Damage control

On TV journalism, union propaganda and an editorial

I got a call the other day from a TV reporter. She was from Action News Now and wanted a comment on an editorial we’d run a few weeks earlier on the salaries Chico’s city employees are pulling in, especially those in public safety. The reporter said the Chico Police Officers’ Association was disputing some of the numbers. When I asked her which ones, she couldn’t say. “I didn’t get into the numbers,” she said. She also hadn’t read the story on which the editorial was based. She asked if I stood by the article, and I said I did.

What triggered her call to me was a full-page ad the CPOA had taken out that day in the local daily. In it, the union whined about how the Police Department is understaffed and its officers overworked. It bagged on City Manager Brian Nakamura, whom the ad says “reduced [Hemet’s] Police Department to the point where [that city] was not safe. Similar to what he has done in Chico.” In other words, more fear-mongering from the CPOA.

Of course, all of this stems from the public’s outrage after reading Dave Waddell’s recent CN&R cover piece (See “Strong-arming the budget,” Feb. 27). In my seven years with this paper, I cannot recall seeing more letters to the editor than on this story. It has triggered unifying scorn by people across the political spectrum. The CPOA, hearing rumblings about contracting out for police services, is trying to do damage control.

One of the ways to do this was to once again cherry-pick numbers. The ad asks this question: “If the Police Officers are responsible for ‘Bringing the city to the brink of insolvency’ why is it they make less money than most of the cities on the list posted in the Chico News & Review?”

To answer that question: It’s because, based on data from 2012 out of state Controller John Chiang’s office, city workers (not just police officers) were getting paid nearly double the state average for benefits. Sure, CPD officers making $34.24 per hour (or $71,200 per year, not including overtime) make less in wages than what’s paid in some other cities. But that’s not taking into account those Cadillac benefits packages—nearly double the state average.

But back to our editorial, which I wrote. Turns out there was an error in it. But not with the numbers. I was correct when I wrote that the average compensation in 2012 for a city of Chico worker was $99,585 and that the average in San Francisco was $99,337. But I’d mistakenly written that the total came from average salary and wages. What I meant to write was average wages and benefits. Action News Now’s report on the situation had the depth of a petri dish, but it did trigger me re-reading the editorial and finding the error. I fixed that online.

It may seem unbelievable that the average pay in Chico could be greater than in the City by the Bay. But it’s true. Don’t take my word for it. See for yourself at www.publicpay.ca.gov.