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Wednesday, June 20, 2007 04:37 am

Al alone

Police-union board throws its new president out

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Sgt. Al Jones
PHOTO BY DUSTY RHODES
Untitled Document While the Springfield City Council focuses on selecting the next police chief, rank-and-file members of the Springfield Police Department are embroiled in a controversy that hits closer to home: who will run the patrol officers’ union. Sgt. Al Jones, elected president of the Policemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association Unit 5 in August 2006, was this week not only ousted from office but actually expelled from the union by the board of directors. Sgt. Chris Mueller, who had been vice president, is now president (he prefers the term “interim president”) of Unit 5. “It was kind of a last-resort hard decision to make,” Mueller says. “We’re on speaking terms. Al’s a nice guy. I’ve always gotten along with him. In a professional capacity is just where things didn’t work out. That’s why things went the way they did.”
Jones also sounds more sad than angry about his ouster, saying the board gave him several opportunities to resign his position instead of being expelled from the organization. He refused. “My loyalty is to the membership, not to this board,” Jones says. The main issue behind the unprecedented coup was the question of legal representation for police officers. Springfield attorney Ron Stone has handled PBPA’s legal chores for almost 20 years, but Jones’ campaign was based on a promise to explore other options, specifically service offered by the Policemen’s Benevolent Labor Committee, the legal team of the statewide PBPA. Jones says that the PBLC plan provides virtually unlimited legal representation but requires each union member to pay a flat rate of $25 per month. Stone charges separately for each arbitration hearing, court appearance, or other legal service. “On a lot of years, Stone’s going to be cheaper,” Jones says, “but it only takes a couple of bad years to screw things up.”
Furthermore, Jones says, changing to the PBLC plan would’ve given all union members equal access to an attorney instead of having the board decide which grievances to support. “If you’re an officer and you need representation, the board can decide,” Jones says, “and if you’re not on the board’s Christmas-card list your chances are rapidly diminishing. With PBLC, you wouldn’t have to ask the board.”
Mueller calls Jones’ version “too simplistic” and says that the board’s decisions are based not on personal friendships but on the good of the membership. “We don’t pick and choose based on like; we have to protect our contractual interest and how we feel we could do in an arbitration,” he says.
In May, the membership voted 149 to 86 to stay with Stone, and Jones says that he was ready to drop the issue. Instead, on his first day back at work, he was confronted by Mueller and another board member, asking him to resign. Over the next few weeks, board members made several informal requests of Jones to resign, and he continued to refuse. On June 13 they presented him with a three-page letter accusing him of “disloyalty” and being “detrimental” to the union — charges that amount to grounds for expulsion. His chance to answer those charges came on June 18, in a meeting at Stone’s office. Citing an article in the PBPA bylaws promising legal representation for board members, Jones told Mueller he planned to bring his attorney, James Baker, and asked Mueller if the board would pay Baker’s fees. Mueller said no. “That [clause] probably was not meant to cover internal type strike,” Mueller says. “Why would we pay to fight ourselves?” Jones presented a page-long statement calling the charges “false and without merit,” then left, declining to answer questions. Over the next few hours Mueller called Jones, reiterating the offer to avoid expulsion by resigning and even giving him the chance to give the board a list of five officers he liked, promising that the board would select one of those officers as a board trustee. “If I’m this evil entity, why are they trying to make deals with me?” Jones asks. “If I’d really done anything wrong, they would have gone after me and there wouldn’t be any deals.”
Mueller says that he made the offer because the board is genuinely interested in “fair share.” Jones still refused. Before his election as president, Jones had never held a board position and was seen as an outsider to the PBPA power structure [see Dusty Rhodes, “Out of the blue,” Nov. 2, 2006]. Mueller, who served two terms on the board and ran for president in 2004, is firmly aligned with the two past presidents, Sgt. Bob Markovic and recently retired Chief Don Kliment. Still, he says, he never wanted to become union president in such a messy way. “This isn’t what I had in mind,” he says.

Contact Dusty Rhodes at drhodes@illinoistimes.com.
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