Avoiding conflictof interest

City may hire third party to negotiate police union contract

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COEUR d'ALENE - The city of Coeur d'Alene is aiming to bring in a third party to negotiate on behalf of its police association, wanting to rid itself of a possible conflict of interest perception during contract negotiations.

If approved by the City Council Tuesday, the agreement would pay local attorney Nancy Stricklin between $8,000 to $12,000 to negotiate a contract between the city and its police association.

The Police Association is one of three bargaining units which Coeur d'Alene's 300-plus employees can join.

Its contract is expiring in September, which is why the city is proposing bringing in a third party for only police.

Using a third party to negotiate between the other two - the fire employees' union and Lake City Employees Association - could be considered when those deals expire in the coming years.

"We may take a look at that when we start negotiations in the future," said Jon Ingalls, deputy city administrator.

All three bargaining units have been around since 1999.

Currently, negotiation teams on the city's behalf consisted of three department heads who receive the same benefits that come out of the negotiations.

"It will eliminate the perception of conflict and bargaining becomes less personal in nature," staff reports state on reasons to bring in Stricklin. "Also, professionals can bring outside perspective from experience with other municipalities."

The Press wrote an article about the city's union and association contracts April 28, 2011, as part of its State of The Union series. Shortly after, The Press editorial board asked for Coeur d'Alene to hire a third party for contract negotiations to eliminate the conflict perception. It was then one of the discussion points on the campaign trail for the city elections later that year.

While the contract for the third party isn't budgeted, City Councilman Steve Adams said costs saved in employee benefits and wages could make up for cost of the third party contract.

"We might be able to absorb the cost of (Stricklin's) wage in the police budget," he said "That was one of my hopes."

The third party contract would pay $135 an hour for an estimated 70 hours.

The city's General Services Committee, a sub-committee of the City Council, recommended Monday that the city approve the agreement. It will go before the City Council at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Community Room of the Coeur d'Alene Public Library.

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