Guest View: City to assess current SLTPD attitudes
South Lake Tahoe is blessed with fine public employees who care about the community they serve and serve it well. Our employees are the backbone of service delivery, and we are proud as they provide the community with excellent service.
Recently, you and your staff have made inquiries and asked questions to my office, the chief of police, and members of the City Council about proceedings of the grand jury, hiring practices in the police department, allegations of third parties involving the police department, the Taylor-Nelson draft and invalid climate summary prepared in late 2007, and about a personnel matter.
My purpose in writing is neither to be argumentative or combative with the media, nor to question your right to ask questions. My purpose is simply to go over a few points that have been made previously by city officials and staff or clarify and answer matters where clarity may be needed. I understand that the chief of police is responding specifically to questions addressed to him about department operations.
The city of South Lake Tahoe faces many challenges and opportunities as we all work toward building a sustainable community with strong environmental protections, a strong economy, housing for our workforce, maintaining important public services and improving, installing and replacing needed infrastructure.
Doing so has not been easy over the past 51Ú2 years, as city government initially faced zero reserves, layoffs, cuts, reductions in spending and staffing, and financial collection issues. Elected leadership over the years, city officials and employees have worked very hard to resolve and address financial challenges of the past, and we have made great progress.
Given previous financial constraints and previous labor agreements, city government and recognized bargaining unit representatives dealt with very difficult bargaining issues last year that were highlighted by police and fire personnel exercising their right of assembly and demonstrating their unhappiness with wages, hours and working conditions.
Police and fire representatives, city negotiators and elected leadership listened to these concerns, and after much hard work came to agreement on multiyear agreements that are now being implemented.
Negotiations resulted in addressing outstanding issues regarding wages and benefits, schedules and working conditions. In addition, the City Council approved in the last budget the addition of two police officer positions to change the rigorous and demanding work schedule of police officers provided for in earlier labor agreements.
In mid-2007, Police Chief Terry Daniels solicited a proposal from Taylor-Nelson LLC, an organizational development and training firm, to evaluate the “climate” of the department and move forward with a plan to revitalize the Participative Management Team (PMT) using a private donation made to the police department by a now-deceased person.
Taylor-Nelson helped set up the program in the police department many years before. The work of Taylor-Nelson (approximately $7,500 spent to date on the agreement) began just as last year’s labor negotiations were heating up.
Taylor-Nelson advised the chief they should hold off completing the survey and analysis of issues and follow-up until labor negotiations are completed. A preliminary summary report was prepared by Taylor-Nelson for the chief of police and the two leaders of the labor organizations who sponsor the police department PMT in October 2007.
The 44-page report (referenced in the October PMT summary) that was incomplete was prepared but not released by the consultant because it was incomplete and not validated. This office does not have the Taylor-Nelson 44-page draft report because it was not validated, and negotiations were still in process. I have never seen nor had possession of the draft report.
I am advised by the city attorney that the draft consultant 44-page invalid report is exempt from the Public Records Act.
The October 2007 summary report suggests unease and dissatisfaction by personnel with the department and working conditions. The report in its present version is a draft consultant copy that is invalid.
Now that all police MOUs except one have been signed, the consultant will proceed to test preliminary data gathered in 2007 against current attitudes and perceptions now that new labor agreements are in place.
The consultant will then recommend the next steps needed to be taken to address current identified issues and concerns. I have asked the police chief to have the report completed as soon as possible, and the consultant is moving forward to do so in cooperation with the police department and PMT.
Newspaper staff have been provided with the name of the police labor negotiator (POA, PEA and PSA) on more than one occasion to contact to determine his views on the status of the city-police labor relations today, and to my knowledge, the reporter has not spoken with him as of the date of this writing.
A newspaper staff member sat in on a Safety Services Committee meeting on May 13, where the police negotiator (Dr. David Swim) talked at length about the caliber of police-city relations at this time, and his comments there have not yet shown up in the media.
The newspaper was provided with the status of police department MOUs at my request last week by our human resources manager.
In regard to matters that may be before the grand jury (such topics as witnesses, testimony, legal advice, etc.), they are confidential and cannot be discussed. I confirmed this opinion with counsel to the grand jury last week. The grand jury will issue a report when it is completed with its work and any issues raised in it will be addressed and responded in accordance with the law.
In regard to personnel practices, the city has a merit system that is open and competitive at all levels and based on what one knows, not who one knows. Politics or behind-the-scenes pressure play no role in the personnel system nor should they ever. People are to be hired and reviewed on the basis of merit alone.
Your fine newspaper staff has made requests for matters related to existing personnel actions and/or disciplinary matters, and these matters cannot be discussed in order to protect the rights of all parties and in accordance with state law. Personnel matters are not debated in the media but rather are important deliberative matters heard in accordance with adopted personnel policy and state law that are all subject to court review and validation if necessary by the parties.
In regard to complaints against individuals within the police department, city government has in place a process in compliance with adopted MOUs, the city personnel rules and state law to review any complaints of misconduct against a sworn member of the police department at any level, and these matters are investigated when the complaint procedure is used.
City officials and management value the job performed by members of the police department, and we look forward to opportunities to continue working well together and providing the best service possible to our customers – the people of South Lake Tahoe.
Thank you for the opportunity to respond.
David M. Jinkens
South Lake Tahoe city manager
Editor’s note: After several attempts last week, Tribune reporter Adam Jensen, who has been covering police staffing issues, was able to contact police negotiator David Swim by phone on Monday. “I’m not in contact with cops to know if they are happy or unhappy,” Swim said, suggesting that Jensen contact police union officials.