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A contract worth inspecting

Dixon residents have been given the opportunity to review a public employee union contract well before the City Council takes final action. We applaud such transparency. We encourage the public to inspect the document and comment on it.

Published: Saturday, June 22, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

Tentative contracts negotiated between public bodies and public employee unions often aren’t made public until after they are ratified by both sides.

Such tactics are deplorable. They shut out the public from inspecting and commenting on the proposed contract.

Taxpayers, after all, must pay the salaries and benefits contained within said contract. They certainly should have a say.

Particularly in contentious negotiations, such as occurred before and during the 9-day Dixon Public Schools teachers strike earlier this year, the standard operating procedure is to keep the tentative contract under wraps until it wins approval from both sides.

Our editorial board called for the Dixon teachers contract to be made public after its ratification by the union. One day before the board was scheduled to vote on the contract, the school district released it.

One day is a very short time for interested citizens to review such a contract (the teachers contract was 55 pages long) and make their views known to elected officials.

Additional time would be much better – say, 14 days.

With regard to its newly negotiated contract with police officers, the Dixon City Council did just that.

The City Council on Monday put on file a 3-year contract with the 26-member Dixon Fraternal Order of Police. The pact, with a 3 percent raise for police in the first year, and 3.5 percent raises in the second and third years, will be voted on July 1.

That’s 14 days for members of the public to stop by City Hall and check out the document for themselves.

A representative of the Sauk Valley Media Editorial Board did so Friday afternoon.

The contract, with 28 articles, four appendixes, a cover page, and three pages for a table of contents, runs 33 total pages.

According to the tentative contract, the lowest-paid police officer starts at a salary of $42,136 the first year, and increases to $45,137 the third year.

The highest-paid officer, with 20 years experience, will go from $56,475 the first year to $60,497 the third year.

Sergeants, with less than 10 years, will go from $63,036 the first year to $67,526 the third year.

Sergeants with 20 years will go from $64,946 the first year to $69,572 the third year.

Also covered is vacation time, discipline, discharge, grievance procedure, overtime, shift rotation schedules, hours of work, layoff and recall, holiday compensation, clothing allowance, insurance, etc., etc., etc.

An officer who achieves a bachelor’s degree will earn a $500 bonus ($250 for an associate degree).

Someone covered by the contract who uses no sick days during the year will earn a $200 bonus ($100 if only 1 sick day is used).

Interestingly, people are not the only living things covered in the contract.

The police dog is mentioned. The handler gets half an hour of paid time a day for routine care, feeding and maintenance of the dog. He or she also receives $1,600 a year in “canine compensation.”

Our feathered friends aren’t left out, either.

Under “Article 26, Residency,” it states, “Officers must reside within twelve and one-half (12.5) miles of the Dixon City Limits. Miles will be measured ‘as the crow flies.’”

We applaud the Dixon City Council for giving the public 14 days to review the contract.

We further applaud the city for posting the contract online. Go to discoverdixon.org, then “Citizens Information Center,” then “Union Contracts,” to view or download it.

Such 14-day public inspection periods should not be left to the whim of a public body. We believe they should become law. We support a bill, filed in February by state Rep. Jeanne Ives, a Wheaton Republican, that would require all newly negotiated contracts between unions and public sector employers to be posted for at least 14 days on the public body’s website.

Further, after at least 14 days, the public entity would be required to convene an open meeting and receive public comments before a vote is taken.

Residents of Dixon should take advantage of the city’s contract transparency, read the contract, and share their opinions with the City Council before the July 1 vote.

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