One thing’s for sure: at some point, the accusations Fraternal Order of Police Mike Shields made Monday about the last two police contracts being "fixed" and a sergeant’s contract being "rigged" will either be proven true, or not.
The bigger question, however, is whether the rank-and-file police officers he leads see the move as a tough leader fighting for his members or as yet example of a union leadership that cares more about infighting than anything else.
In a letter to Inspector General Joe Ferguson obtained by NBC Chicago, Shields made a pretty stunning allegation, saying that the contracts in question were not entered into in good faith on the part of the city:
A copy [of the letter] was delivered to FOP board members, including a handful of potential rivals whom Shields is now accusing of being in cahoots with the city.
“I was advised by the organization’s general counsel Paul Geiger that the last two arbitrations involving the City of Chicago were . . . fixed,” Shields wrote in the letter to the inspector general.
“Specifically, Mr. Geiger informed me that past president Mark Donahue, current and past First Vice-President Bill Dougherty, current and past Financial-Secretary Rich Aguilar and past Third Vice-President Greg Bella had entered into ‘pre-determined’ and backroom deal’ arbitrations — which included precise, agreed-to findings and language -- with the city and an arbitrator.
Those rivals are part of a long-running battle within the executive leadership and even the rank and file of FOP Lodge #7, a battle becoming increasingly fierce as elections for a new president set for March 2014 loom.
To say that Shield is at a bit of a disadvantage in the run-up to those elections may be an understatement. Elected president in 2011 as part of a new, younger guard in FOP management, Shields promised to be a fearless advocate for rank-and-file police against City Hall.
That reputation took a hit, however, in 2012 when Shields missed the deadline to notify the city of his intent to terminate the existing contract and negotiate a new deal, an error that meant the city was not obligated to pay retroactive raises to the officers.
He then missed a second deadline, which would have enabled a filing of unfair labor practices against the city over the issue, and was forced to apologize to his membership.
While Shields clearly has a strong contingent of support to continue as president, many see those issues as part and parcel of a brash, difficult personality and management style that does him -- and the FOP -- no favors when it comes to dealing with the city, the administration of Mayor Rahm Emanuel or even those he is expected to lead.
Shields has at least one announced candidate expected to run against him in next year’s elections, and many expect there to be more. And, with rank-and-file members in the local notorious for low voter turnout, the next election for FOP president could swing any number of ways.
In throwing out the accusations, Shields made it plain where he saw the blame to lie -- with other members of the FOP leadership, past and present.
“Mr. Geiger further explained that this tainted process was used in order to give Donahue, Dougherty, Aguilar and Bella political cover against FOP members’ potential accusations that the FOP leadership had ‘sold out’ to the city.”
At some point, those accusations will be proven true or not. If they are, a lot could change in the relationships between the City, the FOP, the Emanuel administration and police.
But if they’re not, it could be a very difficult thing for an embattled leader to shrug off come election time.