Sunday, January 19, 2014

Reuters: Battle Over Police Pensions In U.S. Cities Takes Ugly Turn

A momento from a 2003 SMPD labor action
Mod: Here is a troubling little article for you to spend a slice of your Sunday with. As a Tattler reader you are clearly aware that the real issue driving the extension of our highest in California utility taxes until the year 2022 is the perceived need to fund City employee pensions. For some bizarre reason our town, with its population of less than 11,000, is expected by certain elected officials to fund City of Los Angeles style compensation packages, which is the reason why our UUT rates are so absurdly high. While there is an entire culture of denial about this matter in town, no plausible explanation to the contrary is ever offered … This article, which was prepared by Reuters for worldwide distribution, specifically mentions the law firm of Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir, the folks who represented the Sierra Madre Police Officers Association during their successful 2008 labor action. And while that law firm recently collapsed under the weight of various corruption investigations (link), and therefore no longer officially represents the SMPOA, the question of their hardball tactics remains. My guess is that the SMPOA will see opposition to the passage of Measure UUT as a direct assault on their pensions, and therefore will fight hard against any attempt to defeat it. Will they go as far as some of the scenarios discussed in the following article? I guess we will just have to wait and see.

Insight: Battle over police pensions in U.S. cities takes ugly turn (link): A drive by some American cities to cut costly police retirement benefits has led to an extraordinary face-off between local politicians and the law enforcement officers who work for them.

In Costa Mesa, California, lawmaker Jim Righeimer says he was a target of intimidation because he sought to curb police pensions. In a lawsuit in November, Righeimer accused the Costa Mesa police union and a law firm that once represented them, of forcing him to undergo a sobriety test (he passed) after driving home from a bar in August 2012.

That followed a call to 911 by private detective Chris Lanzillo, who worked for the police union and the law firm that represented it, according to the suit. Lanzillo is also named as a defendant, accused of following Righeimer home from the bar.

Disputes such as these have intensified as Detroit and two California cities, Stockton and San Bernardino, have gone bankrupt in the past two years. Police pension costs were a major factor in the financial troubles facing all three. Now large cities, including San Jose and San Diego, say they have no choice but to alter pension agreements lest they end up in bankruptcy too.

The suit by lawmaker Righeimer also said that an FBI raid of the law firm last October uncovered evidence that an electronic tracking device had been attached to the underside of the car driven by another lawmaker, Steve Mensinger, one of Righeimer's allies in the pension fight.

"What we are alleging is a conspiracy to gather information against political opponents", said John Manly, a lawyer representing Righeimer and Mensinger.

Calls to Lanzillo's lawyers went unanswered. Lanzillo is not listed in any public directory.

The FBI confirmed that some of its agents were present at the raid, but referred all other questions to the Orange County district attorney, which applied for the search warrant. Robert Mestman, senior deputy district attorney, said: "I cannot comment. It is a pending investigation."

The police union, the Costa Mesa Police Association, denies any knowledge of the purported tactics. It fired the law firm, Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir, after allegations of the harassment first surfaced. Several calls to the lawyer representing the firm, which is in the process of being wound down, went unanswered.

'IN A DIFFERENT AGE'

For many city and county governments, police are by far their largest single cost. For example, in the California city of Desert Hot Springs, which is teetering on bankruptcy, 70 percent of the budget is spent on police salaries and pensions.

"There was a time when no politician would dare to cut back on public safety, let alone their pensions," said David Harris, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh and a specialist in police and police behavior. "Now we are in a different age."

Police union officials claim there is a push by conservative political operatives to take away promised pensions from public servants who do a physically demanding and dangerous jobs, and that police officers are being forced to pay for officials' incompetent management of city finances.

In Stockton, when then city manager Bob Deis warned in 2011 that police layoffs might be necessary, the police union bought the house next to his and immediately began noisy renovations.

"It's like being a party in a law case and the other side buys the house next to yours," said Deis, who retired late last year. He and his wife sued with allegations of intimidation, in a case that has since been settled. The noise has stopped and the police union has agreed to sell the house within two years.

The police union had also erected a giant billboard welcoming visitors to the "2nd most dangerous city in California" with Deis's phone number on it. The billboard has been taken down.

Kathryn Nance, president of the Stockton Police Officers' Association, denied that the union ever tried to intimidate Deis. "Obviously that is his opinion," Nance said. "His allegation is ridiculous, at best."

FLURRY OF PARKING TICKETS

There also have been allegations of intimidation by police in Cranston, Rhode Island.

On January 9, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung announced that state police will take over an investigation into a flurry of parking tickets issued in the wards of two council members. The pair claim the tickets were issued as retribution after they voted against a new contract for police that would have given them a pay raise.

Fung announced that Police Chief Marco Palombo Jr. had been placed on administrative leave while the Rhode Island state police investigate the parking ticket allegations.

Fung said "new allegations" had emerged about the conduct of police that was troubling, and that a number of police officers are under suspicion of misconduct.

"The Cranston police were definitely sending us a message," said Paul H. Archetto, one of the councilmen. "It's intimidation and an abuse of power."

Major Robert Ryan, a spokesman for the Cranston Police Department, said: "The matter is under investigation, and pursuant to law enforcement's bill of rights, no-one is going to comment on this."

Ryan said the police chief was unavailable for comment.

'GET DIRTY'

Police union leaders say their members are being victimized by some local politicians.

"They are using scare tactics by telling the public that cities are going broke because of public pensions," said Chuck Canterbury, the national president of the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents more than 325,000 officers.

"Most police officers contributed every month to their pensions. The cities in trouble did not do the same," Canterbury said. "When the economy got bad and the investment returns did not live up to the standard, all of a sudden they say it was the unions that got greedy."

Ron DeLord, a former Texas policeman and consultant to police unions in the United States and abroad said the view of many rank-and-file officers is that they are up against forces who do not wish to negotiate.

In 2008 DeLord told officers in American Police Beat Magazine to "get dirty and fight to win," by getting personal with reformist council members and to "bloody their noses."

DeLord told Reuters last month that he had learnt to be more collaborative since 2008, but said of the "get dirty" message: "I wrote it. I believe it."

(Mod: The Ron DeLord article in American Police Beat Magazine is titled "Time to Circle the Wagons." You can access it by clicking here.)

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

53 comments:

  1. The SMPD work for the lowest wages in LA County because they ALL were unable to be hired or retain employment from any other city or unincorporated district in LA County. Fact.

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    1. It is a safe, low impact police work.

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  2. Working for smpd is "physically demanding and dangerous"?

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    1. Imagine how long they'd last in South Central.

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    2. Confiscating potato salad is dangerous. What if that kid was really hungry and wanted it?

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  3. A few years ago the city under the leadership of Enid Joffe and John Buchanan completely capitulated to the tactics of the SMPOA, and got the residents to vote themselves 10% utility taxes. That is too high and we need to roll that back. I have no problem with the SMPD continuing to work here, but they will have to make sacrifices to do it. It is a job, and they should be glad to have it.

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  4. Maybe this is why no incumbents are running. They know how bad things are going to get.

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  5. The only way to get city hall spending under control is to defeat Measure UUT. If the POA doesn't like it? Then go find some other place to work.

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    1. That goes for all members of city staff as well.

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    2. Elaine Aguilar always talks about the "need to retain quality staff" or some such thing. Something I always took to mean pay them more and beef up benefits as well. Yet as far as I can tell they never seem to leave. Kind of disappointing.

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    3. True, 8:51.
      The city staff whines and whines, but they stay right there, don't they?

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    4. There are a lot of people who actually live in this town who would love to have jobs like those.

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    5. If they whant those jobs they can put in for them when they are posted

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    6. But 10:38, none of the complainers ever quit!

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    7. They say that other cities pay much more. Well why don't they apply for those jobs? Oh yeah. I forgot those cities want qualified staff.

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    8. There are several people on staff that do live in town, are qualified but choose to stay here because they, like you, love Sierra Madre.

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    9. 5:22, several?

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    10. I only know about one.

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  6. Still no video of the council meeting on 1/14 available on KGEM.

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    1. The Mayor was offended by the level of resident participation last Tuesday.

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    2. Be funny if there's no video record of the meeting, what with the litigious applicant and all.

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    3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  7. FDR had it right...unions have no place in the public sector. At a minimum, any compensation agreements with the unions should be approved by the electorate not the politicians.

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    1. I do not think fdr said that unions had no place in the public sector what i think he said is that strikes have no place in public sector , what i think you are repeating is a conserative line that is not true

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    2. There is no place in Sierra Madre for the highest utility taxes in the state. I can be as sympathetic to the working man as the next guy. Hell, I am one. On the other hand I do not feel the need to supply cradle to grave benefits for the paper pushers downtown. That includes the ones who write tickets like there is no tomorrow.

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    3. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=15445

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    4. Oh, those internets.

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    5. "All government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service" That is what he meant.

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    6. The taxpayers of Sierra Madre are about to find themselves supporting for city employees for the rest of their lives. A city this small cannot be expected to do that. Nor can we be expected to pay higher utility taxes than places like Bell and Compton. This must be stopped.

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    7. 12:19 you only quote only part of his letter you need to read the whole letter

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    8. When public servants enjoy a more favorable standard of living than many of those who pay for it, then things have been turned upside down.

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    9. Yeah, blame Gov. Brown for unionizing California public servants.

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    10. I dont think Gov Brown was in the union to vote for it

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  8. Interesting article and there are those in this town who have already suffered persecution at the hands of the local PD. It would be wise to approach the podium in numbers if anyone wishes to speak out against the UUT measure (that needs to go down in flames, it does) or in favor of canning our own police force and bringing the sheriff department on board, both reasonable, cost-saving actions to seriously consider.

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  9. Inman knew we were in dire straits with our severely taxed water resources long before the ALF application was even submitted, but he chose to remain silent on the matter until after the ALF had been processed, placed on a city ballot and approved by an uninformed public. THIS is how City Hall operates and clearly not in the best interest of this community. The city manager, Elaine Aguilar, as well as Bruce Inman, should be removed for such incompetentcy, but we don't have a city council who will do the right thing for this community, either. We may have to go bankrupt in order to filter out the crap, like some city employees and officials, and move forward, embarrassed and broke but wiser, hopefully.

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    1. The City is also mute on the possibility of 40 new houses on the Monastery grounds. The City Bruce, Danny, and Elaine what been in quite talks with them for quite sometime. The y are salivating at the possibility of over $2,000,000 in development fees but they are not thing nor care about the water and congestion impacts.

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    2. What is going on is City Staff is funding their retirement accounts. They will get as much money from us as they possibly can, and then do whatever it takes to sell of anything of value in our city. It is all they care about.

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  10. Guys: we need a write-in campaign for upcoming election..someone actually worthy of the honor of serving the residents of Sierra Madre in a city council member capacity. Delmar will be great, Green and Goss would be disastrous choices and the fourth candidate I know nothing about other than the card she sent out a few weeks ago on which she claims to have a conservative view towards development, but we have been lied to so many times before.

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  11. As Sierra Madre city staff sell off another asset of city property to pay for their retirements.

    Hire the sheriffs Department to stem the flow of waste.

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  12. I suppose that Sierra Madre's problems regarding public employee pensions has nothing to do with the State demanding more money from cities (tax collectors) to fund the 10's of Billions of dollars that have been lost by CalPERS and CalSTRS over the last ten years or so, due to bad investments and poor management.

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    1. Yeah. We really need to be a part of that!

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    2. @ Anon 4:00 PM

      We ARE a part of that.

      Wake up!

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    3. That was sarcasm, son. It amuses the knowing and baffles the credulous.

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  13. Did anyone ever see the sierramadresucks.com website? I am assuming it is long gone. I would be curious to read the writings of our men in blue.

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    1. I had a thoroughly unexpected conversation with one of our police officers then. His point was that "People in Sierra Madre don't know how lucky they are."

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    2. Apparently neither did they.

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  14. The pot lobby is a big hit in Sacramento. Will SCAG soon assign us RHNA numbers for marijuana shops?
    http://www.sacbee.com/2014/01/19/6081835/dan-morain-cannabis-industry-poised.html

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  15. They had a sign across from the Post Office on a car at the same time , I never thought the same of them again

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  16. Here is a 2003 letter from the Sierramadrenews.net blog:
    4/19/03
    Dear E-ditor, Sgt. Ruben Enriquez, vice president of the Sierra Madre Police Association, was quoted in last Thursday’s Weekly (Vol. 8, No. 6) as saying that their domain name of “sierramadresucks.com” was merely a “tool” to draw attention to the fact that they are not making enough money. He defends their actions by stating that “by using those words we meant no disrespect or insult to the residents or the city itself.” If I call an African American the n-word, will he feel no disrespect and no insult when I tell him that I did it to get his attention? It appears that the respect and loyalty these police officers feel toward Sierra Madre and its citizens only goes as far as their paychecks. Officer Lance Long, whose wife set up the offensive domain name and site for the Association, claims in the same article that the Association is very supportive and loyal to Sierra Madre and its citizens. However, their actions regarding this web site speak differently. Every terrorist believes he’s doing a good thing, but his “good intentions” do not erase the damage he does. How ironic that the members of our own police department would stoop to using terrorist tactics, albeit on a smaller scale, to draw our attention to their pocketbooks. Shame on you. How childish. How unprofessional. The Sierra Madre Police Association and its members have lost our respect, and proved that they are not worthy of the pay raise they seek. Sierra Madre
    Chris Thatcher

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  17. Here is some more from the SMNews.net site:
    4/10/03
    Sierra Madre Police Association
    C/O 232 W. Sierra Madre Blvd.
    Sierra Madre, CA 91024

    Dear Police Association,

    I was just appalled by your signs and most of all your web site! Sierra Madre is one of the most unique towns in Southern California and Los Angeles County. It also has the lowest crime rate. If you feel you need more money or more excitement, go elsewhere! There is no reason to bring our town down if you're so unhappy! However it is amazing somehow you have new little electric cars to run around in with flashing light and all. It's just not the police department feeling the pinch of funds; it's the Recreation Dept., Library and many other city functions too. I'm embarrassed to call some of you friends now! There are many other entities that perform their duties free of charge in this safe little town - day & night.

    You should be ashamed of yourselves.

    S. Tomlin
    cc: Sierra Madre Weekly
    Mountain Views

    E-ditor's Note: S., I don't know if you noticed or not, but the website has removed its guest book, which had been filling with numerous entries from people (including you), generally expressing respect for the Department, but disappointment and/or anger over the Association's method of expressing itself regarding the pay negotiations. I'm going to estimate it was 10 to 1 (or more) negative when they decided to remove it from the site. So your opinion and that of other's has definitely had an effect, though I'm not sure censorship was what you and the others were after. Of course, it's their website to design as they will, and they have full right to remove whatever they want, so perhaps censorship is too strong a word. I also found it interesting to note that in the table of hourly rates of City employees, for some reason the Association chose not to emphasize the two PD positions that fall into the top six in the City (#6 and #2 are PD positions), as they have done by bolding the employee pay scales that fall below the top 10. Again, it's their site, they have a right to do as they want. I just thought that was an interesting choice on their part.
    It has been pointed out to me by Sierra Madre Police Chief Wayne Bailey that: E-ditor's Note 2, 4/21/03"Your response to S. Tomlin should mention that the two employees you are referring to are department managers, and are not members of the Police Association."

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  18. I did not know the union hired that infamous law firm to represent them back in 2008. They are the worst of the worst. They tried to bring the City of San Gabriel to its knees with multiiple lawsuits and accusations of "Bell-like" corruption - only for the purpose of gaining leverage in their contract negotiatons.
    While its nice to have our own police force, union tactics can wreak havoc in a city. Be careful who the unions support in the upcoming city council elections. Their support for the candidate who will be "tough on crime" will actually be the candidate most likely to vote them higher salaries and pension benefits at the expense of the taxpayers.
    That's why the city of Santa Clarita turned to the Sheriffs. Now they don't worry about union politics meddling in the city's affairs.

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