Why Stuckart opposes an initiative to let the public sit in on public union negotiations

click to enlarge City Council President Ben Stuckart - DANIEL WALTERS PHOTO
Daniel Walters photo
City Council President Ben Stuckart

It is unacceptable, mayoral candidate Ben Stuckart said at the League of Women Voters forum last week, that the police guild has gone for three years without a contract.

"If I were mayor, we can solve that problem in two hours," says Stuckart, the council president.

But he won't say how that problem could be solved in two hours. He says he legally can't. He was briefed on those negotiations in private "executive session," barring him by law from mentioning what happens in them.

Public union negotiations involve taxpayer money, public officials, public employees and influential lobbying groups, but they all happen behind closed doors. The public only gets to see the final result.

A new voter initiative aims to change that. Pushed by Better Spokane, Proposition 1 would require "all collective bargaining negotiations be transparent and open to public observation."

"It gives the public the ability to hold the elected officials accountable and the members of the bargaining units the ability to hold their negotiators accountable," argues Better Spokane Director Michael Cathcart, who is also running for City Council.

But Stuckart opposes the initiative, arguing that it would inevitably result in a lawsuit.

"The hearing examiner correctly pointed out that state law is very clear that negotiations and the rules for those negotiations must be agreed to by both sides," Stuckart said at the forum. "So what we'd be doing is passing a charter change that puts us in direct conflict with state law."

Lincoln County's decision to open up union negotiations resulted in an ongoing lawsuit between the Teamsters 690 and the Lincoln County Commissioners. But that hasn't stopped other municipalities, like Spokane County, from passing similar measures.

Stuckart says that even if there weren't the legal question, he would oppose the transparency initiative.

"Negotiations are based on trust," Stuckart says. "Unilaterally doing something like that and opening them up to the public is bad negotiation tactics."

By contrast, his opponent, former KXLY anchor Nadine Woodward, has supported the initiative.

"I think that the voters deserve to see how the sausage is made," Woodward says. ♦

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About The Author

Daniel Walters

A lifelong Spokane native, staff writer Daniel Walters is the Inlander's City Hall reporter. But he also reports on a wide swath of other topics, including business, education, real estate development, land use, and other stories throughout North Idaho and Spokane County.He's reported on deep flaws in the Washington...