Paso Robles ‘mole’ interests prosecutors
April 5, 2012
Members of the Paso Robles Police Officers Association (PRPOA) discussed ongoing contract negotiations for several hours the night of Nov. 9, 2011, unaware that at least one city spy sat among them.
With the resulting inside information in hand, city officials later were able to manipulate and significantly affect the eventual pact, according to police union members. Those particular actions would interest prosecutors if a complaint were to be received from officers, San Luis Obispo County Chief Deputy District Attorney Jerret Gran said Tuesday.
Evidence of the existence of a double agent among police union ranks was contained in an email provided by the city to CalCoastNews following a Public Records Act request. City Manager Jim App wrote to then-Chief of Police Lisa Solomon at 8:37 a.m. the morning after the union meeting: “Any word from your moles about last night’s meeting?” No reply from Solomon to this specific message was included among the emails provided to CCN.
In the same email, App suggested that Human Resources Manager Marlaine Sanders already “had a list of attendees” from the officers’ meeting.
Paso Robles Police Officer Jon Tatro, a former PRPOA president, said that when when he and his fellow officers learned of the App-Solomon email they reacted angrily. Tatro 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.
Union members said they have “long suspected” that city management conspired to insert one or more spies into ongoing negotiations, and believe they know the identity of at least one such person.
App insisted this week that the email was just “silly language.”
Noting that “CalCoastNews has already posted highly presumptive suppositions that I interfered with union negotiations and broke the law,” App wrote in an email, adding, “Bottom line, there was no meddling, interference, mole, or illegal activity.” He claimed he simply was inquiring “about the outcome of the POA vote.”
The group was to vote that night on the most recent offer by city negotiators regarding health benefits.
App wrote, “I sent the referenced email to ascertain the voter result (I use silly language to make light of (and) bring humor to otherwise tense situations — the receiver (Solomon) knew exactly what I meant, i.e., ‘what was the vote?’) App argued that at the time, he was “up against insurance company and council agenda deadlines” and did not want to wait to learn the outcome of the vote.
Solomon has since left the department.
Members of the PRPOA have expressed their belief that App and Solomon committed a criminal conspiracy to defraud officers of pay, benefits, and pensions, and were eventually successful in their efforts.
Gran said the act of placing a “mole” inside confidential contract negotiating sessions would probably most correctly be construed as a violation of collective bargaining laws, more of a civil issue than criminal.
“But I would be very interested in looking at a formal complaint regarding the possibility of a conspiracy,” Gran said.
In California, a complaint about an unfair labor practice could also be submitted to the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) as a possible violation of the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act, which governs public sector bargaining. The law requires negotiating “in good faith” and prohibits interference with, or threats or discrimination against, bargaining units.
An apparent paper trail exists to bolster police union suspicions about the alleged mole activities. Former officer Dave Hernandez, president of the police union during those negotiations, said city officials were trying to influence the association to vote in favor of a new health plan, and that the “moles” were able to change the health plan union members voted for during the meeting.
Officers voted that night to stay with their current plan, not the reduced plan offered by the city. Hernandez said. The next day, all officers began getting phone calls from a department sergeant armed with a list of all officers who had attended the meeting. He called union members “selfish” and managed to coax a vote change among officers.
“The health plan then was switched to what the city manager wanted,” said Hernandez.
“Utilizing ‘moles’ is conspiracy to commit fraud,” Tatro said. “(City officials) defrauded us out of a fair labor contract.”
Public sector attorney Martin Mayer, of the Orange County law firm of Jones and Mayer, said he’s never experienced a situation where management placed a “mole” into labor negotiations.
Mayer, noting that his firm exclusively represents the interests of municipal management, said, “This is only my personal observation, but it seems to me that this would be an unfair labor practice. It is terribly inappropriate for either side.”
Confidentiality of negotiations “cuts both ways,” he said. If such an incident did occur “it would certainly undermine the intent of confidential negotiations.”