Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Did LA City Council know it voted to waive millions in police union reimbursement fees? (Updated)

Los Angeles Police Department

Eric E Johnson/Flickr/Creative Commons

The City of Los Angeles is footing the bill for nine LAPD officers to work full-time for the department's union.

Did members of the Los Angeles City Council know they voted to pay the salaries of LAPD officers who work full-time for their union? Yes. No. Maybe.

On July 1, 2011, the city council voted on a new contract for the Los Angeles Police Protective League, which represents rank-and-file members of the LAPD. The contract calls for the union to reimburse the city for the salaries of nine officers who serve on the union's board of directors. The council's Executive Employee Relations Committee, which negotiated the contract, agreed to waive the reimbursement fees that the union had paid for decades. 

But it’s unclear whether that was ever communicated to the rest of the council members. The contract was approved on a 11-1 vote, with councilman Bernard Parks dissenting.

Councilman Paul Koretz says he knew the fees had been waived.

“I thought that was part of the negotiations of what I thought was a good contract, and one that was helpful to the city in terms of addressing our fiscal crisis,” he said Tuesday after KPCC reported exclusively on the arrangement.

But Councilman Mitch Englander remembers it differently. The vote on the union's contract coincided with his first day in office.

“I don’t support it,” Englander said. “I’m not going to say I didn’t know what was going on because I read everything that comes across my desk. The bottom line is [waiving the reimbursement] wasn’t in the [memorandum of understanding]. In fact, what we voted on says they would reimburse.”

According to the City's Administrative Office, there is no written record of the Executive Employee Relations Committee meeting where the release time payments were waived. And neither the final union contract nor the the CAO’s report on the contract include any reference to the reimbursement fees being waived. 

Englander, a reserve LAPD officer who chairs the council's Public Safety Committee, told KPCC he wants more details on how the agreement came to be.

Both Koretz and Englander now serve on the Executive Employee Relations Committee, along with Mayor Eric Garcetti, Council President Herb Wesson and councilman Paul Krekorian. They are expected to start negotiating the next police union contract later this month. 

“I think what we just need to do is – let’s go into the next negotiation and do the very best we can for the people of Los Angeles,” Wesson said Tuesday.

Asked whether he knew the city was not being reimbursed for the officers’ salaries, Wesson said “I’m done” and walked away.

ORIGINAL STORY: In the past three years, the city of Los Angeles has spent about $3 million in taxpayer dollars to pay the salaries of nine LAPD officers who work full-time for the police department's union.

The Los Angeles Police Protective League's contract with the city calls for the union to reimburse the city up to $750,000 annually for officers who serve on the union's board of directors. But KPCC has learned that three years ago the Los Angeles City Council voted to waive the requirement.

The nine directors are “released” from their normal police duties under the union's contract with the city, and tax returns for the LAPPL show directors work 40 hours a week for the group.  The city is forfeiting slightly more than $1 million a year for those officers who work for the union, according to salary data provided by the city Controller's Office.

The police department's union represents the thousands of rank-and-file officers of the LAPD. The union aids officers who are facing disciplinary action. Its board members lobby state and local officials on matters that affect law enforcement and issues such as pension benefits.

The board members also engage in campaign activities. The union gave $3 million to candidates over the past four years. Its support – either through endorsements or donations – has gone to 13 of the 15 current city council members.

Mayor Eric Garcetti and current city council member Bernard Parks served on the city's Executive Employee Relations Committee along with then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in 2011 when the EEOC agreed to waive those fees for the life of the contract, which expires this year.

Garcetti declined to comment for this story, but his spokesman, Yusef Robb, said: “This was one part of a complex and multi-faceted negotiation that at the end of the day resulted in a contract where the sum of its parts saved many millions of dollars and contained significant pension reforms.”

Parks, a former LAPD chief, says he voted against what he called a last-minute change at the committee level, though records of that vote are not available. Parks did vote against the contract when it was taken up by the full L.A. City Council, according to city records.

In addition to Garcetti, other current council members who approved the contract were Mitch Englander, Paul Koretz, Paul Krekorian and Tom LaBonge. Jose Huizar and Herb Wesson were absent for the vote. 

“In my judgment, the city of L.A. and the residents of the city should not be paying for union business that affects primarily the union members and the union board,” Parks told KPCC.

“My impression — they just wanted to give them … that as a benefit,” Parks said.

Other City Hall unions have release time provisions in their contracts, though none appear to be as generous as those enjoyed by the police union. The United Firefighters of Los Angeles City can have four members on release time for board duties, but the union must reimburse the city for 130 percent of their salary and benefits. SEIU Local 721 — which represents 10,000 rank-and-file city workers — can have six employees released, but the union must also reimburse fully for salary and benefits. 

The LAPD isn't the only police department in the country with release time. Chicago's police union is allowed six officers to serve on its board, with the full reimbursement of salaries and benefits. In Houston, officers donate time to a fund that allows the union president and four directors to do union business. 

In Arizona, release time has become a legal battle between the city of Phoenix and the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank. Phoenix was spending about $1 million a year in release time for police officers. However, a judge determined the practice could not continue unless the police union repaid the city for those funds

"What’s amazing is most taxpayers don’t know about release time and it’s a mystery to them. They don’t even know their money is being spent in these ways," said Gary Chaison, a professor of Industrial Relations at Clark University in Massachusetts.

"Particularly what happened in Arizona was one blow against the public sector unions – one of many different attempts to attack it on many fronts.  I think there’s a general tenor in the United States of opposing public sector unions and whereby in the past, politicians would curry favor with public employee unions, now they sort of show their strength by opposing them," Chaison said.

Had the fees been paid by the LAPPL, they would have gone into the city’s General Fund, which pays for basic city services like parks, animal shelters and road repairs. The city has been fighting budget deficits in recent years and is facing a multimillion-dollar deficit when the new fiscal year starts in July.

The new contract will be negotiated by the city's Executive Employee Relations Committee, which includes Mayor Garcetti, City Council President Wesson and councilmen Englander, Koretz and Krekorian.

Police union leadership declined to be interviewed for this piece. 

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