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April 20, 2014

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Sheriff, commissioner ease off criticism of each other on arbitrator’s award

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Las Vegas Sun

Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak, left, and Sheriff Doug Gillespie

Sheriff Doug Gillespie struck a conciliatory tone Monday morning during a presentation to Metro’s Fiscal Affairs Committee in an attempt to stamp out controversy over a recent arbitrator’s decision that will cost the department $6.9 million.

Gillespie admitted a lack of transparency with the arbitration process and that he made a mistake taking criticisms of the department personally. However, he stood behind the legality of the arbitrator’s Sept. 23 decision awarding cost of living raises and an increase in health benefits to officers.

“I still and will defend my organization’s participation in the process, but I should not have responded personally. Part of my job is to work with elected officials in this valley,” he said. “By handling the matter in the way I did, it is clear to me today that I’m creating more problems than I solved.”

The controversy began earlier this month when Commissioner Steve Sisolak, who sits on Fiscal Affairs, which oversees Metro’s budget, raised concerns the arbitrator’s decision didn’t meet requirements laid out in state law.

The award granted a 1.5 percent cost-of-living increase over two years and an increased annual health plan contribution of $1,154 for LVPPA members.

Sisolak pointed to several areas where the process may have strayed, including how the arbitrator was selected, a lack of proper documentation throughout and an improperly rendered decision.

Sisolak’s assertions were backed by a legal analysis by a county attorney who found the arbitration process “was not in compliance with Nevada law.”

Gillespie fired back in an Oct. 11 news conference in front of Metro’s headquarters, where he angrily denied any wrongdoing or collusion between Metro and the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, which represents rank-and-file officers.

““The arbitration process is set in stone,” Gillespie said. “There are rules. There are processes. They were followed.”

Gillespie took back that statement Monday and admitted there were deviations made by Chicago-based arbitrator Robert Perkovich in overseeing the hearing.

“I have publicly spoken that this process is etched in stone, I have found that not to be the case,” Gillespie said. “What I’ve found is that an arbitrator has a lot of flexibility in how the hearing is run and the ground rules that are set.”

Gillespie said he asked for the process to be expedited and as a result, some steps typically found in arbitration, specifically a submittal in writing of a final-best offer, were not done.

The arbitrator’s decision was fair, Gillespie said, but he acknowledged there was not enough transparency.

Anticipating future labor disputes, Gillespie said he planned to involve members of the Fiscal Affairs Committee, made up of two county commissioners, two Las Vegas city council members and a citizen representative, earlier in the collective bargaining process.

After Monday’s meeting, Sisolak said any personal acrimony between him and Gillespie has been resolved.

“The sheriff and I have shook hands. We met last week and we talked about a lot of this,” said Sisolak, who also has vocally opposed Gillespie’s proposal to raise the county’s sales tax rate to hire more police officers. “He’s a great guy. He does a great job as sheriff. He’s defending his department, and I totally respect that.”

Still, Sisolak remained insistent the process didn’t follow state law, even though the award is now legally binding and can’t be changed, according to Gillespie.

“(The process) wasn’t followed in this case from the selection of the arbitrator all the way down to the submission of final offers,” Sisolak said. “I think everybody learned a lesson and will be much more cognizant and aware to follow the letter of the law as we move forward.”

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