Attorneys for the police union representing Las Vegas officers are disputing a Clark County attorney’s finding that an arbitration that gave the workforce a $6.9 million award strayed from state law throughout the process.
The union’s opinion is written by Kathy Collins and David Roger, both attorneys for the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, which represents officers. The union released a copy on Monday to city and county officials in an effort to put to rest questions about the arbitration process.
“Not only is the award in this case legal, the only slight deviation from statute was the fact that the very final offers communicated to the arbitrator were oral and not in writing,” the opinion states.
The opinion argues that minor deviations could be found in any scrutinized arbitration and that doesn’t change the legality of the outcome.
“However there is nothing in the statute that calls for the setting aside of an award if there is deviation from the letter of the statute,” the opinion states. “This award is legal and is final and binding.”
In contrast, County attorney Mary-Anne Miller’s legal review found problems throughout the arbitration process that deviated from Nevada law, ranging from how the arbitrator was picked to the lack of required documentation. Miller completed the review at the request of County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak, who initially raised questions about the legality and transparency of the arbitration process.
The Police Department’s Fiscal Affairs Committee expects to discuss the arbitration process at its meeting on Monday.
“We thought it was important that all the commissioners and council people have all sides of the story,” said Chris Collins, executive director of the Las Vegas PPA.
After the three-day arbitration hearing in September, arbitrator Robert Perkovich of Chicago gave an award of two consecutive 0.75 percent cost-of-living increases, one retroactive to July and another starting in January. The award for a one-year contract also increased the department’s contribution to employee health insurance plans by 13.46 percent.
Among the conclusions of the union’s opinion:
_ Arbitrator Robert Perkovich, from Chicago, was properly picked. The union’s attorneys say the choice met the law’s guidelines because both parties mutually agreed on it.
_ The arbitrator was picked after both sides rejected a panel of seven candidates instead of striking names off the list until one remains. The department’s Chicago-area attorney, Robert Smith, recommended Perkovich.
_ The two sides didn’t violate the law by opting not to have court reporting of the final arguments, according to the attorneys. They contend the law’s requirement for a “full and complete record” of hearings was met, noting the law doesn’t require final arguments.
“To say that the award is illegal because it lacks a record of final arguments, the ‘statutorily required paper trail’ as Ms. Miller refers to it, is absurd,” they wrote.
_ The union’s attorneys do admit that one deviation occurred. They say the parties exchanged “amended final offers.” Those offers were “orally communicated to the arbitrator,” according to the opinion, calling it the “only area in which the parties admit that they did deviate from the statute.”
Miller found that the law requires last, best offers to be in writing, not exchanged verbally.
_ The opinion also shows that the attorneys believe the arbitrator succeeded in a follow-up effort to provide information required by Nevada law. That supplemental award came after questions from Sisolak as to why it didn’t include the outcome’s dollar amount or reasoning for giving the award, both legally required. “… The parties reached out to the arbitrator to ask him to address these deficiencies,” the opinion states. “He has done so.”
Miller’s review didn’t suggest that the award be overturned or recommend a specific remedy for the deficiencies. Miller declined to comment on the union’s opinion.
Sisolak has pointed to “red flags,” saying that at the worst, the police union and the Police Department intended to reach that outcome all along. Or, at best, he has said, it suggests the Police Department didn’t put its best foot forward in negotiating a contract.
The scrutiny comes as Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie is trying to sell county commissioners on a sales tax increase to pay for more cops at his agency and other departments countywide. Following Sisolak’s comments, Gillespie called a press conference and strongly pushed back against any assertions of impropriety and said all the rules were followed.
Sisolak said he still agrees with Miller’s opinion, calling it legally sound.
“I totally disagree with it,” he said of the union’s opinion. “I stand by Mary Miller. It’s clear that, in my opinion, she’s come to the right conclusion.”
He added: “I’ve got a lot of confidence in her. I think she’s represented the county well.”
Gillespie declined to comment last week on the county’s legal review of the arbitration, saying he wants to discuss the matter first with the Fiscal Affairs Committee. His department also has declined to answer other questions about the arbitration process. He was unavailable Monday for further comment.
Contact reporter Ben Botkin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-405-9781. Follow him on Twitter @BenBotkin1.