APA, City Agree to Terms on New Contract
Union membership, City Council to consider agreement over next two months
The Austin Police Association finally came to a five-year agreement with the city last Thursday, Oct. 19. Terms of the new contract – yet to be ratified by both City Council and APA membership – include a package of oversight concessions aimed at strengthening the Office of the Police Monitor, in addition to a couple of key changes in the 180-day statute that governs when the chief can take action on an administrative rule violation related to criminal conduct. That, among other concessions, won the APA a 9.5% raise over the next five years – more than a spoonful of sugar.
APA President Ken Casaday said he was satisfied with the new terms. "There's always things in there that you don't want," he said. "If both sides walk away not liking what they got then it's a damn good contract. That's the way I've always looked at it."
"He's using one of my old lines," ribbed Larry Watts, the city's Labor Relations Officer, after hearing that. "That is, there are a lot of ways to judge a contract: One way is if everybody is happy and thinks they got the best end of the deal, and the other way is if everybody is unhappy and thinks the other guy [did]. It must be right if either one of those things happened. In this case, I don't think either of us are totally happy, but I'm satisfied that we did as well as we could."
As early as that morning, however, the outlook appeared less certain. The union had been hung up on a change to the 180-day rule: Moving forward, the rank of assistant chief will serve as the threshold for discovery on rule violations – that is, the chief will have 180 days after an assistant chief learns of a potential violation to determine whether discipline is warranted. Also at issue was a language change that says the city "shall not be required to prove a criminal culpable mental state. Nor shall the chief be required to prove charges under a criminal beyond a reasonable doubt standard." City attorney Lowell Denton called this "a very, very balanced proposal that maintains the city's responsibility to meet that burden of proof in front of an arbitrator, based on facts, and to discipline a police officer appropriately." He expressed frustration that the union was pushing back on the provisions, which he described as essential to the city. "Austin police officers have due process times three," he continued. "I don't think there's going to be any good cops damaged by this rule; that's not our objective."
In the end, the power of the purse won out, and the city was able to incorporate some of the community activists' desired changes – though calls for Council to reject the agreement entirely will continue through ratification hearings. APA membership is currently considering the contract. Watts said the proposal could go before Council as early as December.