Fayette County

Police contract in limbo

Lexington Mayor Jim Newberry and the Urban County Council are at a stalemate over the approval process of the proposed collective-bargaining contract between the city and its police officers.

Newberry says he cannot sign the contract until the council approves the agreement or gives him the authority to sign the contract.

Since it was not involved in the negotiations, the council does not want the responsibility of approving the contract.

In the meantime, the contract, which was ratified by police officers last month, remains unsigned.

Mike Sweeney, president of the president Bluegrass Lodge No. 4 of the Fraternal Order of Police, said he was "extremely disappointed" Newberry didn't sign the contract Thursday night.

"We're going to take him to circuit court, that's our next step," Sweeney said.

"I don't know what his intention is," Sweeney said. "He clearly said at the meeting that it's a good contract and that he would clearly do what the city council directed him to do."

But the council did not give the mayor any direction either by approving the contract or telling him to sign it.

The council on Thursday unanimously withdrew a resolution that would have authorized Newberry to sign the three-year contract that, if approved, would run until June 30, 2011.

Council members said that withdrawing the resolution had nothing to do with their support of public safety or whether they thought the contract was fair. The issue was Newberry's request that the council approve it, they said.

For the first time ever, the council was asked to approve a collective bargaining contract. All six of the city's previous collective bargaining contracts — including the two community corrections contracts signed by Newberry last year — have been negotiated and approved without council input.

The council was asked to approve the contract because of a change in the law department's interpretation of the legislation that gave police the right to collectively bargain, said Logan Askew, the city's law commissioner.

The legislation does not stipulate whether the council needs to approve the contract or not, but because the council approves all of the city's other contracts, it should approve the police contract as well, Askew said.

Without the council's approval, "I don't believe it is legal for the mayor to sign it tonight (Thursday)," Askew said.

State Rep. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington, one of the authors of the legislation, said the intent of the law was for management, which in Lexington's case is the executive branch, to approve the contract, not the council.

Newberry decided to follow the advice of his law department when he chose not to sign the contract Thursday, said Shaye Rabold, Newberry's chief of staff.

"The mayor fully supports the contract, but needs to consult with the law department about the best way to proceed to move it forward as quickly as possible," Rabold said.