To the editor:

In his Feb. 14 article about the police department’s pay referendum (Council calls for “unconstitutional” election), Brad Kellar started off with a very problematic statement. His very first sentence was, “Local voters will get the chance this spring to decide whether to give Greenville police officers a significant pay raise.”

Alas, what is lost in that sentence is that (a) it may not be true, and (b) the City has done everything in their power so far to keep the voters from making that decision. City officials are apparently saying that even if the voters do approve the raises, they may not honor the will of the people and might even be willing to go to court to avoid complying with such a vote.

State law gives the voters the power to set pay levels for police officers through a petition/referendum process. That law requires that the petition must state the effective date of the raises. It also requires that the election for such a matter must be held on the next available election date not less than 65 days after the petition is submitted. (A separate law which was recently changed requires that if such a measure is to be included on the November election, the election must be called at least 70 days in advance.)

A committee of petitioners submitted the petition 71 days before the November election. The petition included an effective date of Nov. 11 which would have been the first pay period after the November election. However, the City refused to call the election for November, claiming that they did not have time to call the election at least 70 days in advance. The petitioners and officers chose not to fight the matter in court. Instead, they decided to simply allow the City to put the matter on the May ballot.

The City then argued that they did not have to call the election at all, because by waiting until May the petition would include “retroactive” pay raises. Here the legal arguments get very confusing. You see, the Texas Constitution prohibits city councils from giving extra pay to contractors and officials after the work is completed. There is a very good reason for that provision in the constitution, but it has nothing to do with this situation. It was intended to stop cities from thwarting the competitive bidding process by giving “bonuses” after the fact. Arguing that the same provision limits the absolute power of voters to make decisions at the local level is a stretch.

But that is exactly the stretch the City is making. Once the petitioners and officers hired a law firm and prepared the necessary paperwork to file action through the courts, the City agreed to call the election.

The sad fact is that the petitioners and officers have done everything in their power to put this matter before the voters.

The petitioners and officers entered into negotiations with the City’s committee with several different options to make the City of Greenville marketable in the police field. During these negotiations the City’s three-member committee fell apart. Mr. Glen Steed is the only member who saw this process through to the end. Councilman Chris Bracken never showed up for one meeting, and Councilman Wayne Gilmore removed himself from the committee. During the last council meeting Councilman Bryant was told that nothing else could be done except let it go to the vote. It is still the opinion of the Greenville Municipal Police Officers Association that a negotiated settlement could be reached.

On the other hand, the City has done everything they can to keep it from the voters. And now they are saying they may go to court to avoid doing what the voters want.

This blatant disregard for the very people they serve should impact not just how the citizens vote on the pay raise issue in May, but also how they vote in the City Council elections.

Steve Walden

Greenville



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