Friday, October 28, 2011

Police Unions, South Pasadena, and Art Salinas

I appreciate and respect the work of those who serve as our public safety officials. On the other hand, I have serious concerns about some of the tactics their unions employ. 

In a column in the Pasadena Star News on February 2, 2010, Larry Wilson wrote of a law firm in Upland, CA called Lackie, Dammeier & McGill. They are former police officers who advise police unions on the tactics they should use to obtain higher wages and benefits. Wilson revealed what was on the firm’s website back then.  The more controversial stuff has since been moved to a private area of the website.
Wilson wrote, “We know what the lawyers have advised officers' associations to do—guilt-trip the electeds, give money to their campaigns, use crime as a wedge issue in order to scare the public, use work slowdowns and the blue flu to get what you want.” 
Wilson went on to describe what else was on the website, “From "Negotiations After Impasse": "Now is the time those political endorsements, favors, and friendships come into play." From "Political Option": "The association should be like a quiet giant in the position of, `do as I ask and don't (tick) me off."'
From "Let the Games Begin": "Storm City Council"; "Billboards - Nothing seems to get more attention than a billboard entering the city limits which reads that crime is up and the City could (sic) care less about your safety," even when that is not true.
"Public Ridicule - Blunders by the City Manager, Mayor, or City Council members or wasteful spending should be highlighted and pointed out to the public at every opportunity."
"Focus on an Individual: Avoid spreading your energy. Focus on a city manager, councilperson, mayor or police chief and keep the pressure up until that person assures you his loyalty and then move on to the next victim.”
Ironically, just one day after Wilson's column appeared and only a short time after it was clear that Police Chief Watson would be sent packing, Councilman Mike Ten thought it would be a great idea to show a video, Police Officers Under Attack, at the Council meeting. Well, we know that Mr. Ten's on board with the program.
So how do these tactics play out in South Pasadena? Four years ago, David Sifuentes, a Fire Captain and union official with LAFD, who’d only recently moved to town, was elected to City Council. Sifuentes received about 95% of his campaign contributions from the police and fire unions. His campaign manager was Jeffrey Monical, a public-safety union consultant who runs a firm called Lavell Communications.
Next thing we know, Sifuentes and Monical decide that it would be a great idea not to renew Police Chief Dan Watson’s contract although they never pointed to anything specific that made this necessary. In fact, in the entire time Sifuentes has been on the Council, he never once discussed the police department with Watson. 
When Watson tried to get answers about why the Council didn’t want to renew his contract, he was told by the City Manager that some Councilmen were “uncomfortable” with him calling them, and he was ordered not to contact them. 
So it’s clear, it wasn’t anything Watson had done that made Sifuentes and Monical move Watson out: Watson points out that Sifuentes never had a substantive conversation with him about the police department. Maybe he wasn’t as favorable to the POA as they wanted him to be, but it appears that the primary reason was they wanted to pay off retired sergeant Joe Payne for deciding not to run for City Council. There is no doubt that Sifuentes knew that Payne would be the next police chief before Watson even knew that his contract would not be renewed.   In an article in the South Pasadena Review on October 26, 2011, Watson says he was aware from two sources in early 2010 that Sifuentes had told people that Payne would be the next Police Chief.  This was before the job was even announced.  Even in December 2009, people around City Hall were saying that Payne would be the next Chief. 
Payne admitted to the South Pasadena Review that he’d discussed the job with SIfuentes “months earlier.”  This is what South Pasadena got when it elected a POA-backed candidate. 
After the spontaneous community uproar at the removal of Watson, it appears that Sifuentes feared he would lose if he ran for reelection—something that would not be good for the higher political aspirations he’s rumored to have.
So what did he and Monical do instead? They found a surrogate candidate, Art Salinas. Salinas is one of the few candidates who is taking union money—his largest contributor to date is the POA—and at his campaign kickoff, he introduced Jeffrey Monical, the union consultant, as his “campaign advisor.” 
Salinas is saying all the right things. He even says he objects to the back-room way that Watson was removed, says he won’t tolerate back-room deals. Wanna bet?  Do you really think Salinas will be “his own man” when Sifuentes, Monical, and the POA come knocking with the next step in their game plan, whatever it may be? 
I recently emailed Salinas and asked him how he could expect us to believe that he’s against back-room deals when he’s supported by the champions of the back-room deal. Salinas’ answer was as you might expect.
First he points to the fact that 4 of 5 councilmen supported the decision, “I must believe their decision was based on what they believed to be in the best interest of the City. If it was a bad decision, and done in an underhanded, non-transparent, manner, how do 4 of 5 support it?” 
Well, let’s see, maybe it’s because they all felt beholden to the POA and its political pressure. Maybe it’s because we have a Council of horse-trading less-than-honorable players. It appears that Cacciotti and Putnam were under heavy POA pressure to go along with the plan. Sifuentes and Ten were already on board. 
Salinas goes on, “Furthermore, if as you say Mr. Sifuentes was responsible, that he got three other Councilmen to agree with him says a great deal about his leadership ability.“
Really? Even bullies have leadership ability. That’s exactly what they do have. What they don’t have is character and good intentions. Leadership ability is only part of the story. It’s what you do with it that matters. 
Then comes the bizarre part, “If Dr. Schneider was against the move as he says, if it was done improperly, and if it was so wrong for the community, why didn’t he stop it? Isn’t that what we want from our leaders?” 
Salinas’ thinking is so twisted that he’s willing to blame the one councilman who refused to go along with the plan, and who, by the way, was the only one not beholden to the POA. This in spite of the fact that his own backers, Sifuentes and Monical, were the perpetrators of the plan.
Sounds to me like Salinas has drunk the Kool-Aid.  Do we want a guy who thinks like this on the City Council? Can we trust that when it’s crunch time Salinas will not be right there, ready to do whatever Sifuentes, Monical, and the POA want?  I don’t think so. 
There’s a reason the POA is putting its money behind Salinas.  They will want a return on their investment.

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