Chula Vista City Manager Jim Sandoval on Tuesday proposed a set of guidelines that would have prohibited council members from discussing labor issues with city employees and union representatives during labor negotiations.
Citing a concern for free speech and a desire to speak freely, a majority of council members rejected the idea.
Sandoval said as the city manager he is the designated individual for the city to negotiate labor contracts with city employees, and having secondary voices creates confusion at the bargaining table.
“One thing that we have encountered through this process is that when labor unions deal with the council and have a discussion with council members, it just, in my opinion, adds more confusion,” Sandoval said at the meeting. “We’ve seen situations where we met with our different labor union representatives who’ve said that they know that certain council members are in favor of certain aspects of the negotiations or not in favor.”
Sandoval said ultimately it is the council that approves any labor agreement.
City Attorney Glen Googins said communication among the council members and employee union reps are not illegal but can create legal issues for an individual and the city.
He also said he is worried about inadvertent violations of the Brown Act during closed sessions.
Councilwoman Patricia Aguilar voiced the opinion that not speaking with city employees is a violation of her free speech.
“I’m wondering about the constitutional protections that we all have for free speech,” she said. “And it’s always been my policy as a council member to have an open door policy and anyone can come in and talk to me about anything.”
“I am not an attorney but there may be constitutional issues of freedom of speech here.”
Ed Zappia, special council to the city of Chula Vista, said free speech is not absolute in the context or bargaining issues and that there are restrictions on free speech.
Aguilar also questioned the city manager as to how could the agenda item make it on the consent calendar and not be an action item.
“I can’t understand how you could have not thought that there might not be controversy about this,” Aguilar said in addressing Sandoval.
Larry Alcoff, with the Service Employees International Union and the lead negotiator for the Chula Vista Employees Association, said the union is at an impasse and he would have liked to see the money that was spent on Zappia be spent on city employees.