Since Oct. 1, the Seattle Community Police Commission (CPC) has had in its possession the new police union contract, a document that will profoundly shape the future of police reform and police accountability. It is in these secretly negotiated contracts between the city of Seattle and the police that reform measures get undercut and watered down. Yet the CPC has refused for two weeks to make this contract public, hiding behind a bogus claim by the City Attorney’s Office that the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) contract is exempt from public disclosure.
In the Sept. 26 edition of Real Change, I wrote about the disconnect between the CPC and the community it claims to represent in the fight for police reform. I wrote in that piece that, “While Seattle politicians, bureaucrats and police have had months to consider what citizens’ rights get negotiated and how, the people of Seattle will, once more, have little or no time to consider the consequences of what our leaders have given away” in these police contracts.
On Oct. 15, the police contract was introduced via City Council legislation and released to the public, potentially going to the council for a vote on Oct. 22 with little or no time for public scrutiny and comment.
On Sept. 20, SPOG, which represents more than 1,300 Seattle police officers, announced that its membership had voted overwhelmingly to accept the contract agreed to by city negotiators at the end of August.
On that day, the city should have made the SPOG contract available to the public; the day that SPOG announced the contract was accepted by its members was the day that, for all practical purposes, negotiations on that specific contract between the city and SPOG ended. This fact is baked into the customary practices that have guided labor contract negotiations between the city of Seattle and the police unions for many decades. Indeed, it might potentially be an unfair labor practice under Washington state law for either side to leave the negotiation process with a mutually agreed upon contract and then seek to make changes prior to the final approval by the union membership on one side or by the City Council on the other side. Hence, the SPOG contract should have been available for public inspection on or just after Sept. 20.
I have asked each of the nine City Council members for their specific views on this lack of transparency and avoidance of public input and have received no answers. In the case of Councilmember Debora Juarez, I was told by her legislative assistant BrynDel Swift that I should direct my questions to spokepeople for the City Council as a whole, despite reminding her that my questions concerned the views of Councilmember Juarez herself.
The contract that was voted on affirmatively by the SPOG membership cannot be changed before it is formally introduced as a law to the City Council. So why this attempt to keep the contract secret during the long period of time between when it was accepted by the union and when it is formally presented to the City Council? Why do the police get to analyze and think about the contract for weeks and then democratically vote, yet the public is denied an adequate opportunity to weigh in on it (forget about democratically voting)? Why would the City Attorney’s Office keep this contract hidden from the public by claiming erroneous public record act exemptions?
Why would the CPC, which promotes itself as the voice of the community, actively work to keep the community in the dark?
The CPC will have its first public meeting in nearly four years on Thursday Oct. 25, from 7 – 9 p.m. at Washington Hall, 153 14th Ave., just north of E. Fir Street. This would be a good time to ask these questions and catch up on what the CPC has been doing in our name for the past four years.
Howard J. Gale is a research psychologist and community activist living in Seattle.
Check out the full Oct. 17 - 23 issue.
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