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Alaska Editorial: Still closed - North Star Borough talks stay secret

Posted: January 18, 2013 - 1:05am

This editorial first appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

It’s final. Negotiations between the Fairbanks North Star Borough’s administration and its employee unions won’t be public.

There were good arguments made on both sides, but the Borough Assembly’s view should have prevailed. A majority of the nine-member body approved an ordinance to open negotiations last month.

Mayor Luke Hopkins vetoed the ordinance, which lifted the bar of passage a bit higher. The assembly apparently wasn’t able to clear it again.

On Dec. 13, the assembly voted, 5-3, to open labor talks in the future. To override a mayor’s veto, the assembly needs six votes.

The deadline for the assembly to hold such a vote on the labor ordinance is Thursday. Neither the presiding the officer nor the required four-member group on the assembly has requested a special meeting to take a vote. Given public notice requirements, it’s too late to do so before the deadline.

So negotiations will remain closed, unlike those conducted by the city. Hopkins and others argued that this is the wisest course for the borough.

“I believe that bargaining contract articles involves offering individual trial positions that would not be viewed constructively by those outside the caucus process and could be detrimental to the success of negotiations,” Hopkins wrote in a Dec. 27 memo explaining his veto.

The mayor’s words are true. That’s often what closed bargaining involves and encourages. However, that description also illustrates why opening the negotiations could bring a positive change.

Generally, the reason “individual trial positions” aren’t “viewed constructively” is because they are not, in fact, constructive. They are balloons that draw fire, wasting everyone’s time and energy.

How many times have we heard, during a contentious negotiation process, rumors of the outrageous opening positions from one side or another? And from whom do we hear these rumors? From the very people inside “the caucus process.” Their seats inside the process usually do little to reduce their outrage at the other side’s offers. In fact, it seems to us here on the outside that those inside the process most often are the ones that get the most worked up about it all.

If negotiations were open, it seems more likely that all this outrage might be moderated. Negotiators might show up with more realistic offers from the start. All parties would feel more compelled to present proposals that pass the laugh test in public. That would be a helpful impulse.

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