- Katie Hall American-Statesman Staff
Hours before the Austin police contract was set to expire Friday, Mayor Steve Adler and Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo released a statement floating the idea of creating a temporary employment contract.
Adler and Tovo expressed dissatisfaction with the fact that employment and hiring rules for Austin police officers are reverting to the state’s civil service code.
“There is a better choice,” they wrote. “We don’t have to resolve the long-term contract right away. … We would support both sides sitting down early in 2018 to negotiate an interim contract.”
The Austin City Council unanimously rejected a proposed contract with police officers on Dec. 13. Council members said the proposed raises were too expensive and that the draft did not sufficiently improve citizen access to police records and oversight.
Council members urged the police union to return to the negotiating table to craft a new proposal, but on Dec. 19 the Austin police union said it didn’t think it could reach an agreement before the year ended. Union leaders have said they’re willing to restart negotiations in 2018.
“We could enter into an interim contract for the time it will take the community to work through the outstanding issues,” Adler and Tovo wrote Friday. “Everything would generally stay in place, except that we’d quickly negotiate an appropriate pay raise just for the interim contract and add some transparency and accountability elements. Basically, for an interim period we could operate under either the old contract or the proposed contract. We’d do this to give the community and the Association the opportunity and time to explore issues including community policing, new levels of officers, civilian oversight, and the appropriate duration of a long-term contract.”
They could extend the now-previous contract 30 or 60 days in order to negotiate the temporary agreement, Adler and Tovo wrote. Interim City Manager Elaine Hart has said that she would agree to this extension, Adler and Tovo wrote.
Reached Friday, Austin police union president Ken Casaday expressed skepticism with the idea, saying that this could undermine plans that Austin’s future city manager, Spencer Cronk, would have for the Police Department.
“We look forward to sitting down with the new city manager as soon as he is on board to begin bargaining,” Casaday said.
Kathy Mitchell, who works for the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition and was one of hundreds of activists who sought to reform the contract, said she and others are always willing to talk about improving the agreement with the police union. However, she said she was unsure an interim contract would be the best option.
“Our improvements have been on the table for many months, and we’re prepared to talk about those at any time, with anyone,” Mitchell said. “Under Chapter 143 (state civil service code), the city has the opportunity to think about how it spends its money and prioritize its public safety dollars in a variety of ways. Locking the money into a new contract before we launch real discussion of accountability and transforming improvements makes no sense.”