Editorial: Open negotiations benefit public

The decision to not conduct police contract negotiations in secret is clearly in the public’s best interest.

photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration

Lawrence Journal-World Editorial

City commissioners have important decisions to make about how to pay and treat Lawrence police officers and detectives.

While it may be too early to come to conclusions about how the city and the Lawrence Police Officers Association should resolve their latest contract negotiations, one finding is clear: The community has benefited by having these negotiations open to the public.

For many years, the city and the police association have mutually agreed to conduct contract negotiations behind closed doors. This year, the two sides did not agree to that provision, and the negotiations have been open for all to see.

The end result has been that the public has a better understanding of the challenges facing members of the police department and the city government responsible for overseeing it. Some of those issues have involved pay and whether the association’s request for a certain pay increase is appropriate. But there also are issues that involve how much authority the police chief has to structure shifts versus whether officer seniority should play a key role in that determination. Other issues that have been raised include whether and how the association can make political donations involving city candidates, what obligations the city has to legally defend off-duty police officers and how policies are set within the police department.

The negotiations have shown that there is clearly friction between the city and the police officers association on several points. It is important for the public to see that friction. In the past, both sides seemingly have been more interested in concealing any such disagreements from the public. But why? How are Lawrence residents — Lawrence voters — expected to make accurate judgments about whether elected officials are adequately meeting their public safety obligations if they don’t have an understanding of the issues at play?

In addition, the Lawrence Police Department is a huge part of the city’s budget. The city’s 2018 general fund budget included $24 million for the police department, the single largest line item in the general fund budget. It is almost a third of the city’s general fund budget. Much of the money goes to salary and benefits, which are issues directly tied to these negotiations. The public deserves to know not just how much of its money is being spent on police services, but also how leaders came to those funding decisions.

In case you are wondering, the second largest line item in the city’s general fund budget is the $21 million for Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical. The city and the firefighters union also will have contract negotiations in the future. Historically, those have been closed to the public. Going forward they should be open.


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