Those favoring a police union in Bonner Springs are awaiting a legal opinion on a veto override, but city officials expect the veto to be upheld.
A 5-3 vote by the Bonner Springs City Council to allow collective bargaining by the Fraternal Order of Police on Oct. 30 was vetoed by Mayor Jeff Harrington a few days after it passed. A veto override vote was taken Nov. 12 at the City Council meeting, with a 5-3 vote in favor of overriding the veto.
“The mayor claims it needed six votes to override,” said Fraternal Order of Police State President Pete Fogarty. However, one of the councilmembers cited a city handbook stating it takes five votes to overturn a veto.
Bonner Springs City Clerk Rita Hoag said last week that she expected the issue of the number of votes required to be placed on a future city council agenda as an information item. She said city officials had verified in a conversation with the League of Kansas Municipalities before the override vote on Nov. 12, that six was the number of council votes needed to override the mayor’s veto. The council voted 5-3 in favor of the override.
The city will ask an attorney from the League of Kansas Municipalities to issue an opinion in writing on how many votes are required, in order to verify the city followed the correct statute, and that information will be placed on a future agenda, she said. She said the state’s statutes are being checked, under cities of second class with the council form of government.
The FOP may wait to see what the legal opinion is before deciding its next step, according to Fogarty. He said the FOP may consider several options in the future, such as a court challenge or supporting candidates for office, adding that it may take less time to make a change at the ballot box than it does to take the issue to court.
About 20 officers would be in the bargaining unit. Fogarty said he believes the police officers have considerable community support for their collective bargaining effort.
Some former Bonner Springs mayors spoke against the unionization effort on Nov. 12. About two years ago, the issue came up previously and lost in a close vote.
The debate on the City Council included opinions on whether the unionization effort would be too expensive for a small town.
“Bonner’s a small town and we have 7,400 residents,” Mayor Harrington said. “I think this will be a huge impact on the citizens. Collective bargaining just doesn’t pertain to the police department, the ones requesting it, but any of the departments in the city could form collective bargaining units.”
He said cost was the reason he vetoed it. He believes it will increase taxes.
“It’s just prohibitively expensive,” he said. “We do the very best we can for all our employees out here, we professionally review our pay ranges and positions.”
“The majority of the 628 towns in Kansas aren’t able to have collective bargaining,” he said. Many similar-sized cities do not have collective bargaining, he said.
“We have great employees that we do our very best for,” he said. “I don’t see how this would improve services to the citizens, and they’re the ones who would have to pay for it.”
The confusion over the number of votes required to override a veto may have occurred because it so seldom occurs in Bonner Springs. The last time an ordinance was vetoed was about 10 years ago, Harrington said.
Councilmember Jack Knight, Ward 1, was one of the five who voted to override the veto.
He cited the city’s manual that said the council needs five votes to override the mayor.
“The FOP needs to be heard, and that’s the problem,” Knight said. The city needs to have the FOP so that police officers can file a grievance with the union, he said. Currently, officers can just go to the city manager.
The real issue is not the cost of collective bargaining, he said, and is more of a control issue. He said the FOP would be satisfied with the existing contract raises.
“It has nothing to do with money,” Knight said. “This is nothing but scare tactics.”
He said there was considerable community support for the police union.
“At least give it a try and if it doesn’t work out, fine, we’ll get rid of it,” he said.
Knight said he was from a union family and was a union member at Western Electric. “There are good and bad points, but the good overrides the bad,” Knight said. “I thank God today for the benefits the union gave me.”
Councilmember Rodger Shannon, Ward 3, voted against overriding the mayor’s veto.
“It is not in the best interest of our community of 7,400 people,” he said. “Every community across this country has been forced by the downturn of the economy to cut back. We have worked very, very hard to cut things back, to still take care of our employees and city. To add another layer to that would not be in the best interests of our community.”
It would “absolutely” cost the city more money, he believes.
There are now no other bargaining units in the city government, and once one unit is allowed, every employee could ask to have a bargaining unit, he said.
“It’s a tremendous amount of extra work, and trying to figure out the budget would be absolutely impossible,” he said.
Shannon said he believed it was a very difficult issue, but he was voted in by his constituents and felt he had the responsibility to look down the road as best as possible.
“In my heart of hearts, I felt it wasn’t the right place or right time for it,” he said. “Others will disagree. I’m just trying to look out for 7,400 people.”