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KPD union bid fails: Sergeants dispute roles despite signatures stating otherwise

By ERIC A. HOWALD

Of the Keizertimes

Keizer Police Department (KPD) sergeants sought access to the Keizer Police union over two days of hearings in 2018, but the effort appeared handicapped from the get-go. 

Five of the KPD current sergeants testified on behalf of the Keizer Police Association (KPA), which they were seeking access to, in July and September of 2018. The hearings took place at the Employment Relations Board with Administrative Law Judge Martin Kehoe presiding. While the request was denied an objection has been filed.

The sergeants contend that their duties do not rise to the level of supervisory and therefore qualify for inclusion in the KPA.

While the sergeants took issue with the job description issued by the City of Keizer Human Resources Department, all of them had signed statements and checked boxes indicating no changes were needed within a year prior to their request for union inclusion. 

Some sergeants took responsibility for signing the job description while others said it was presented to them at the last minute and under clear pressure to “get it done.”

Sgt. Trevor Wenning was the most blunt in responding to a question from Cathy Peck, the city’s legal representative, as to why he would sign such a document knowing there was disagreement over the duties therein.

“I didn’t read it. I have clearly defined goals and I’ve seen how other sergeants do business. I honestly don’t feel I need a document to tell me what my job is,” Wenning said. 

When Sgt. Bob Trump asked whether he understood the sergeants’ position to be a supervisory one when he applied for the position 19 years ago, he replied simply, “I did.”

Sgt. Jeff Goodman said sergeants routinely participate in performance evaluations, but that he often consulted with lieutenants, his direct superiors, when issuing oral or written reprimands to officers on his shifts. While consulting with superiors regarding reprimands is common practice within the department, Kehoe later determined sergeants had the authority to issue them without going to supervisors first. 

Sgt. David LeDay testified on another common theme throughout the hearings: whether coaching and counseling rose to the level of supervision. 

“Counseling is not supervision. We all have areas to improve. There can be 20 ways to do something and there still be a better way,” LeDay said. “It’s not discipline.”

In the end, Kehoe disagreed with that assessment as well. 

All the sergeants whose time in the position spanned other eras of department leadership said that the culture of the department has changed over time and there has, generally, been less need for verbal and written warnings. 

Wenning said that only matters leading to some sort of monetary penalty – loss of an assignment that warranted additional pay or a loss of step increases – would constitute a supervisory action, but “I’ve never done it and haven’t been subjected to it.”

Another core contention of the appeal for union membership was the ability of sergeants to act on “independent judgment.” But, most of the sergeants arguments stood in contrast to recent action. 

When an officer assigned to the traffic unit did not to perform up to expectations, the sergeant in charge of the unit did not renew his assignment in the job after two years. The officer was placed back in the patrol unit and lost a 5 percent pay increase that went along with the special assignment. Then, when a new sergeant took over the traffic unit, he placed the same officer who had been taken out of the unit back on it with the expectation that he could improve the officer’s performance. The new sergeant did so despite consulting with his supervisors who counseled against the action.