Tredyffrin BOS Chair Michelle Kichline and Vice Chair Mike Heaberg have co-authored an editorial on the township police department with the stated purpose to offer facts, history and perspective. (Click here to read the op-ed). Appearing in the Main Line Suburban, their response focuses on the recent police-township contract negotiations and the township’s $49K police consultant study. (On a personal note, I would like to thank the supervisors for appropriately using media for their op-ed rather than the township website.)
According to Kichline and Heaberg, the average wages per Tredyffrin Township police officer is $101K in 2013 with an additional $77K annually in healthcare, pension, life insurance benefits for officers and their spouses/dependents. We know from reading the police contract that retired police officers receive healthcare benefits for life and this is reiterated in the article. It is important for taxpayers to realize that the Police Department budget accounts for almost 50% of the township’s General Fund budget – for 2013, that cost is $8 million.
According to Kichline and Heaberg, the “BOS attempted to negotiate a termination of some benefits for new police hires only, but when the discussions did not progress, the decision was made to go to arbitration.” Their explanation differs from the explanation given to me by representatives of the police department. According to my sources, there was no negotiation but rather the arbitrator for the township took the police contract to arbitration after only one meeting. After nearly a year, we learned in December that the independent arbitrator’s decision favored the police department.
Regardless if the BOS attempted to negotiate with the police prior to settlement, the township’s cost of arbitration was not included in Kichline and Heaberg’s editorial. As I previously mentioned in an earlier post, the township paid $83K+ in arbitration costs. ($14K+ for impartial arbitrator and $$69K for township arbitrators). The total cost for the arbitration is probably closer to $100K as I only received Ballard Spahr billable hours through 8 October, 2012. (Click here for details)
In the op-ed, Kichline and Heaberg defend the $49K spent on the police department study. I am certain that their decision to depend the consulting contract is a direct result of the presentation (or rather the non-presentation) of the police operations study on December 2. This was the BOS meeting where the consultant, Dr. Paul O’Connell of ICMA, was unable to attend the meeting and the idea was to ‘Skype” him in electronically from Connecticut. The Skype attempt failed miserably with the audience and supervisors unable to understand a single word. It was a hopeless exercise and no one could successfully question the consultant in regards to the police department study.
Apparently, at upcoming BOS meeting on February 11, two consultants from ICMA will be available (in person) to respond to questions concerning their study. According to Kichline and Heaberg, ICMA “collected an entire years worth of data on each of more than 23,000 calls for service to our Police. This included type of call, time of day, day of week, response time, number of units responding, time on scene, etc. In addition, they collected staffing and schedule information. This allowed them to analyze the police workload, as compared to our police capacity.”
Obviously, supervisors Kichline and Heaberg are entitled to their personal assessment of ICMA’s consulting efforts of Tredyffrin Township’s Police Department. However, for those that follow Community Matters, you will recall that because I had found ICMA’s presentation so unsettling, I conducted my research on the company. I discovered that ICMA isn’t well loved in some municipalities, with some communities reporting that they overpaid for a cut and paste job rather than an accurate assessment of their fire or police departments. (Click here for details).
There was one question that the supervisors and the residents wanted answered by ICMA’s consultant at the December BOS meeting, “What is the minimum staffing level of police officers required to maintain our quality of service” which seemed to escape a response from O’Connell. In their editorial, Kichline and Heaberg write of their support for ICMA’s police department study yet Kichline commented at the December supervisors meeting that she had read ICMA’s report five times and was still confused as to the number of officers the consultants were recommending.
I am glad that Kichline and Heaberg are committed in their support of the police department, but disappointed that their offer of the “facts, history and perspective” does not address the hiring of additional police officers in Tredyffrin. The 2013 budget included the hiring of two police officers with the possibility of the hire of a third officer during the year. Although the recently settled police contract negotiations may not have turned out the way the supervisors wanted, it should not be used as a roadblock to hiring the additional officers.