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City ends impasse with police (updated)

The uncertainty is over. Claremont City Council has imposed contracts on the city’s 2 police associations, officially ending a 5-month stalemate in front of a full house at the council chambers.

The final decision was made Tuesday night following an impasse called over 2011-2012 terms and conditions of employment between the 2 groups in August. Failed negotiations have been ongoing since spring.

The Claremont Police Officers and Police Management Associations will begin paying 6 percent of their total 9 percent Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) contributions with a 1.5 percent Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA).

The decision was reached in a 3-2 vote with Mayor Sam Pedroza, Mayor Pro Tem Larry Schroeder and Councilmember Joe Lyons in favor of establishing similar agreements among all employee groups in order to ensure the future of the city’s budget.

“This is about long term sustainability. This is about equitable, fair, and impartial negotiations and treatment of our employees, all groups included, and that was our intention since the beginning,” Mr. Lyons said. “I’m confident we engaged in the kind of negotiations every Claremonter would have been respectful of so I can certainly go to sleep tonight…and be able to know I did what was in my opinion in the best interests of the long-term sustainability of our city and for every single citizen.”

Council Members Opanyi Nasiali and Corey Calaycay voted against the resolution, as they did for the other 4 employee groups, because they wanted more drastic, immediate action.

“My objection is that all employees should pay 100 percent of their contributions immediately, but that’s not what’s being offered,” Mr. Nasiali said, adding, “some people see it [paying PERS contributions] as a pay cut. It is not a pay cut. The city, when the times were good, gave it to employees as a benefit. We are not in the position to give you that benefit anymore.”

Disagreements over COLAs led to the initial impasse, said police officials. While claiming they had no problem contributing to their PERS, officers requested an increased cost of living increase to offset costs, according to Dieter Dammeier, POA’s lead negotiator.

“La Verne is paying [its officers] 2 percent and they got a 1.5 percent increase in return…you have to look at what’s going on in the local market. You’ve had police officers leave this city to go to La Verne. There are 4 officers that work at La Verne now that you guys paid to train, put a lot of resources, energy and money into, and another city is benefiting because you didn’t compete, and we don’t want to see that happen again,” Mr. Dammeier said. “It’s a matter of priority. They prioritize Public Safety. You guys entrust these guys to take people’s freedoms. Take people’s lives, under some circumstances. You want to make sure you have high quality people in these jobs. This is not the type of job you go on the cheap. You want to get the best, and you aren’t going to get the best if you are not competitive in the market.”

Other areas of concern voiced by officers included the change of the initial 3 percent PERS contribution proposed for 2011-2012 to an accelerated 6 percent.

“Even though you want to say everybody is equal, you guys want to impose a 6 percent cut when everyone else took a 3 percent cut,” Mr. Dammeier said. “I don’t understand in what math arena that’s equal. It’s something you can’t modify.”

The city said it made the change to the contract to make up for uncertainty on police contracts in the future. While other employee groups have agreed to a 3-year contract, the city council-imposed police contract only covers one year. The groups will meet again to discuss contracts this coming spring.

“The next (3 percent) payment is due July 2012, 9 months from now. We accelerated the payment to cover it in one lump sum because of the great uncertainty in the future. We don’t know when they would have to pay the next 3,” said City negotiator Richard Kreisler. “The reality is it just accelerates the process by 9 months.”

Of the 26 speakers lined through the doors of the council chambers to speak, a vast many, including several members of the police unions and their family, called for the city to grant requests for greater compensation.

“I am concerned about the cuts to the police department that will definitely affect us all. These are men and women that put their lives on the line on a daily basis to protect and serve us,” said resident Micki Michael. “Please don’t be penny wise and pound foolish.”

Others were left unsympathetic after actions of “bullying and intimidation” by the Claremont police. Several mentioned phone calls and flyers passed out by Claremont police, as well as a “threatening” letter sent to Councilmember Corey Calaycay by a political action committee chaired by Mr. Dammeier.

“There are 13, 14, 15 things here saying how to intimidate, how to threaten,” said Carolyn Gonzales holding up a flyer passed out by Claremont Police at Village Venture last weekend. “Is this the kind of stuff you condone? I don’t.”

Despite a cry by many to go back into discussions with its officers, council members felt that no further discussion would achieve the desired end result for either party.

“I don’t see us being able to go back to the table,” Mr. Pedroza said. “Each of our employees knows the financial situation. Unfortunately we are here today facing these resolutions and even though my heart tells me something different my brain and the good of the city has to go along with where we are at. I’m hoping it can get better, but unfortunately for our community we are going to have to work through this.”

—Beth Hartnett 

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