To the Editor:
This is regarding the letter from the Van Buren Township Board of Trustees that you printed on Sept. 3, 2015. Their letter was in response to the letter that had been printed the previous week regarding a request that the VBT Police Officers Labor Council, (POLC), Command Officers had submitted to the Township back on July 15, 2015.
The VBT Command Officers have been without a contract since Jan. 1, 2014. During this time the POLC Command Unit has had several meetings with the Township in attempts to negotiate a contract. Through collective bargaining and mediation the POLC and Township have been unable to agree on a contract.
Arbitration for the POLC Command contract has now been set for Oct. 13 and 15, 2015. Public Act 312 of 1967 requires that if there is impasse in negotiations between an employer and its public safety union (police or fire), then they have to go to mandatory binding arbitration. Usually this means that a contract could not be agreed to in collective bargaining or mediation. Unlike litigation, arbitration takes place out of court: the two sides select an impartial third party, known as an arbitrator; agree in advance to comply with the arbitrator’s award; and then participate in a hearing in which both sides can present evidence and testimony. The arbitrator’s decision is final, and courts rarely reexamine it.
In response to the letter that was printed, the Van Buren Board of Trustees responds by stating “but since the Union has chosen to address its issues in the public forum, we will do so also.” I would like to clarify for the board and the community that this letter was NOT submitted to the Independent, by any member of the Command Unit. The letter was a request that was prepared on behalf of my membership and e-mailed to all elected officials, the Director of Public Safety, and the Deputy Director of Police on July 15, 2015. I can agree that this letter should have never been made public and that the printing of this letter further damages the relationship between the board of trustees and the POLC Command Unit. The board of trustees also stated that “Step III of the grievance procedure would have been to consult with the Supervisor.” I don’t know which contract they are referring to. Step III in the Command Unit’s contract states, “If the grievance has not been settled in Step 2, the grievance may be submitted to arbitration, provided such submission is made within 30 calendar days after Step 2.”
The board of trustees states that we do not want to work toward a solution and it appears we are dissatisfied with working for Van Buren Township. They further state that if this is the case, regrettably, we should consider submitting letters of resignation. Although we have been unable to reach a contract settlement, the statement that we do not want to work toward a solution is completely false. I can assure you that every command officer at VBT is committed to providing a professional service to the community and will continue to do so. It is not the community of Van Buren Township that we are dissatisfied with.
Without merit the board of trustees assumes that either I or another member of my unit leaked this letter to the Independent. The board of trustees then feels compelled to publicly ridicule its command officers and accuses us of being unwilling to work toward a solution and not following proper grievance procedures.
Van Buren Township has a board that consists of a supervisor, clerk, treasurer, and four trustees. Each of these elected officials has specific duties that contribute to effective township governance. The elected officials of the Township Board adopt an annual budget that determines the scope of township services and oversees township services.
Communication represents an important function of government, responsible for improving three principle elements of government: effectiveness (building broad support and legitimacy for programs), responsiveness (knowing citizens needs and responding to them), and accountability (explaining government stewardship and providing mechanisms to hold governments accountable).
This letter that has prompted the board of trustees to respond in a retaliatory manner was originally submitted to them on July 15, 2015. It was not until the letter was published in the Independent that the board of trustees felt compelled to respond. The board of trustees makes inaccurate accusations and fails to cite the correct grievance procedures for the POLC Command Unit. There are seven members that comprise the board of trustees. Not one board member has ever reached out to me or any other command unit member in attempts to discuss this or any of the other numerous issues within our department. The board of trustees has never made an attempt to meet with or discuss current issues with the branch of service, police, that they are responsible for providing. If they are truly engaged and supportive of the public safety department I would think that this would be an important component of effective leadership. Instead they propose that if we don’t like it, then we should quit. Their response in last week’s paper “VBT Command Officers Invited to Resign” is a clear indication of their leadership style and attitude.
I can assure you that the Command Officers will continue to provide a professional level of service to the community that we serve, however, I do not wish to continue airing our differences in a public forum. Instead, I invite them to come speak with me personally. I believe that with effective communication we could eventually come to some type of common ground. I am currently assigned to patrol operations and have an office within the police department and can also be reached at extension 8904.
Lt. M. Buckberry
POLC Command Unit President
Van Buren Township