EDITORIAL: No openness in bargaining, no consequences

The precedent has been set. In the state’s already-skewed binding arbitration process, in which a lone outsider with no stake in the outcome settles contract disputes between local governments and their unions, compliance with the law is optional.

That’s the takeaway from Monday’s meeting of the Metropolitan Police Department Fiscal Affairs Committee. A discussion between police administrators and the elected officials who comprise the committee made it clear recent negotiations between the department and the officers union, overseen by Chicago arbitrator Robert Perkovich, did not follow the law. Far from mere technicalities, some of the violations eliminated what little transparency exists in the arbitration process, effectively keeping both elected stewards and the public from knowing what offers were considered, which side prevailed and how Mr. Perkovich justified his ruling.

Clark County legal counsel Mary-Anne Miller found Mr. Perkovich was improperly selected to resolve the impasse; there was no written record of the parties’ last, best offers; and the parties didn’t keep a full record of the hearings, despite the presence of a court reporter.

“I have publicly spoken that this process is etched in stone. I have found that not to be the case,” Sheriff Doug Gillespie said at Monday’s meeting.

“It was clear that the statute was not followed,” committee member and Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak told the Review-Journal.

Imagine that laws were broken in executing a contract or any other binding proceeding. Would that contract stand? Of course not. But this one will, because elected officials appear to be satisfied with the outcome: a one-year award that boosts overall police compensation by $11.6 million in salary and benefits. They’re in agreement that the law-breaking ruling is binding.

If the County Commission or the Las Vegas City Council sued over the violations of collective bargaining law and asked a judge to order the arbitration process restarted, could a different arbitrator award police even more money? Of course. But that’s not the point here. The law requires a minimum standard of documentation so taxpayers, who can’t witness negotiations, have assurances their interests are considered. Without that documentation, the process has no integrity, and the public has cause for suspicion.

Mr. Gillespie was adamant Monday that “there was no collusion. There were no deals being made.” Yet without the “statutorily required paper trail,” as Ms. Miller put it, we can’t be certain. This botched negotiation underscores the importance of openness in collective bargaining, and of having elected boards, not unaccountable arbitrators, settle contract disputes. The Legislature must pass such reforms.

If our elected officials won’t stand up for the law, who will? Committee member and Clark County Commissioner Larry Brown said during Monday’s hearing that there are “some lessons to be learned here.” Yes, there certainly are. When our government masters are deciding behind closed doors how much of our money to keep for themselves, the law means squat.