With labor talks set to begin soon, Atherton's city manager said he will follow Menlo Park's example and schedule a public discussion of issues that residents think the town should consider as it negotiates a new contract with the local police union.
The discussion will be on the City Council's May 15 agenda, said City Manager George Rodericks. The session will also provide a chance for residents to get up to speed on issues related to the contract talks, such as the police department's current staffing and funding, and the town's financial situation, including its multimillion-dollar unfunded liability resulting from post-retirement employee benefits.
Mr. Rodericks said staff will prepare a report with pertinent information, modeled on the five-page report presented by Menlo Park staff before that city's council held its April 23 special meeting to allow residents to comment on upcoming labor negotiations.
The public discussion could be a lively start to what is likely to be a contentious period of negotiations. The Atherton Police Officers' Association (APOA) recently set a less-than-friendly tone in a letter mailed to residents that some have criticized as threatening and inappropriate.
The letter warned of a potential police officer exodus from town if the council insists on salary and benefit reductions similar to those imposed earlier this year on non-represented staff. It encouraged residents to send their opinions to the council, concluding, "Please let them know you support us."
Mr. Rodericks said he's heard from several residents who were concerned with the letter's content, which planted the seed for scheduling a public discussion on the matter. He and the council also received a formal request from resident Peter Carpenter to hold a meeting, before negotiations begin, that would give the public a chance to discuss objectives the council has set for the labor talks. Mr. Carpenter attended the Menlo Park meeting, and commended that council for holding it.
"The (APOA) letter brought up a lot of things" that residents have questions about, Mr. Rodericks told the Almanac. "I felt that because of upcoming negotiations and comments from Peter Carpenter about the Menlo Park (meeting), we should at least (provide) the public an opportunity to comment."
Mr. Rodericks said he spoke with Mayor Elizabeth Lewis about putting the session on the May 15 agenda, and "she had no problem with it."
The "kick-off meeting" between the town and the APOA is expected to be held the first week of May, Mr. Rodericks said. "During the first meeting we expect to set ground rules and expectations for future meetings."
The current police contract expires Sept. 30.