Council move puts pressure on contract talks
Andrew Edwards, Staff Writer
Posted: 07/19/2010 07:49:44 PM PDT

SAN BERNARDINO – The City Council decided by a single vote Monday to give the city manager authority to impose furloughs on police officers if city negotiators and the police union fail to reach a deal on pay concessions.

City Manager Charles McNeely has no immediate plans to force officers to take time off, he said. He presented the issue diplomatically, but the vote is essentially a decision to play hardball during what may be the closing rounds of negotiations.

“We are close, but no cigar yet,” McNeely said.

The council voted 4-3 to give put furloughs on the table. Council members Virginia Marquez, Tobin Brinker, Fred Shorett and Rikke Van Johnson cast the “yea” votes.

Council members Jason Desjardins, Chas Kelley and Wendy McCammack voiced the “nay” votes.

“It’s my opinion that this action is a tool or a tactic, and I don’t support that,” Kelley said after the votes were in.

McNeely said during the meeting would notify the council if it becomes necessary to impose furloughs before Aug. 2, which is the date of the council’s next scheduled meeting. He did not elaborate how much time police officers would have to take off if furloughs actually happen.

Police Chief Keith Kilmer said in a telephone interview that the duration of furloughs would be a function of whatever concessions deal does or does not emerge from negotiations.

Kilmer said he has not received instructions from the city manager to plan to reduce officers’ working hours by any specific amount.

The president of San Bernardino’s police union, Rich Lawhead, said after Monday’s vote that an agreement could be close, but he was clearly displeased that furloughs are now part of the city’s strategy.

“This is basically, right in the middle of negotiations, holding a gun to our head and saying: `If you don’t agree to our side, it’s like this,”‘ Lawhead said.

Furloughs had not been discussed in previous negotiations, Lawhead said. He also said the union’s offers would have amounted to $4 million in savings for the city.

The city’s adopted budget for Fiscal 2010-11 is an attempt to solve a $24 million deficit. The plan does not outline severe cuts but contains a number of assumptions, including concessions and new taxes.

Lawhead declined on Monday to reveal the difference in City Hall’s and the union’s negotiating positions.

The officers association maintains a Facebook page that contains multiple postings regarding negotiations.

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