Expressing doubts in Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway’s ability to move Madison and its police department forward, the Madison Professional Police Officers’ Association declared a vote of no confidence in the first-term mayor.
The MPPOA said in a statement released Monday that the vote — over 95% of the association’s voting membership affirmed the vote of no confidence — was not made “easily or in haste” but was a “culmination of many months of frustration in the absence of effective leadership from the Mayor.”
“The decision to take the vote is not merely a reflection of (Rhodes-Conway’s) failure to support the Madison Police Department,” the letter states. “It is reflective of her failure to lead the city.”
The police union vote comes during a summer marked by protests and demonstrations spurred by the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
In a statement Monday, Rhodes-Conway said the community is demanding city leaders rethink policing and calling for oversight and accountability.
“This work is difficult, and will be most successful if we can all work together for the good of our community,” Rhodes-Conway said. “It is extremely unfortunate that MPPOA has failed to realize the importance of this time, and is sowing division instead of stepping up to partner with the community and the rest of City government.”
According to the letter, the MPPOA asked the mayor to facilitate meetings with community groups and members “who are open to constructive dialogue toward social justice and positive change.”
“Rather than stepping up to this leadership responsibility, the Mayor told us she ‘struggles’ with that role and asked us, instead, to use our own voice, effectively declining our request for community engagement,” the union said.
Also, city leaders are dealing with the public health ramifications and economic fallout from the ongoing, unprecedented coronavirus pandemic. Because of the financial constraints the city is facing, the mayor has asked the city’s police and fire unions to reopen their contracts.
Further, the police department is seeing an increase in gun violence, and the Police and Fire Commission is conducting a search for a permanent police chief.
While expressing appreciation and respect for the job of a police officer that has evolved to include more social service work, the mayor wants the city to explore change in this area.
“It is time to rebalance these roles and find other options to deal with calls for help that do not necessarily require an armed officer,” Rhodes-Conway said.
Ongoing conflict between police union, mayor
This is not the first time the police union, which endorsed Rhodes-Conway in her campaign for mayor in 2019, and the mayor have clashed. Last August, the MPPOA called out the mayor for her comments on how a police officer handled a situation involving a Black teenager in a mental health crisis.
In the MPPOA’s letter, the union said Rhodes-Conway has pointed out where the MPD has fallen short but has not recognized daily “successes.” This creates an “unhealthy portrayal of the Madison Police Department” and “perpetuates an ‘us versus them’ dichotomy in our community,” according to the letter.
Earlier this summer, the mayor faced backlash over a pre-recorded video addressing police officers. In the video, she expressed support for officers working during the protests and demonstrations.
The mayor later apologized via a statement and recorded video for not centering the message that “Black lives matter” in the video to the MPD and told the Cap Times that she is "deeply sorry for the impact that it had on the community." At the time, MPPOA President Kelly Powers said the mayor missed an opportunity to "work on bringing people together versus choosing sides or dividing people.”
Local activists have also criticized the mayor for her response to recent protests. In a letter to the Police and Fire Commission declaring a vote of “non confidence” in the MPD, 13 local organizations and hundreds of individuals said “the MPD and Mayor’s responses to recent protest events are consistent with findings that reveal racial bias in the policing of protests, as well as for crime.”
The MPPOA also takes issue with how the mayor has handled discussions on labor agreements. In the letter, the MPPOA said that the organization has to pursue conversations with the mayor instead of participating in an ongoing dialogue.
“Those discussions devolve into her desires for potential furloughs, the re-opening of settled contracts, and other budgetary matters at the expense of collaborating on strategies to ensure a safe Madison for everyone,” the letter states.
The mayor said in her statement that she met with the MPPOA July 7 and asked them “not to rest on their past successes, but to be leaders in their field by reimagining what policing needs to be to meet the needs of our entire community.”
Madison’s police department has been recognized for a history of progressive policing. Further, an outside consultant in 2017 found the MPD to be “unusually progressive, effective, and ‘ahead of the curve.’”
Due to the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, the city is facing tremendous budget challenges and looking at an estimated $30 million budget gap in 2020 and $25 million shortfall in 2021.
Because of this, Rhodes-Conway asked all agencies to propose 5% budget cuts and the police and fire unions reopen their contracts “because the City cannot afford the terms negotiated during the previous administration.”
“We recognize this – and other budget measures – will be tough on our city employees, and we have been working with our unions and associations to address these challenges,” Rhodes-Conway said.
Unlike other public sector unions in Wisconsin, police and fire unions have more power than other city employees to negotiate pay and other employment matters.
“This is the beginning of a process, not the end,” Rhodes-Conway said. “I again invite MPPOA to work with us both to balance the budget and to reimagine how we provide public safety to all of Madison.”
Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to email@example.com. Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.