The Long Beach City Council held a special session Jan. 26 to discuss alternatives for a tax initiative to solve the city’s $2.8 billion infrastructure backlog.
Clearly, the elephant in the room was our Jan. 22 column exposing the Long Beach $200K Club: www.longbeachcomber.com
Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price played the “fear of crime” card and announced a public safety crisis insisting, “We need more officers on the street, “ and, for anyone who says there’s still a lot of fat in the city or that we’re wasting money – you have no idea what you are talking about.”
Second District Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal echoed Price’s sentiments, offering her conclusion that, “Doing more with less is not sustainable and anyone who thinks that there is fat has not really done their homework.”
We did our homework for the last column by providing data the Pollyanna Party has chosen to ignore. We even supplied a look at how to get more police on the street by raising serious questions about the police department’s deployment of 114 positions (14.2 percent of the police workforce) to undercover assignments when only 50 percent of the force is assigned to patrol duties.
If Councilwoman Price wants more cops on the street patrolling that is a good place to look – with no increase in the budget.
This week we have more “homework” to share, starting with the facts in this table:
Long Beach City’s annual payroll is 79 percent larger than the comparable city of Fresno - primarily because our city workforce is 80 percent greater – while our community’s geographical footprint is half as large.
Similar comparisons in the table illustrates an even more disturbing contrast:
Long Beach private sector workers live on a median household income ($52,944) that is 44 percent less than the average compensation package ($76,127) received by city employees.
We believe that many reforms can be targeted at current city spending – and should be investigated in concert with council measures aimed at solving our infrastructure deterioration.
If the council ignores this kind of responsible approach, the electorate will most assuredly ignore a tax-only solution when they get to the ballot box.
To avoid that, council needs to put city hall under a microscope, peel away the fat that remains, quarantine the corrupting schemes that come with influence peddling and roll back the phantom payouts that continue to rob our treasury.
Our “homework” for this column takes another small step in that direction by demonstrating how we can save well over $1,250,000 and put 5,000 more hours of police services back on our streets without spending a dime.
Roll Back the Money and the Influence
The police union president was one of the 224 city workers who made the 2014 $200K list exposed in our last column. He clocked in at $240,592. He also made the list in 2011, 2012 and 2013 – without putting in a single day of police work.
And, to add insult to injury, when we drilled down into the Transparent California data, we saw that city hall was also kicking in unauthorized cash overtime for his full-time union work – averaging almost $20,000 per year between 2011 and 2013.
We have no information about his overtime pay during the preceding 11 years he served as the full-time union president,
(and progressed through the ranks from police officer to sergeant to lieutenant) but several red flags flew up when we discovered the enormous jump in the union president’s base pay between 2013 and 2014 ($150,290 in 2013 to $167,609 in 2014) – a period when all other sworn personnel were subject to a base pay salary freeze – agreed to in negotiations with the police union.
We tried to get an explanation about the overtime – which stopped in 2014 – and the 2014 base pay increase of $17,319 via a city hall public records request.
We asked: “What kind of work activities were approved for each of the overtime payments reported within the total and who authorized the overtime payments? I ask this because the MOU (contract) provides release time for the POA president, “to be reported and compensated as if on vacation.” I would like to understand why the POA president is entitled to overtime pay from the city when he works full time for the union.”
The city manager’s office replied: “The city has no documents responsive to this request. However, the overtime hours for 2013 were authorized by the POA Board and the city was reimbursed 1.5 hours of holiday hours for every 1.0 hour of overtime worked by the POA President.”
We had to read that response twice. No records for cash outlays? The POA Board is empowered by the city to approve cash expenditures from the city treasury?
City hall has not yet answered those questions. However, in an email exchange with Lieutenant Stephen James, the police union president, stated: “The POA Board voted to change the way the president of the POA is compensated.”
Another question we asked the city manager: “We note that the POA president classification was changed from “Police Lieutenant” to “POA President-Police Lieutenant” in 2013. Was this a change in Civil Service classification and if so could you provide any instructions the finance department received that are related to that change – or an explanation of why the classification was made?
His office replied: “There were three (3) new classifications added to the FY14 Salary Resolution including the following: POA President-Lieutenant, POA President – Police Sergeant and POA President – Police Officer. The classifications were approved by the city council meeting held on October 22, 2013, (on retreat in Palm Springs) and were added to address pay as prescribed by the POA agreement as paid by the POA membership annual accrual deduction.”
The answer is false. There is nothing in the POA contract that documents any kind of agreement to change the president’s classification or salary schedule.
We still have no idea where the police union gets the authority to make these kinds of decisions – but it is clear that their influence inside city hall got their full time president an unprecedented raise in pay well above the highest paid working lieutenant in the police department.
The Police Union Contract – Smoke and Mirrors
The contract between the city and the police union employs a smoke and mirrors gimmick called “release time.” Each member of the union gives up four hours from their annual 12 holiday days to justify the “release and pay” of their president to work full time for the union.
Why do we call this a smoke and mirrors gimmick?
Because the union negotiates 12 holiday days off for their membership within the framework of a full salary and benefits package and then give back four hours of the holiday time in exchange for another cash outlay from the taxpayer to cover the president’s compensation.
But it Doesn’t Stop There.
The ten members of the police union board of directors collectively receive an annual gift of 1,000 hours release time from the city. And if not used they are allowed to carry it over year to year for the five year life of the contract.
The law, as spelled out in the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act, requires that when the union has employee representation business with the city, the city must allow union representatives reasonable time off with no loss of compensation or benefits.
But, in addition to this legal requirement, the powers that be in city hall have seen fit to further grant the union president a special civil service classification that has nothing to do with police work, a pay schedule higher than that of the highest paid working lieutenant in the police department and full pay and benefits while he looks after union business unrelated to any actual representation interface with the city, while the chief of police and city manager routinely approve his requests for cash payouts amounting to $18,000 to $20,000 per year because he chooses to be paid cash rather than take his allotted vacation time off.
What Do Taxpayers Get in Return?
When the union president and his board are not looking after the essentials of membership representation with the city – fully provided for in the Milias-Brown Act – they use their “release time” and their substantial treasury to preserve their influence over key political elections within the city, support the election of other political candidates state-wide – work to get their favorite judges elected (and those they don’t like – dumped) and oppose Long Beach taxpayer initiatives to cut taxes by funding city hall initiated opposition campaigns.
What Corrective Measures Exist?
Let the police rank and file keep their four hours, roll back the 1,000-hour grant to the ten board members and restrict the Board and the President’s compensated union activity to that permitted by the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act.
That’s one reform. There are dozens more out there.
All our council members have to do is take off the blinders and muster the political will to order a roll back on these kinds of excesses.
If they make the call on this one, the taxpayer will pick up a minimum of $1,250,000 in cash and 5,000 hours of police street time over the life of the next five-year POA contract.
That alone should cover the cost of re-paving some of our streets, patching a few thousand potholes and help cut back on the crime wave rhetoric.
Stephen Downing is a Long Beach resident and retired LAPD deputy chief of police.
[Editor’s Note: The average LB overtime referenced in Downing’s Jan. 22 column was in error. The correct figure is $5,854 and was changed in our online edition.]