Former Suffolk County Legislator Bill Jones is leading a forum on Thursday to discuss what he deems to be unfair police contract negotiations in Sag Harbor and the need for new laws to balance them. But State Assemblyman and Sag Harbor Village Attorney Fred Thiele says laws aren’t the issue—the problem comes down to strategy, tactics and organization.
Responding to an ongoing stalemate between Sag Harbor and its local police force, Jones—a former Sag Harbor Village Trustee—told Newsday that contract negotiations lean heavily in favor of the unions. He is calling for the State to create legislation that would level the playing field.
“I certainly don’t think the system is rigged,” Thiele said, denying the need for legislation this week. “The current system can work, you just have to be a tough negotiator.”
When salary negotiations fell apart last year, Sag Harbor‘s mayor Brian Gilbride requested proposals from East Hampton Town, Southampton Town and the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department to take over policing duties in the village. The majority of Sag Harbor‘s citizens opposed the idea because it would reduce an already light police presence in the village. So the negotiations drag on, clearly headed toward binding arbitration.
Thiele noted that police and teachers unions are all “extremely well organized” and often share common council, which can make it difficult to negotiate cuts or limit raises. While the unions use a “divide and conquer” strategy and piggyback one victory to the next, the Assemblyman said municipalities rarely speak to each other or create a unified front.
But that is beginning to change, he added.
Though it’s too early to know the outcome, Thiele said Governor Cuomo is proposing legislation, “in the direction Bill Jones is talking about.” If Cuomo can pass the legislation before budgets are due on March 21, it would cap binding arbitration at 2 percent for “distressed municipalities.” That designation includes any Town or Village with a deficit, or simply without a surplus of funds, or a tax rate within the state’s top 25 percent. Sag Harbor does not fall within either category.
The concern here, Thiele explained, is that “You may have municipalities that put themselves in a distressed position to get the cap.” And that is something he does not want to encourage.
Bill Jones‘ forum is scheduled for Thursday, March 7 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Pierson High School auditorium (200 Jermain Avenue) in Sag Harbor.