The heated debate between Montgomery County officials and the county’s police union—which has already cast aspersions in all directions—is primed to get even hotter ahead of the Election Day referendum on reigning in the union’s negotiating rights.
Question B on the Nov. 6 ballot will decide whether to preserve “effects bargaining,” which gives FOP Lodge 35 domain over a broad range of department policies. According to the 1982 effects bargaining law, the FOP can negotiate any action by the police chief that has an “effect on employees.” That has been applied to include, for example, officer reassignments, disability guidelines, distributing equipment and how to implement a computerized system for writing reports.
It does not affect negotiations over wages and benefits.
The County Council moved unanimously to strike down effects bargaining this summer after contentious deliberations. County Executive Isiah Leggett, Police Chief J. Thomas Manger and the Council say that the drawn-out negotiations cripple the police department’s ability to reform.
FOP led the petition that put Question B on the Nov. 6 ballot, where it will be among the most significant lineup of ballot questions in memory: Same-sex marriage, Congressional redistricting, in-state tuition for undocumented students and an expansion of the state’s casino industry.
In an echo of the bruising debate over the ambulance fee of 2010, police union leaders have lambasted Manger and Leggett, while FOP has drawn fire for taking advantage of its power.
The ballot battle saw its first salvos last week.
On Sept. 17, Montgomery County government’s website began painting “effects bargaining” in no uncertain terms. With 15 policy changes pending FOP approval—in some cases years after negotiations began—the website says it “makes no sense” to give police union leaders such sweeping authority.
That night, FOP hired high-profile attorney Lanny Davis—a former special counsel to Bill Clinton—to devise its campaign. His first shot across the county’s bow: Question B supporters are waging “a deliberate misinformation campaign” to gloss over the nuances of effects bargaining.
Davis points to a Washington Post editorial as a prime example. The July op-ed derides “years of preposterous union challenges to no-brainer management directives,” and cites as an example the emergency relocation of police manpower to Silver Spring last year after an uptick in crime.
The county website also lists “the redeployment of officers to crime hot spots” as the type of management decision stymied by effects bargaining.
But under effects bargaining, Davis says, the police chief can implement any policy he wants as long as he cites a threat to public safety. In the meantime, FOP and MCPD management would go to arbitration for up to 50 days.
“We’re being told black is white and white is black,” Davis said.
The Question B campaign found its first battleground last Wednesday as the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee settled on the platform it will send out to every registered Democrat ahead of the election.
Leggett and all nine members of the County Council brought their political weight to bear at the Wednesday meeting.
“The leadership of FOP, repeatedly, made statements about the police chief … that were without merit and that were unnecessarily inflammatory, and I would say even libelous,” said Councilman George Leventhal. “… It’s unfortunate that so much dirty laundry was aired in the course of this debate. But the mere fact that this became such an exercise and a public dispute, indicates—with regret I say this—that the FOP has used the leverage available to it under effects bargaining in a manner that is not in the interest of public safety and not in the interest of the department.”
A special MCDCC advisory committee had recommended in a 7-6 vote that the party side with FOP. But the precinct representatives voted to oppose effects bargaining, 109-14.
“The fact that the Democratic Party … gave almost 90 percent of their votes, I think it’s a strong win,” said Leggett spokesman Patrick Lacefield. “I would imagine that other such signs will follow.”
Though that first battle went to the county’s favor, FOP is resolute in its efforts. Davis called Council President Roger Berliner to a debate, an offer Berliner refused yesterday, according to The Washington Post. Davis wants to take the campaign to the airwaves, and has called into question the county’s use of taxpayer money to win the Question B vote.
“People on the county payroll are advocating against the police. That, to me, is improper, and it may be illegal,” he said. “We’re going to challenge that. And we’re going on TV if we have to. So this is a campaign; tonight is the opening act.”
County officials steadfastly dismiss the notion of wrongdoing.
“Just like county lawyers go to court, the county has a right to defend county law and county policy,” Lacefield said. “We intend to actively campaign against this because we know special interests are going to spend a lot of money.”