A frustrated judge on Tuesday ordered North Las Vegas officials and the police supervisors union to make nice and help the cash-strapped city avoid financial disaster.
"You have spent a lot of time and money arguing over whether you have a contract," District Judge Susan Scann told the two parties at the conclusion of a two-day hearing. "It just makes no sense."
She said that such squabbles amount to "fiddling while Rome is burning."
The hearing was held to consider a union request for a preliminary injunction to freeze $1.1 million in cuts to police supervisors' pay and benefits.
Scann told city officials and representatives from the 56-member Police Supervisors Association, which represents sergeants and lieutenants, to meet with another judge Thursday for a "mandatory settlement conference" in hopes they can agree on concessions to help the city trim its $4.9 million shortfall.
The city is running out of time to make cuts to its budget for fiscal 2012, which began July 1.
Officials say if they can't reach concession agreements with two police unions soon, the city will have to lay off dozens of nonpublic safety employees -- probably leading to the closure of city recreation centers.
Otherwise the city won't have a balanced budget, which would land it in trouble with state officials who have the power to take over the city's finances.
City officials also plan to meet for concession talks this week with the 360-member Police Officers Association. A court order bars North Las Vegas from laying off members of the union.
The city and the Police Supervisors Association are embroiled in a contract dispute and have a pending case before Nevada's Employee-Management Relations Board. The union requested a preliminary injunction that would have prohibited the city from cutting cost-of-living raises, additional pay for bilingual officers and other benefits until the board rules later this year.
But Scann wants the two sides to come to an agreement well before that. She scheduled another hearing on the matter in two weeks.
"I'm counting on you having good news for me at that time," she said. "I anticipate success."
The dispute centers on whether the newly created supervisors union falls under the labor contract its members had when they were under the larger Police Officers Association. The supervisors split from the larger union last fall and were recognized as their own bargaining unit by the city in November.
At the time, city management said it intended to keep the supervisors under the terms of their previous contract until a new collective bargaining agreement could be reached. But in a June 8 letter, acting City Manager Maryann Ustick said a new contract had not been reached, and the new union did not fall under the old contract.
In court Tuesday, Ustick said the city meant supervisors to remain under the old contract only temporarily.
There was "never any intent that the existing ... contract would continue indefinitely," she said. "Our intent was made very clear."
Ustick said that it's frustrating to be unable to come to an agreement with the union and that relations between the two parties became even frostier when union leadership sent a concessions proposal directly to City Council members last week.
"I was shocked," she said. "I've never seen that happen or heard of it."
Sgt. Leonard Cardinale, president of the supervisors union, said he sent the proposal to the council because its members "aren't on the same page as the city manager."
"There's just some mistrust," he said.
Scann said the two parties are not to concentrate on whether there is a contract in place but rather on what concessions they can agree on.
The larger police union gave up its 4.25 percent cost-of-living raise this year as part of concessions to save the city money. But the police supervisors received that raise July 1. Their next raise -- 2.5 percent -- comes in January.
Police supervisors in the city average $147,700 a year in salary, plus $72,600 in benefits.
Cardinale said the judge's decision was a good one.
"I think she did exactly the right thing," he said. "We're talking now."
Contact reporter Lynnette Curtis at lcurtis@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0285.