The Board of Supes Tuesday approved a new contract with the Police Officers Association that most of them agreed was flawed, a missed opportunity for reform.
The vote was 9-2, with only Sups. Hillary Ronen and Dean Preston opposed.
The vote came hours after Ronen, with the support of five of her colleagues, introduced a bill that would require that negotiations between the city and the POA be noticed in advance and conducted with public scrutiny.
Ronen has been critical of the way the Mayor’s Office worked out a deal with the cops behind closed doors – with even the Police Commission in the dark – that gives officers raises without any new accountability.
“The acting director of Human Resources is negotiating the police contract behind closed doors, with no input from elected officials or the public, Ronen said. “That’s not going to cut it in 2020. San Franciscans are in the streets demanding that we reform our police department.”
The supes, by a vote of 7-4, rejected a motion by Sup. Dean Preston to delay approval of the contract for two weeks so that city negotiators could seek more concessions from the POA.
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The meeting featured some remarkable moments, including a demand from Sup. Sandra Lee Fewer that the POA apologize for threatening her, a statement by Sup. Shamann Walton that the POA newsletter attacked him with a racist cartoon, and the acknowledgement by the current POA president that a former president and paid consultant was a problem and had to be fired.
And the overall theme of the meeting was that the Mayor’s Office did a bad job negotiating a bad deal – without ever informing the supervisors that it was going on.
In fact, the director of human resources, Carol Isen, acknowledged that she was negotiating with the POA around an ordinance sponsored by Ronen and Sup. Matt Haney to shift city responses to people with mental-health crises away from the cops – although she never informed Ronen or Haney that talks were going on.
The whole thing took place with the threat of layoffs of other city workers hanging in the background. Several supervisors said they had heard that the mayor was threatening to fire non-police workers if this contract wasn’t approved.
Sophia Kittler, the mayor’s liason to the board, said that layoffs were not part of the package, and said that “to her knowledge” no other union had been threatened with job losses.
But Walton said that he was convinced that layoffs were on the table; he said that if the administration is willing to evict formerly homeless people from hotel rooms just as winter arrives, “I believe this administration will lay people off.”
The contract deal defers some police raises for two years, which the mayor was counting on to balance the budget. But the amount of money is fairly small – just about $7 million a year, Controller Ben Rosenfeld said.
Much of the discussion focused on whether the POA has entered a new era and will now stop being an obstacle to reform. Under questioning from Sup. Aaron Peskin, both Chief Bill Scott and POA President Tony Montoya said that the organization is now under new leadership and is working to accept reforms that past POA leaders fought at every turn.
However, there is nothing in the contract that would prevent the POA – after the deal is approved and the raises are in place – from reverting to form and using its “meet-and-confer” power to delay or block critical reforms.
Under questioning from Ronen, Isen said that at no point in the negotiations over the new deal did she raise the question of attaching reforms to the contract.
Ronen said the negotiations and the contract were “extremely disappointing.”
Fewer said the POA’s new willingness to cooperate was the result of its pattern of losses in local elections. She demanded that Montoya apologize for the POA’s threats to her family.
Montoya, after a moment’s hesitation, said the on behalf of the POA he would apologize, and said the person that made those threats is no longer a part of the organization (except that as a retired cop, he remains a member).
Walton said that even during Montoya’s tenure as president, the POA newsletter contained racist cartoons. “I do not buy the attitude that you have presented to the board today,” he said.
But he added: “Despite what we have heard from the Mayor’s Office today, they have threatened layoffs if we don’t approve this MOU.”
Preston said that “it’s really alarming we would accept a threat of massive layoffs that make no sense from a math perspective, when the mayor has committed to moves to defund the police. I believe those threats are outrageous.”
Preston suggested that the contract be delayed for two weeks, until the next board meeting, so that Isen could go back to the POA and try to get some more concessions.
Montoya said he wasn’t opposed to some of the things the supes wanted, particularly moving to shift emergency calls involving people with mental-health issues away from the cops.
But that motion to continue was defeated, with only Sups. Matt Haney, Preston, Walton, and Ronen voting yes.
So now the deal goes to a second vote, as is always the case with legislation, Dec. 1. It’s possible that the POA will agree to some concessions by then, but it will be almost impossible to delay the deal any further: Because city negotiators waited so long to tell the supes this was going on, the MOU has to be approved by early December so the Controller’s Office can make changes to the payroll system. Otherwise, automatic raises from a prior contract take effect in late December.
So the board was effectively squeezed by the Mayor’s Office. And the cops can go back to their old ways if they want to.
But I think the discussion and the public scrutiny sent a strong message: The old ways aren’t going to work any more.