When the City of Bend is going to make an important policy decision, it posts the item on the City Council agenda. It usually includes a staff summary of the issue with pros and cons. There is also usually a link to the actual language of the proposed law or contract.
Why doesn’t it do that with employee contracts?
When the Bend City Council approved a three-year contract for a city employee union last week, it didn’t do that. The vote on the City of Bend Employees Association, or COBEA, contract was not on the agenda. There was no substantial discussion in public before councilors approved the contract.
That’s not right.
And it’s disappointing because the City of Bend and city employees did get so many other things right. The negotiations with COBEA were open to the public. That has not always been the case in Bend or elsewhere in Oregon.
There are also important changes in the COBEA contract. One of the most significant is that the city and COBEA worked out a deal that allows a small dose of pay for performance. The city administration can devise a program to hand out bonuses for exceptional work.
Traditionally, unions in Oregon and all across the country have been unwilling to accept pay for performance because of concern about favoritism. Human Resources Director Rob DuValle and City Manager Eric King hope to encourage other city unions to accept similar programs.
There are many other changes to the contract — probation periods, health care benefits, disciplinary options, compensation structure, compensation time, health care coverage, leave and more. The increases in salaries and benefits exceed what the city planned by about $330,000 for fiscal year 2013-2014, though some of that may be offset because of savings in health care costs. There may be no health care savings in later years.
The council did not discuss any of those matters in public.
City councilors believe the contract was a good deal for the city. They all voted to approve it, and it may prove to be a good deal.
But the council has two obligations. It must seek good deals. It must also be open about its decision-making — not just talk about a contract behind closed doors.