San Carlos police union challenges council member on comment about labor negotiations

The San Carlos police union is alleging that a city council member violated open meeting laws in making comments in a public meeting about contract negotiations. the comment suggested that the union might be dragging heels on contract talks to see the outcome of a sales tax increase on the November ballot. -DB

San Jose Mercury News
October 16, 2009
By Shaun Bishop

San Carlos’ city attorney said he plans to investigate the police union’s allegation that Council Member Matt Grocott may have violated open meeting laws by making a comment during a public forum about ongoing contract negotiations.

Grocott says he was simply stating an opinion and did not break any disclosure rules.

The San Carlos Police Officers Association blasted Grocott this week for suggesting that the union might be stalling contract talks to await the outcome of Measure U, a half-cent sales tax increase measure on the November ballot. Grocott made the comment at a forum on Measure U earlier this month.

A top union official denied police are holding out for the passage of the measure to gain an upper hand in negotiations, which have dragged on since April 2008. The officers’ last contract expired in July 2008.

“When he comes out and lies and mischaracterizes the intentions of the association for the sole purpose of tarnishing Measure U, then that’s inappropriate,” said Gil Granado, president of the association, which is supporting Measure U.

Grocott, who opposes Measure U, says the city must work harder to rein in public employee costs. He acknowledged posing a question about the police negotiations at the forum.

“I’m not necessarily making an accusation, but I am posing the question, ‘Could their holding out have anything to do with a revenue measure?'” Grocott said Thursday. “Certainly, having more revenue would be an advantage relative to the negotiations.”

Granado said the union is asking the city to increase salaries for its 29 officers and sergeants to make the department more competitive with other police agencies in San Mateo County. Officers currently make between $68,847 and $83,684 per year, excluding overtime. Sergeants make up to $103,440 in base salary.

At the same time, city officials are looking for ways to cut costs to keep the city fiscally stable amid state budget cuts and dropping tax revenues.

Granado said he asked the association’s attorney to look into whether Grocott violated the Brown Act, a state open meetings law that prohibits people from disclosing confidential information from a closed-door session, such as labor negotiations.

City Attorney Greg Rubens said he learned of the union’s accusation Thursday morning and plans to look into it. He said the union’s attorney has not contacted him.

“It’s something we take seriously, so I will probably do a preliminary inquiry to see if there’s anything to it,” Rubens said.

Grocott denied that he ran afoul of the Brown Act, saying he did not disclose any confidential information, such as specific discussion points.

“I’m not making any statements like that that reveal what the issues are,” Grocott said. “I’m simply stating my opinion about the context of where we find ourselves.”

Grocott noted that the city has been talking about a revenue-raising measure since around the time negotiations with the police union and two other labor groups started. The other unions reached agreement with the city but police have not.

The police union is still talking with the city, Granado said, and the two sides exchanged proposals within the past two months.

“That doesn’t sound to me like an association that’s holding out for a measure,” Granado said.

Copyright 2009 San Jose Mercury News