A unanimous Marana Town Council voted June 15 to adopt a two-year, amended memorandum of understanding with the Marana Police Officers Association that governs wages, hours and working conditions.

Adoption came Tuesday, after town and union officials presented their perspectives on six months of negotiations that reached May 25 and June 1 declarations of "impasse" by the officers' association.

In the amended agreement, to take effect July 1, Marana Police Department officers would continue under a freeze on raises and step increases. All town employees are under the same compensation restraints.

The town is reducing officers' ability to take home police vehicles. And the officers' uniform allowance of $1,200 a year is being reduced by half, to $600.

All those actions are "economic items aligned" by the fiscal 2010-'11 budget, which the council approved Tuesday.

In addition, the council directed town staff to form a working group with MPOA to review the "meet and confer" ordinance that governs negotiations.

The council's motion also directs town staff and MPOA representatives to seek concurrence on "ongoing issues" that are not part of "meet and confer" negotiations.

"We want to work with you," Mayor Ed Honea said. "We like you guys. We're not going to screw you over."

Suzanne Machain, Marana's human resources director, took the council through the negotiation process dating back to December. Town and union officials met for 68 hours in 16 sessions, with the town staff committing 350 hours of time to negotiations.

Along the way, MPOA missed several deadlines to provide information required by the ordinance. Yet talks continued, and Machain thought the two sides were making progress.

Before May 25, "the town team believed we had agreed, or were close to agreement," on the issues, Machain said. "There appeared to be some progress in negotiations, we thought we were close, then somewhere in the middle, the tone changed. We were close, then not so close."

In late May, the MPOA declared an impasse on all items.

"Today, I had envisioned bringing you an MOU submitted jointly with the MPOA, but that did not happen," Machain said. "We do not have an agreed-upon document we can present to you tonight."

Declaration of impasse "was a surprise to the town team" of negotiators, Machain said.

"When you decided on impasse, what was your goal?" Councilman Russell Clanagan asked Mario Williams, president of the officers' association. "What did you want to achieve?"

"We were asking for the town to meet our three needs that were not financial," Williams responded.

Specifically, MPOA wants Marana to give senior officers preference with regard to scheduling, days off, vacation and extra-duty assignments. It wants a grievance policy that allows a neutral party to review appeals of disciplinary action. And it wants eight civilian employees at the department, all of them members of the association, to be included in the MPD's eight-step pay plan, Williams said.

"We did not receive collectively from you a well thought-out piece of paper that said 'here's where we're struggling,'" Ziegler told Williams. "That won't cut it. You know about the steps. The economy has hit us. The town and its people have taken a hit, just like you guys have taken a hit."

"We do understand the economic situation we're in," Williams said. "Give the guys some hope when this turns around. We're asking for some kind of hope."

"All of us understand you want some light at the end of the tunnel," Councilwoman Patti Comerford said. "We can always come back and re-look at pay schedules."

"We have to give some, and you have to give some," Ziegler said.

Machain said the town offered to create a "parking lot" of issues, a place to compile police officer concerns that are "not appropriate for the meet and confer process.

"It is definitely not the town's intention to ignore these items," Machain said. The town has promised future review of police officer salary and pay structures, including specialty pay, she said.

Marana's current memorandum of understanding with the police union expires June 30. "I don't recommend" the current agreement be allowed to expire without a new accord in place, Machain said. "I think it's in everyone's interest to adopt the MOU."

The council, which met in closed session with Town Attorney Frank Cassidy for 40 minutes before the open discussion, passed the amended agreement without dissent.



Council tells police union to better prepare its case

Several times Tuesday, Marana Town Council members and town staff expressed their respect and gratitude for what police officers do.

"There is a uniqueness to their role and responsibilities," Town Manager Gilbert Davidson said. "The town recognizes their vital role."

"We are very proud of the police department," Councilwoman Roxanne Ziegler said.

Ziegler then led the council's call for improved organization and presentation on the part of the Marana Police Officers Association. She cited missed deadlines, unclear communication and a declaration of "impasse" by MPOA late in a six-month negotiation with the town.

"You can't come up and be unorganized and present like you did," Ziegler told MPOA president Mario Williams. "I know you guys probably are mad. Are there things we need to work with you on? Absolutely."

"This is very new to me," said Williams, who assumed the union leadership position in February. "You're right, we do need to tighten up our organization. I'm not going to make excuses."

"Formulate a team to work with you," Councilman Russell Clanagan told Williams. "Get some people around you who are going to help make this smoother."

"We accept the critique," said John Stair, vice president of the Arizona Conference of Police and Sheriffs. "Maybe we haven't done as good a job as we should preparing this contract, this memorandum of understanding."

"Where were you guys?" Ziegler asked Stair. "Help these guys. They're officers, dispatchers, they aren't negotiators. Help them. It's not that our side of the table is smarter than your side. We have to have a plan to look at, and we didn't get that."

"We're going to get better at it," Stair said.

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