Quentin Tolby is a former Councilmember and a former Mayor of Glendale. He left his position as mayor to accept an appointment as a judge. He is currently retired. For years he has written a column called Lessons from the Bench for the Glendale Star. Usually his column focuses on legal issues in an effort to educate the public. Every once in awhile he strays from that concept and opines on other issues. On May 22, 2014 he penned an article entitled, When city unions lobby council, is it a fair fight?
Unfortunately this column cannot be seen online as the Glendale Star has not included it under its opinions tab.
Some of his comments are worth sharing, such as, “The problem is the strongest city union gets the advantage. It’s not a fair fight; which union can promise the most money in the next election or the most votes? Can a councilman truly be voting what he or she thinks is fair when they have taken money or support from a city employee union?” Or this, “We tend to think that public safety issues are our highest priority, but what would be your highest priority tomorrow morning if no water came out of your faucet, or you flushed your toilet and it did not flush. What would be your highest priority if no one picked up your trash?” And this, “All city services are important and one department should not be given more just because their union can produce more political pressure and votes at election time than some other city department.”
He offered some good observations. Let’s apply them to Glendale. There are only three unions of note in Glendale: The International Association of Firefighters (IAFF), Glendale chapter; the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), Glendale Chapter; and the Glendale Law Enforcement Association (GLEA).
The main chapter of the National FOP has a legislative Political Action Committee (PAC) and here is the link: http://www.fop.net/legislative/pac/index.shtml . The organization’s focus is on presidential and congressional races and candidates and it will often support candidates for an individual state’s Attorney General office. It does not seem to focus on local races.
It’s fair to say the police unions have never been very strong politically in Glendale. For years the two police unions, the FOP and GLEA, have vied with each other to be the paramount police union in Glendale. That struggle was their primary focus rather than mounting a major effort to elect local officials sympathetic to their agenda. The two unions attempted to join forces during the last election cycle in 2012 to support certain mayoral and council candidates but their efforts paled in comparison to that of the local Glendale fire union.
The national chapter of the IAFF is extremely politically active all the way down to the local level. Check out these two links to see the extent of their involvement: the first site highlights their local political activism at http://www.iaff.org/Politics/PA/localaction.htm ; the second site is used to actively elect firefighters to local office at http://www.iaff.org/Politics/PA/electing.htm . They have successfully elected local candidates in the Phoenix Metro area and throughout the state. Currently there are 3 Phoenix firefighters serving on the city councils of Mesa, Tempe and Glendale. A Glendale firefighter serves on the Phoenix city council. Cities and towns throughout the state have a firefighter or firefighter’s relative serving on their councils.
The Glendale chapter of the fire union controls Glendale politics. For years, John Holland, the chapter’s former President, was THE power broker in Glendale. Former Mayor Scruggs’ as well as others’ electoral successes can be directly attributed to John Holland’s efforts. John Holland reputedly managed at least one councilmember’s successful bid for office. Then he disappeared, suddenly, after it was alleged that he used union money for personal expenses. The Pinal County Attorney General’s office was charged with investigating the allegations and to this day it remains buried deep within the bowels of that office. Hmmmm.
How did the local fire union become so powerful and remain so? Money and people. The federal Hatch Act forbids city employees from participating in their city’s election. The fire unions created a successful work-around the Hatch Act. The Hatch Act does not prevent firefighters from other cities from participating in an election in another municipality, other than their own. It’s perfectly legal. Firefighters from other towns will walk and circulate a candidate’s nominating petition and campaign literature. It’s perfectly legal. They will also work the polls on election day. It’s perfectly legal. Once on the ballot fire fighters from other cities (as well as spouses and relatives) will contribute to a candidate’s campaign along with contributions from other local union chapter PACs. It’s perfectly legal. Then independent expenditures kick in and a specific PAC is born chaired by firefighters from another community. The PAC will spend big money on campaign signs and mailers. It’s perfectly legal. All of the union’s methods are perfectly legal but it seems to smack of gaming the system.
With all that money and manpower it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the newly elected official is beholden to the fire union. The official will offer the usual rhetoric that all the union gets is access but they know if they wish to be reelected they had better carry the water. In Glendale a majority of the current council, debatably, owes its election/reelection success to the fire union. Add to that some of Glendale’s senior management have relatives who are firefighters. Just one example: current City Manager Brenda Fischer’s husband was and may still be a firefighter in Henderson, Nevada. Is it any wonder that council approved additional revenue to offset the fire department’s overtime deficit? Is it any wonder that the union finally prevailed on getting their fire truck without a formal bid process?
Former judge Tolby is right on the money (no pun intended) in saying that every city department is valuable and provides services residents cannot do without. They are the unsung, under belly of city services. Their jobs are invisible. Their jobs are not sexy or exciting. Every week sanitation workers pick up the garbage that we are often too lazy to separate into recyclable and genuine trash. Every day our water treatment plants are monitored to make sure the water we take for granted is clean and safe. Every day sewers are repaired, city vehicles are maintained, Gus the Bus and Dial-A-Ride deliver people to their destinations, meters are read, streets are repaired, library books are checked out and parks and their restrooms are cleaned. There are so many essential services that we never think about or recognize. These honorable men and women silently work to keep our city functioning and are not part of a very powerful and vocal union who has figured out a system to wield enormous local, political power.
When we think of layoffs it’s never in public safety. There may be vacancies in public safety that go unfilled or eliminated but never layoffs. Immediately we are told that public safety delivery will suffer if there were to be layoffs. Layoffs are for the rest of the city’s employees. After all, they are not essential and are expendable. Really?
It’s time for Glendale voters to check out who is making independent expenditures for candidates in its local elections. Does the organization making that independent expenditure represent what you believe and your agenda? Realize that the candidate receiving a group’s election support will advocate for and support with their vote, that organization’s agenda. It had better be yours as well.
© Joyce Clark, 2014
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