Though the economy has taken a nose dive since the city of Menlo Park awarded its police officers a substantial raise in April, the City Council on Jan. 13 signed off on a similar raise for the sergeants who supervise those officers.
Amid the specter of weakened morale among those sergeants — and despite scores of impassioned, oppositional missives sent by residents to council members — the council voted 4-1 to approve the pay increase, which will elevate the sergeants' total pay 30 percent by 2011.
The new contract will increase the average base salary for the city's eight sergeant positions — one of which is currently vacant — from $107,086 to $131,452 by 2011, according to Glen Kramer, the city's personnel director. Sergeants will receive additional benefits based on their tenure in the department and the number of night shifts they work, a fact that Mr. Kramer said would result in an average raise of 30 percent for sergeants by 2011.
In calendar year 2011, Mr. Kramer estimates that the new contract will cost the city $2.29 million — $529,000 more than the $1.76 million the city would have spent on sergeant salaries and benefits in the fiscal year of 2008-09, had the sergeants not received a raise.
Acrimony over raise
The new contract was designed in large part to maintain a 20 percent differential between the salaries of sergeants and the officers they supervise — a buffer that has shrunk since line-level officers were awarded a raise last July that will bump their salaries 25.7 percent by 2011.
By the end of the contract, sergeants will receive, on average, a base salary 49 percent higher than entry-level line officers, according to numbers provided by Mr. Kramer. It is unclear from the staff report which figures were used to calculate the 20 percent differential. Mr. Kramer was unavailable for comment before The Almanac's press deadline.
The contract for line-level officers, designed to halt an exodus of officers out of Menlo Park, saw little opposition from residents, and was approved unanimously by the council.
The sergeants' contract, however, was a different story.
One representative e-mail to the council, written by Menlo Park resident Bruce Gallup, read: "In today's economic turmoil, I personally do not think this is the proper time for ANY increase of salary for ANY public or private official."
But several council members, while acknowledging financial concerns, called this contract a logical follow-up to the earlier pay increase negotiated with the Police Officers Association.
"This feels like the second half of a project that we committed to," Councilman Rich Cline said.
"I think we made this commitment to the sergeants and the POA back in April, and we're following up on that," said Mayor Heyward Robinson.
Councilman John Boyle, the lone dissenter in the Jan. 13 vote, disagreed. "I don't think that's a credible argument at all," Mr. Boyle said in an interview. "I don't believe there was any explicit promise. (The sergeants) might feel there was one in spirit, but I don't even think that was the case. It's a different time and place, and each contract has to be negotiated separately." While he said he supported the desire to make sergeants' pay fair and competitive, Mr. Boyle cited fears that the pay increase would exacerbate a cycle of "spiraling competition" between local cities to attract new officers, and to maintain their forces. Mr. Kramer, the personnel director, estimates that the new contract will make Menlo Park sergeants the third- or fourth-highest-paid group among their peers in 12 comparable cities and towns by 2011 — a jump Mr. Boyle called excessive. He suggested that a more reasonable approach would have been for the city to try to match the average salaries awarded by other agencies when negotiating contracts.
City Manager Glen Rojas acknowledged that the competition between cities for police officers is a cause for concern, but he argued that the issue must be addressed at the county or state level.
Morale, public notice
While attrition among sergeants is not a major concern, Police Chief Bruce Goitia suggested that the sergeants' dedication to the job might have been in jeopardy if they had not received a substantial raise. Had the council not approved the raise, Chief Goitia said, "I don't envision that I would have seven sergeants walk out the door, but I also don't envision that I will have their hearts and souls in the job."
Mr. Goitia also said that the city would likely have had a tougher time filling sergeant positions when they become vacant, had the sergeants not received a raise.
Councilman Cline acknowledged that the new contract might raise the hackles of residents who are concerned about the budget, but he said that the city must consider safety before it can have the luxury to think about its finances.
"I support (the measure), knowing that there are a number of people in the community who will try to wage war with us on money," Mr. Cline said. "And you know why they can do that? Because they feel safe. Because they don't have to worry about security."
Mr. Boyle saw the issue differently.
"It is imperative we behave in a fiscally responsible way, or else we will find ourselves in the position of not being able to afford the police department that we have," he said at the council meeting.