The Menlo Park City Council has approved a contract with the city’s seven police sergeants that keeps finding binding arbitration, a tool police detective Jeffrey Vasquez used to get his $160,000-a-year job back after he was arrested on-duty naked in a motel room with the hooker dress in a cat catsuit.
The council voted 4-1 in favor of the new agreement with Councilwoman Kristen Keith clearly opposed to keep the controversial arbitration process.
Vasquez got his job back, $188,000 in back pay, because he was able to appeal his firing to an outside arbitrator whose decision was final.
Keith said the process is flawed and that she wants the city to ditch binding arbitration, but the hot-button issue sparked a debate among her fellow council members who weren’t convinced the practice needs to go.
“I really think binding arbitration is broken and it needs to be removed,” Keith said regarding the new contract.” I don’t want to see binding arbitration in here.”
Even though the city may changes to its binding arbitration process, such as the option to use a retired San Mateo County judge when the two parties can’t agree on an arbitrator, Keith said the changes weren’t enough.
“It’s a step in a better direction…..but I don’t think it goes far enough,” she said.
Keith was the lone dissenter in the 4-1 vote to approve the one year contract, which didn’t include across-the-board pay raises but did maintain raises for longevity and promotions.
Councilman Rich Cline said removing something as big as binding arbitration takes time and negotiations.
“I don’t believe you come in with a sledge hammer and change, all of a sudden, decades of arbitration relationships with the union,” Cline said.
“You can have that opinion, but it is a fallacy, it doesn’t happen, you have to do this as a team, both parties have to be involved, if you don’t, you’re at an impasse….”
Politics of newspapers
“I know columnists and publishers don’t agree with that,” he added, alluding to Daily Post editor and publisher Dave Price’s Aug. 19, column calling on the city to get rid of binding arbitration,” but I think this is a good contract.”
Councilman Ray Mueller agreed with Cline and said he wasn’t going to let the “politics of newspapers” sway his decision.
Council members have known for more than a year that Vasquez used binding arbitration to get his job back, but apparently didn’t instruct their negotiators to bargain to remove the clause during that time period.
After the news of Vasquez’s is firing and rehire broke, Mayor Peter Ohtaki told the Post that binding arbitration was a concern.
While Keith wasn’t able to get her fellow council members to see it her way, she was successful in getting Mayor Peter Ohtaki to agree to a public hearing on binding arbitration.
“This is a one-year agreement, so it will give us a chance to, in collaborative fashion, look at alternatives and, potentially in a year from now, we can revisit this issue,” Ohtaki said.
The starting pay for sergeants in Menlo Park will be $108,146 under the new agreement, but in 2012 the average sergeant earned $176,675 when overtime pay is factored in.
In addition, sergeants receive full medical and dental, up to five weeks paid time off depending on how long they’ve worked for the city and the amount of retirement contributions.
When the contract first came before council on Aug. 20, Menlo Park resident an attorney Elias Blawie pointed out that benefit costs weren’t included in the contract. They still weren’t in the contract council voted upon Tuesday night.