Amateur hour

The goal of police union’s candidates forum is to size up who will further enrich the group’s members

Get out the popcorn. Next week is the Chico Police Officers’ Association’s Chico City Council candidates forum. If it’s anything like it was two years ago, we’ll get to watch the fat cats from the city’s most powerful union size up the folks they believe will line what some might consider their already overstuffed pockets.

According to city data, the CPOA’s members—police officers and sergeants—make an average of $112,000 a year in salary and benefits (not including the city’s workers’ comp contributions). Those numbers go up, of course, when the police department’s managers are factored in. Remember, we live in a community where the median household income is about $43,000.

If you didn’t have the pleasure of watching the last forum hosted by the CPOA in 2014, you missed quite the spectacle. It was amateur hour and in no way a primer for voters. Here’s a question that encapsulates the gist of that dog and pony show: “In regards to the compensation that members of the CPOA currently receive, do you feel it is adequate in order to retain and recruit quality officers to work for this association knowing that other associations of similar size are receiving as much as 25 percent more?”

Let me jog your memory here. The previous year, according to the State Controller’s Office, Chico was pegged as the 25th most generous place in the state for overall employee compensation. That’s out of more than 480 incorporated cities and counties. The CPOA was crying poor shortly after the city teetered on the verge of bankruptcy due to the perfect storm of previous city managers and councils—conservative and liberal alike—approving significant raises for public safety personnel on the lead-up to the Great Recession.

That largesse became an issue only when the economic meltdown began, and it really hit the fan in 2012. Dozens of city employees were laid off that year, yet not one of them was a cop. Sure, the department couldn’t fill open positions at that time and there were some folks out on workers’ comp. But the Chico Police Department’s budget largely remained unscathed.

The next year, however, when the CPOA was in contract negotiations, its leaders ramped up a propaganda campaign to frighten the public about the safety of the city. In the next election cycle, the bargaining group endorsed newcomers Reanette Fillmer and Andrew Coolidge, as well as then-Vice Mayor Mark Sorensen. A few months later, those three, plus council members Sean Morgan and Ann Schwab, voted in favor of an agreement costing the city more than $1.5 million over its three-year span.

The cops’ rhetoric in advance of that vote focused mostly on how CPD was critically understaffed, yet it ended abruptly once the contract was signed—before the ink was even dry—despite the fact that the money didn’t provide for a single new cop. What a joke.

I have a running bet on exactly whom CPOA will endorse this year. Lunch is on the line. Sean Morgan and Jovanni Tricerri are sure things, of course. I have my theories about the other two.

In the meantime, voters, for unbiased and professionally run candidates forums, look to the League of Women Voters. The nonpartisan group’s events begin tonight (Thursday, Sept. 29) and run through Oct. 24. Find a full schedule at