AUSTIN (KXAN) — Police oversight is once again at the center of a disagreement in the City of Austin.
The long-term future of the Austin Police Department’s contract is in flux after City Council voted 9-to-2 to tops for a one year extension of the current contract instead of the tentative four-year deal now former City Manager Spencer Cronk announced last week. Negotiations for that contract took about one year.
Council Member Cheto Vela introduced the motion calling for the one-year extension. Council members Alison Alter and Mackenzie Kelly voted against the measure.
On Thursday, the Austin Police Association (APA) Board of Directors unanimously agreed to not enter into negotiations regarding the one-year contract.
APA President Thomas Villarreal said APA will allow the police contract to expire March 31 and work off-contract until a long-term deal is reached.
During public comment at Wednesday’s special-called Austin City Council meeting, those in favor of the measure said they wanted stronger oversight measures. Those opposed expressed concerns that not penning a four-year deal would result in more officers leaving the department, exacerbating an already strained workforce.
When we spoke with Chief Joseph Chacon Thursday, he expressed disappointment in Wednesday’s decision.
“[The four-year contract] is how I’m going to be able to recruit, retain and to provide stability for this department long term,” he said. “I don’t think the City Council doesn’t want those things, they just see a different route to get there.”
You can see more of his comments in the video below, where he addressed how the decision impacted morale at the department.
The main sticking point of the discussion had to do with the two ballot measures related to police oversight that will go to voters in May.
“We have to check in with the voters,” Vela said.
One petition was put forth the advocacy group Equity Action. It calls for, among other things, the Office of Police Oversight to have more access to certain police files.
The Voters for Oversight and Police Accountability, a group backed by APA, also put forth its own measure that will go on the same ballot that the group said doesn’t include components that would violate Texas law.
Council members in support of the one-year extension want to see what voters decide before agreeing on a long-term contract.
“I have no intention of circumventing the ballot measure process,” said Council Member Vanessa Fuentes. “I believe the people of Austin should expect and have safety in their community and their police officers should be held to the highest possible standard. The resolution we have before us honors both.”
Opposing members Alter and Kelly feared long-term repercussions related to overall cost, trust in city government and police morale when it came to opting for the one-year extension instead of the “in principal” four-year deal.
“Throwing out the already-agreed upon four-year contract is disingenuous to the nature, intention and completed work of the four-year agreement,” said Kelly. “Delaying this already agreed-upon four-year contract will place doubt in our ability to govern with the community.”
APA President Thomas Villarreal said he wished he learned about the prospect of a one-year extension sooner and fears the move will prompt a sea of retirements.
“Throughout the year we’ve been negotiating this contract.. not until two weeks ago did we ever hear any mention of a one-year deal,” he said.