By Adam Pagnucco.
Several months ago, Council Member Hans Riemer requested that the council’s Office of Legislative Oversight (OLO) research the county’s administration of its collective bargaining agreements with the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35 (FOP). OLO’s report was a stunner, revealing that the county’s sloppiness resulted in different sets of collective bargaining agreements being regarded as definitive by the two parties and that the agreements contained benefit levels exceeding maximums set in law. When OLO briefed the council on the report on Tuesday, multiple council members expressed concerns about the issue. But Riemer outdid them all with a brutal attack on the police union.
A bit of background. When Riemer was first elected to the council in 2010, he was supported by all three county employee unions (MCGEO, the Fire Fighters and the FOP) as well as the two largest MCPS unions (MCEA and SEIU Local 500). While the MCPS unions continued to endorse him, none of the county employee unions endorsed him in his next two reelection campaigns.
Over the years, Riemer’s relationship with the county employee unions has gradually deteriorated. He’s not alone – majorities of the county council voted to abrogate one or more of their collective bargaining agreements in 2016, 2019 and 2020. But the intensity of union sentiment has focused more on Riemer than his colleagues, culminating with a picket of Riemer’s home last May.
The FOP is particularly incensed with Riemer owing partly to his actions over the past two years. During the current term, Riemer has lead-sponsored three bills disliked or outright despised by the union, including legislation to establish a police advisory commission, reduce the union’s collective bargaining rights and prohibit school resource officers. The OLO report on collective bargaining, which was requested by Riemer, prompted a furious response from the FOP. The end result was that when the council first discussed the OLO report in public, Riemer held nothing back.
I may have a comment about the merits of Riemer’s criticisms in a future column, but for now let’s hear what he had to say. The following is a transcription of his remarks at the council briefing on February 2.
Council Member Hans Riemer: I think what you see here is the result of an organization, which is our police department, frankly being under siege for 25 years from a hyper-aggressive legal adversary that uses every means at its disposal to gain control. And I think it’s very reasonable to separate our strong support for our officers who need our support. They need to know that we are there for them, we will equip them, we will train them, we will fund their salaries – at the same time, not having a dynamic where the legal advocacy of that organization takes over the department, which I think has unfortunately happened in so many different ways.
And if you saw the letter to the editor from the FOP to the Bethesda Beat over the weekend, I thought it was shocking. You know, they actually said nowhere in county collective bargaining law does it say that a third party or the county council need to be able to decipher all collective bargaining documents. Put yourself in a mindset to be able to write those words, that the public has no right to know or need to know what is in our governing documents. That is the mindset that we are dealing with. And it is a huge problem.
So we need to tackle the many consequences of this in discipline, we see this playing out, officers committing egregious offenses, sitting on payroll for year after year after year, and there’s legislation that Council Member Rice and I, co-sponsored by Council Member Jawando, Council Member Navarro, have introduced that will address a lot of the root causes of these problems. And I would really like the county council public safety chair and committee to review that legislation. It’s been before the council for months. It has not had a meeting. We need to review that legislation and have a discussion about it. The fact that the use of force policy is now being bargained despite our clear intention is problematic.
Note: That last sentence from Riemer refers to legislation passed by the council last August that codified a use of force policy for the county police department. Both Riemer and Council Member Will Jawando claimed that it is now being bargained despite its presence in county law, which supersedes county collective bargaining agreements.
(Disclosure: I was Riemer’s Chief of Staff from 2010 through 2014. I have worked for labor unions but have never worked for the FOP.)