Puzzled by police guild's endorsement | Your Turn

By Jerry Vaughn, Federal Way Works

Naturally, Federal Way Works was disappointed when we learned the Federal Way Police Guild endorsed Accountability Comes to Town (ACT) on the strong mayor initiative.

We were even more disappointed after going to the police guild's Web site (fwpog.com) under the tab "Current Issues" and read "The Guild Political Action Committee met with representatives on both sides of this issue and made a recommendation to the Guild Executive Board to support the strong mayor issue."

No one we can indentify from Federal Way Works was ever invited or met with members of the police guild to explain our position. A written request utilizing the "Contact Us" feature of the guild's Web site was made for them to provide the name of the authorized person purporting to represent our position and the date of any meeting. That should be pretty easy to provide if in fact a meeting took place. To date, we have received no response from the guild. If no such meeting took place and it is represented to have, that is a serious breach of integrity and reflects poorly on the guild.

What is even more concerning to us are comments by John Clary, president of the Federal Way Police Guild, on the guild's Web site regarding their reasons for supporting the strong mayor initiative. We do not believe it bodes well for the city in general, and speaks exactly to our point about politicizing the chief administrative officer position with deal making for personal benefit. A chief administrative officer (i.e. city manager) must be neutral and balance the total needs of the city without regard to who is applying the most pressure. That is the foundation of the council-city manager form of government and why we support its continuance.

According to Clary: "As a guild, we are currently cut off from the city manager and have no leverage with one. City managers usually use the excuse that they act on behalf of the city council's direction. The city council members often blame the city manager that they didn't know about the issue and nothing changes. Politically, this makes the guild weak."

A city manager acting at the direction of the council is exactly the way it is supposed to be. He or she is charged with carrying out policy direction, not making or subverting policy. Just because it's not to the guild's satisfaction doesn't mean it shouldn't be that way. Indeed, there is very good reason for insulating the chief executive from political pressure. The city is organized along clearly defined lines of authority and responsibility, and it is the police chief that answers to the city manager and represents the department on matters. There are grievance procedures and civil service processes for the guild to address issues of concern to them. What they apparently want is to bypass those processes in favor of applying pressure to an elected mayor to get what they want. That is unacceptable.

Clary goes on to state "a mayor has to be approachable or face consequences with the media and public because they are an elected position. This gives the guild more options to flex our political muscles." Probably the most troublesome comment from him: "We are in negotiations which provides all kinds of windows of opportunity to jockey for position and gain support of influential people within the city." So the point is obvious. The police guild wants a strong mayor so they can get more at the bargaining table.

Let me be clear, we support the police and understand the difficult job they have to do. We want a well compensated, competitive police department that can attract and retain the best. However, in difficult economic times, funding is a balancing act that usually means when one gets something, someone else is losing something. Negotiating at the bargaining table should be free of political pressure or deal making outside the framework of legitimate good faith bargaining. If a strong mayor opens the door for those gains, we should fully expect every other city employee group to aggressively apply pressure to get what they want and need. For those who aren't represented, the scraps will be left for them.

Federal Way has some outstanding police officers. We believe they may have been ill-served by the manner in which the guild endorsement was handled. While we respect their right to an opinion, they have no right to misrepresent facts about a meeting that may never have occurred.

Jerry Vaughn is co-chair of Federal Way Works. Contact: jrclv1@msn.com.

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