Ridgefield police union files complaint

Filing alleges threat by mayor related to rival's endorsement

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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The Ridgefield Police Officers Association on Wednesday filed an unfair labor practices complaint against Mayor Ron Onslow, alleging he threatened to retaliate against union members who voted to endorse a political rival.

Earlier in the month, the union voted to back write-in candidate Tim Wilson, a Battle Ground police sergeant, in the Nov. 5 general election.

The complaint, filed with the Washington state Public Employment Relations Commission, says Onslow flagged down a patrol officer Monday and told him that because of the endorsement, the association was "now screwed." Onslow promised to find out which union members voted for the endorsement, according to the complaint.

While Onslow said he talked to an officer Monday, he disputed making the threat attributed to him in the complaint.

Onslow said he told the officer he felt it was sad that union members didn't discuss their concerns, if they had any, with him before endorsing Wilson.

He said he found the complaint upsetting, adding that he has little authority to retaliate against the union.

That's because the mayor and city council don't directly negotiate with the union. That work is handled by Ridgefield staff, before the city council signs off on the final contract.

Patrick Emmal, the union's attorney, balked at Onslow's defense, saying "retaliation can take many forms."

"Any time a chief executive officer makes those kinds of statements, it's cause for great concern," he said.

The complaint, filed by Ridgefield police officer and union president David Bone, alleges Onslow said the union would "pay the price" for making the endorsement. Onslow said he did not speak with Bone on Monday, but rather a different officer.

Bone did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday.

"I have no idea where those words came from," Onslow said. "I don't have anything to do with the police union and never have."

The city has referred the complaint to its labor attorney.

The union's endorsement came after Wilson announced he would be running a write-in campaign for Onslow's council Position 1 spot. Onslow was first appointed to the city council six years ago.

It also comes in the midst of protracted labor negotiations between the city and the police union. The union's contract expired Dec. 31, 2011. Since then, negotiations have reached an impasse following unsuccessful mediation. Arbitration is scheduled to take place in March.

The union has been operating under the status quo contract for more than a year.

If PERC finds cause to pursue the complaint in its preliminary decision, the city will have 30 days to supply an answer.