State agency faults Terrace policy on police discipline

MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — A state labor-management agency has rebuked the Mountlake Terrace Police Department for changing discipline procedures without negotiating the changes with the officers guild.

The state ordered the department to reverse several discipline changes made by Police Chief Greg Wilson in recent years.

The city also must give back pay to officers who were denied annual raises as a form of discipline, according to a 57-page ruling by the Public Employees Relation Commission, which settles labor disputes for government employees.

The city also must pay back several officers for unpaid leave they were given as discipline, and erase some disciplinary records for officers, the ruling said.

City officials released a prepared response last week.

“While we appreciate PERC ruling in the city’s favor on a number of issues, the city will be appealing,” City Clerk Virginia Olsen wrote.

The city disagreed with parts of the ruling, including the order to erase disciplinary records, she said.

The police department has roughly 26 commissioned officers. The guild represents about 21 officers and sergeants. It filed the complaint in 2011. Other complaints against the city are pending, Guild President Dan MacKenzie said Thursday.

The city has refused to work with the guild on grievances, leading to the guild filing formal complaints of “blatant disregard of labor law,” he said. Some officers have left the department because of the problems.

“We’re happy that (the PERC complaint) was ruled in our favor,” he said. “The unfortunate part is that we’ve had to spend a lot of time, and the city is spending a lot of time and taxpayer money fighting these issues that realistically never would have to be fought had they recognized our legal rights as employees from the beginning.”

Most of the changes should have been subject to bargaining under state labor law, the ruling said.

The changes in question included how the police department investigates when officers are involved in on-duty collisions and when raises can be denied.

The department also reportedly used surveillance video for discipline investigations without making that clear to officers. The use of video for discipline should have been negotiated under state law.

The ruling also found fault with how the chief handled discipline hearings. He denied the guild information that legally should have been provided to it, among other complaints.

Several allegations made by the guild were unfounded, though, the arbitrator determined.

The city’s appeal must be filed in the coming weeks. Similar appeals can take years to be resolved.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

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