A battle is brewing in the Maricopa Police Department that could see a new union rise to prominence.
During the week of Nov. 12, the department’s 40 officers will choose the union they want to represent them in contract negotiations with the city of Maricopa.
“Essentially, the officers will be voting to say whether they want the City of Maricopa Police Association (COMPA) or the Fraternal Organization of Police (FOP) to represent them,” said Maricopa police spokesman Sgt. Stephen Judd.
Regardless of which union wins the election, both will maintain their status within the Maricopa Police Department, providing union benefits and services to their dues-paying members. However, the winning union will gain sole responsibility for negotiating an employment contract with the city for all officers.
COMPA, the city’s first police union, stirred up controversy by calling for an internal audit of the police department and publicly criticizing department leadership.
COMPA also filed suit against the city two years ago, alleging that City Manager Kevin Evans broke the city’s meet and confer ordinance while negotiating an employment contract with the union by discussing details of the proposed contract with the city council in an executive session prior to a public hearing on the measure. The ordinance requires a public hearing before the contract is discussed in an executive session.
A judge recently ruled in favor of COMPA in the dispute, and the group’s lawyer Martin Bihn said he was hopeful negotiations would resume.
COMPA President Elliot Sneezy said this ruling in conjunction with a track record of previous contract negotiations with the city make COMPA the best organization to get an employment contract hammered out quickly and effectively.
“We’ve already had negotiations with the city, which would make it easier to get a contract in place,” Sneezy said. “The FOP would have to start from scratch.”
Local FOP President Justin Thornton disagreed. He said his group could get a contract finalized in the same time period as COMPA.
The FOP union formed in Maricopa in February due to some officer’s dissatisfaction with COMPA’s representation, according to Thornton.
He added that the FOP does not currently believe an internal investigation of the police department is necessary.
“We were all hired into this organization with the understanding there would be some growing pains, we need to learn from those situations and move on.”
According to Thornton, the decision to try to replace COMPA as the department’s primary union was driven by the police officers of Maricopa, but Sneezy sees it differently.
“I think city and police department management pushed the FOP to explore the possibility of becoming the department’s primary union,” Sneezy said. “I think they want to quiet COMPA.”
In order for officers to vote on changing their representing union, city code requires that more than 35 percent of officers sign a petition requesting the vote for a change. Judd confirmed that the petition filed by the FOP to decertify COMPA as the exclusive police employee organization for representation complied with this code, garnering the required number of signatures.