Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Almost as good as nekkid blackmail pics

You'd almost think the Omaha cop union has nekkid pictures of somebody at city hall.

How else to explain the sweetheart deals the city's police officers get whenever contract time rolls around. Great deals when Omaha's municipal coffers are flush, outstanding deals whenever they're not.

Take the last time the city was flirting with red ink. That time, in exchange for a temporary pay concessions, Omaha cops came away with a contract allowing them to base pension benefits on their highest-paid year.

The result? The specter of "public servants" working every possible hour of overtime right before they retire at age 47 and start pulling down $100,000 a year -- or something in a nearby neighborhood.

This year -- with the city flat broke and the pension fund headed for insolvency -- Mayor Jim Suttle's administration has negotiated an austerity contract with the cops. This, of course, means Omaha taxpayers should buy soap on a rope from now on.

officers contributing equally to the pension fund (or retiring on "retirement" levels of compensation) would be
a bridge too far for the police union, the Omaha World-Herald reported last week:
Officer Aaron Hanson, union president, said a new contract would be a tough sell with his members, “given the extremely difficult discussion and vote that we already went through.”

If the city and the union reach an impasse on new contract terms, the decision would fall to the Nebraska Commission of Industrial Relations.

Festersen, Stothert and Thompson say they hope to work with Suttle and the union on a new version of the police contract. They say the pension provisions are still too generous.

“I don't think it's enough to say no,” Festersen said. “I hope to work with the mayor and my colleagues on some of these issues, to resolve them expediently.”

Stothert and Thompson said officers need to do more than give up spiking to help the troubled pension system.

The proposed contract requires police to take benefit cuts, including the end of “spiking” overtime and other pay to boost pensions before retirement. Spiking has allowed some officers to retire with pensions that are much higher than their regular pay on the job.

Spiking was never intended to be a benefit, Stothert and Thompson said. Police should instead absorb the cost of spiking and give up more to boost their share of contributions into the pension fund.

Hanson said the idea of using an officer's highest-paid year to determine pension benefits was indeed a benefit.

“That's been a benefit in the pension plan for years,” he said. “Now we are eliminating that concept.”

Under the proposed contract, a career average of pay would be used to determine pensions, a change that some council members say could still allow officers to retire with pensions equal to or more than their salaries.

Thompson said Suttle should have demanded that officers contribute more into the fund.

Instead, he said, the city would be saddled with a nearly 34 percent contribution rate that would be financed in the form of a new garbage collection fee, property tax hike or city sales tax increase. Police would contribute nearly 15 percent.
OMAHANS are not amused. In fact, a KETV Channel 7 news crew came up empty looking for backers of the pact among the general public:
The opponents' message was that they're taxed high enough and paying their fair share. They want the council to send the contract back to the bargaining table.

"It is absolutely obscene that somebody could retire in their mid-40s with a pension that exceeds his base salary and then expect the taxpayers to pay for that," said University of Nebraska-Omaha criminal justice professor Dr. Sam Walker.

Hanson said the new contract increases retirement age to 50, adding that officers face a penalty for retiring before 55 years of age.

"It's not surprising that some people are emotional about this issue," Hanson said. "But at the end of the day, it's not going to be emotion that's going to solve this problem. It's going to be finding the solution that complies with the law and achieves the savings necessary to balance."

Radio host Tom Becka, broadcasting live from City Hall, said police have gotten away with fat pensions in the past but now people are paying attention.

"You're seeing a lot of people with attitudes today, respecting police, respecting the firemen, but not respecting the contracts or the deals that have been made behind closed doors," Becka said.
SAM WALKER, the UNO professor, had better mind his 'P's and "Q's. In Omaha, it can be a dangerous thing to point out the obvious -- like, for example, very few among those paying cops' salaries have such a sweetheart deal as Omaha's finest.

The police union, you see, doesn't take to criticism, and it likes to play dirty.

Look what it did to a couple of now-former city councilmen who got on Aaron Hanson's bad side. Jim Vokal ran for mayor, only to have to cop union blanket the city with mailers portraying him as pedophiles' BFF at city hall.

It's not nekkid pictures, but it's almost as good. The fliers may not have been the reason Vokal didn't make the runoff, but they sure didn't help his cause.

Message delivered.

The bottom line in Omaha politics -- especially at the mayoral level -- is that nobody wants to piss off the police union. The union plays rough.

The union is highly political.

The union holds a grudge.

And the union will accuse an Omaha pol of being "soft on crime" faster than Glenn Beck will start blubbering in front of a TV camera.

VOTERS AIN'T EINSTEIN. For years, that has meant the Omaha electorate has been complicit in its own shakedown.

Hard times, though, can be a clarifying thing. As the fog of police-union mau-mauing begins to burn off under the burden of its own hot air, maybe the voters -- and the pols who answer to them -- are finally beginning to see the light.

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