The example I used was the sad settlement worked out with the Police Officers Association (POA) by the apparently endlessly naive Mayor Enid Joffe. One of the reasons given for this so-called Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) was to end the lawsuits against Sierra Madre initiated by the POA. And in order to settle those lawsuits our elected officials, led by Mayor Joffe, basically gave the POA everything they wanted, including the significant wage increase they demanded. All funded by a Utility User Tax increase. Which this year increases to its maximum of 12%. Be sure to check your cell phone bill.
And did this achieve the goal of labor peace with the Sierra Madre Police Department? While in the process ending the most onerous part of that seemingly endless fight, lawsuits? Of course not. They are suing us more often now than they ever have before. As an attempt at labor peace Enid's "MOU" has been a notable failure. Fortunately this agreement ends fairly soon, as does the UUT increase that made it possible. And I wish the POA all the luck in the world trying to pull that one off again. Because luck, and a lot of it, is pretty much what it will take.
Nathan McIntire, a staff writer at the Pasadena Star News, had the great foresight to quiz a couple of skeptical folks involved in the question of legal assaults on City governments for his article Lawsuits against southern California cities leading to settlements more often. And much to my surprise and delight the two people Nathan quizzed on the matter have positions quite similar to that of The Tattler. That being the more you settle with people who sue a City, the more lawsuits that City is likely to find itself attracting.
Here is a passage where Nathan interviewed Michael Kaddatz from the Independent Cities Risk Management Authority on this matter:
For a city, or any large employer, a settlement may appear to make more financial sense than continuing a court battle. But settlements can also attract more lawsuits, according to Michael Kadditz, interim general manager of ICRMA. "In general there seems to be an increasing number of plaintiffs that, with proper legal counsel, soon come to realize just having an ounce of truth might get you into the ball game of getting you some reward," Kaddatz said.
Bob Blackwood runs HR and RM (Human Resources and Risk Management) for Monterey Park. He is equally adamant about slapping down nuisance lawsuits rather than settling, and for the same reason. Settling only makes things worse.
"If a city becomes known for settling claims relatively early then I think that dynamic can be created. It becomes attractive for individuals to file a claim," Blackwood said. When liability is in question they "aggressively defend" their case ... Blackwood has been dealing with litigation risk management as a municipal employee for the last 25 years; the best way to avoid lawsuits, he said, is by creating an inhospitable climate for litigation ... Strings of lawsuits come "when a city exposes itself because of some practice and it opens the door and the plaintiffs' attorney sees it and it becomes a feeding frenzy."
Now many here in Sierra Madre can remember when then Mayor Rob Stockley and the rest of the Gang of Four claimed it was the prospect of lawsuits that drove them to settle the One Carter disaster with Dorn Platz. Who, once given the keys to destroy the hillside, went on to sue us over and over again. Just like the Police did after Enid Joffe's "historic agreement" with the POA was signed. Apparently for those parties offering an olive branch was taken as an indication that there was even more to be gained through lawsuits.
Hopefully we are not about to make the same mistakes with the current owners at One Carter. Or with Stonehouse, either.