MP OKs 30 percent pay hike for sergeants

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.

Safety first?

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.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 21, 2009 at 1:23 pm

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."

One week later President Barack Obama vowed to forge a new era of government openness and froze the pay of top staff earning more than $US100,000 to show Americans their leaders could also tighten their belts amid economic crisis. "However long we are keepers of the public trust, we should never forget that we are here as public servants, and public service is a privilege," Obama said.

Is there is disconnect here?

Like this comment
Posted by Mark
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 21, 2009 at 3:31 pm

I personally am revved up by Obama's message/attitude here. Unfortunately, there IS a discontect between that and what we're confronting with public employee salaries and benefits. And, even more unfortunately, it will take some time and much effort to make public service the top priority of "public servants."

I don't think it will ever happen without strong, principled leadership that leads employees to feel appreciated and eager to serve the public good. Those incapable of that type of eagerness and commitment shouldn't be working in public service.

Like this comment
Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jan 21, 2009 at 4:51 pm

Am I alone trying to piece together Peter is saying? Just say it already, it is not like it hasn't been said over and over ad nauseum. Stop trying to be cute.

I happen to think you are exploiting our current market decline for your own publicity, but what do I know.

I just like to see truth haters mock me.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 21, 2009 at 5:40 pm

If 'truth' (who chosen to hide his/her identity) will call me (I have given my full name and have a listed phone number) I would be pleased to explain to him/her the very obvious contrast between Chief Goitia's comment and President Obama's comment about public sevice.

This forum is not the appropriate place for such remedial education.

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmmm
a resident of another community
on Jan 21, 2009 at 6:15 pm

I am no fan of Obama...nor of the other side either...and I don't think it applies here. Peter...I follow most of your points, but the last comment was just plain arrogant...come on...woo me with your wit, not that stuff.

The MP Chief does not negotiate the contract, the union does. In fact, I think the chief has very little to do with this, since it is between the union and the city. As a side note, the chief is a thoroughly decent guy with 20+ years on at MPPD. As for paying cops, or sergeants, or whoever, a good wage...I see a lot of people angry. Yes these are hard times, but when no one makes a peep about the million dollars being spent on the El Camino "vision" and paying other city employees tons for nonsensical jobs (re the Shop Menlo guru) I find it hard to beat up on the cops. Financial responsibility has to be a philosophy for EVERYONE in the city, not something to attack unpopular budget items, even the ones I hate and find silly.

Is Menlo Park Oakland? No, but the Bellehaven is still rough, and they are propping up EPAPD pretty well too, so it is not all lattes and bagels in Sharon Heights for the MPPD crew. Just a thought.

Like this comment
Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jan 21, 2009 at 7:02 pm

Freezing the salaries of White House aids is a perfect parallel to police. Thanks for the education, Peter. No comment on vision spending for me until someone can prove any success with the downtown over the past 20 years. Old cronies in this town howl at the moon all day about such failures when they have been the only constant during the era of nothing development.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 21, 2009 at 7:23 pm

The issue is not whether the Police Chief is a good guy or the police have a difficult job but how should we as citizens and public officials behave in these very difficult times.

The Secret Service folks who protect the President, a really tough and dangerous job, get paid less than do our local police officers.
White House staffers like the President's National Security Advisor, another really tough and important job, have had their salaries frozen for the next 4 to 8 years. And in this climate the City Council refuses to extend the time for public input and immediately grants the sergeants a 22.75% increase over the next 30 months - that is difficult to understand.

Like this comment
Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jan 21, 2009 at 8:59 pm

Absolutely ridiculous comparison. And now, officially, Peter sounds like Lee and Mickie and Boyle. Obviously you all have had your little discussions to share the same fallacies.

Immediately grants an increase proves your ignorance. This was a long process and there were many areas for public input. You spoke at none of them I presume. All talk and false facts.

I respected your position when you asked for more transparency with the Fire Dept negs. I became suspicious when I read Boyle asked the exact same thing the following week. I wonder if these guys talked? Well, now you have answered the question. You are yet another in the long line of anti-union pugilists spreading disinformation to support your ideaology.

I am now done with you Peter. Thanks for wasting my time.

Like this comment
Posted by Thank You Peter
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 22, 2009 at 8:17 pm

I agree with Peter, at the very least this decision should have been delayed. AT THE VERY LEAST. The new budget is not even out yet, but the Unions made sure this happened before the budget, and right after the election. Gee, I wonder what 4-some is being supported by the unions. I personally have no problem with unions, I get it, my problem is paying for an overinflated cost on anything, that I believe is an overinflated cost. This one walks like a duck, looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck! I am so very glad that "citizens" not Republicans, or Democrats, or Independents or whomever, are asking very good, and very inciteful questions of this decision. This is the citizens money, we MUST hold these "leaders" accountable. I think Boyle is the only one asking these questions!

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