Last month, voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 1, a ballot measure that would make bargaining between the City of Spokane and public employees public, with a whopping 76 percent of the vote.
But today, despite the measure's passage, the city still won't make its ongoing contract negotiations with the Spokane Police Guild, the union that represents rank-and-file cops, open to the public, according to city spokeswoman Marlene Feist. For now, the negotiations will remain closed.
The city's position is that since the current negotiations with the Police Guild started back in 2016 — the previous contract expired at the end of 2016 — and began under agreed-to conditions that the bargaining would be kept confidential, they can't and won't be taking steps to open them up to the public.
"Those negotiations are subject to the rules that the parties agreed to at that time, which included no public communication of the proceedings," Feist writes in an email. "So for the current process, nothing changes."
"Our legal read is that those negotiations started back in 2016 with a set of rules of engagement," she adds by phone. "We agreed to [the negotiations] not being an open process and that continues."
Feist clarifies that future bargaining with the guild could be made public despite the city's position on the current negotiations: "It’s not to say that we can’t deal with it going forward, but there’s nothing that enables us to change the rules mid-stream," she says.
Proposition 1, which was pushed by Michael Cathcart, executive director of the pro-business interest group Better Spokane, states that "all collective bargaining negotiations be transparent and open to public observation" and that the public should be notified in advance of negotiation meetings. The measure amended the city charter.
Mayor-elect Nadine Woodward, who is slated to be sworn into office in just a few weeks, did not respond to the Inlander's requests for comment about the city's current position and whether she will stand by it as mayor. (Woodward was endorsed by the police guild prior to the election.) Representatives of the guild itself also did not respond to a request for comment.
Cathcart, who recently won his bid to represent Northeast Spokane on the Spokane City Council, slams the city's position as "absolutely ridiculous."
"They’re concealing and hiding what’s being discussed in those negotiations," he tells the Inlander. "It’s ridiculous because it now says in the city charter that all negotiations for public unions are to be held in full view of the public."
"To say that somehow this should be an exception or to use some sort of a legal loophole, I think it’s disparaging to the public that overwhelmingly, a super super majority of which, just said they want these open to the public," he adds. "To conceal these discussions I don’t think is right at all."
Toby Nixon, president of the Washington Coalition for Open Government, criticized the city's position.
"To have such a strong vote of the people and then to say 'Sorry, we’re going to ignore that,' it’s just kind of flagrant disregard for the opinion of the public," he says. "I think they should reconsider."
"The question is are you more concerned about the police guild being mad at you or are you more concerned about the super majority of voters being mad at you?" Nixon adds.
"It should be the city’s position that they are going to defend the measure as it’s written," Cathcart says.