A lesson for Colorado schools in Wisconsin’s public-sector union reforms
By Ben DeGrow | November 30th, 2012
For the past couple years, Wisconsin has been the locus of the political battle to weaken public-sector union power. After Gov. Scott Walker not only survived but thrived amid a failed recall election, conservatives breathed a sigh of relief. Most prominently, the costly but decisive victory revived hopes that fiscal sanity and a sense of fairness could be restored.
Modest cuts to lavish benefits for government employees, along with some of the accompanying tools approved in Walker’s controversial Budget Repair Bill, put the Badger State back on a healthy fiscal setting and brought compensation more back in line with private sector workers.
But a new video [see above] from the Association of American Educators reminds us that the Wisconsin reforms also promoted professionalism and individual empowerment for teachers. Walker’s state left the ranks of those where union monopoly power feeds off teacher tribute payments.
While a national survey ranked Colorado teachers unions number one nationally in their status giving politically to state candidates, they are generally weaker in that they lack the across-the-board power to compel support, a power their Wisconsin counterparts once had. No state law requires Colorado teachers to join or pay dues to a union (and they have a growing number of membership options).
Nonetheless, local unions still can make it hard for members to get out. And their state lobbying arm recently beat back a legislative attempt to give teachers more flexibility and freedom.
Though bruised and bloodied in Wisconsin and a few other places, union leaders have shown no inclination to “go gentle into that good night.” Nationally they had some Election Day success with the defeats of key ballot initiatives in Idaho and of a strong education reform leader in Indiana.
Closer to home, teachers union leaders do not want to lose the power grip they have attained in Colorado. Leaders in school districts have watched with varying degrees of interest as Douglas County school board — representing the state’s third-largest district — this year ended up cutting ties with union monopoly power. At least as important, in September they established policy ending the district’s role of using taxpayer resources to collect funds for the union political machine. Next up, perhaps, will be more options for teachers.
The comparison of DougCo to Wisconsin was made last summer, as the union negotiations heated up and broke down. The comparison is bound to return in 2013 as the American Federation of Teachers and its allies aim their political cannons south of Denver in a pivotal school board campaign. It’s past time for the education reform team — those who want to expand parental choice and teacher professionalism — to wake up and get engaged.
A year from now, either reformers will celebrate Wisconsin-like success as DougCo’s cutting-edge, parent-friendly and performance-based innovation will be vindicated and begin taking hold beyond its boundaries. Or union resurgence will shut down a major path to positive change in Colorado education.
Before a St. Paul police officer began kicking a man lying on the ground in an arrest captured on video, the officer knew these things:
— The suspect had been combative with police in the past.
— A crowd had gathered, and he was worried, asking for police backup.
— The suspect was not following his commands.
Faced with these facts, a prosecutor said Thursday, Nov. 29, there was “insufficient proof beyond a reasonable doubt” that officer Jesse Zilge “used unreasonable force” to arrest Eric Hightower, 30, in August.
The Olmsted County attorney’s office, reviewing the case to avoid a conflict of interest for their Ramsey County counterparts, declined to file felony assault charges against Zilge and another St. Paul officer, Matthew Gorans. Gorans had sprayed Hightower with Mace while the suspect was in a squad car, the county attorney’s office said.
A St. Paul police internal affairs investigation continues, as does an FBI investigation for possible civil rights violations.
St. Paul NAACP President Jeff Martin said he was disappointed but not surprised by the decision.
“I’m sure they put a different lens on it when they look at what an officer does instead of an average citizen,” he said. “It’s disappointing that we want to give cops more leeway to handle stressful situations when that’s what we pay them to do.
“Thank God, we don’t have this as an everyday occurrence. But when officers do act inappropriately, we seem to go over and above to try to explain it away, to say we can’t expect them to be perfect in these high-stress situations.”
St. Paul Police Federation President Dave Titus said the decision shows that the officers “acted in good faith and according to their training.”
“Good cops were in a dangerous situation with a known dangerous individual and dozens of potentially hostile onlookers,” Titus said in a statement. “The video taken by the suspect’s associate does not tell the whole story of the officers’ perceptions of the entire situation — which includes their knowledge of the violent tendencies of the suspect and their interactions with the large threatening crowd, the strong possibility of a gun based on his prior threats to his ex-girlfriend, and the refusal of the suspect to obey their commands.”
An Olmsted County attorney’s office press release gave the following information:
Zilge responded to a report Aug. 28 that Hightower threatened to kill his ex-girlfriend, Kara Drew. Zilge knew that police took a report three days earlier that Hightower had damaged the woman’s property. He also knew that in June, when another officer arrested Hightower, the man “had become physically combative.”
Zilge found Hightower with two other men on a street and called for assistance. As Hightower began to walk away, Zilge got out of his car and told him he was under arrest. Hightower refused repeated orders to get on the ground.
Zilge sprayed Hightower twice with Mace and unholstered his Taser, though he did not use it. Hightower finally got on the ground but refused to lie on his stomach.
As Hightower yelled at Zilge and a crowd formed, the officer called for backup.
As another officer arrived, Zilge kicked Hightower in his chest as he moved in to handcuff him. Zilge and another officer lifted Hightower to his feet. Hightower then turned “his upper body quickly toward officer Zilge in what the two officers characterized as an effort to head-butt officer Zilge,” the news release said. “The two officers act quickly and take Hightower toward a nearby squad car and force his upper body onto the hood of the squad car.”
As Hightower resisted attempts by two officers to get him in the squad car, Gorans crawled across the back seat and pulled his upper body into the vehicle. That’s when Gorans sprayed him with Mace.
Officers then got Hightower completely into the squad car.
“Great physical effort was being used without success to get Hightower into the squad car and the officer decided to use Mace to achieve compliance by Hightower,” the release said.
Hightower was treated at a hospital emergency room several times over several days, complaining of chest and ear pain.
“Medical personnel suspect that Hightower had a punctured ear drum, but the medical reports are inconsistent in that diagnosis,” the release said.
No bruises, broken bones or other injuries were reported.
Minnesota law allows arresting officers to use “reasonable force,” the release said. “(T)he standard is whether a reasonable officer would have used the degree of force used under the same circumstances.
Officers are “required to quickly(,) in sometimes fluid and stressful situation(s,) … determine what level of force is appropriate. The law is designed to prevent after-the-fact second guessing about the actions of officers on the streets who may have to make the decision to act quickly.”
A friend of Hightower’s posted a recording of the incident to YouTube a day after the arrest. St. Paul Police Chief Thomas Smith launched an internal affairs investigation that day. He put Zilge and Gorans on paid administrative leave. The two officers returned to work effective Sept. 13, but not to patrol assignments.
Police spokesman Howie Padilla said Thursday that a decision hasn’t been made about whether the case would be forwarded to a city attorney to consider misdemeanor charges.
“As the chief has said since the very beginning, he wants things to be handled in a very deliberate, very thorough fashion,” Padilla said. “The decision of the next steps for this case will be handled in that same tone.”
Prosecutors charged Hightower with aggravated stalking, terroristic threats and fourth-degree criminal damage to property in the case that prompted his arrest. He has pleaded not guilty.
Hightower was sentenced Nov. 21 in a Sept. 24 case in which Drew was also the victim. He was convicted of two felonies, domestic abuse and violating a no-contact order. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison, stayed for five years.
He also received 53 days in the Ramsey County workhouse, which he’d already served, and was put on supervised probation for five years.