Ken’s Crew: APA Re-Elects Casaday
Incumbent prez’s next task: shepherding meet-and-confer agreement through City Council
To no one's surprise, Ken Casaday easily won re-election as president of the Austin Police Association last week, avoiding a run-off with 75% of the vote. His opponents, Brandon Bullock and Aaron Bishop, each tallied fewer than 200 votes. Casaday now presides over the APA for another three years, and said this week that his focus will include outreach efforts to smooth over what he considers a false narrative that APD abuses citizens. He said the union plans to extend community outreach efforts and be more active politically to communicate with the public. "We're in no way perfect and never would claim to be," said the prez. "We have our warts, but we feel like we do a good job of weeding bad officers out." He cited the recently negotiated labor contract, which gives the city broad discretion when it comes to hiring new officers, as a way of making that happen.
There are other challenges Casaday will face. The contract, targeted by activist groups as it bounds toward Council for approval, remains under consideration by the membership. Casaday said he expects overwhelming support for the proposal. "Our officers support the city and they support police oversight. And they always have, or it never would have been in our contract," he said. Approval is expected this Friday, Nov. 17.
With that ongoing, Casaday and his executive staff turned their attention this week toward making their case to local media. In a closed session on Monday, members of the bargaining team and other union leaders detailed the agreement's finer points for a group of city outlets, the Chronicle included. Among other points, the union has identified more than 100 officers who could retire if the contract expires because the working conditions the union has bargained for over each cycle would disappear and APD would revert to again operating under Chapter 143 of the state's municipal civil service code – baseline rules for running a public safety department. Meet-and-confer agreements allow cities and unions to come together and modify those rules. Between the loss of accrued sick leave caps and other benefits, tenured officers may choose to collect on their retirement before the current terms expire.
Sgt. Mike Crumrine has worked for a department under Chapter 143, and says the current situation in Austin is "leaps and bounds" better than the conditions in that arrangement. APD has operated with meet-and-confer since 1997, and Crumrine advises against going back. "I think the citizens of Austin would be very surprised and very disappointed in their lack of access, in their lack of transparency," he said, "and certainly in their lack of accountability that they expect out of their officers if we go back to that."
Casaday and other union reps have frequently warned that if the activists calling for the abolition of the contract get their way, the community would lose the Citizen Review Panel, which reviews disputed Internal Affairs cases and critical incidents, among other cases. The critics have responded by saying that the panel as currently constituted isn't truly effective anyway. Which may be true, and will certainly be a point to push as the agreed-to language gets to City Hall.