State panel backs ruling on officer

Commission agrees his union role led to being passed for job

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

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Washington Public Employment Relations Commission’s ruling

The Washington Public Employment Relations Commission upheld a labor examiner’s 2010 ruling that Vancouver police administrators deliberately passed over a former police guild president for a job he sought because of his union involvement.

The city had appealed the ruling, which found Officer Ryan Martin was deprived of “an ascertainable right, benefit, or status” when administrators did not choose Martin to fill one of two open motorcycle traffic enforcement positions in June 2009.

Vancouver officials contended that Martin — who was president of the police union from January 2009 to December 2010 — was not denied the position due to his place in the guild.

In a finding released last week, an arbitrator with the Washington Public Employment Relations Commission not only upheld the initial findings, but expanded it to say that Chief Cliff Cook had also shown union animus when he approved a hiring committee’s choices for the Motor Traffic Unit.

“A decision maker will be strictly liable for discrimination based upon union animus where a lower level supervisor’s discriminatory actions against an employee cause a decision maker to take adverse action against the employee,” the three-member commission wrote.

Martin has since been appointed to a vacant position on the unit, City Manager Eric Holmes said. He was given the position in January.

Holmes called the PERC decision “disappointing.”

The city has 20 days from the April 11 meeting to appeal. Holmes said city attorneys are still evaluating the ruling and is unsure if the city will file an appeal.

Though the pay is the same, a spot on the motor unit includes a take-home BMW motorcycle and is a coveted position, PERC wrote.

A selection panel for the job was headed by Assistant Chief Chris Sutter; Cook made the final decision based on the panel’s recommendations.

The original PERC examiner, Charity Atchison, wrote in 2010 that “Sutter testified that he wanted someone for the position who shared the chief’s ‘vision.’ Sutter’s statement suggests that by looking for someone who shared the chief’s vision, he wanted someone who did not make statements or engage in activities in opposition to the chief, as Martin did in his capacity as union president.”

The ruling marks another episode in what’s been years of strife between Vancouver’s police union and administration.

Currently, Vancouver and the guild are deadlocked in contract and salary negotiations. The contract is set to go before a state arbitrator.

Just a few months before Martin’s June 2009 interview for the motor unit, Martin and the guild had released a public “Statement of Guild Concerns” that outlined issues they saw in the department, including cronyism, disparate treatment and favoritism. Cook, Sutter and Assistant Chief Nannette Kistler were all named in the nine-page document.

Since then, the union also made public a vote of no confidence in Cook’s leadership.

Martin, who could not be reached for comment Thursday, said in January 2011 that his case was only illustrative of that ongoing unrest between the police union and administrators.

“We’ve been saying for years now that this type of stuff has been taking place internally,” Martin said. “It shows there continues to be bias and discrimination in the department. When is it going to end, when is it going to stop?”

Union President Jeff Kipp did not return a phone call for comment Thursday.

Holmes said Thursday that smoothing relations in that department is among his top priorities.

“I remain optimistic that the commitment our police department has to doing the best it can for our community is the common ground we’ll find to achieve greater success and stability,” he said.

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542; http://www.twitter.com/col_cityhall;andrea.damewood@columbian.com.