This special edition of the Politics Hour combined local and national politics live from Slim's Diner in Petworth, Northwest D.C.
Among the ballot questions Montgomery County voters face on Tuesday is a matter related to the collective bargaining rights of the police union. The county’s police chief argues it’s necessary to change “effects bargaining” rules that he feels limit his ability to manage the department effectively. He joins us to explore the issue and follow up on our conversation with union officials who oppose the ballot question from earlier this year.
- Thomas Manger Chief, Montgomery County Department of Police
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, the risks and benefits of expediting the federal approval for drugs and medications. But first, why a question on the ballot this week in Montgomery County is driving a wedge between the leadership of its police force and its police union. Tomorrow, voters will decide on whether the county should limit the so-called effects bargaining rights of its police officers.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIn layman's terms, such rights allow the Fraternal Order of Police to bargain over management decisions that affect officers, everything from clothing allowances for undercover personnel to the use of ticket-writing devices. A few weeks ago on the politics hour, we heard from Lanny Davis, a former White House lawyer, who's been hired by the police union to build its case against question B.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIToday, we're joined by the man who believes the question will affirm his ability to manage the department effectively while still respecting the rights of the union to bargain other major issues like salaries, benefits and working conditions. He is Thomas Manger, Chief of the Montgomery County Department of Police. Tom Manger, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. THOMAS MANGERThank you. It's nice to be here.
NNAMDIChief Manger, once again Montgomery County has become the home of a hated labor battle. Earlier this fall, we had a spirited conversation -- that's an understatement -- with Lanny Davis, the former White House lawyer representing the Fraternal Order of Police, which is challenging move the county council made last year to limit so-called effects bargaining. Before we go any farther in this debate, what is the process of effects bargaining and how does it affect your management of the department?
MANGERWell, it's a very complicated issue and I will tell you that the voters are understanding more and more that it is a complicated issue. Effects bargaining is a very narrow law that talks -- that basically allows the union to bargain any management decision that I make. As you mentioned, bargaining things like pay and salary, retirement benefits, working conditions, like that, we're not talking about that. We're talking about the fact that I have certain management rights and they're laid out in the law.
MANGERI have the responsibility for the budget and for the mission of the department. I have a responsibility to maintain and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our operation. And there's a list of things that are just common sense management responsibilities. And so I have this responsibility to run the department and yet anytime I make a decision, anytime I make a decision on policy or operations the union has the ability through effects bargaining to demand to bargain that decision. And it creates a lot of inefficiencies in my view and delays a lot of things from happening as quickly as they should.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number here. If you would like to venture your own opinion on this admittedly complicated issue of effects bargaining, 800-433-8850. Our guest is the Chief of the Montgomery County Department of Police, Thomas Manger. When it comes to effects bargaining, Chief, how do the rules in Montgomery County compare to those elsewhere in Maryland?
MANGERWell, we're the only police department in the State of Maryland, I'm the only police chief in the State of Maryland that has to deal with this effects bargaining issue. We're the only department that has this effects bargaining in our labor law. So when I talk to other police chiefs around the state, they're just incredulous when they hear some of the things that I end up having to bargain that they're able to do just with the stroke of a pen. And again, common sense measures that I think the public would very quickly say, hey, this is something that not only does the police chief have the responsibility to do, but he or she should have the authority to do them also.
NNAMDICan you give us maybe an extreme example of that?
MANGERI will tell you that back in 2006, a decision was made that we were going to go from written reports on a piece of paper -- police reports on a piece of paper, we wanted the officers to do their reports on their computer in the car. And there's a lot of things associated with that that some of the issues might've been bargainable. But it came down to an effects bargaining issue about whether officers were able to type or not. Nobody required them to type. I mean, a lot of people do on their computer just with one or two fingers...
MANGER...and they can get the job done.
NNAMDIFastest fingers in the west.
MANGERThere you go. And so we wanted to get this done in 2006. It was 2009 before we reached an agreement. So it took three years for us to be able to mandate that officers take advantage of that technology that we had in our cars three years prior.
NNAMDIWell, what the police union and its spokesperson Lanny Davis says is that, look, this law has been in effect for 30 years and it's been working perfectly. How would you respond?
MANGERWell, it hasn't been working perfectly. I will tell you -- and I'll tell you that history has shown us there's a lot of bad laws that took a while to get repealed. But here's what I think folks need to know. First of all, when this law was passed back in the early to mid '80s, it was a controversial thing back then. It only passed three to two by the county council and there were folks that had concerns about it.
MANGERA few years later, the other unions in the county wanted effects bargaining. The county council said no, we're not sure this was the right thing to do. We're not going to take away from the police, but we're not going to give it to anybody else. In 1999, the Office of Legislative Oversight did a report. And in that report, they recommended that the county council look at the effects bargaining law and they said -- and I quote here -- in practice how effects bargaining law has "in practice affected police management's ability to manage conduct issues."
MANGERSo even before I got here, you know, years ago, it was an issue for police management. And then, of course, a couple years ago, the organization over form commission recommended that the county council again look at effects bargaining because of the problems and inefficiencies that it created. So there's a history of folks that have recognized that it's an inefficient law and needed to be repealed.
NNAMDIWhen you have conversations with other police chiefs, either in this region or in the country, and you tell them about effects bargaining, what is their general response?
MANGERMost of them can't imagine how we get anything done with that kind of process. You know, I have certain management rights that are laid out in the law, but they're only bargainable rights. I mean, every time I exercise one of those management rights, the union has the ability to make me negotiate, make me bargain. And, again, no other police chief in the State of Maryland has to deal with that law. And so other chiefs really see it as a pretty inefficient way to do business.
NNAMDII don't know the last time, if ever, that I have had to interview a police chief about a ballot measure taking place anyplace. And police chiefs usually, I guess, try to stay away from politics as much as possible. What have you learned about politics and the county's policies since you stepped into this particular battle?
MANGERI've learned that I don't enjoy politics. I will tell you that this has been a very difficult process. You know, Kojo, I got good cops. Montgomery County Police Department is full of great men and women who do a phenomenal job. And the fact that we're having this very public disagreement on a labor issue I don't think is good for the police department and it sends -- I think it may send the wrong message to the public. And I hope that the public understands that after tomorrow, whatever the voters decide, we will go on and continue giving top rate police service because of the quality of the men and women that serve as Montgomery County police officers.
NNAMDIWho is coordinating within the county, the campaign on question B? Is this matter where you're taking a leadership role or is it the county executive? Who's coordinating it?
MANGERWell, it was the county council that passed the law. The county council passed the law. The county executive signed it. The county has, as they did with the ambulance fee issue, has taken a role to try and educate the public, advocate for the law that was passed. So it's been something that the county has done -- my role -- really I've tried to have my role strictly be as one of public education. I don't intend to be out tomorrow at any polling places, because I've got a job to do. And I'll be back in my office and running the police department tomorrow.
MANGERAnd so my role has been primarily just public education on this issue.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Jimmy in Gaithersburg who says, "Keep it up chief. Now make sure you stay on top of it. When the union members abuse the system for disability pay, you should know that in July of 2011, the Washington Post reported that the county council approved fundamental changes to the county's troubled disability retirement system creating a two-tiered system that distinguishes incapacitated workers from those who can find a job doing something else.
NNAMDIThe new rules also forbid employees who are about to get fired for misconduct from receiving a service connected disability package. This was a very controversial issue involving the police department in Montgomery County, but this new -- these changes that were put into effect last year affect not only police officers, but all county employees, it is my understanding."
MANGERWell, I can speak about the police employees. I will tell you that our cops put their lives on the line every day. And they should have the confidence and security that if something happens to them that not only will they be taken care of, but their families will be taken care of. But what we had is too many cases involving police officers who engaged in misconduct. And as they found themselves either with criminal charges against them or disciplinary action where they were at risk of losing their job, they were working full duty one day. And when they found out that they were going to be fired, they applied for disability retirement the next day.
MANGERAnd I think that the county council needed to address that issue and I think that it was important that folks have confidence that the people who are entitled to disability retirement get it, but those that are not, don't.
NNAMDIHere is Will -- don your headphones, please, for me Chief because here is Will in Gaithersburg, Md. Will, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
WILLHello. Thanks for taking my call. So listen, I'm not from the state. I moved into the state a number of years ago, but I want to make an observation and also I have a specific question. So my observation is, as I drive down 124 on a Sunday morning, I see a bunch of people in Montgomery County police suits outside a place of worship stopping and directing traffic. Now, I always assumed that they were on duty as they did this, but, of course, they're not. It turns out that they're working part time or whatever off the books. They're using Montgomery County material, et cetera that my tax dollars go to fund. I found it very surprising.
WILLBut my specific question I guess is, on what authority -- if they're not on duty on a Sunday morning as they stand outside that church, under what authority are they stopping me and directing traffic? And I'll take your answer off the air. Thank you.
MANGERWell, they do have the authority to -- as police officers, they do have the authority to direct traffic. They are working for the places of worship. We have a procedure in place where many places of worship will hire police officers to work traffic to make sure they can get their folks in and out of the parking lot in the more expeditious manner, more safe manner. The officers that specifically -- that you refer to on 124 are out there quite a bit. And I will tell you that if they weren't there, it would be a lot more dangerous situation.
MANGERWe don't have the staffing to put a police officer at every church, synagogue, mosque, you know, whatever temple, you know, to make sure people get in and out safely. So when these places of worship want to hire police officers I think it makes it safer for the community. And it's also a good opportunity for our police officers, you know, who haven't had a pay raise in several years. And, you know, many of them are struggling the way the public, you know, at large is in terms of the economy. So these are legitimate opportunities that we sanction. And again, I think the community's safer because these officers get out there on their days off and help out.
NNAMDIBefore you go, Chief Manger, just to be clear, we got this Tweet from Sarah who says, "So, to be clear, the Montgomery County police chief wants folks to vote yes on question B, correct?
MANGERI am hoping people vote for question B. Yes.
NNAMDIYou vote yes on question B is what chief of the Montgomery County Department of Police would like you to do. He is Thomas Manger. Chief Manger, thank you so much for joining us.
MANGERThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, the risks and benefits of expediting the federal approval for drugs and medications. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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