told the contract was approved by the union membership by a large majority. "I’m pleased and excited that the overwhelming majority put a strong stamp of approval [on the contract]," he said.

Things aren’t completed yet though. While the contract is signed, city officials feel there’s a lot to learn from the drawn-out negotiation process.

"We have to avoid the tendency of being so relieved it’s over that we don’t look back," said Council member Maryanne Jordan.

Already, the city and the union are planning to meet in future weeks to find a way to smooth-out and shorten the next negotiations.

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