An apt comparison here would be the sad fact that Sierra Madre Elementary School has just laid off 16 teachers, and now has a kindergarten class with one single teacher for 60 very young children. Which I guess means that close supervision of car driving behavior in this town is a higher priority than our children. Apparently those who govern the affairs of our little city feel that an expensive boutique police force is of far greater importance than the needs of this community's hardworking parents and their children.
How did it get quite this bad? Weak and complicit political leadership plus a rather ruthless police union would be the obvious reasons. And in case you are not aware, that union is now quietly in negotiations with our city for a new SMPD contract. One that just might lead to another round of stiff Utility User Tax increases. Mayor Joe Mosca, at our last City Council meeting, let it slip that the Utility User Tax Oversight Committee will be reforming in the not too distant future. A possible sign that the marketing for a new tax hike designed to cover yet another SMPD pay raise could be right around the corner.
So how did this happen you ask? Perhaps a review of some recent history is in order. Because, as Yogi Berra famously put it, we could be looking at deja vu all over again. And sooner rather than later.
On February 2nd of this year Larry Wilson published a column in the Pasadena Star News called "We're All The Victims When Police Union Lawyers Bite." It was a pretty good analysis of how legal concerns such as Lackie, Dammeier & McGill get things done for the many Police Officers Associations they control, including the one Sierra Madre's Police Department calls their own.
Now much of what Larry cited in his column regarding the likes of Lackie et al had already been discussed here before. The tactics employed by these folks are uncompromising, yet very effective in getting what their membership wants. But what impressed me about this particular column from the often maligned Mr. Wilson is his description of how the negotiating dynamic employed by organizations like LD&M really works. In my opinion he pretty much nailed it.
For 20 years, smart and greedy lawyers have shown police unions how to pressure dumb and gullible politicians into giving officers too much in both salaries and benefits. Not too much in a perfect world - just too much in the one we live in. We know what the lawyers have advised officers' associations to do - guilt trip the electeds, give money to their campaigns, use crime as wedge issue in order to scare the public, use work slowdowns and the blue flu to get what you want.
Some pretty good screed there. Too bad Larry has been such an abysmal sellout on so many other issues.
On April 17, 2009 we discussed the previous round of negotiations Sierra Madre had with the Sierra Madre Police Officers Association and its lawyers. The post detailed what was in effect a defeat for this community, despite all the sunny statements from our feckless elected officials at the time proclaiming otherwise. It was a loss that has set a precedent for even more tax hikes, especially now that our current leadership has yet to show any signs of standing up for our interests. Preferring so far to mail it in by sending mid-level city staff to negotiate with the SMPOA in their place.
So as Sierra Madre has now gone into negotiations with the Sierra Madre Police Officers Association and its lawyers, you should keep the following information in mind. Because what we'll be seeing soon will seem very familiar if you do.
How The Police Officers Association (POA) Got Business Done
In what was probably one of the most extreme cases of "Little Miss Sunshine" syndrome I have ever read, the Mountain Views "Observer" on 12/21/07 ran the following giddy headline:
Sierra Madre and Police Reach 'Historic Agreement' - "It ends years of discord between the city and POA" - Mayor Joffe
Discord that resumed a few short weeks after the passage of a Utility User Tax increase with a series of POA initiated lawsuits against the City of Sierra Madre. Apparently this fleeting love affair was only a one-sided fling, with the caddish Police Officers Association quickly leaving (by then former) Mayor Joffe alone at the altar. Oh, and the taxpayers of Sierra Madre holding the very large bill for a wedding that was never to happen.
The MVO (so-called) article concluded with this little bit of unmedicated delirium:
Everyone clapped, cheered and shook hands as the City Council approved during a special meeting Tuesday night, the first police pay raise in years. The increase is subject, however, to Sierra Madre voters approving an increased Utility Users Tax on April 8, 2008.
Of course, not everyone was quite that chipper. Many who read the agreement worked out between Enid Joffe and the POA realized that this raise, which would need to be paid for via a much higher UUT rate, was going to be a large new financial burden on the City's taxpayers. And there were even those who took this to be a fairly significant defeat for the residents of Sierra Madre, with the joy offensive by City Hall and its obedient newspaper merely an attempt to put lipstick on an unattractive barnyard animal. A widely held impression that could very well have contributed to the defeat of Enid Joffe in her failed attempt at re-election.
So who is this Police Officers Association that so completely took City Hall to the cleaners? Turns out its leadership isn't quite as local as many had assumed. Here's a passage from a March 21, 2009 article in the Union Tribune dealing with an acrimonious police labor dispute in Escondido.
The association should be like a quiet giant in the position of "Do as I ask and don't p--- me off," the law firm advises ... As the fight between the City and the Escondido Police Officers Association unfolds, the association appears to be taking some of its cues from the hardball battle plan devised by Lackie, Dammeier & McGill of Upland, which is representing the association in negotiations ... The law firm was founded by a former deputy sheriff, Michael Lackie, and a former police officer, Dieter Dammeier, and represents more than 120 public safety unions in California.
Among those 120 "public safety unions" represented by these gentlemen is the Sierra Madre Police Officers Association. And if you recognized the names of Lackie and Dammeier you get an extra point because these are the two gentlemen who won their clients a significant victory at the expense of the taxpayers of Sierra Madre in 2008.
How this was done shouldn't be a secret. The hardball tactics used here were displayed on the Lackie, Dammeier & McGill website for years. And in a March 23, 2009 piece called "Caring For Union Cops, Not Their Bully Tactics," syndicated columnist Logan Jenkins highlighted a few of them for us.
Storm City Council: No meeting should take place without association members publicly chastising council members for their lack of concern for public safety.
Billboards: Nothings seems to get more attention than a billboard entering the city limits which reads that crime is up and the City could care less about your safety. The message being city councils love crime and hate safety. (Remember all those Arcadia billboards a while back?)
Job Fair: Encourage cops to sign up at job fairs, sending an alarming, but false, signal of imminent flight from the department, leaving virtually no one to protect the public from gangs, parolees and sex offenders.
Work Slowdown: Drive the speed limit, make investigations as time-consuming as possible, while "asking for back-up on most calls." In other words, perform the job in malingering slo-mo, thus inflating the need for more officers and better pay and benefits.
Focus on an individual: "Avoid spreading your energy. Focus on a city manager, council person, mayor or police chief and keep pressure on until that person assures you of his loyalty and then move on to the next victim." Victim? You heard it right.
Press Conferences: "Every high-profile crime that takes place should result in the association's uproar at the governing body for not having enough officers on the street, which could have avoided the incident." Read: Exploit suffering, fear and anger.
In its summation, Lackie, Dammeier & McGill acknowledges that cops often come up with their own variations on the theme of beating public officials into submission. "Just keep in mind, the idea is to annoy your opponents into giving in to your position and almost equally as important, to let them know that next time they should agree with you much sooner."
In the same issue of the Mountain Views "Observer" discussed earlier, then Mayor Enid Joffe, in one of her "Coffee with Joffe" columns, (grandly entitled "Peace In Our Time?"), had this to say:
The entire MOU (Memo Of Understanding) is conditioned on the passage of the proposed Utility User Tax (UUT) ballot initiative approved by the City Council on December 18th. Without approval of the Measure, the POA agreement is null and void, and we will go all go back to our previous adversarial positions.
So that was then. Today in October 2010 we can see that there really was no "peace in our time" purchased at the cost of a nearly 100% UUT hike in 2008. Nor did the SMPOA ever abandon its adversarial positions as they have been suing the crap out of us ever since. The UUT hike was jammed through so that the City Council could honor the pay raise the SMPOA intimidated them into supporting. And rather than being the end of anything, it became a precedent for an expensive "raise and tax hike" process that will occur regularly as the years go on.
You can only wonder if Mayor Joe Mosca will go the Mayor Enid Joffe route and proclaim that another POA coerced Utility User Tax increase is an "Historic Agreement" and "Peace in our time." Weak city governments are often forced to rely upon Public Relations campaigns since they are incapable of delivering on the kinds of concrete accomplishments people really want.
Many have little doubt that the Sierra Madre Police Department favored Joe in the recent elections. The SMPD was fully aware of who would get them what they want, and give them the political cover they need when doing so. Just in case you've been wondering why those contract negotiations with our Police Department are being done so quietly. In the secretive world of the Mosca City Council, that is something considered to be none of your business. At least until you'll be asked to pay for the outcome, of course.
If this turns out to be the case we will soon find ourselves the target of yet another public relations initiative designed to coerce us into paying even more Utility User Tax money for a poorly regarded vanity Police Department that has grown both too large and too expensive for the small town it now holds captive.
Which I guess also means that this City Council is more afraid of the Police Officers Association and its negotiating tactics than it is us.