Photo Credit: Center for Justice

(By guest contributor Tim Connor) It has now been almost five months since voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 1 in Spokane, the city charter amendment that requires the City to have an independent police ombudsman. And, yet, we still don’t. Ombudsman Tim Burns’s continues to be shackled by the terms of a 2008 “interim” agreement negotiated behind closed doors between former Mayor Mary Verner and the Spokane Police Guild. He cannot conduct the independent investigations that are now required by the city charter, nor can he issue the independent reports that Proposition 1 requires.

And the question is: Why not?

Why No Prop 1 Independent Investigations in Spokane Yet?

Because the City is still intimidated by the police unions, fearing that if it moves ahead with legislation to implement Proposition 1 that it will face an unfair labor practices complaint from the police guild. So it has been trying (we’re told) to reach an agreement with the guild–as part of a new collective bargaining agreement–that will allow the City to implement the reforms.

How’s that going?

Wish we could tell you. The “old” collective bargaining agreement nominally expired at the end of 2011. Yet, under the rules, its terms remain in effect until a new agreement is reached. But the City and the police guild have been in negotiations for a year and a half (and in mediation with the guild for the past ten months) with no end in sight. Proposition 1 is on ice. It’s not being implemented so long as the City and Guild are at impasse behind closed doors.

As some of you know the Center and our partners at the Peace & Justice Action League of Spokane (PJALS) have worked very diligently to show the City how it can advance the Proposition 1 reforms within the City’s managerial powers under state law. The biggest obstacle to that approach has been the Spokane City Attorney’s office–which repeatedly reminds us that it disagrees with our legal analysis, but has been unwilling to say why it disagrees. It’s like playing tennis against someone who shouts out that they’re ahead in the match, but refuses to announce the score or serve the ball. If you think you deserve better from the City in the way of transparency you’re right, and the Mayor’s Use of Force Commission supports this view and has called on the city to “bring greater transparency” to its dealings with the police guild

This might seem, so some, to be an academic dispute.

It’s not. The fate of whether Spokane will ever have independent police oversight hangs in balance.

If the City truly believes–contrary to our legal advice–that is has to submit the Proposition 1 reforms to collective bargaining, then it stands to reason that the Prop 1 reforms could be “certified” to the arbitration that may be needed to resolve the impasse between the City and the Guild over a new contract. If that happens then the will of 70 percent of Spokane voters will be put in the hands of an arbitrator who could then very well decide that Proposition 1 won’t be implemented, and that the ordinance the city charter amendment is supposed to replace (the one that essentially ties the Ombudsman’s hands) will stay in place.

That’s the background on the attached letter from CFJ and PJALS to Mayor Condon that was sent July 3rd. You can read my story about it here.

Tim Connor
Center for Justice

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