The Star-News


Former detective will continue to dig

Sat, Dec 25 2010 12:00 PM Posted By: Tom Basinski

If I've learned anything in 35 years of police work it's there are two sides to any issue. Listening to one side of a story might get one's blood boiling. After listening to the other side, one's opinion might change a little, or a lot.

Please understand that even though I'm a former cop, and write a column about cop stuff, I'm not a shill for the department. Some months ago I raised a lot of departmental ire by writing about a home invasion of a patrol officer. The sketchy information the department released didn't add up, and I said so.

Several cops were angry and accused me of being "disloyal to the badge." Baloney. I write like I umpire. I call what I see and what I saw was fishy. Actually, some high ranking people in the department and in the city told me, "Good job. Keep digging." Well, I'm not exactly Woodward or Bernstein. I wrote what I saw, and it was over.

The two sides of the story I'm concerned with now is the battle between the city administration and the police officers' association. In a Dec. 20 press release management said, "The Police Officers' Association has been given two proposals by City Management. The city is awaiting a response."

Okay, what were the proposals? The city wants to reduce the retirement percentage an officer earns. Instead of getting three percent for every year worked, the city wants them to earn two percent. The city wants to change the retirement compensation from the highest year's earnings to an average of the highest three years. And, the retiring employee may no longer buy into the same health benefits as regular employees. The final requirement is that the employee will pay the entire retirement contribution. (The city now pays that 9% and all items were arrived at as a result of collective bargaining negotiations.)

The items being disputed get complicated. First and foremost, the other city bargaining units have a "re-opener" clause in their contract that allows the city to re-open negotiations while a contract is in effect. The POA's contract, valid until 2013, says the POA must agree to have negotiations re-opened. That clause is very important.

Here's the kicker, and probably the most important part of this dispute: If the cops agree to re-open negotiations and they fail to reach an agreement and an impasse results, it will be open season on the cops' benefits. By law, the city can impose or remove any benefits they want if there's an impasse. The cops would be insane to agree to this, and they aren't agreeing.

The POA knows that belt-tightening measures are required, and they are willing to give. For example, three years ago, the cops agreed to temporarily defer a 4% raise due to them. This past July they postponed a 3% raise. They accomplished this by means of a handshake, or a gentlemen's agreement. This was done without re-opening formal negotiations and was done by a mutual good faith agreement. It can be done now, but isn't. Why not?

An informal agreement isn't the case this time, and you won't learn that any place but by reading it here. I don't know why the big newspaper down the street isn't dealing with this. Heck, they have real reporters, and not a broken down homicide detective who writes a bi-weekly column. All you have to do is talk to people.

Why wouldn't the cops be wary? Association president Fred Rowbotham said his group is willing to sit down and talk about solutions. The cops don't want to give away the farm, or have it taken away from them if there's an impasse. Neither do they want their brother and sister officers laid off. But, it's getting close to "stare down" time. The city will implement the layoffs and call the cops "greedy" and unwilling to protect the younger officers.

I put in two calls to the city manager's office and sent two e-mails asking to speak with someone about this issue. A week later their Communications Coordinator sent me a generic press release informing me there is nothing new and hoping that the release answered my questions.

No, the release didn't answer my questions. Although I'm neither Woodward nor Bernstein, I'm going to keep digging on this one.


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