Friday, February 13, 2009

How The Police Officers' Association Beat City Hall, And Why We Are Broke Today


(Note: this is a reprint of an article that originally appeared on the Foothills Cities Blog in March of 2008. The reason for reprinting it here is that the issues of our precarious city finances, the Police pay raise, and the User Utility Tax have become news again. Yesterday's article here being an example. It is also an accounting of just how poorly labor negotiations can go for cities represented by incapable officials. What is discussed here isn't the only factor, but certainly this blown negotiation has become a major contributor to this city's current financial hardships.)

(03/06/08): The political advertising for our fast approaching April 8th election has begun to hit the Maundry mailbox, which is great news for this observer. One of my favorite things to do at election time is check out campaign literature and pick out the whoppers and wild absurdities. I just love this stuff, I really do.

Today I received a colorful sheet of paper encouraging me to re-elect Enid Joffe. On this sheet are several claims of accomplishment, none of which struck me as being all that special. Quite the opposite, actually. But this postal fodder did bring me some happiness, because there on her little list was the following claim:

"Negotiated the first 3 year agreement with the Sierra Madre Police Officer's Association in more than a decade."

Now there can be no doubt that there is a new agreement, and truly a deal was done. But if by the word "negotiated" Enid meant that she worked out something that was advantageous to nobody but the people she was dealing with, then I would say she truly rose to the occasion. Because after you read what I am about to reveal to you here, I think you will agree that Enid Joffe, along with John Buchanan and Joe Mosca, were quite neatly played by the Sierra Madre Police Officer's Association. In other words, all 3 were taken for a ride by a smarter and more creative adversary.

On February 15, 2007, The Sierra Madre Weekly published an article entitled, "Sierra Madre Police Not Happy With New Deal." This article detailed the complete collapse of negotiations between the City of Sierra Madre, as represented by its City Council, and the Sierra Madre Police Officer's Association (POA).

"The Sierra Madre City Council has approved a new compensation agreement for the police department, the first one in several years, but it is far from what the officers were proposing and will not be the last word heard on the issue. After years of negotiating for a new contract the Sierra Madre Police Officers' Association and the City recently declared an impasse and both sides last, best and final offers were presented to the council at their meeting Tuesday night."

The issue being negotiated was a salary raise for the Police Department. They're poorly paid, and had received little in the way of improved compensation in quite some time. Both the Police Department and the City had agreed that a 4% raise would work, but there was a sticking point. The POA insisted that this raise be made retroactive to July 1, 2004, with certain overtime considerations as well. Enid Joffe, John Buchanan, and Joe Mosca declared this a deal breaker. Don Watts and Kurt Zimmerman worked to keep the negotiations going, but those hopes were dashed as the final vote came in at 3 to 2 to approve the 4% raise, sans the retroactive pay and overtime demand. 

And while the POA had hoped to continue the process as well, they knew things had come to an end. And besides, they had another plan, one that included taking their case straight to the voters of Sierra Madre. The Weekly article continues:

"According to (Dieter) Dammeier, the POA intends to reject the offer and seek binding arbitration. There is also a petition being circulated in the community calling for a vote on a ballot initiative that would require the city to pay the police equal to the next lowest paid department in the San Gabriel Valley."

Remember that the raise proposed by both sides in February of 2007 was 4%. And that Enid Joffe, along with Buchanan and Mosca, got hung up on the retroactive pay and overtime issues, and killed it.

On December 27, 2007, the Sierra Madre Weekly published an article entitled, "City of Sierra Madre and POA Reach Agreement."

"The City of Sierra Madre and the Sierra Madre Police Officers' Association (POA) reached an agreement last Tuesday settling the long-running salary dispute. A three-year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) approved by the City Council gives the POA an average salary boost of nine percent beginning July 1, 2008. This will be followed by an average of an eight percent increase in the second year and a seven percent the third year."

So the cops, realizing that there was no point in negotiating with Mayor Joffe and those other two, went out and got enough signatures to get the issue of their raise on the ballot. And how did that work out for them? I'd say rather well. Using the initiative they had placed on the ballot as a negotiation club, the POA effectively forced the City Council to not only reopen talks, but to get a much better deal as well. Remember the 4% raise the POA was ready to agree to back in February of 2007? Well, thanks to the celebrated negotiating power of Mayor Enid Joffe, that 4% had now become a whopping 24% raise over the course of three years!

And apparently that wasn't the only bad news.

"City Manager Elaine Aguilar stated, 'Implementation of the MOU is contingent upon the proposed passage of the Utility User Tax Measure at the April 8, 2008 election.'"

So not only did Mayor Enid Joffe screw up the opportunity to give our cops a 4% raise instead of the 24% raise we're looking at now, she has also been forced to push for a UUT tax hike in order to pay for it! And how did Enid react to the debacle?

"This is a historic agreement between the City of Sierra Madre and the Police Officers' Association."

Historic, as in just about as poorly run a labor negotiation as has ever been seen in this part of the world historic? I could agree with that. I do have to hand it to the cops, they played this one very smartly. But as a taxpayer I'd have to say that this is a disaster, and those who brought it upon us need to be held responsible. 

5 comments:

  1. I agree with you Sir Eric, as a taxpayer, I'm not happy with the way this came down.
    I was also one of the minority who voted No on the UTT.
    This needs to be re-examined. I hope the city council will do so.

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  2. Enid had no business negotiting the contract with the Police Officer's Association because she had neither the prior experience with such a task nor the credentials. Unfortunately for the tax payers in Sierra Madre she did and now we are stuck with the mess she created.
    I also voted NO

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  3. I wish I were surprised-- I mean the first time I read this article. Ineptitude and lack of experience will do it every time and that particular council regime was full of self-aggrandizement to say the least. I have to ask, however, how many small towns in Southern California (or elsewhere for that matter) have officials with labor negotiating experience? Probably not too many. That's where there are professionals to hire for this sort of thing--like lawyers, union advisers, etc. What happened to ours in the course of all this? Was this one of those things where we were supposed to look tough by being rigid and insisting on nothing? Look what Never Give A Inch did for Hank Stamper (Sometimes a Great Notion). Kind of prophetic even if we're not logging.

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  4. Somebody needs to compile all the all the crazy spending and
    bad deals this city got stuck with when Buchanan and Joffe were
    running the show. Thank God Mosca didn't become Mayor. That
    would have been strike three.

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  5. Also Anaon, great idea.
    Sometimes the hypocrisy of some of our ex and present council members is so great that it is actually dizzying. I don't suppose there will ever be an apology for this POA mess, or for the spectacular DSP mess, or for the 1 Carter mess, or for the pretense that Mosca didn't-out-and-out-lie mess, or......

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