Above, city officials meet with members of the San Marcos Police Officers Association; below, are Chief of Police Stan Standridge, Christopher Lane, assistant HR director and Kristen Hetzel, HR manager.
Daily Record photos by Barbara Audet
City, police negotiation continues
The San Marcos City Council and the San Marcos Police Officers Association continued their meet and confer negotiations Thursday in an effort to move forward in the finalizing of a new agreement that takes into account wages, hours of employment and other terms and conditions of employment for officers of the rank of commander and under.
Two of the many key issues at hand in this still early stage of negotiations were the need to define insubordination, and whether or not an officer’s letter of reprimand should or could at any time be made public.
The meeting began at 9 a.m. with City Manager Stephanie Reyes calling everyone to the table. At the start, there were some standard procedural questions to address including whether or not live streaming of the meetings would be part of the process going forward. The parties chose to take time to enter into caucus discussions to hammer out these details.
After a 48-minute caucus that was closed to the public, both parties agreed that the main meet and confer negotiation meetings would be live-streamed, likely using Zoom. The subcommittee meetings throughout the process will probably not be available for video streaming.
At the meeting representing the city were Reyes, Linda Spacek, director of human resources/ civil service; Chase Stapp, assistant city manager; Jon Locke, finance director; Christopher Lane, assistant HR director; and Kristen Hetzel, HR manager. Representing the SMPOA in formal and informal capacities were San Marcos Chief of Police Stan Standridge; Patrol Officer E. Charleswell; Commander Lee Leonard; Patrol Officer Greg Collier; School Resource Officer J.R. Mendoza; Sgt. Erin Clewell; Cpl. Jesse Saavedra, community services/ polygraph; and Field Services Representative Danny Arredondo, Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas.
Returning from the caucus, those at the table agreed to meet next at 9 a.m., Friday, April 7 at the San Marcos Public Library, Meeting Room A.
The discussion then moved to some criteria of concern to the officers, especially, the need to define the language associated with insubordination, an issue that has become pivotal in 2023.
Arrendondo said, “If we were to go to arbitration, for example, would that [insubordination] still be something that with a preponderance of evidence would have to be proved?”
According to Reyes, the implications are that the accused officer would still have the chance to prove whether the term insubordination had been used “arbitrarily or capriciously” by police officials in describing job performance.
At this point, in the interest of additional clarification, Standridge read outloud a portion of the code where specific standards are offered.
“An employee shall properly obey all lawful orders and directions given by certified people. Failure and deliberate refusal of employees to obey such orders shall be deemed insubordination and is prohibited,” Standridge said. “Insubordination also consists of direct, tacit or instructed refusal to do assigned work.”
Standridge used this example to further explain insubordination as it is currently enforced, saying if he told an officer to fill out an offense report related to a homicide and they didn’t do that for another six months, that would likely be considered insubordination.
Arredondo said the interpretation of insubordinate behavior will require additional work during the negotiation process in order to move the members of the association closer to a point where they would be willing to vote to ratify a drafted agreement..
Discussion then turned to the related issue which is how much public transparency may be allowed with respect to officer personnel files, particularly for those areas of a file that deal with job performance, positive or negative. Section 143.089 of the local government code that governs municipal civil service for both firefighters and police officers states that personnel files must be maintained and may contain letters, memorandum or documents relating to commendation, honors or congratulations, while also contained the same kind of documents for misconduct resulting in disciplinary action by the officer’s employer.
The officers attending cited their concerns regarding the impact that disclosure of letters of reprimand or other documents relating to possible misconduct in a personnel file could radically affect someone’s ability to find a job after leaving the department. Routinely, most municipalities handle personnel issues in executive sessions that are closed to the public. Procedures for this depend on how agencies are organized with respect to standards and policies.
“From the resource perspective, you should know that there are 750 law enforcement agencies in Texas, of which about four percent, or 92 of them, are civil service, so in almost every other agency these [personnel matters] are discoverable,” Standridge said.
There was additional concern voiced in the meeting about the media taking personnel files out of context in an unfavorable way, based largely on the recent media spotlight highlighting cases connected to former San Marcos police officer Ryan Hartman There is also the problem of hiring new officers that cannot be separated from the balanced role of privacy versus the need for the public to know of possible misconduct by members of the department.
“I think both sides of the table need to be cognizant of how competitive we can be when it comes to drawing people to the city and hiring,” Commander Lee Leonard said.
Lee gave a recent example of an officer with multiple years of experience who applied for a position with SMPD but who chose to take a job with the New Braunfels Police Department instead.