AUSTIN (KXAN) — A unanimous vote by the Austin City Council Thursday resulted in an extension of police salaries and benefits even if the current contract expires next month.
At a news conference Thursday afternoon, Mayor Kirk Watson said the newly-passed ordinance guarantees officers would receive their pay whether the Austin Police Association agrees to the one-year contract extension supported by a majority of the council.
At the moment, leaders of the police union said they would rather work with no contract than support a year-long deal. The current contract is set to expire March 31. The full media briefing on Thursday’s update is below.
“Having a contract would be better, but what happened today was a good faith act by the Austin City Council in order to get us to lift up our police officers and send a message we care about them and we want to have an agreement with them,” Watson said Thursday.
APD Chief Joseph Chacon told KXAN’s Grace Reader the vote is “good” for Austin police officers.
“In the end, this is a good thing. It’s a short-term fix to a very critical issue we have right now, which is officer retention. It is not designed to be a contract. I think we saw that today in their comments and shouldn’t be interpreted by anyone as being a contract. What it’s meant to do is to preserve officer compensation as well as to reiterate that we are going to be having oversight during this interim period,” Chacon said.
Most members of the city council are pushing a one-year extension so Austin voters can decide on two ballot measures that relate to police oversight during the upcoming May election.
The mayor also said Thursday’s ordinance directed the interim city manager to create a package to present to officers to keep them on the job and recruit more.
Council Member Ryan Alter, who represents south Austin in District 5, said he wants to create some stability for police officers if the current contract ends with no new deal.
Alter said he would introduce an item at Thursday’s council meeting that would take the pay benefits from the current contract, such as vacation and sick pay, and preserve those benefits if the city and police union fall out of contract. Alter also added he would like to accompany those benefits with some robust oversight.
“I hope that we are able to reach a mutually beneficial agreement, but if we’re not I want to at least make sure that our APD officers understand that just because we fall out of contract doesn’t mean that we don’t value you anymore and doesn’t mean we don’t want you to continue serving your community,” Alter said.
Austin Police Association President Thomas Villarreal said this safeguard is better than nothing, but it still doesn’t provide the stability most officers want.
“These ordinances can be changed at any council meeting or vote,” he said. “It’s helpful, but it’s not as helpful as a contract.”
Council recently voted to go with a one-year extension of the contract rather than accept the tentative four-year deal that former city manager Spencer Cronk announced before he was fired. The four-year deal took a year to negotiate.