App mute on moles at union meetings
March 14, 2012
By KAREN VELIE and DANIEL BLACKBURN
Paso Robles City Manager Jim App and Police Chief Lisa Solomon allegedly used spies during negotiations last year with police officers’ union representatives and later discussed the practice in emails.
Members of the Police Officers Association (PRPOA) reacted sharply to the emails, copies of which were obtained through Public Records Act requests by CalCoastNews.
Jon Tatro, who until recently was president of the union group, said he has “long believed that (Solomon) has moles in the POA who report privileged information from our meetings directly back to her.” Tatro called the action criminal.
App Tuesday declined to comment on the matter. Solomon is on leave.
“It should be noted that if they gathered information from Solomon’s ‘moles’ to help them in any way to bargain against us in contract negotiations, it is a crime,” Tatro added. “It is conspiracy to commit fraud. They defrauded me out of a fair labor contract.”
Tatro’s suspicions of city spies are borne out by a Nov. 10, 2011 email from App to Solomon in which he asked, “Any info from your moles at last night’s meeting?” Union members were negotiating a new contract and discussing health benefits and salaries at that session.
Tatro and Dave Hernandez, another former union official, are accusing the city of negotiating in bad faith.
Other emails from App to Solomon showed they were involved in obtaining names and keeping track of union meeting attendees, as well as making demeaning comments about police officers for agreeing to lower wages.
Hernandez, POA president during those negotiations, said it was obvious the city manager and Solomon were trying to influence the association to vote in favor of a new health plan. He also thinks the “moles” were able to change the health plan union members voted for during the meeting.
“On that night, the officers voted unanimously to stay with the current health plan, not the one the city manager wanted us to go with,” Hernandez said. “The following day, after we explained to city management that we wanted to stay with the current plan, a sergeant began calling officers to confirm their vote.
“He explained we had no choice, that we were being selfish, and that we should change to the new health plan,” Hernandez added. “The sergeant said he was able to get enough officers to change their votes, and the health plan was switched to what the city manager wanted.”
Tatro also took issue with a Nov. 30 email exchange between Solomon and App in which the pair discusses the city’s police officers’ pay being lower than earnings of San Luis Obispo County sheriff deputies.
“So, why does anyone still work for us?” App wondered in an email to Solomon after reviewing the salary comparison.
“Good question,” Solomon responded.
“I can answer that question,” Tatro said. “Many of us are hoping not to have to work for either of you two much longer.”
Inquiries to city council members seeking comment on Solomon and App’s actions got only one response, from Fred Strong.
His March 8 email to CalCoastNews is reprinted here verbatim:
“As a member of a legislative body (one of three branches of government in the United States) and one which, at the local level, is sometimes called upon to exercise the duties and responsibilities of the judicial branch, I choose to follow Constitutional protocol and neither interfere with, nor pass judgement on, the operations or process invoked within that branch of government until and unless it comes to me in an official capacity. At that time, with appropriate evidence, rather than unsupported statements or opinions, I will respond according to established protocol and process.
“However, I do not choose to prejudice my quasi-judicial status, should it be invoked in matters that are purportedly headed in that direction.
“This has nothing to do with ‘freedom of the press’ or ‘transparency.’ It has to do with due process.
“I have never seen nor heard of any specific email content within the administrative branch of government prior to this communication. Therefore, I apologize if my response is not what you were expecting. Once alerted to the possibility of being cast into a quasi-judicial role regarding personnel matters within the Police Department, I have diligently avoided any and all articles and electronic media once the words police department, Solomon, Chief, etc. have come up in view, hearing or print.
“If this matter comes to me officially, I will give it my full attention and seek to find the truth through evidence and/or corroborated allegations. Until this clears I do not choose to engage in any discussion which might taint the process or prejudice the outcome.
“Thank you for considering me worth contacting. Best wishes, Fred.”