Having the Sept. 3, 2008 letter of understanding on take-home cars become a part of the formal contract between Van Buren Township and its police officers would take away management’s rights.
This was the reason four members of the VBT Board gave for voting no on the two-year, negotiated contract presented to them at its April 19 meeting.
The local unit of the Police Officers Labor Council (POLC) for police officers and dispatchers had already ratified the contract, which was to run from Jan. 1, 2010 through Dec. 31, 2011.
Trustee Phil Hart made the motion to approve the contract and Treasurer Sharry Budd seconded the motion. Trustee Jeff Jahr joined them in yes votes. (Hart and Budd represented the township board on the negotiation team.)
Voting no were Trustees Denise Partridge and Al Ostrowski, Clerk Leon Wright, and Supervisor Paul White.
The motion failed 3-4.
Resident Carl Pedersen, who had spoken against the take-home cars at previous board meetings, said he had researched the situation and wanted to give the board some facts before they voted.
He said there are 10 take-home cars allocated to the VBT police department: four for the Special Investigation Unit, three for investigators, one for each captain, and one for the director.
Pedersen said he got information on the nearby Canton Police Department with a Freedom of Information Act request. In Canton there are five unmarked cars, one take-home car for the on-call detective, to be used for business only, and one for the director of public safety. All costs for the cars come out of the police budget.
He said the agreement on the Canton cars was dated Jan. 26, 2011.
Pedersen said there are 43 sworn officers in VBT and a population, as of the 2010 census, of 28,821, which amounts to 670 people per police officer.
In Canton, there are 85 sworn officers with a population of 90,173, for a total of one officer for every 1,060.86 residents.
Pederson said the cost of the VBT director’s vehicle, a 2011 Ford Taurus, is $14,000. Captain Kenneth Brooks’ vehicle cost $16,421.68, Pederson said and he did not get the cost of the vehicle for the other captain.
The detective bureau and SIU cars are purchased with state forfeiture funds, but there is no information kept on gas use of any of the vehicles, Pedersen said.
Pedersen, who has many years of experience in union negotiating, said the letter of understanding, spelling out take-home cars for officers, is “taking away from your management rights.”
Trustee Denise Partridge, who when she worked at the township was active in AFSCME union and served as its president, stated, “I believe the letter of understanding is in direct conflict with management rights.”
“We followed the process for bargaining,” said Trustee Hart. “We worked out an agreement.” He said it was discussed in executive session to get direction from the board.
“The process was followed and we’re here,” Hart said.
“I’ve been against these take-home cars from the start,” said Trustee Ostrowski. “I’ll be voting no.”
After Hart made the motion, Clerk Wright said, “It’s not an issue with take-home cars. My wife has a take-home car from the State of Michigan.”
He said the administrator (public safety director) should approve who takes home cars, not have it written in the contract.
“I don’t remember TA’ing that letter,” Clerk Wright said, using the abbreviation for “tentative agreement.”
“I agree with Trustees Ostrowski and Partridge and Clerk Wright,” said Supervisor Paul White. “I don’t think we should sign any contract that negotiates administrative rights.”
After the 3-4 vote was taken and the contract was rejected, Hart said to fellow board members, “My advice is to pay attention in work-study” sessions.
Supervisor White said the board was told the letter of understanding had already been TA’d.
“The preservation of manager’s rights is … critical,” White said.
Hart said Public Safety Director Carl McClanahan has the right to assign cars by giving the positions that rate cars to the officers.
“By giving that position, he does administer,” Hart said.
“There’s no discretion at all under the letter,” White insisted.
“Everyone knew the letter of understanding was included,” said an irritated Treasurer Budd. “We always go to four years (for a contract) and we shortened it to two because that was going to be addressed. But, it was too late… I’m very disappointed.”
Clerk Wright said once the letter was entered into the contract, it would have to be negotiated out.
“It is already a part of the contract,” Budd stated.
The 2008 letter was signed by former Supervisor Cindy King and former Public Safety Director Jerry Champagne in the September after King was ousted from the Democratic ticket in the August primary.
Supervisor White asked if there was a motion to approve the contract without the letter of understanding and Budd blocked that request.
“You can’t do it,” Budd stated.
Under the non-agenda items discussion, John Delaney said it is estimated that the 10 take-home cars added the equivalent of $10,000 per car to each officer’s income. Delaney said the township could save some money by not letting all those cars be assigned.
CeeJay Marshall said he doesn’t have a problem with the cars and it “should have been resolved before it got to the table.” He said Supervisor White has a take-home car and, “When I call 911, he doesn’t come.”
Community Policing Officer Adam Byrd reminded everyone that two police officers were shot to death the day before in Texas and Kalamazoo and six police officers were killed in the U.S. since the last board meeting. He said when he looks at the amount of narcotics and guns taken off the streets by the VBT police, he is proud.
Larry Fix said the turn-down of the contract was “a slap in the face to bargaining units on both sides.”
Officer Byrd asked if because the contract was turned down, does this mean the union can go back to the table and negotiate raises?
Supervisor White said the board could not address negotiations at the table.
“We had a bargaining team and it came to us in closed session,” said an irritated Trustee Jahr. “I thought we were all in basic agreement … Yesterday (at the work/study session), I said we should go back into closed session (to discuss it) and nobody wanted to do that… Frankly, this is an embarrassment to the community.”
Clerk Wright said earlier that day he asked to have it taken off the agenda and that didn’t happen. He said he had to vote his conscience and he had a problem with that letter becoming a part of the contract.
“The Director deserves the right to manage it and he can’t manage it if it’s part of the contract,” Wright said.
“It’s a heck of a way to run a ship,” sputtered Jahr.
Hart wanted to know why Wright seconded the motioned to approve the agenda with the contract on it and Wright said he asked the supervisor at the work/study session to take it off the agenda.
“This has been an area of contention in executive session,” White said and an angry Budd stated, “That’s wrong.”
In presenting the contract to the board at the workshop session, Director McClanahan said there were 11 material changes to the contract, which included the term of two years, rather than four.
There was to be a wage freeze, with step increases continuing.
Bereavement leave was to be expanded to be available for the death of a spouse’s child, grandparents and grandchildren. One day of bereavement leave would be available for the death of an uncle, aunt, nephew, or niece.
As to discipline, an oral reprimand of an employee may be considered for purposes of imposing discipline for a period of up to two years. A written reprimand may be considered in imposing disciplinary action for up to three years.
As to job assignments, if an officer with less seniority is given an assignment, an officer with greater seniority who submitted a notice of interest will have the right to speak to the Director or his designee to be advised of any areas of concern and/or improvement relevant to the assignment. The Director or designee’s response would be in writing.
Pay upon separation: employees that are separated from employment due to normal or disability retirement shall receive pay for one-half of their unused sick time. However, these payments will not be considered for retirement purposes.
Transfer of sick time: employees may, at their option transfer unused sick time to another employee for an exceptional bona fide medical situation.
Maximum sick time accumulation would be 400 hours. Compensatory time accumulation shall be a maximum of 72 hours.
During the April 18 workshop session, Budd said the negotiating team was told by the attorney that the township could be accused of unfair labor practice if the letter of understanding was not included in the contract and, “We would lose.”
She said the union wanted a four-year contract and the township gave a two-year contract in exchange for the letter.