Op-Ed

Council obligated to review police contract

When I was a new Urban County Council member in early 2005, the first public-safety collective bargaining agreement was negotiated by the former mayor.

The then-commissioner of law and former mayor took the position that the mayor could unilaterally negotiate and sign the collective bargaining agreement without the review and approval of council.

This has been the manner in which all collective bargaining agreements have been approved to date by the city of Lexington.

I have always been concerned about this approval process because it is not consistent with the duties of the council as clearly stated in Lexington's Charter:

“All legislative powers of the merged government are vested in the council, and the council shall have the power to act legislatively with respect to all matters which are within the powers of the merged government. The term legislative power is to be construed broadly and shall include the power to review the budgets of, and appropriate money to, the merged government and such independent agencies as provided for in this charter” (Powers Sec. 4.08).

Lexington's current commissioner of law, Logan Askew, upon review of Kentucky statutes and the charter, offered the opinion that council should review all negotiated collective bargaining agreements and approve them before the mayor executes them on behalf of city government. Mayor Jim Newberry also agrees that review and approval by the council is appropriate.

I strongly agree with this procedure, which is identical to the review and approval procedure used by the Louisville Metro Government (also a merged government) in approving its public safety bargaining agreements.

Why should allowing the mayor to sign collective bargaining agreements — without the review or approval of council — be of concern to council members?

■ Requiring the mayor to act unilaterally in negotiating and executing collective bargaining agreements, without council review and approval, places the mayor in a difficult negotiating and political posture.

After representatives of the collective bargaining unit finalize a contract, they submit the contract to the rank and file for review and approval.

Likewise council members, as the elected representatives of the taxpayers, have the duty and power under the charter to approve or reject each collective bargaining agreement and should do so.

■ Without council review and approval, the check-and-balance relationship between the executive and legislative branches is virtually eliminated in regard to personnel costs. If council members do not stand firm on this issue, the future authority of the council to budget and approve 40 to 60 percent of general fund expenditures may be forever eroded.

■ The taxpayers' and citizens' voices are essentially eliminated when the council does not review and approve collective bargaining agreements.

■ The term of a collective bargaining agreement is normally for three years. At this time, a Lexington mayor can obligate a future mayor, council and the taxpayers without the review and approval of the council.

Upon the unilateral action of a mayor, the council is obligated to accept negotiated pay scales and benefits which may force council to raise taxes in order to maintain staffing levels.

■ The failure to protect the providence of the council to set policy, expenditures and tax rates is a dereliction of our sworn oath as elected representatives to uphold our duties as council members.

I and my fellow council members have consistently supported public safety as the No. 1 priority of local government.

However, the council's strong support for public safety should not subvert our sworn duties to protect the power of the council to review and approve all expenditures as stipulated in the charter.

Our responsibilities are crystal clear. The only real authority a legislative body has is the power to budget, spend and invest the taxpayer's money.

Any council member who does not want to carry out his or her duties of reviewing and approving all expenditures as required under the city's charter should resign from the council.

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