EDITORIAL: Start arbitration anew on police contract

The absence of transparency in public-sector collective bargaining is disservice enough to taxpayers. But when the government proxies who negotiate labor contracts blatantly violate the few provisions in state law that lend accountability to the bargaining process, making it impossible for elected stewards to provide scrutiny, the resulting deal, no matter the terms, cannot be allowed to stand.

A two-year contract for the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, the union that represents Metropolitan Police Department officers, was settled by Chicago-based arbitrator Robert Perkovich about a month ago. Mr. Perkovich awarded all officers a 0.75 percent base pay raise in each of the two years, as well as a 13.46 percent increase in the department’s annual health insurance contributions. The decision, which creates almost $7 million in new costs for the public, was announced just before the Clark County Commission voted down a sales tax increase to boost the department’s funding.

Over the years, arbitrators have settled many contract disputes involving Clark County teachers, firefighters and other bargaining groups. In compliance with Nevada law, those arbitrators have released detailed reports of 40 or more pages outlining the final offers from labor and management, and the rationale of the decision. But Mr. Perkovich’s decision amounted to a sketched thumbs-up on a cocktail napkin.

That prompted Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak to request a review of the decision by the district attorney’s office — and accuse Sheriff Doug Gillespie of working with the union and the arbitrator to rig the decision. Mr. Gillespie strongly denied the allegation, saying of the arbitration process, “There are rules, there are processes, and they were followed.”

Mary-Anne Miller, the county’s legal counsel, disagreed. In her review, completed Tuesday, she wrote “it is clear that the arbitrator’s conduct of this arbitration was not in compliance with the law.”

In the first place, the selection of Mr. Perkovich broke the law because he was not placed on a list of seven names submitted by a national arbitrator organization. He was hand-picked.

As reported Thursday by the Review-Journal’s Ben Botkin, the two sides, in violation of the law, waived the reporting of their last, best offers. There is no written record of their last, best offers, either, something specifically required under the law. Mr. Perkovich’s decision provided no paper trail, no rationale for his decision and no fiscal impact. He didn’t determine whether the department could afford his award. He didn’t even identify which offer he picked.

Mr. Perkovich attempted to comply with Nevada law by filing a “supplemental opinion and award.” He submitted a single page. Such effort! We imagine Mr. Perkovich completed grade school essays in capital letters, triple-spaced, to meet length requirements. Alas, his second try was as illegal as his first. None of the reasons he gave for awarding the contract — saying it was in the interest and welfare of the public among them — are allowed under state law.

“It does not appear that he took this opportunity to update himself on Nevada law,” Ms. Miller wrote, showing a gift for understatement.

Negotiators for the department and the union have no such excuse. They should know state law. There is so little documentation of this process that no one can be sure what happened during last month’s talks. Did they even talk at all?

This negotiation makes a strong case for ending binding arbitration altogether as a way to resolve labor impasses. As we wrote last week and many times before, elected bodies, who are accountable to voters, should make the final call on contracts, not some lazy amateur in Chicago who has no stake in the outcome. And if bargaining sessions were open to the public and the press, there would be far fewer questions — and a lot more confidence — in the process. The Legislature must consider these policy changes in 2015.

In the meantime, the Metropolitan Police Department and the officers’ union should go back to the bargaining table and start the arbitration process over — with anyone but Mr. Perkovich in charge. An illegal decision reached under illegal procedures must be thrown out. Clark County and the city of Las Vegas should take every step necessary to toss this contract, even if they have to ask a judge to do it.

Mr. Gillespie, meanwhile, needs to keep closer watch over his negotiation team. As he said in his news conference denouncing Mr. Sisolak’s claims of impropriety, the sheriff is elected by the entire county. Voters expect some oversight from his office.

This is the public’s business, and it demands integrity and accountability. They got neither with this deal.