City Beat

News, insight and discussion on Sacramento and its neighborhoods

July 1, 2011
Public safety unions criticize mayor, want closer look at budget

The city public safety unions are firing back at Mayor Kevin Johnson after the mayor told reporters this week that the police union must discuss pension reform if it wants to save the jobs of cops.

In a letter to the mayor, Brent Meyer, the head of the police union, and firefighter union boss Jaymes Butler said the mayor's comments "deeply concern us and leave us more frustrated than ever."

Police officers and firefighters do not pay into their pensions. If they did, city budget officials said it would save the city millions.

With the start of the new fiscal year today, 42 police officers are officially out of a job, part of the city's plan to address a $39 million deficit. Dozens of other crime scene and community officers were also laid off, and the number of fire department rigs on rotating "brownouts" increased from two to four.

This is the first time the public safety unions have targeted the mayor with such strong language. The unions are two of Johnson's most loyal supporters.

That support is unlikely to waver much - Johnson did vote against the police layoffs - but it will be worth watching how involved the unions become in the upcoming election season.

Also in the letter, the unions asked the City Council and city manager's office to allow an outside analyst to look at the city budget, specifically at money designated in special funds. According to union officials, $172 million is included in those funds, although it is unclear if any of that money could legally be used to save police jobs.

I've asked city officials to look into how much money is in special funds and how much - if any - could be transferred to the general budget.

"We can explain it to our members if there is, in fact, no money available to avoid layoffs," the letter states. "However, if the Council is choosing to fund their favorite projects over saving public safety jobs, then you must explain that to the community."

Meyer and Butler wrote they were also disappointed that the mayor "singled out police officers for pension reform" while not criticizing raises given earlier this year to top managers at City Hall - managers who also do not contribute to their pension plans.

"Meanwhile," Meyer and Butler wrote, "wouldn't it be setting a good example for the City Council to take a voluntary pay cut itself?"

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About City Beat

Ryan Lillis has covered the city of Sacramento, its 108 neighborhoods and its politicians since 2008. Prior to that, he covered crime at The Bee. A native of upstate New York, Lillis has a journalism degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

Contact reporter Ryan Lillis at rlillis@sacbee.com

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