Thursday, May 7, 2009

First Chiefs and Now Captains… When will it end?

I just got home from the Padre game. I was hoping for relief from today and a few hours to clear my head. No such luck tonight. The Padres lost and the game was so slow; all I did was, think. Why you ask? Read on….

This morning I received a call and I sat listening to the person on the other end of the line telling me the mayor had done it again. The caller proceeds to tell me a rumor was floating around the mayor eliminated DROP from Captains effective July 1, 2009. I sat listening, but not really hearing what was being said. My mind was racing, trying to access the damage. My thoughts raced from Captain to Captain; what was the HUMAN damage? What affect will this have? First; DROP entry is raised to 55 years of age from 50 and the DROP annuity is removed from the plan. Then; Chief's are told DROP is no longer an option for them effective July 1, 2009.

I ended the telephone conversation and said I would check around and see if there was any validity to this rumor. First call; "No way. They can't do that!" I make my second call; "You have got to be kidding me. If this is true; there is no defending the mayor. He is clearly out to destroy this department." My third call hits home. I am told the rumor is not a rumor, but fact. The Chief is going to discuss the mayor's proposal with the Captains this morning at their Field Ops meeting. The DROP is being eliminated from the Management Benefit Package effective July 1, 2009. Those Captains who are in DROP or enter DROP before June 30, 2009, will also have their salary reduced 3%, not the 1.5% that most thought.

I sat staring out the window, my mind racing with thoughts of how this could happen. Why is this happening? What is the mayor's real purpose? First the Chief's and today the Captains, lose the DROP. Why the all out assault on 19 management personnel, when you have already filed a law suit in an attempt to eliminate DROP from all employees? But it does not stop there. In the early afternoon it is reported in the Voice of San Diego, that Rachel Laing, a mayor's spokesperson said San Diego Fire and Rescue Management Personnel will still be able to participate in DROP because city officials wanted to maintain the incentive for firefighters to take management jobs.

My thoughts cannot be captured on these pages. The human pain being inflicted upon some of the finest, most dedicated, experienced and professional men and women who lead this department cannot be quantified. It can be seen in their eyes, but you will not see them pout or display their emotions in public. These people are true professionals and they will maintain that appearance for their people and the department they love. But the public needs to know what the real effects will be as a result of this reckless mandate from the mayor. Today we all lost. The public lost.

The monetary savings the mayor will realize from this unethical, immoral and soon to be shown illegal elimination of a vested benefit is so small it begs the question; WHY? There are 19 people in the ranks of Chief and Captain. Maybe 9 of them are in the DROP? The remaining 10 are not eligible to enter DROP because they are not 50. Now here is where my rub is with the mayor's actions. The DROP entry was raised to 55 for Police Safety. The mayor filed suit to seek a decision supporting his belief DROP is not a vested benefit. So, why eliminate now when the determination of this law suit would most assuredly be determined by the time ANY of these individuals are able to enter DROP at the age of 55. Another political capital building action to play to the press? But then why turn around and announce those in the SDFD management ranks will continue to be offered DROP and at the entry age of 50?

Maybe the answer is found in the explanation from the mayor's spokesperson Laing, "Rank and file firefighters work 24 hour shifts, 10 days a month. To become management, they shift to a traditional five day, 40 hours week. These managers may not earn more pay because they can no longer earn overtime as managers." OK, I did not say this, Liang did. This is another example of the mayor's disparate treatment of members of the San Diego Police Department and his obvious bent on destroying a once proud, professional group of men and women. There is no explanation that could be provided those who are personally affected. The damage has yet to be seen. In short order those remaining Captains who for years have supported and championed the mayor and chief's message will leave when they have reached their 30th year of service or age 50 (If they purchased service credits). There will be absolutely no reason to stay. That was taken from them by the mayor. Lieutenants closing in on age 50 or their 30th year of service will give second thought to seeking promotion to Captain. The promotion stands to cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars. Who in their right mind would accept a promotion to Captain with the responsibility associated with the position, only to make less money and lose the DROP as an option? That's not the person we need in these positions!!!!

A Captain made a comment last week when it was made known the mayor had eliminated DROP from the Chiefs. This Captain said, "The mayor is not through. There is more to come. Stand by." I asked at the time what more could he do? He has already inflicted more than anyone could have imagined. The reply was short but so true, "It's who he has become; he wants more and he is going to find it and take it; watch."

Well, I saw it and am still having a hard time digesting it. I have three years left in DROP myself. I made my appointment to crunch the numbers and discuss leaving before June 30. I am not alone. Part of me says its time; the mayor is not through, just as the Captain said. The other part of me says stay and don't let the mayor win; it's what he wants; for all of us to leave. I am torn and find myself going back and forth with my decision. Retiring after 30+ years is suppose to be a joy filled, happy, gratifying time. Why is it then that I see more long faces on those poised to leave before the 30th of June and people looking at the ground as they walk the halls of Headquarters trying to decide if they too need to leave?


Anonymous said...

Sparky, I have some thoughts and I feel your pain!

Where is the POA is on this? Why aren’t they already out in front of this issue? Their silence is deafening!

For weeks, like you, I’ve agonized over the decision. I've sought advice from loved ones, peers, professionals and friends. Then, yesterday, the news from the Mayor’s office regarding the retention of DROP rights for Fire Management personnel was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.

It more than obvious Sanders holds little or no respect whatsoever toward the POA or the PD’s management team. But why, what happened? What went on during negotiation that soured the relationship so badly that Sanders’ well known vindictive streak has come out in full force against the PD?

Was the lack of professional negotiating talent a contributing factor? Is it time to rethink how the POA is organized and managed? Some believe it time to hire a permanent and professional POA President to lead while keeping a board of directors comprised of the working men and women of this Department. This idea needs to be vetted further as there are strong arguments on both sides.

On Tuesday when the Council held its second reading of the Salary Ordinance, I held out believing the Council might reconsider their decision on the contracts after Local 127 raised some very important issues over good faith bargaining. My faith was not well placed in our Council as the voted 8-0 to approve.

More than 30 years ago as a bright-eyed young person I proudly put on the badge. I learned it, I loved it, I worked it, and to borrow a Major League baseball slogan, I lived for this. Back then I knew there would be days where the people who I was sworn to protect and serve would disrespect me. But, if you told me 30 years later a former Chief of Police would do anything, including decimating the department so he could hold onto political power, I’d tell you to your face you’re were full shit. But the truth is power corrupts. Mayor Sanders has been corrupted by the power of politics. He has sold his soul and endangered the citizens of San Diego in the process.

As for me, the numbers have been crunched and the advice has been considered. Although it’s not what I really wanted it’s time to leave. That’s right, leave, not retire. I and so many others are leaving our careers because we have to protect our families and financial futures.

Anonymous said...

Not nearly as eloquent as the last person who commented on your superb article but, when I last saw the list of highest paid city employees, five were from the FD. It has become painfully obvious that the Mayor is systematically dismantling the SDPD in an effort to reduce cost by eliminating experience. POA... Where are you? Perhaps a joint effort with the national bargining power of the F.O.P. would be helpful?