Dec. 15, 2004 - The Oro Valley Police Officers Association has won the right to represent police officers and civilian workers in future negotiations with the town.

Who would represent the department has been a contentious issue for nearly three years as two groups within the department, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 53 and the OVPOA disagreed about which of them would be the best representative.

According to Town Clerk Kathi Cuvelier, the OVPOA will be the police union representative this year after winning the election by six votes, with 36 people voting for the FOP and 42 for the OVPOA as their representative group.

Out of 100 people eligible to vote, 78 cast their ballots in the special election Dec. 7.

A timeline for election of a representative was laid out in the meet and confer ordinance adopted by the council Oct. 8.

The ordinance has been dubbed the "meet and confer" ordinance because language in the document gives officers the ability to negotiate wages and benefits as a collective body. But the ordinance does more than grant the right to negotiate, it also sets up the system wherein a group representing all the safety workers is chosen, through an election, and then negotiates on behalf of everyone. It also sets up a system for settling grievances through the chosen representative.

At the time it was adopted, the ordinance was opposed by several members of the FOP, including its local president OVPD Det. Herb Williams, because they said it cuts off their ability to negotiate for themselves and forces them to surrender that right to whatever organization has a majority membership. While many Oro Valley officers belong to both the OVPOA and FOP, both groups predicted the majority vote would likely favor the OVPOA.

Williams had initially said the FOP could file a lawsuit contesting the legality of a meet and confer ordinance over issues of exclusivity.

A similar ordinance was proposed more than a year ago by the OVPOA, but was not considered by the town because of concerns at that time with the document granting the group sole rights to represent.

Then town attorney Mark Langlitz said the town took issue with the "language of exclusivity" contained in the ordinance. "If 55 percent (of Oro Valley police) want to join AZCOPS and want to exclusively represent all police, we can't do that," Langlitz said at the time to the Northwest EXPLORER. "It would mean silencing the minority."

The OVPOA sued the town for the right to seek voter approval of that ordinance, after Cuvelier informed the group in a letter that the group's serial number on the petition was invalid.

But a judge did not rule on the case because the town said that, while the group's petition number was good, the town would not honor any of its petitions because they would not meet the required time frame.

The new ordinance includes a change in language from using "official and exclusive" when describing a group elected to represent public safety workers, to using the "official representative."

Williams said members of the FOP sat down and talked over their situation a few weeks ago, and decided it would be best to go along with the new system, at least for now.

"We said let's just end all the fighting and let it go to a vote," he said.

And because the new ordinance allows members to call for a vote every year if they want to, if FOP members are unhappy with how the OVPOA represents them, they will try to vote them out next year, according to Williams.

"We want to give them the opportunity and see what they'll do," he said, adding that the group has no intention of calling the vote every year if things are going well.

"We wish them the best and want to work with them," he said of the OVPOA.

In the meantime, Williams said the FOP will still exist and will continue to engage in activities in the community, such as the annual Shop-with-a-Cop program that buys school supplies for children in need.

Officer Dan Krueger, president of the OVPOA, an affiliate of the Arizona Confer-ence of Police and Sheriffs, (AZCOPS), said he is happy to have the vote over and said "now the real work begins."

"It was a close election," he said. "Now It's time to roll up our sleeves and get a proposal together."

Set up by the ordinance, the group is working on a condensed timeline in this first year to get a proposal together for a contract with the town. It will have until Jan. 6 to draft a proposal to submit to Town Manager Chuck Sweet. A 30-day review period will follow and then negotiations will likely commence.

"This is one more step in the goal of getting a contract with the city," Krueger said of the vote that elected his group to represent the police department workers. "This is an opportunity to continue what we started."

In anticipation of the election, Krueger said the OVPOA formed a committee of four to start working on a draft proposal.

"So when it happened, we wouldn't be starting from zero, given the timeline," he said. The committee looked at other cities that have contracts to draw from for its proposal.

"We're not trying to reinvent the wheel," he said of the contract. Next week, a meeting of all police department employees is scheduled to be held in order to get everyone's thoughts on the proposal. New also since passage of the ordinance is that the elected group now represents not only police officers, but also the civilian employees of the police department. Krueger said representatives of the OVPOA will be talking to those employees to find out what specific concerns they have heading into the process.

Krueger said he hopes the expectations of the group are not "too high" for this first year of the new system.

"We need to be realistic," he said. "There is only so much money and resources to go around."

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