Open negotiations

When the Chico City Council approved a six-year contract with the firefighters’ union last year, the public paid the decision little mind. That’s because the negotiations were private, and the council ratified the agreement as part of its consent agenda.

Consent items are supposed to be routine; this contract was anything but, in light of budget projections made all the more dire by millions committed to raises.

At the council meeting Tuesday night (April 1), Councilman Larry Wahl suggested the city open up all its labor negotiations to the public.

Since knowledge is our business, we support open meetings. Sunshine laws and transparency are essential for citizens to monitor what officials do with public money and public trust. Yet, turning labor talks into a spectator sport will create more problems than solutions.

The city should take a lesson from the schools: Make public the initial offers and the final settlement. This may lead to posturing at first, but offers get more realistic when conference-room doors close.

Even if the city’s Internal Affairs Committee approves this course, the council can’t implement it in time to affect negotiations with police officers already in process. What the council can do right away is vote to put the final agreement on the regular agenda—complete with a public hearing—so residents can weigh in on it. We urge the mayor to take this initiative.