A Philly judge, siding with the FOP, struck down a new city law requiring a public hearing on police contracts
The decision is a blow to a legislative effort that had been heralded by some city officials and criminal justice advocates as an example of police reform after a tumultuous 2020.
A Philadelphia judge has struck down a new city statute requiring a public hearing on proposed Police Department contracts, siding with the police union and ruling that the ordinance violates state law.
The decision, issued earlier this month by Common Pleas Court Judge Angelo J. Foglietta, marks a blow to a legislative effort that had been heralded by some city officials and criminal justice advocates as a needed police reform after a tumultuous 2020.
John McNesby, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 — which sued to overturn the legislation — said he had expected the ruling to go the union’s way because “the law is clear: You can’t interfere with ... our bargaining rights.”
Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson, who sponsored the ordinance and helped shepherd it into law, said she doesn’t agree that the legislation interferes with the bargaining process. She and Kevin Lessard, a spokesperson for Mayor Jim Kenney, said city officials were reviewing their options before deciding how or whether to appeal.
“From the beginning, this legislation was always about creating more transparency and accountability in city government,” Gilmore Richardson said in a statement. “We are simply trying to give Philadelphia residents an opportunity to tell us what they want to see in the proposal before the [bargaining] process begins.”
The push for a public hearing on the FOP contract came after last year’s racial justice protests, at which thousands of demonstrators called for increased police accountability and called on Kenney to divert police funding to other city services.
Many of those changes can’t be accomplished without revising the police officers’ collective bargaining agreement, which governs things like their salaries, the disciplinary process, and residency requirements.
The city held the first such hearing last fall and dozens of residents urged councilmembers and Kenney’s administration to push for sweeping changes to the police contract. Gilmore Richardson’s office later released a summary of the testimony, and said many of the resulting recommendations overlapped with the priorities Kenney’s administration ultimately sought during negotiations.
McNesby, however, said the hearing was largely “people complaining about cops,” and had “nothing to do with bargaining.”
The FOP’s suit said the ordinance was preempted by a state law known as Act 111, which governs collective bargaining between police unions and municipalities.
Foglietta, the judge, agreed. He specifically cited concerns about how the city’s ordinance appeared to interfere with the timing of the bargaining process outlined by Act 111.
Practically, the ruling is unlikely to have much immediate impact. McNesby said he expects the city to appeal. And a new, three-year police contract was unveiled just last month, meaning any hearing on a new pact is unlikely before 2023.
Richard Poulson, an attorney who represented the union in the matter, said the city also has other avenues for conducting such hearings if it wants, but that the ordinance was “clearly preempted by state law.”
“We have a public safety committee — they’re free to conduct those hearings,” Poulson said. “What they can’t do is replace the state legislature and insert City Council into a bargaining process that by law does not include them.”