Union negotiations should be public, Arizona house panel argues - East Valley Tribune: Politics

Union negotiations should be public, Arizona house panel argues

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Posted: Thursday, January 31, 2013 8:30 am | Updated: 5:06 pm, Wed Feb 6, 2013.

Saying they are promoting transparency, members of a House panel voted Tuesday to force cities and counties to negotiate with public employee unions in the open.

HB 2330 would expand the state's Open Meeting Law which generally requires public bodies to discuss their business in the open to include any discussion of salaries and fringe benefits between a representative of a public body and any agent or officers of an employee organization. It would not matter whether there was a quorum of an elected council present -- or even if a council member was there at all.

The vote came even though two of the Republicans on the nine-member Government Committee objected to the provisions. Both Reps. Sonny Borrelli of Lake Havasu City and Doug Coleman of Apache Junction said their own experience as city council members convinced them the legislation is a bad idea.

That was enough to send the measure down to defeat in a preliminary vote.

But a procedural motion by Rep. Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix, forced them to go along with their GOP colleagues to allow the legislation to go to the House floor. Both indicated, though, they will oppose the bill there.

Rep. Steve Montenegro, R-Litchfield Park, who sponsored HB 2330 called it a simple matter of transparency.

"There's no reason why taxpayers should be kept in the dark,'' he said, particularly since the closed-door talks eventually will lead to how public dollars are spent.

"We are asking that the taxpayers be given a seat at the table,'' he said. "If you're big enough to spend the taxpayers' dollars, you're big enough to be transparent and accountable.''

Coleman, however, said taxpayers are at the table through their elected council members. He said the final vote on any deal -- along with the terms -- has to be done in public.

Montenegro responded that the council gets only an up or down vote on the final pact and cannot reject specific provisions. But Borrelli pointed out that if council members are unhappy with one or more terms they can reject the deal and send negotiators back to the bargaining table.

Taylor Earl, an attorney with the Goldwater Institute, countered that it is important for the public and council members to know what happened up until that point so they can see what was offered and what was bargained away.

Quezada, however, said Republicans are not being consistent.

He pointed out that the negotiations between legislative leaders and the governor's office over the $9 billion budget occur behind closed doors. It is only when there is a final package that there is a public vote on the deal and the details are revealed.

Quezada chided Montenegro for not proposing to require these talks be done in public.

And Coleman also found flaws in the logic behind the legislation. He said that, carried to extremes, it would require lawmakers themselves to meet only in public with lobbyists and others ahead of any votes.

Montenegro sidestepped the question of how he feels about such transparency, responding instead that anyone interested in that issue is free to introduce such a proposal.

A.J. LaFaro, newly elected as chairman of the Maricopa County Republican Committee, told lawmakers that union contracts are "a license to steal from the citizens of Arizona.'' He said the average salary of police officers in Tempe, where he lives, is $103,000, with firefighters earning an average of $109,000; by contrast he said the average Tempe resident earns less than $50,000.

Borrelli responded by asking LaFaro what a firefighter's life is worth. LaFaro responded by saying that's not relevant.

In separate action, the committee voted to require all cities and counties to take a public vote before the end of the year on whether to permit payroll deduction of union dues.

Ugenti, the sponsor of HB 2026, said she is not precluding such deductions. But she said if local officials want to offer that benefit to employees they should have to take an affirmative public vote.

Borrelli called it an unnecessary intrusion into local government but, like the open negotiations measure, he and Coleman agreed to support it to get the bill to the full House.

A third bill to prohibit union members from doing union work while on public time, HB 2343, was tabled amid questions by several committee members.

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