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Mayor Kevin Johnson spoke about the need for representatives of the Sacramento Police Officers Association (SPOA) to meet with the city to explore ways to save police officers from impending layoffs at a Tuesday press conference.
“All of us on the council – the six that voted one way and the other three of us that didn’t – are reaching out to the SPOA asking for a meaningful dialogue,” Johnson said.
The City Council passed a budget on a 6-3 vote on June 21 that included more than $12 million in cuts to the Police Department and paved the way for more than 40 sworn police officers to be laid off July 1.
“We are at a difficult crossroad,” Johnson said. “(The City Council) said public safety is a priority ... and here we are now in a position where 108 (officers and civilians) are being laid off.”
Johnson said the city is not asking for SPOA to open up its contract, rather to “reboot and recommit to looking at opportunities that we have before us.”
The greatest of those opportunities, Johnson said, is for SPOA and the city to come to terms with a pension imbalance and make gradual changes to the current system that will lead to cost savings for the city in future years.
“We have to acknowledge that (SPOA) were the first ones to come to the table before,”Johnson said. “They gave us labor concessions, and they feel the city didn’t do its part, and I can respect that.”
Still, Johnson said the need for discussion about pension reform cannot be ignored, and the City Council has opened the door to discussion once again, if the union is interested.
“If (SPOA) are having honest discussions with their membership and no one is interested (in coming to the table), then we have to just cut officers and move forward and talk about pension reform next year or the year after,” Johnson said.
For most city employee positions, contributions to the employee retirement system come from both employers and employees.
Currently, however, city police officers do not have to pay a percentage of their earnings to their retirement benefits. Instead, the city picks up the full cost.
Johnson said that “pension reform is not the end-all,” however.
“If the police contributed 9 percent, that’s a $5.2 million savings (to the general fund). That doesn’t solve all of our problems.”
While noting that changes to pensions are necessary, Johnson emphasized that the city is not looking for the SPOA to “contribute it all back at one time.”
“If SPOA contributes their share, over time, we believe as a city we can still do our part and continue to be fiscally smart and move forward where everyone wins,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the City Council sent what it felt were “key points of discussion” to the SPOA, and he hopes the union is considering those points and talking to its membership about engaging in discussions about pension reform.
So far, Johnson said, he’s waiting for a response from the SPOA.
“I think it’s unrealistic to think that, in this economy, that there’s not going to be real discussion about pension reform,” Johnson said. “There HAS to be.”
Det. Mark Tyndale, SPOA representative, responded in a telephone interview Tuesday, saying that the SPOA is “constantly in conversation” with its membership, but the relationship with city leadership is strained right now.
Tyndale said the council members made their intentions toward the SPOA clear with the vote on the budget, and now there is a real sense of mistrust from the police union toward the council.
“We’re not unwilling to go (into a discussion),” Tyndale said. “We just don’t feel like we will be treated with good faith.”
It’s going to take more than a simple “please come talk” invitation from Johnson to bring the SPOA to the table, Tyndale said.
If the City Council as a whole – and Interim City Manager Bill Edgar – were to come together to discuss pensions with the SPOA, “I’d be in that room,” Tyndale said.