The Portland Police Union doesn't want the public to attend its contract negotiations with the city, which began this morning at 9am in a room inside the Portland building. The negotiations are held every four years to discuss things like how officers can be disciplined. The city announced on January 25, four days before the shooting of Aaron Campbell, that the negotiations would be open to the public.

But this morning, during the opening discussion of the ground rules, Portland Police Association attorney Will Aitchison asked that the union be able to discuss this first. Then he came back and told the City's negotiator, Steve Herron, "“Well we’ve talked about it and I’m glad we’re taking it up first because that’s a ground rule with which we’re not willing to agree. Effectively what happens then is that we’re at our default position and that is that bargaining sessions are private.”


The city went off to discuss the idea for a while, then came back and said the open meetings don't necessarily need to be a "ground rule." Instead, said Herron, some meetings could be held on city property, and some could be held at the PPA's headquarters. The meetings at the city would be open to the public, and the PPA could take the decision to bar public access at meetings on its turf.

"Well we’re in a difficult situation here because of course we’re not alone in the room—we have all sorts of people who are in the room with no stake in our bargaining process," said Aitchison. "And they’re only here by your notice and invitation, and I think when you are saying you want to have the public present I think what you’re saying is you want to change the way things have been done in the past."

Herron disagreed with the characterization that the city is proposing a "de facto ground rule." The union has gone off to discuss the idea in the next room.

"I think it's illuminating that the police are so adamant about the police not being able to be involved, participate or be in these meetings, and I think it's important that the public come to every meeting," says Jo Ann Bowman with Oregon Action, who has shown up along with other police reform advocates. "It's my hope that the city does not bend to pressure to close the public out."

Update, 10:40: It's been an elaborate game of chess this morning. The union came back in, and suggested holding the meetings at the Hilton, instead. But again, "just so there's no confusion, those would be privately held meetings," said Aitchison. He also offered to pay for the rental of the space. "It's a union hotel."

Update, 11:06: The decision will go to the state's employment relations board. "The city's interest in transparency," said Herron. "The city obviously views PPA’s insistence that we close the meetings as seeking a ground rule for closed sessions." Herron said the city was prepared to move forward, otherwise.

"We are prepared to move forward, as well, on the terms on which we’ve always bargained," said Aitchison. "We’ve always assumed members on your side are representatives of the city, not just the city but the public. They're good and aggressive and at times tireless advocates."

"We believe that with any contract negotiations as small as purchasing a car or treaty negotiations, we believe that the free flow is a critical element of those discussions," he said. "We certainly understand the city’s decision from a political standpoint, but not from a position of trying to move the contract negotiations forward. Which is I think what we’re really here about which is trying to get this contract solved. Before we move on, we need an answer to this question."

The three person ERB is chaired by Paul Gamson, Vickie Cowlan, and Susan Rossiter. We have a message in the ERB's administrator to find out more.

"They'd file a complaint with the employment relations board, an unfair labor practices complaint. And if they ask for it to be heard immediately, the board would consider clearing its calendar and scheduling a hearing immediately," says the person who answered the phone at the ERB.

Update, 11:28: "We will look at any complaint that comes in," says Gamson, the ERB's chair.

Hearings before the ERB are public, he confirms. Typically a case will come in and there's a process—an administrative law judge is assigned to the case, before a hearing happens. We'll be there, of course.