Police union seeks more influence with council - Tucson Local Media: Pima Pinal

Police union seeks more influence with council

Group runs newspaper ad seeking council candidates

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Posted: Wednesday, December 10, 2008 12:00 am

The Marana Police Officers Association wants to be heard, and it has a plan for getting town officials to lend an ear.

Last month, the association ran a newspaper ad in The Explorer requesting one-page letters from people seeking election or re-election to the Marana Town Council.

After it interviews responders, the association will decide which candidates to support.

While candidate endorsements are nothing new, Mayor Ed Honea seemed surprised that the association would start the process so early. Elections will be held in March 2009.

During the last election, various groups, including the Northern Pima County Chamber and the Tucson Board of Realtors, invited candidates to interview for endorsements, Honea said.

But that was after people had declared their candidacies.

“I find it extremely unusual that they would advertise,” he said. “They’re completely within their rights, but it’s unusual that they worked it from that perspective.”

Honea said he doesn’t think dissatisfaction with the town council is the impetus.

The council has a good relationship with the town’s police department, he said.

People are happy with the new chief, Honea said, and town officials have ridden with officers on duty.

Even Sgt. Art Ross, president of the Marana police association, said the ad represents nothing extraordinary, just a natural next step for the young organization in “promoting our association and the hopes and aspirations of our members.”

But a look back at a decade of Marana Police Department history suggests that law enforcement might have an incentive to win a future town council member’s ears.

Councilwoman Roxanne Ziegler was on the council a decade ago, when police department employees claimed that the police chief at the time, David Smith, managed employees in a way that resulted in plummeting morale, an exodus of veteran officers and supervisors and a rash of police misconduct.

Ziegler said that earlier this year former Assistant Police Chief Barbara Harris retired after employees faulted her for not consistently following the chain of command and labeled her as a key factor for the department’s low morale.

Harris is in the midst of an appeal to win her job back.

Both times, Ziegler said, most of the town council members were slow in offering the police department support.

“Action speaks louder than words, and when it came to action, most of them did nothing for the police department,” she said.

Ziegler, who sided with the disgruntled police officers both times, said times have been hard for the police, and they’re just looking for a candidate who will listen to them.

She added that some might suspect the department of plotting to pick candidates whom they can brainwash to do their bidding.

“I guess people are thinking there is some diabolical reason to put that ad there,” she said. “It’s really not diabolical. They had trouble in the past, and they’re just asking for candidates to come talk to them.”

Ross agreed that the officers sometimes feel ignored.

“The town is big on customer service,” he said. “We feel like at times in the history of our association, we haven’t been extended the same courtesies that the town would extend to the average citizen.”

But mainly, he said, the association’s ad — which last week had garnered one response that Ross knew about — was just the next step in its organizational evolution.

Last year, Ross said, the association was finally recognized as the sole bargaining unit for officers.

The next phase is to involve itself more in politics.

“We’re at a good spot with a new town manager and a new chief of police,” he said. “Now’s the time we could really make some strides forward. I think we have the right people in place. The only new key to that would be the town council. With a strong working relationship with the council members, I think we could really make some strides as to being a modern professional agency.”

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