No one can accuse Galveston’s police union of being bashful. One need only look at an embarrassing billboard the union commissioned declaring the island “Home of the Worst Police Retirement in Texas,” which was a statement about a long, heated battle between the Galveston police pension board and the city over an ailing pension system.

The billboard, over the northbound lane of Interstate 45 near the intersection with state Highway 146, went up in January at a time when the department was working to recruit more experienced officers. It’s still up, although everybody seemed to agree the pension had been improved with a locally bargained deal the state legislature approved more than a month ago.

Union President Geoff Gainer on Wednesday told The Daily News the union had ordered a new sign that will say, “We Thank you For Your Support.”

So, it’s clear the police union doesn’t mind using highly public, hardball tactics to get its point across and sway public opinion. In that context, it’s not clear why the Galveston Municipal Police Association, which plans during contract negotiations to ask taxpayers for higher salaries, would be shy about collectively bargaining on TV.

The bargaining meetings will begin today at the Galveston Park Board of Trustees plaza, 601 23rd St., which was a compromise venue.

The most recent sessions were held at the San Luis Resort, Spa & Conference Center, 5222 Seawall Blvd., where the municipal police association holds its regular meetings.

But for years, the two sides had sat down at city hall for contract talks. And the city wanted to return the sessions to city hall and to broadcast the proceedings, Deputy City Manager Dan Buckley said.

Public meetings often are broadcast on the city’s public TV and internet channels.

“Since the meetings are public, the city believes it is imperative that the meetings are conducted in a public facility,” Buckley said.

Although the meetings will be public, held in a public venue and recorded with audio equipment, they won’t be broadcast from the park board building.

Sure, anyone willing to invest the time could file a public records request for the audio recordings. But that’s a tedious and unfair burden on the general public footing the bill for public services the police provide.

The police union didn’t want the meetings broadcast, but didn’t oppose convening bargaining meetings at the park board building, Gainer said. The association didn’t want the meeting held at city hall.

“Negotiation 101 is you try to have it on some type of a neutral ground,” Gainer said.

The only thing that’s changed about city hall since the bargaining sessions were last held there is installation of TV equipment, however.

Televised meetings for all the honest world to see would benefit both sides in showing that both are bargaining in good faith.

This year’s bargaining comes on the heels of state legislation that restructured the police pension, in large part by increasing the public contribution by more than $350,000 to $2.18 million from $1.82 million, according to city officials.

Officers want a pay increase to bring them up to par with other area departments, Gainer said. And they want extra pay for working on holidays.

The union should argue its case openly and directly to its members’ employer — the taxpayers.

The cost to taxpayers for public safety is substantial — $33.2 million, which includes costs for the fire department and emergency management, among other expenses, according to city records. Of that, $20.7 million goes to the police department, according to the records.

The union has an absolute right and responsibility to argue for higher pay.

But the taxpayers have the right to view the bargaining.

Police unions hold more power than most public-sector unions, because no one — conservatives or liberals — wants to appear to disrespect first-responders.

There’s a lot of emotion attached to first responders, for good reason, which is why even generally conservative politicians tend to give police and firefighter unions a pass. Police typically walk into bargaining with a lot of Love Ya Blue clout that other public-sector employees just aren’t afforded and representatives of the taxpayers have the unenviable task of crossing that blue line with very little vocal or moral support from the public. No one wants to be seen fraternizing in the anti-first-responder camp.

The police union, as it bargains, should openly argue and justify its demands for better compensation and prove the level of pay and benefits it’s seeking is sustainable within the public budget. It should also show, in good faith, a willingness for cooperation and collaboration that could result in cost savings and efficiencies for the city and the public it serves if financial realities call for that.

And the city’s representatives should show taxpayers what they are doing to avoid bloated spending without eroding public safety.

The discussions are likely to be heated, but it’s hard to see how either side would lose by televising the bargaining. Whatever the outcome, both sides wouldn’t have to worry about second-hand information, interpretations and points lost in translation. There are several days of bargaining. Televise them.

• Laura Elder

 Laura Elder: 409-683-5248; laura.elder@galvnews.com

(12) comments

Don Schlessinger

Well said Laura, thank you. I don't think the police union has the "nads" to allow the public watch the proceedings on TV.

Bailey Jones

I think all city business should be on TV.

David Hardee

Thanks for a public interest article calling for sunshine on the governmental shadow negotiations. You and Ken Heath are revising the once traditional 4th Estate constitutional protected mandate of exposing POWER (especially government) to scrutiny. You have created public reaction. Please do not let the trust of this article vanish from the public eye. The POWERFUL rely on the passage of time and short attention span of the public to escape continued scrutiny. Stay committed to the making the GDN (Galveston’s 4th Estate) the public eyes and ears on government deviants.

Wayne Holt

I am 100% in agreement with Laura's call for more transparency. There is an ongoing process of awakening by the public that our interests are best represented when we know what's going on, and we take steps to become involved in outcomes. This is part of that process and both city government and city services in negotiations should understand that, accept it and work with it. It doesn't have to be adversarial but the old days of dropping something on taxpayers' desks and saying "Sign this" are ending. I think most Galvestonians' perception of our police department is positive; mine certainly is and I have stated that publicly on many occasions. It is not going to tarnish that image if honest negotiations are held in such a way as to let taxpayers in on the process. The buck may stop somewhere else, but it starts with us.

Charles Wiley

The process is ugly, very ugly. There is good reason for those involved to want that process out of the public eye. Do you really want to see how the sausage is made?

Randy Chapman

And for the most part exceedingly boring. [sleeping]

Miceal O'Laochdha

Skilled and effective contract negotiation is, as Mr. Wiley says above, a sausage-making process that would be constrained and hampered by public observation and the inevitable commentary of those inexperienced in this "dance". The public (taxpayers who pay for the final outcome) should review the results of what their representatives have achieved in that negotiation (city officials hired by elected representatives) and register their approval in the lead up and voting of the next election. Similar to those subjects that are reserved by State law for executive sessions of public bodies, contract negotiations are harmed by public display during the process and taxpayers hoping to benefit from the display are, in reality, more likely to lose from it.

Gary Scoggin

When you televise negotiating you turn it into theater. And little gets done. Keep them private.

Miceal O'Laochdha

Nail on the head Gary; and said succinctly. Thanks.

Wayne Holt

Who turns it into theater? The negotiating parties? The viewers? If someone is grandstanding for the camera when they should be honestly involved in reaching a resolution, I would like to know about it when it's happening, not when it's a done deal and my next council election or ballot proposition is my only means of objecting. I don't see how letting the taxpayers in on the process is detrimental to a positive outcome if all parties are honest brokers.

Gary Scoggin

How much more dysfunctional has Congress gotten since the advent of C-SPAN?

Wayne Holt

If all the viewers of C-SPAN were gathered into one room...it could be an exceedingly small room. C-SPAN is not even a ripple on the Big Waters of popular media. Post hoc ergo propter hoc is a logical fallacy and one that is easy to fall prey to.

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