Sunday, November 27, 2011

2011-11-22 "Calistoga police association head calls off boycott" by Sean Scully from "Calistoga Weekly" newspaper
The head of the Calistoga Police Officers Association canceled the organization’s month-old boycott of city businesses late Monday and asked the community for forgiveness.
“It was my mistake to request California law enforcement and firefighter associations to no longer do business here,”  President Mark Harden wrote in a letter to the editor []. “I apologize to the business professionals and the residents of this fine community for this error, and will do all I can to spread the word that our association is rescinding that ill-timed request.”
Harden and the association declared the boycott in a  letter to the editor published in The Weekly Calistogan on Oct. 27 []. It was intended to call attention to the officers’ unhappiness with the negotiations between the association and the city over a new labor contract. Those negotiations broke down in October, leading the City Council to impose a new contract forcing officers to pay more for pension and health insurance coverage.
Harden’s original letter outlined the officers’ complaints, including the amount the city spends on the community pool and a contract with the Chamber of Commerce to promote tourism.
The letter concluded, however, by saying that the association had contacted the mailing list of the 65,000-member Peace Officers Research Association of California urging all law enforcement officers to avoid spending money with Calistoga merchants. It also said that the association members would limit their spending in town and were actively seeking jobs elsewhere.
“I think if you go back to that last paragraph, it detracted from the point we were trying to make,” Harden said in a somewhat sheepish interview Monday, his first public comments since he announced the boycott.
The reaction to his original letter was furious, with city officials and both local newspapers flooded with angry letters from the business community and others. Some writers vented anger at Harden personally, others resurrected the idea of abolishing the police department and contracting with the county Sheriff’s Office for protection, an idea that has been considered and rejected by the City Council at least twice over the years.
Harden said the original letter was seen and approved by the 14 members of the association. His decision to rescind the boycott this week, however, is one he made alone for the good of the association, he said.
An early test of the level of damage the boycott has done will be the public response to the annual Christmas Food Basket program, in which the CPOA collects food and money to donate to needy families. That program kicked off Monday.
The Calistoga Chamber of Commerce reacted with wary surprise to Harden’s change of heart.
“We are certainly not going to forget this situation in the short term, but we look forward to the CPOA’s demonstration of their reconciliatory outreach through their future words and actions,”  Executive Director Chris Canning said in a written statement [].
City Manager Richard Spitler applauded the change.
“Obviously, the officers have to re-engage the community and the City Council members, and I think we as a city … have to allow for that to happen,” he said. “We have to leave the lines of communication open.”
He said rescinding the boycott now will allow time for emotions to settle before the association and the city have to go back to the bargaining table to hammer out a new contract. The old contract, imposed by the City Council, expires June 30 and a new round of negotiations will start in the spring.

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