Council votes 7-1 (Pearce Dissenting) To Approve $17+ Million New Contract With LB Police Officers Union Despite Opposition By 20 LB Groups And ACLU To Section Telling Involved-Officers When Someone Seeks Records Re Police Conduct Under New State Law
|(Sept. 18, 2019, 7:55 a.m.) -- As carried LIVE on LBREPORT.com, the City Council voted 7-1 (Pearce dissenting) on Sept. 17 to approve a new contract with the LB Police Officers Association, (LBPOA), a politically active (see coverage of contributions to Mayor/Council)) collective bargaining unit that contains multi-million dollar taxpayer impacts detailed here) and a controversial provision (Section IX) (detailed here that gives the LB police officers contractual rights that they (or their union) could use to prevent (by lobbying or potential court action) release of public records under newly effective SB 1421 related to officer-involved shootings/use of force involving major injuries or records of sustained findings of officer misconduct.
In the controversial contractual provision ("Section IX") the City agrees to inform an officer "the same day" any person or entity makes a Public Records request related to the officer under newly effective SB 1421 related to officer-involved shootings/use of force involving major injuries or records of sustained findings of officer misconduct.
The Council majority's action came despite opposition by a coalition of 20 groups (listed in coverage here) that demanded [their verb] removal of Section IX; at the Council meeting.
During Council discussion, Councilman Rex Richardson revealed that the ACLU [of So Cal] had sent a Sept. 17 letter [to all Councilmembers and the Mayor] citing grounds on which the group believes the LBPOA contractual language conflicts with SB 1421 and likely violates provisions on the Public Records Act. The ACLU letter explicitly urged the Council not to approve the new contract with Section IX in it. To view the ACLU letter in full, click here
Apart from Councilman Richardson, no other Councilmembers or Mayor Garcia publicly acknowledged ACLU letter (which became visible online in connection with the agenda item only after the Council voted on the contract.)
[Scroll down for further.]
|Section IX of the Council-approved contract with LBPOA provides:
[Council-approved LBPOA contractual text.] Section IX - Public Records Requests
On Sept. 13, management sent a memo to the Mayor and Council acknowledging that it began implementing the practices in April at LBPOA's request, and then inserted the practices in the contract proposed for Council approved. Management said the practices are being followed by a number of other area law enforcement agencies.
The ACLU letter was critical of the City's record on Public Record Act matters related to police actions;
...[T]he City of Long Beach has an unfortunate history of facilitating obstruction of public records access by its police officers. Most notably, in Long Beach Peace Officers Association v. City of Long Beach, 59 Cal.4th 59 (2014), the City notified officers that they had been subject to a request by a Los Angeles Times reporter for the names of LBPD officers who fatally shot Douglas Zerby on his back porch while he held only the nozzle to a garden hose. The notice allowed the LBPOA to file an action seeking to prevent disclosure of names, which the City did not oppose and indeed supported, filing briefs supporting the LBPOA’s arguments against disclosure as the case progressed to the California Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ultimately rejected the arguments for secrecy mounted by LBPOA and the City and held that the names of officers involved in the shooting must be disclosed....
[On Sept. 11, 2019, another news outlet, the Beachcomber filed a Petition for Writ of Mandate seeking to compel the release by the City of previously denied records it alleges are Public Records whose disclosure is required by SB 1421.]
The ACLU letter attached a "model motion" that any Council member(s) could offer that included putting all documents released under SB 1421 on a publicly available webpage. On Sept. 16 (the eve of the Council vote), city management (via LBPD) issued a media release stating that it plans to put all documents it releases under SB 1421 on a new separate City webpage that anyone can access without making a PRA request.
Councilman Richardson asked City Attorney Charles Parkin if his office could respond to the ACLU's contentions via a memo to the Mayor/Council and Mr. Parkin indicated his office could do so.
In public testimony, Mayor Garcia called as the first speaker LBPOA president Jim Foster, who used his 90 seconds to thank the Council for the new agreement and went on to blast an unnamed journalist/outlet for its coverage of the issue.
A number of speakers followed, citing Section IX and argued that it could deter or chill people from seeking public records related to police conduct and urged its removal.
Following public testimony, Councilwoman Suzie Price indicated she would vote to approve the new contract but sought to focus on ensuring that individuals seeking records related to police conduct under SB 1421 could do so anonymously. Interim City Manager Tom Modica replied that the City already allows this but Councilwoman Price pressed to make sure the option was more visible and user-friendly on the City's Public Records request webpage.
In his Council comments, Councilman Richardson said the public and press aren't to blame for the controversy over Section IX and the Council is ultimately responsible for not having been (his term) more "proactive" in responding to technological/digital changes and legal developments in this area. Councilman Richardson noted that management implemented the new SB 1421 practice without advising the Council said he favors broader future discussion of the City's PRA policies/practices under SB 1421 and other Public Records requests. Councilman Uranga similarly indicated that management caught the Council by surprise by implementing the policy and then proposing it for enactment in an MOU for Council-voted approval.
The only Councilmember to vote against the contract was Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce, who acknowledged the contract contained some beneficial sections (such as parental leave) but based on her dissent on its inclusion of Section IX. Councilmembers voting "yes" on the contract were Price, Supernaw, Mungo, Andrews, Uranga, Austin, Richardson.
Mayor Garcia praised the agreement for its financial terms including enabling parental leave [that he said should be in all city employee contracts] and didn't mention Section IX.
The new contract's fiscal terms include $17.8 million in wage increases/benefits over three years that will come from LB's General Fund that receives roughly $60 million more each year under the Measure A sales tax for which LBPOA was a major campaign contributor.
In January 2017, the Council voted to approve, a new (now expiring) LBPOA contract with a then-estimated three year General Fund cost of $14.3 million.
The LB Police Officers Association was the largest single contributor ($225,000 as of June 30, 2016) to the campaign (run by Mayor Garcia) advocating the Measure A sales tax increase. LB voters approved the measure roughly 60% to 40% after the Council voted to display on voters' ballots the following text, drafted by the City Attorney's office: "[all caps in original] "CITY OF LONG BEACH PUBLIC SAFETY, INFRASTRUCTURE REPAIR AND NEIGHBORHOOD SERVICES MEASURE. To maintain 911 emergency response services; increase police, firefighter/paramedic staffing; repair potholes/streets; improve water supplies; and maintain general services..."
In July 2019, the Council voted to show voters similar text in connection with a March 2020 ballot measure to make the Measure A sales tax permanent.
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