Scott Thomas Anderson, 05/30/13
The Roseville City Council faced off against a crowd of angry police officers and residents this morning, many of whom accused Roseville’s leadership of last-minute, dirty dealings in the form of calling a “special meeting” most of the public could not attend.
Though the timing of event is under fire, Roseville’s mayor is defending it as a necessity in planning the city’s finances for the year.
The City Council voted to impose a “last, best and final” offer for compensation on Roseville’s police, despite more than an hour of public comment that was 100 percent against the move.
Contract negotiations between city management and the Roseville Police Officers Association started in October and broke down in mid-May. Roseville police officers make more than $400 a month less than Rocklin officers, and less than members of several other regional law enforcement agencies. During the opening of today’s meeting, Roseville Assistant City Manager and Treasurer Russ Branson explained why management thought it was time to cut their paychecks even more by forcing them to pay an additional 9 percent into their pensions. Officers say the demand equals a roughly $500 a month cut in their paychecks.
“The city has had an ongoing general fund deficit over the last few years,” Branson pointed out. “We’ve reduced programs and not expanded programs — we’ve had a strategy to reduce cost.”
Branson added that the Roseville Police Officers Association had “come a long way” in trying to work with the city throughout the negotiations — to the tune of $1.6 million in offered concessions — but that it was not enough.
“That still did not meet our goal,” Branson confirmed.
Last week, the Roseville police union told the Press Tribune that certified public accountants had conducted forensic audits on the city’s books and determined the “structural deficit” is an illusion because accounts across the board are financially sound.
Yesterday, the City Council called a sudden “special meeting” to vote on officers’ contracts on this morning — instead of scheduling it for a regular Wednesday night meeting held on the first and third week of every month. Council chambers were full to capacity when the event got underway, and plenty in attendance had comments to make about the meeting’s timing.
“What was so ‘urgent’ that this meeting could not wait until the next council meeting?” charged Jerry Wernli, the head of the Roseville Police Officers Association. “The city says it’s complying with the Brown Act: The city may be legally correct, but it’s not ethically correct. What are you trying to hide? Do you even care what the citizens have to say?”
Ron Cottingham, president of the Peace Officers Research Association of California, also questioned the timing and the decision-making of city leadership.
“This meeting was hastily called, probably in an effort to stifle public comment,” Cottingham said. “Just a few weeks ago we had a ceremony to honor all of the California peace officers who were killed last year. It’s a stark reminder that for people in this police department, every time they leave home, they don’t know for sure they’ll see their family again that night.”
John Noble, the chief negotiator for the Roseville officers, came up to the podium to say, “In 15 years of doing this, I have never seen a city council do what you’ve tried to do in the last 36 hours.”
Roseville resident Ken Marler, owner of Placer Appliance Repair, was shocked about the council’s decision to engage in a special meeting when most voters were at work.
“Calling an emergency meeting in such a fashion to prevent the public from coming is unethical and underhanded,” Marler told the council members. “Look at yourselves in the mirror and ask why you couldn’t have waited a week … I have supported a lot of the council members here, and this feels like a betrayal.”
At least seven more Roseville residents spoke openly about their strong concerns regarding the meeting’s timing, and at least one speaker pointed out that Councilwoman Pauline Roccucci had to leave 25 minutes into the hearing for a prior engagement.
Roseville’s attorneys and city clerk emphasized that the special meeting had been noticed on the city’s website, as well as posted in public libraries, thus preventing the council from being guilty of a Brown Act violation.
Later, Roseville Mayor Susan Rohan stressed the sudden special vote was needed because staff and council members had to begin financial planning.
“Emotions would be as pitched next week as they were today,” Rohan told reporters after the meeting. “But our next budget workshop is next week, and we needed numbers before that.”
Members of the Roseville Police Department also reminded the council that they had seven unfilled officer positions and a low number of men and women applying to work in the city.
“The reason we catch so many criminals here is because of our citizens,” said Roseville police detective Vince Dutto. “Those partnerships have been built over years … It’s also because most of our officers live here in town. We’re your friends, your neighbors, your customers … if the council does this we’re going to lose more officers.”
No members of the public who spoke during the meeting favored voting to impose the “last, best and final offer” on the police.
That did not seem to faze the mayor.
“Public safety is a high priority and it will not be affected by any action this council takes today,” Rohan said. “The city, the state and large parts of the nation have gone through tough economic times, and the city’s employees should not be sheltered from that. We all have to live within our budgets.”
Council members Bonnie Gore, Carol Garcia and Tim Herman all made brief statements before taking part in a 4-0 vote to impose the new contract on Roseville’s officers. Roccucci had long since departed the meeting.