Back to the drawing board

The tentative agreement between the CPOA and city should be scrapped

On the walls of the Chico City Council chambers is a list of the seven-member panel’s priorities. At the top of that list is public safety.

That’s why it’s interesting that the council will be voting on a “tentative agreement” with the Chico Police Officers’ Association on a three-year contract that in no way makes Chico a safer place to live and work.

See, to do that, our representatives would have to find a way to hire many more police officers. Yet, what they may put into place on April 7 will only further encumber the city’s operating budget, the lion’s share of which already goes to funding public safety, by padding officers’ already overstuffed wallets.

In other words, this is a deal that benefits the union’s members, not the community.

Of course, CPOA leaders argue that the salary increases will help attract and retain officers. What they fail to mention is that the city doesn’t have the funding to hire as many officers as the community needs because of the salary and benefits packages CPOA’s members have received over the last decade, including during the Great Recession.

The fact is, Chico’s police officers are compensated quite generously, especially when their “Cadillac” benefits packages and overtime are factored into the equation. Case in point: The police department just hired three new officers who came to the city from other California law enforcement agencies that pay much less money and thus cannot compete with Chico’s high wages.

One of them came from the Butte County Sheriff’s Office, where the average salary is $15,000 lower than in Chico, according to a city human resources report. Does the CPOA expect us to believe that Chico police officers deserve to make 21 percent more than their county colleagues who live here and work on the outskirts of the city?

But gaining a full stable of officers isn’t the union’s true objective. That would cut into the overtime pay current employees count on to pad their already generous salaries.

If the council and CPOA were really interested in fully staffing the Chico Police Department, they would come up with other recruitment and retention incentives, such as signing bonuses for new employees and reasonable merit raises for existing ones.

The CPOA’s leaders have mastered the art of propaganda over the past couple of years. Let’s not forget that this is the organization that spent money on billboards decrying that “The gangs are hiring, why aren’t we?” The union’s rhetoric came during the most difficult time in the city’s history, when other departments suffered massive layoffs and reorganizations.

The taxpayers, who, incidentally, know all about making sacrifices, are the biggest losers in this scenario. They’ve watched as city services have crumbled; streets fallen into disrepair; access to public parks reduced; a backup at City Hall due to plummeted staffing levels.

This contract will only be a hindrance to the city returning to even a shadow of its former self. Nonetheless, it’s likely to be approved.

After all, CPOA leadership has found a friend in Councilman Sean Morgan, and it’s very likely—based on the union’s endorsements during the general election and the money it contributed to right-leaning political action committees—that the other three conservatives also will cater to the cops.

True fiscal conservatives would send the CPOA and city leaders back to the drawing board. They would be concerned that a proposed $1.5 million bump in funding that the three-year contract will result in is too risky given the prediction of another recession. They would realize that any further employee expenses are on top of the existing 7 percent to 8 percent annual increases in employee costs.

In short, they would do what they were elected to do by standing up to the union and holding the line on the only expenditure that will lead to true fiscal solvency.