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Divided Council rejects more pay for police

Monday, June 18, 2018 by Jo Clifton

With only five members voting in favor of the motion, City Council rejected reinstatement of extra pay for certain police officers Thursday night, dashing the hopes of officers who work night shifts, for example. Passage of any ordinance requires six votes.

Explanations about why that happened depend on who you ask. Council Member Delia Garza, for example, cited the large number of people who had come to Council to support directions to the Police Department to cut back on the number of arrests of minorities for minor misdemeanors.

On the other hand, Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday told the Austin Monitor that, in his opinion, Council was looking for a way to fund the homestead exemption it had approved earlier in the day. The estimated cost of that exemption is about $5 million.

The stipends were initially a casualty of Council’s failure to agree to a contract worked out between the city’s negotiators and the Austin Police Association in December, although Council reinstated some stipends in February. However, the agreement to extend those stipends expired on May 24,except for bilingual officers and those with mental health training. Those stipends were extended indefinitely.

Although negotiations are ongoing, the police union has declined to enter into short-term agreements that would have provided officers with those stipends, because the stipends were attached to certain oversight provisions.

Seeing a lack of support for the original, more expensive proposal – which would have reinstated pay for education and certification, court time and the clothing allowance as well as shift-differential pay and training officer pay – Mayor Steve Adler proposed a pared-down version that included only the shift-differential pay and training officer pay.

The vote was 5-4-1, with Council Member Ann Kitchen abstaining and Council Member Ellen Troxclair having left the meeting before the vote. Those in favor of Adler’s motion were the original measure’s sponsors – Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo and Council members Leslie Pool, Delia Garza and Pio Renteria – as well as Adler.

Council members Greg Casar, Jimmy Flannigan, Alison Alter and Ora Houston opposed the motion.

Both Flannigan and Alter said that Council should respect the ongoing negotiations over the contract.

Alter noted that the union had rejected the city’s offer of an interim contract on two separate occasions. “The interim offer would have restored these stipends and offered a lump-sum pay raise. … I remain concerned that we leave room for hiring of more officers within the city’s limited pot of money. The fact is, we don’t have the staffing information back and have not had the conversation that we postponed on public safety budgets and how best to achieve public safety for all. I am very much aware that voting on this tonight, either as originally offered or as proposed by the mayor, will not get us our oversight, transparency, accountability, hiring and promotions back, or in any new, improved form.”

Now, field-training officers and officers working night and evening shifts stand to lose hundreds of dollars a month until negotiators reach agreement and Council blesses that agreement. In addition, officers will lose extra pay they received for education and certification as well as their clothing allowance and an extra allowance for time spent in court.

According to a memo from Deputy Chief Financial Officer Ed Van Eenoo, the cost of specialty pay – including extra pay for education and certification, the shift differential, court time and the clothing allowance – was estimated at $298,000 per month, for a total of more than $1.9 million over the remaining pay periods in the current fiscal year.

Van Eenoo also estimated that reinstating field-training officer pay at $175 per month would likely cost about $64,000 for the remainder of the fiscal year, but he noted that the number would fluctuate because the number of officers participating in field training duties fluctuates. As it now stands, those officers will receive an extra dollar per hour for performing the training duties.

The vote took place after considerable testimony, much of it from members of the community who were waiting for two resolutions from Casar, one of which directed the city manager to “reduce racial disparities and budgetary impacts related to the Police Department’s use of discretionary arrests in lieu of citations for certain nonviolent misdemeanors.” The second related to use of city resources related to immigration.

Garza, a former Austin firefighter, was a co-sponsor on both Casar resolutions as well as the resolution related to reinstating the police stipends.

Garza noted that people on both sides of the police-pay issue “truly care about our community.”

“The issue of police accountability has become unfortunately conflated with these stipends,” Garza said.

“I disagree that we are giving some of these stipends away. All of these stipends are for things these officers have earned – for earning a college degree, for doing additional training they didn’t have to go through, for working nontraditional hours. … The thought that we now have city workers whose families are receiving less on a monthly basis because of this extremely unfortunate divided issue really, really concerns me – even $400 a month – that’s less than half of a child care payment, or a grocery bill. That’s things that families depend on.”

One of those who spoke in opposition to granting the stipends was Chas Moore of the Austin Justice Coalition. As he did in December before the vote to reject the contract, Moore urged Council to vote no, telling them to be more like the Gambler in the Kenny Rogers song: “Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.” He told them it was not time for them to fold, as he played the song.

“I think we’re in a unique moment in our city with the contract negotiation to where we can actually get a decent contract. I’ll take the risk of losing street credit to say the union is moving in the right direction,” Moore said. “I think we can hold out a little longer to get more progressive things in that contract to have not only the best police department but the best police contract in the state of Texas and the country.”

Garza told her colleagues that the city could still negotiate with the APA over salary increases in return for police accountability, but not enough of them agreed with her.

On Friday, the Monitor asked Casaday whether the measure failed because it was debated in the same time frame as the discretionary arrest resolution. He said he did not think so.

Casaday said, “My opinion is that there was a deal struck – this is just my opinion – there was a deal struck on the homestead exemption. … I think they’re going to take the money out of the APD budget and move it back to the general fund to try to fund the homestead exemption and pet projects in their districts.”

He added, “To give everybody a $15 break at the end of the year, they took the money out of officers’ pockets to pay that off.”

Video still courtesy of the city of Austin.

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