On Monday, March 16, 2015 the Glendale city council held a special workshop meeting. The only agenda item was the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System (PSPRC). There were 4 presenters: Brian Jeffries, President of the Professional Firefighters of Arizona (PFFA); Scott McCarty, representing the Arizona League of Cities and Towns Pension Reform Task Force; Justin Harris, President of the Glendale Law Enforcement Association (GLEA) and Secretary of the Arizona Police Officers Association (APOA); and Julie Pendergast, President of the Glendale Chapter of the Arizona Fraternal Order of Police (Glendale FOP) and Co-Chair of the Glendale Law Enforcement Coalition (GLEA +GFOP).

Mr. Jeffries (PFFA) began with a 35 minute presentation of the history and background of the PSPRC; legal challenges as a result of SB 1609 passed by the Arizona Legislature in 2014; and the state fire union’s call for a constitutional amendment to the state constitution. Mr. Jeffries was articulate and offered a slick presentation. One can appreciate why he is the president of the state fire union.

He acknowledged as their partners in seeking a constitutional amendment several law firms hired by the union; TriAdvocates hired by the union as their communications arm; the Fire Chiefs Union and the Fire Districts Association; and last but not least, the Fraternal Order of Police, the Arizona Police Association and the Arizona Highway Patrol Association.

He did clarify at one point, that while law enforcement had attended fire’s meetings on the issue of pension reform it was there to observe rather than as an active participant.

In essence, Jeffries was asking for council to sign on as a supporter of their constitutional amendment proposal. Their fire referendum’s basic language states, “The benefits of the beneficiaries shall neither be diminished nor impaired except for the provisions on Bill xxxx (sic), as passed by the legislature in 2014.” I don’t pretend to be an expert on SB 1609 and its provisions but it appears as if the fire union really, really wants this bill – to the extent that they want it to be a constitutional amendment. They don’t appear to be interested in true pension reform.

There have been lawsuits filed against SB 1609 and in the Harris case, one provision relating to retiree benefits has been struck down successfully. Another case, the Hall case relating to active personnel benefits, looks like it, too, will be struck down successfully.

Despite those provisions being removed the fire union still wants this bill to remain in perpetuity. Jeffries threw down the gauntlet when he proclaimed that the fire union wanted action now and were prepared to mount a statewide referendum campaign to get it on the ballot this year. We should all be asking, why the rush? Next year, 2016, there will be a presidential election and it could be on the ballot at that time. Instead they are ready to fund it and run it as a full, political operation with TV advertising, direct mail and a statewide grassroots effort – now, right now. The question remains, why?

The next presenter, Scott McCarty represents the Arizona League of Cities and Towns. The league, last June, put together a task force on pension reform. The League is taking a measured approach and is currently preparing a Draft Yardstick of pension reform goals, measurements and outcomes. In May or June of this year, they will compare the fire union’s proposal against their Draft Yardstick and by August, 2015 they will present their proposal for pension reform along with their findings of the fire union proposal to all participating cities at their Annual League Meeting.

Last up were Justin Harris (GLEA) and Julie Pendergast (Glendale FOP). Mr. Harris spoke on behalf of both Glendale police unions. He disputed Jefferies’ assertions that the police were on board by unequivocally stating, “The police union is not working in ‘concert’ with the fire union.” He went on to say, “Currently the police union is at odds with the fire union over an agreeable solution.” He said, “The police union wants a plan that is legitimate, legal and long standing.” If Mr. Jeffries’ statements about police union support for this constitutional amendment were in fact, misstatements, what else in his presentation was a misstatement?

Mayor Weiers made some interesting comments. He explained that at the time SB 1069 was introduced, he was Chair of the House Rules Committee. Upon legal advice he came to the opinion that SB 1069 was unconstitutional and would face legal challenges. Kirk Adams was former House Speaker and fully supported SB 1069. In essence, Mayor Weiers said Adams threatened him with removal of his chairmanship if he did not pass SB 1069 out of committee. Weiers acceded.

Weiers also stated that Mike Colletto of the Professional Fire Fighters Association was opposed to the bill but eventually caved and joined in signing off on it. It just so happens that Kirk Adams is Chief of Staff for newly elected Governor Doug Ducey. So don’t be surprised if the fire union effort eventually receives an endorsement from the Governor’s office.

Mayor Weiers then asked Acting City Manager Dick Bowers if this agenda item was informational or required direction because…he and the rest of council had received an email from…you, guessed it…Councilmember Gary Sherwood…asking that council give direction to place this item on an evening voting meeting agenda so that council could support the fire union’s proposed statewide referendum. Doesn’t Sherwood ever quit?

Councilmember Chavira, a firefighter for Phoenix, just couldn’t stand Mayor Weiers’ characterization of his self proclaimed mentor, Mike Colletto and said, “I never saw Mike Colleto cave on anything.” After thanking Jeffries profusely for his “complete presentation” (he almost said “complex”) he then went on to chide the council by stating the need for “solidarity” between the two unions implying that shamefully the police unions were not standing toe to toe with their brother union.

The most important lesson coming out of this informational presentation is that cooler heads…a majority of them…prevail. Those cooler heads are willing to take the time necessary to come up with public safety pension reform, built on compromise, that will stand up to legal challenge and last over time. The fire union’s proposed constitutional amendment speaks to a hidden agenda…what do you think it is?

© Joyce Clark, 2015


This site contains copyrighted material the use of which is in accordance with Title 17 U.S. C., Section 107. The material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democratic, scientific and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Section 107 of the US Copyright Law and who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use,’ you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.