Although the city of San Carlos will likely outsource its police services to the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, some officers within the city’s department worry that continued opposition by its union could throw a wrench into the plans.
The three officers, all who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they want the city to contract with the Sheriff’s Office because it makes the most financial sense and is the guarantee of jobs for the entire department. A competing proposal by Redwood City could not make the same promise and not outsourcing likely means cuts to the remaining San Carlos Police Department.
On June 28, the City Council voted 4 to 1 to begin negotiations with the Sheriff’s Office, setting off more opposition by the Police Officers Association and prompting some officers who say they speak for the majority to "set the record straight.”
One month ago, the POA members voted 13 to 12 in favor of fighting outsourcing and the deciding vote was deemed "on the fence,” according to one officer.
As time wore on, they said the momentum grew for making the admittedly scary leap to outsourcing. But while the individual officers say they watched and hoped the city would vote in that direction last Monday, the POA publicly continued denouncing the plan. Two ballot initiatives requiring voter approval for outsourcing were withdrawn in quick succession but Vice President Suzanne Sheppard was quoted as vowing to fight on, even if that meant a third measure aimed at a pricey special election sometime next year.
The officers now speaking up say they never voted to back the second or possible third ballot measure and they want the Sheriff’s Office and the San Carlos citizens to know the POA does not speak for them. They worry that the community, hearing only from the POA brass, wrongfully believes its rank-and-file agree with the anti-outsourcing position.
"The city is really trying to take care of its employees and make sure they remain employed. A lot of us really welcome this change and the POA saying differently is very frustrating,” said one officer.
The POA represents 25 officers and sergeants in the 32-employee San Carlos Police Department. From the city’s first consideration of outsourcing public safety — both fire and police — to close a $3.5 million budget gap, the POA has challenged the possibility.
In June, three San Carlos residents submitted ballot paperwork on behalf of the POA, but the first effort was pulled to amend the language and the second was yanked because the signers wanted the union to be the petition’s driving force.
How then to explain the apparent disconnect between the POA and its members? The officers speaking up theorize President Gil Granado, a reserve police officer, isn’t guaranteed a job under the proposed terms with the Sheriff’s Office.
Granado has declined repeated inquiries for comment.
Sheriff Greg Munks confirmed the fate of reserve officers has not been discussed.
"We’d certainly be interested but our reserve pool is quite a bit larger. So we will probably discuss it in the course of negotiating, but the focus is on the permanent employees,” Munks said.
And those employees — at least the ones who spoke with the Daily Journal — want to make sure that focus translates into a signed contract.
The officers also say the POA and city have a long history of contention, including drawn-out contract negotiations that ended with the city declaring an impasse and imposing a 3.5 percent raise as its last, best and final offer. The officers said the city had previously offered more but it was shot down by the POA. They wondered if lingering animosity might be a contributing factor in the POA and Granado pushing against outsourcing.
"Maybe he really believes there is something worth fighting for but some feel he still has it out for the city,” one officer said.
Although the officers are unhappy with the leadership, they said the number of young employees "don’t want conflict” by trying to replace the board. They said Granado became president while still a full-time officer and remains as such even while not a full-time officer.
The officers also conceded that the in-house fighting of the POA may mean little to the greater public but don’t want it to stand in the way of negotiations — or give the wrong impression of those wearing the uniform.
"We’re fearful that the words coming out are adversarial and will make the Sheriff’s Office and the residents think we’re not appreciative. There is fear among the members that the POA is going to force us to give up a good thing,” the officer said.
Michelle Durand can be reached by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.