In The Pocket?

Something I’ve put off commenting about is brewing under the surface and hinted at in various places in the Times-Call and the internet. Were four councilmembers (Benker, Hansen, McCoy, and Levison) bought and paid for by special interests?

Much was made of candidate, now councilmember, Gabe Santos receiving a contribution of $5,000 by the Longmont Association of Realtors in January, 2008. As far as I can tell, I haven’t seen any proposed ordinances or resolutions brought forward in the name of this organization, so obviously there’s not been a vote. Nevermind, it takes more than a lone vote on council to pass such a thing.

On the other hand, there has been a major issue brought forward that could change our city charter and at the very least will cost the city thousands of dollars in a special election: collective bargaining for certain police and fire employees. I advocated for this group in 2004, and am leaning towards voting their way once again this year, so this has nothing to do with pro or anti-union positions. As hard as it may be, put that aside for the sake of this discussion.

Let’s look at the hard numbers: Karen Benker received a $1,500 cash donation and a $266.75 endorsement advertisement from the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). Brian Hansen received a $500 cash donation and the same $266.75 ad buy. Sean McCoy received a $1,000 cash donation and the same $266.75 ad buy from the Longmont Police Officers Assocation (LPOA). Sarah Levison received a $1,000 cash donation from the LPOA, but I can’t find an ad buy. No other candidates received these donations, and I’ve been told all were interviewed. This is a grand total of $4,800.25.

Since this is not a partisan group (some would argue that point), like one of the political parties (we’re supposed to have a non-partisan electoral structure in Longmont), I don’t have too many issues with these donations. But when these same four councilmembers went after Gabe Santos for his contribution based on what might occur, perhaps they were thinking of what they might do with such a contribution, and now have done precisely that. They’ve proven their own case that money could corrupt city politics.

When the unionization concept was brought to council on first reading, these four didn’t much question the language, all four voted for it with little hesitation. The other three members of council (Lange, Blue, and Santos) had specific concerns and questions, and the players (FD/FD, city staff, attorneys) had meetings and hammered out something more palatable and something with a higher likelihood of voter approval. But Benker, McCoy, Hansen, and Levison had nothing to do with that, they liked it just the way it was. In a twisted way, the collective bargaining team just upped their odds by working on what the three dissenting votes had to say. Not the four they contributed to.

A big concern that’s been conveyed to me, and I agree, is that this vote may become a referendum on city council, these four members in particular. It’s not fair to our police and fire employees to be saddled with that. If that’s truly a concern amongst voters, especially those in favor of this collective bargaining, how about separating it out and just have a flat out recall of these four members?

Yeah, I know, fat chance and a little extreme. But I do have an easier alternative: each of these four councilmembers make $1,000 a month for the service they provide, and don’t get me wrong, as much as I tear into them (and previous councils as well, for those that have forgotten), they do put in a lot of their own time in their elected positions. I suggest, to avoid any suggestion of impropriety, and to truly help the police and fire employees they claim to support, that these four councilmembers forego enough of their stipend equal to these contributions and put it back into the General Fund.

This isn’t a pledge I expect them to take, but what a message it would send if they did. What political harm could it do? And if they’re adamantly opposed to this idea, you should ask why. It could help our fine police and fire employees, our hurting budget, and send a clear message that council is not for sale.

Disrespect From The Podium

At the July 29th Longmont City Council meeting, the issue of putting Police and Firefighter unionization on the ballot was the hot issue. There’s lots to talk about (and lots of audio to pull from this meeting for my next podcast), but I’ll just hit a couple initially.

I watched the entire thing, there were lots of speakers, from both sides. Before I go much further, I’ll remind people I was one of the PD/FD’s biggest supporters for their 2004 drive. My old Wrongmont link is still on their website to this day. I’ve been a union member in open and closed shops for over 27 years, so save the history lesson and emotional speeches. Now, as they say, with all that being said…

I thought each side made very good points, some spoke better than others. I could almost say I feel strongly both ways on this issue, not something I normally say, and probably won’t advocate either way. Make up your own minds.

But I will say the most compelling and convincing presentation was by Police Chief Mike Butler. It was mostly for nothing as it appeared those that voted in favor of the union had made up their minds long before he made his statements. But there was one speaker for the union side who got my attention the most, FOP President Stephen Shulz. He spoke fairly eloquently and had a good command of his organizations positions. But he blew it at one point, to me anyway, with his obvious lack of respect for an elected official, Councilmember Gabe Santos.

The question was asked why now, why again, after the union vote defeat in 2004. Mr. Shulz brought up Mr. Santos’ defeat in the November election, why did/should he run again? There are so many differences in these two scenarios, not to mention the total unprofessional behavior of a city employee towards a city policy maker. First off, Mr. Santos lost by a 46% to 41% margin, not a majority win by Sarah Levison. The unionization vote of 2004 lost by a 55% to 44% margin, much to my chagrin. Not a landslide, but a fairly clear majority.

Secondly, what did Mr. Santos’ two campaigns cost the city? Candidates self fund their campaigns, either from their own accounts or from contributors. In both elections, the city had to fill vacant positions, it wasn’t optional. In the union’s case, they will be the only Longmont related issue on the ballot (said at the City Council meeting), it is optional, and will cost the city about $75,000. I don’t recall Mr. Santos’, or any candidate, demanding not only to be put on the ballot, but also have the city pick up the tab. But that’s what the FOP is asking for. I probably wouldn’t have brought that up, except for this unnecessary cheap shot during the council meeting.

It showed an arrogance, and an impression that the needed four votes were in the bag. Along those same lines, some councilmembers felt outraged that the opinion was floated that they were “bought off” for this vote, but I’ll save that for another time.

For now, someone needs to explain that if the FOP is willing to show that kind of attitude BEFORE there even is a bargaining contract, BEFORE the voters even have a say, why would any reasonable person believe that they won’t be even worse in negotiations IF/WHEN they achieve collective bargaining? I don’t like painting the FOP with this broad brush, and think they have some valid points, but Mr. Shulz repeatedly said he spoke for the FOP. Regardless if they won tonight, this behavior won’t score well with the voters.