WASILLA — The Wasilla City Council discussed the pay of Wasilla Police Department officers and the upcoming contract negotiations with the WPD Employees Association at their Monday council meeting. At the start of the meeting, Councilman Jordan Rausa moved to amend the agenda by removing three items from the consent agenda to hold discussion including Resolution 21-10 which adopted the 2022 salary structure and pay ranges for the WPDEA, non represented employees and members of the local 302 operating engineers and 341 laborers. Resolution 21-10 provided a two percent cost of living increase along with step increases that are calculated with the Anchorage Consumer Price Index. The motion to move the three items into new business passed 5-1 with only Councilman Tim Burney voting in opposition.
Rausa began his comments on the ordinance by comparing wage scales of the Anchorage Police Department to Wasilla Police Department and voiced his frustration with the lack of information available on WPD pay.
“I don’t know any data from Wasilla Police Department on these subjects because it’s not available or hasn’t been made available to me as a city councilmember, so I have to believe that it’s not available to anybody. I asked and I’m a city council member and I’ve been shown nothing,” said Rausa. “I asked and nobody gave me any information so I would know this if somebody responded appropriately.”
Councilman Simon Brown II noted the size of the Anchorage Police Department in comparison to Wasilla. As a former Alaska State Trooper and Director of the Alaska State Defense Force, Brown felt that comparing the two police agencies was not a fair comparison.
“I just want to make sure that our department is in step with neighboring communities and that we’re attracting talent and we’re retaining talent and that the pay helps do that,” said Rausa. “I have no agenda in this except for public safety in our community and to try to minimize the instances that we saw like at Wal-Mart and I’m not saying it’s a direct result of pay but what I am saying is that we have the ability to through pay, through training, through the whole culture of the Police Department to attract and retain real solid talent.”
Rausa noted that WPD is actively recruiting for a new officer and Wasilla Police Chief Joel Smith was called upon to answer if any Wasilla Police Department officers had left to work for other law enforcement agencies in Alaska.
“I think there was alluded to that police department doesn’t have quality officers because of low pay and that certain things would not have happened if we had quality officers. I can say that that is the furthest, absolute furthest from reality. Our police department has top notch officers. They know how much money they make. They knew how much money they make when they came to work here and to say anything else I take offense to,” said Smith.
Smith went on to say that in his over 20 years with WPD, only one officer has left to work at another law enforcement agency in Alaska, and less than five have moved on to police other areas around the country. Rausa provided extensive details available on the APD website and said that he did not wish to offend anyone with his comments, but noted that he was unable to make an accurate comparison between Anchorage and Wasilla without further information.
“I want the greater community of Alaska to know that we do have the finest police department in all of the state of Alaska and I just see this as part of it. I’ve heard people point to pay over and over and over again and so I just see this as part of it. It’s only a small piece but you know I don’t know if the rest comes through campaigning to the public or what it is but I’m really not kidding, there’s a very poor perception of our police department and it’s not my view it’s what I hear and I’m not making it up. It’s just the public perception so that’s what I’m responding to,” said Rausa. “I’m not meaning to degrade the individual officers, I’m trying to look at this from a 30,000 foot level by and large. If we do have the finest police officers then we should step up our game and respond appropriately with good solid pay. So I’m not even suggesting that we have bad officers I’m just saying if we do, why aren’t we paying them. Why aren’t we paying them competitively to make sure they stay here to make sure we can keep them around for a long time.”
Rausa argued that the city of Wasilla should not look to save money with less expensive contracts for WPDEA. Councilwoman Nikki Velock asked about what type of input the council would be able to have on the negotiation process. Wasilla Finance Director Troy Tankersly was called on to provide expertise on the contract negotiations with WPDEA. Tankersly said that the city and WPDEA are set to begin renegotiating this winter after the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires later this year. Prior to the beginning of negotiations, the council will be presented with a resolution including information about pay to provide their own input.
“The last contract negotiations with the bargaining members, we had quite an adjustment to the pay scale at that time an in the course of the effort I would say that one can’t just simply look at MOA, you have to look at all departments across the state because all departments are different size, location the different nuances that one department has versus another. So to compare just simply MOA absolutely is not apples to apples and I have to agree with the Chief that through that process the city listens to all the members what we can offer, what we can’t offer what’s available, what’s not available et cetera to try to meet in the middle. That’s the process of the negotiations,” said Tankersly. “That’s really the purpose of the first resolution that we bring forward to council, to gain any thoughts or concerns or what have you from councils point of view for us to then go into negotiations and attempt to either take away or add to, whatever the case might be, the contract. There’s no guarantee obviously that the union is going to agree, that’s part of the negotiating process.”
Clerk Jamie Newman noted that the entire process of contract negotiations is put through formal public hearings. Mayor Glenda Ledford added that the WPDEA broke off from their previous union representation to form their own and lower the cost of representation during the negotiation process. Councilman Tim Johnson also expressed that he felt the two percent increase was not an accurate reflection of the increase of cost of living. Tankersly noted that city code states that the increases must be no less than two percent and it would take an action of the council to open up all three contracts in order to renegotiate. City Attorney Holly Wells of Birch, Horton, Bittner and Cherot offered her expertise in representing police across Alaska.
“Looking both historically and, now the Wasilla Police Department has very few blemishes on it’s records in any way and there are no cases that I am aware of where your officers have been tried for excessive force or have been tried and convicted for discriminatory acts. These are very important parts so I do think if you’re worried about that, one of the things we could do is prepare a report for council that demonstrates what is happening in Wasilla Police Department, what has happened in the past and what that record looks like and how your officers are performing because I think you would be pleased with what you see,” said Wells.
Rausa said he felt that as a builder, the foundation of Wasilla was in the police department and that expenses should not be spared on the foundation, noting the new WPD building.
“If the building looks like that man, theo officers they should be squared away. They should be paid really well, that’s really where I’m coming from. I’m not trying to say that we’ve got bad officers because I don’t even have that knowledge. I couldn’t give you an accurate opinion of that,” said Rausa. “The main point of what I’m trying to do here is just seek to do better whenever we can wherever we can, feverishly look for opportunities to do better so that we can keep up with the feverish growth that’s happening in the city because it’s not looking to stop anytime soon.”
The motion to approve Resolution 21-10 passed 5-1 with only Rausa voting in opposition.