With little comment, the Menlo Park City Council voted 4-1 on Dec. 16 to approve a new employment contract with the Police Officers' Association that calls for using one of five professional arbitrators instead of using retired county judges as arbitrators in disciplinary appeal cases.
During the meeting, Councilwoman Kirsten Keith cast the sole dissenting vote, commenting that she wanted both police unions to use the same process. The council approved a contract with the Police Sergeants' Association last year that uses retired judges for binding arbitration.
"I'm not going to approve this, for myself," Ms. Keith said. "I really wanted to see the same terms that the Police Sergeants Association had for the Police Officers Association. The point was to have people who are in the community, retired (county) judges that you actually see when you're around and who are accountable to community, as arbitrators."
The POA, which represents 37 members of the police department, approved the contract in November.
Mayor Cat Carlton told the Almanac the week prior to the vote that the new option came about after the POA refused to agree to using retired judges.
The five arbitrators -- Alexander Cohn, Joseph Grodin, John LaRocco, Carol Ann Vendrillo and John Wormuth -- were vetted by the city's labor consultant, who checked their work in other jurisdictions, City Attorney Bill McClure told the council.
The issue of binding arbitration came to the forefront after the Almanac broke the story of a veteran officer fired after being caught naked with a prostitute in a motel room and reportedly admitting it wasn't the first time he had hired a hooker for sex. The arbitrator, James Margolin, reinstated the officer and also awarded him $188,000 in back pay.
At least 16 jurisdictions in California rely on binding arbitration in police disciplinary cases. The state doesn't require that arbitrators make their decisions public, and due to confidentiality laws, both parties must give permission before an arbitrator can release a case ruling. Statistics compiled from the few records available showed that arbitrators overturned or reduced discipline in nearly 60 percent of the cases.