Sisolak accuses sheriff, union of colluding in contract arbitration

Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak said Thursday that he suspects Sheriff Doug Gillespie colluded with an arbitrator and the police union to broker a contract agreement with raises before the arbitration hearings even took place.

Meeting with the Review-Journal editorial board, Sisolak pointed to “red flags” that appear to flout state law throughout the arbitration process involving the department, ranging from the way the arbitrator was picked to his sparsely-worded, vague ruling in favor of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, which represents officers in the Metropolitan Police Department.

Arbitrator Robert Perkovich in September awarded the police union with a 1.5 percent in cost-of-living raises and boosted employer contributions for health insurance premiums from $8,572.73 annually to $9,726.62.

Sisolak said he believes the sheriff, union officials and the arbitrator arranged the ruling so Gillespie could avoid blowback for approving pay raises for Las Vegas officers at the time commissioners are eyeballing the More Cops sales tax increase to pay for police officers.

“Something was worked out along the way,” Sisolak said in an interview. “It just seems like they’re playing loose and easy with the rules.”

Sisolak produced a stack of emails and other documents in making his case, and said he questions why other documents aren’t available. Those include written last-best offers of both sides before arbitration started and transcripts of the three-day arbitration hearing, which he said won’t be available for weeks.

Among his concerns:The arbitrator’s decision, at just a page and a half, leaves out crucial details that Nevada state law requires, such as the financial impact and the arbitrator’s reasoning. By comparison, a 2011 arbitration decision involving the Clark County Fire Department ran 45 pages.

The last-best offers from both sides weren’t submitted in writing, and only made verbally. Sisolak had requested the copies and Gillespie initially told him in an email he would forward the “written last best offer.” A Metro staffer later told Sisolak there were only verbal offers.

When the parties couldn’t agree on someone from a list of arbitrators they settled on an arbitrator suggested by the police department’s Chicago-area attorney, Robert Smith.

The police department’s verbal final offer of a 13.46 percent increase in medical contributions, which was selected by the arbitrator, exceeded the amount authorized by the joint city-county Fiscal Affairs Committee, which oversees the department’s finances. Sisolak is a member of the committee.

“Nothing happened right,” Sisolak said.

The County Commission chairman said he asked for an expedited transcript of the arbitration session, but said the request was met with resistance. He said he’s been told the final offer details won’t be reflected in the transcript.

Sisolak said he plans to air his concerns at the Oct. 28 Fiscal Affairs meeting, but said he’s uncertain what can be done about the arbitration because the arbitrator’s decision is binding and his fellow committee members are unlikely to challenge Gillespie, who has announced he will not seek re-election next year.

Sisolak’s questions have forced Perkovich re-write his decision to give additional supporting information required by state law. Those include an explanation of the decision and an estimate of the award’s cost.

The union and the sheriff agree the decision left out details, but they deny they arranged the terms of the decision beforehand.

Gillespie told the Review-Journal the award wasn’t pre-arranged, and noted that he didn’t personally attend the arbitration session.

He said Sisolak’s concerns about the vague decision were addressed after the commissioner raised them at a recent commission meeting.

“An inquiry was made and the arbitrator will be submitting a stipulation in regards to that, and the reasoning that was given to me was he was not familiar with Nevada law and with what he had to include in the award,” Gillespie said.

“I’ve had no other calls from other members of Fiscal Affairs about concerns about the process but my approach to this is when a commissioner or a city council member has a question in regards to something like this, when they reach out to me, I do my best to get the information and get back to them,” Gillespie said.

“Was our offer up from the initial last best offer we had gone one with?” Gillespie said. “Yes, but it was the insurance piece that went up and my discussions with Fiscal Affairs prior to the arbitration when we asked about the ability to modify our last-best offer, I believe I was given flexibility with Fiscal Affairs on the insurance piece and in fact, it’s my opinion there was flexibility on the COLA.”

He added that he didn’t authorize the COLA because the city and county made it clear they wouldn’t increase funding based on an award and he would have to work within his budget.

Gillespie said he’ll meet Sisolak to discuss his concerns, possibly next week.

Police union executive director Chris Collins dismissed Sisolak’s case.

“I’m not a big collusion-conspiracy guy,” Collins said, adding that the PPA’s legal and consulting costs for the arbitration will be $150,000 to $200,000.

“Steve has this ax to grind with the sheriff and the More Cops tax and whatever else and he’s throwing this arbitrator’s decision into the mix,” Collins said.

Collins did acknowledge Sisolak is right about the decision falling short of the language required by law.

“It was simply a mistake that needed to be corrected,” he said.

One part of the contract didn’t need an arbitrator’s decision: Gillespie restored merit and longevity pay, which were both trimmed by half for the 2011-2013 contract. Merit pay had been cut from 8 percent total across the two year-period to 4 percent total, or 2 percent annually.

Longevity pay reductions were restored, which add 5 percent to the base after 10 years of service, followed by 0.5-percent annual increases until reaching a cap of 15 percent.

That didn’t sit well with Sisolak, who said it meant the police department lost negotiating power in arbitration.

Commissioners on Tuesday will introduce a revised More Tax ordinance to incrementally raise the county sales tax by a total of 0.15-percentage points in two steps, in April and July, to pay for police officers in Las Vegas and other agencies in the county. Commissioners rejected similar proposals last week, with Commissioner Tom Collins bringing back the revised proposal.

Contact reporter Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.com or 702-405-9781. Follow him on Twitter @BenBotkin1.