Petitions verified to make Sequim City Hall union talks public; now issue goes to City Council

By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News

SEQUIM –– Backers of efforts to make the city’s negotiations with employee unions public and to give employees a choice of joining a union or not have attained enough signatures to qualify initiatives for City Council consideration.

“People want to have more input, more control, more transparency in their government all over,” said Susan Shotthafer of Port Angeles, organizer of the petition drive.

Shotthafer’s petitions seek to enact two propositions. The City Council has until Aug. 28 to enact them or put them before voters.

“At this point, I would say I don’t see a lot of enthusiasm about it from the city council. But I think that will change once they find out what people really want,” Shotthafer said.

“I would think all the signatures would say something to what people want.”

Proposition 1, the “Transparency Act,” would require the city negotiate in public with employee unions.

Proposition 2, the “Protections Act,” would give employees the choice of joining the unions representing their job classifications.

Each measure needed 641 valid signatures to qualify as an initiative, and Clallam County Auditor Patty Rosand confirmed Friday that both measures had enough to qualify.

Petitioners collected 654 valid signatures for Proposition 1 and 661 for Proposition 2, Rosand said.

City Manager Steve Burkett said the council will consider the propositions at its Aug. 25 meeting.

Sequim is one of 57 of the state’s 281 cities that allows citizen initiatives.

Port Angeles is the only other city on the North Olympic Peninsula to do so as well.

Shotthafer said she might consider filing similar initiatives in Port Angeles, but not anytime soon.

“This has been such a big effort, I’m not even thinking about doing it again right now,” she said.

Fifty of Sequim’s 73 employees are represented by unions in one of three unions represented by the Teamsters Local 589: police sergeants, police patrol officers and nonuniformed employees.

The other 23 employees are not unionized, meaning they either are in management or in confidential positions.

Representatives of the Port Angeles-based Teamsters Local 589 did not return phone calls about the initiatives.

Jerry Sinn of Sequim went door-to-door to aid Shotthafer in collecting petitions.

“I think if it gets on the ballot, it probably will pass,” Sinn said.

“Our Sequim issue is a small issue when you put it next to the big movement going on nationwide.”

Shotthafer pointed to a ruling July 31 by the Wisconsin Supreme Court that said collective bargaining is not a fundamental right, and that lawmakers can place limits on union powers when it ruled a 2011 law brought by Republican Gov. Scott Walker was constitutional.

Michael Beranbaum, organizing director for Teamsters Joint Council 28, the confederation of the state’s local Teamsters unions, said union negotiations are too sensitive to be held in public.

“That’s like saying if I buy a car, I should let everyone in the neighborhood come over and sit in the room and give input,” Beranbaum said.

“It’s another push by the Freedom Foundation and the Koch Brothers and the tea party,” Beranbaum said.

“They’ve been trying this stuff all across the country.”

Conservative Olympia think tank The Freedom Foundation wrote the propositions that Shotthafer petitioned.

“I fail to see that the comparison holds up,” Freedom Foundation spokesman Max Nelsen said of Beranbaum’s car sale comparison.

“There’s a public interest in what goes on in these meetings.”

He said a city ordinance would trump contract language that requires negotiations be held privately.

“That’s taxpayer money being bargained with,” he said.

Beranbaum said the ballot measure is an “excessive expenditure” that would be rejected if it goes to voters.

“Especially in small communities, it doesn’t take too many signatures to make a ballot,” he said.

When the propositions would go on the ballot is still in question.

Rosand said the propositions already missed the Aug. 5 deadline to be included on November’s general election ballot.

Shotthafer, though, said the law allowing civic initiatives says the measures must go on the next general election ballot that comes 46 days after the council decides to reject them.

Rosand said she can’t change the Aug. 5 deadline without higher orders.

“They can go to a Superior Court and get it ordered, but I can’t break the law,” Rosand said.

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Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at jsmillie@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: August 11. 2014 6:52PM
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