Mark Woolbright

Question: How many police officers does it take to protect Tredyffrin Township residents?

The presentation (or rather the non-presentation) of the police operations study by ICMA (International City/County Management Association) consultant Dr. Paul O’Connell, at Monday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, was an embarrassment.  O’Connell, a college professor, was unable to attend the meeting; therefore, the plan was to “Skype” him in electronically from Connecticut.  The Skype attempt failed miserably, with the audience and supervisors unable to understand a single word from the professor.  Township staff attempted to correct the situation by connecting O’Connell via the phone line.  Although a slight improvement, we all still struggled to understand O’Connell.  Any questions from the Board or the citizens had to be transmitted via the phone.

I found the entire exercise last night a waste of time; certainly not worthy of a $49K consulting price tag.  However, I think I have it figured out – O’Connell didn’t need to attend the Board of Supervisors meeting.  In fact, I don’t think O’Connell or any of the other associated researchers at ICMA, needed to ever visit Tredyffrin Township.

Why?  If you read ICMA’s 92-page report, its length and its charts can impress you.  Don’t get me wrong, I think we are very fortunate to live in a community that has such a hard-working and caring police department But it struck me odd last night that O’Connell repeatedly spoke about the police superintendent (never once referring to Tony Giaimo by name) and the township’s police department being the ‘best in the country’.  On what basis, did O’Connell reach this conclusion?  A little research today indicates that O’Connell’s glowing words for Tredyffrin’s police officers are standard fare contained in ICMA’s police and fire department reports coast-to-coast.

Executive summary on Tredyffrin Township Police Department excerpt –

Based on our review, it is our opinion that the TTPD is a highly professional, well-managed police agency. Members of the department of all ranks and positions demonstrate a high degree of professionalism and dedication to the agency and the community.

A sampling from other ICMA police operations reports:

  • Executive Summary — report on Grand Rapids Police Department

Based on our review, it is our opinion that the GRPD is a highly professional, well-managed police agency. Members of the department of all ranks and positions demonstrate a high degree of professionalism and dedication to the agency and the community. The information management system developed and implemented in the department is beyond compare in contemporary law enforcement.

  • Executive Summary – report on Beaufort, South Carolina Police Department

ICMA found that the majority of sworn and civilian personnel of the Beaufort Police Department (BPD) are sincere, dedicated individuals who genuinely care about the community and the quality of life within it.

  • Executive Summary – report on Dunedin, Florida Police Department

After a comprehensive review of the services provided to the City of Dunedin by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, it is the unanimous opinion of the members of the reviewing team that the residents of the city are receiving outstanding law enforcement services from the Sheriff’s Office.

ICMA’s cut-and-paste approach to their consulting reports further continues into their recommendations. The continual #1 recommendation, seen in many of ICMA’s reports as a way to improve an already well-performing organization, was to change the current staffing model.   ICMA praised police departments across the country as “highly professional and well-managed”, and then adds, that with a tweak of the staffing schedule, police departments could magically decrease personnel.

From ICMA’s Wyoming, Michigan Police Department study, I read “… The WPD should change its current patrol-staffing model. Employing 10-hour tours in the current configuration is inefficient and should be abandoned in favor of a more flexible model that matches personnel resources to demand.” 

Sound familiar?

Whether it was California, Michigan, Florida or Pennsylvania, the ICMA charts, graphs, and recommendations all look eerily familiar.  It probably explains why O’Connell never referred to Giaimo by name, (calling him superintendent) and why he referred to the supervisors as commissioners.  O’Connell had his boilerplate speech down to a science and needed to keep his references generic.

A fire department official from Benton Harbor, Michigan is quoted in the article, ‘City Hired Fire Service Consultant ICMA Recommendations Challenged Across America’ saying, “The only thing they (ICMA) did was scratch off another municipality’s name and put Benton Harbor on it.”

ICMA isn’t well loved in some municipalities – in one city, Lake Havau in Arizona the consultants were roundly criticized by that City Council who felt they overpaid for a cut and paste job.  From the minutes, “Councilmember Callahan said that after thoroughly reviewing this ICMA report, he thought there were a lot of inconsistencies, and he believed the city overpaid for this report.  Councilmember Nyberg felt that ICMA merely copied the report form the City of Alameda, California for the Lake Havau City report, and she thought some of the information was inaccurate.” 

Some in Lake Havsu were concerned that ICMA may have used the report submitted to another city, changed some titles around and shifted some information, but used largely the same recommendations.

Something else that seemed disturbing as I followed ICMA’s paper trail, was an underlying anti-union message, referring to ICMA as “hired consultant a hired gun”. Mark Woolbright, International Association of Fire Fighters 2nd District vice president, issued a warning about ICMA’s motives, “It’s clear from everything we’ve heard from around the country that any municipality dealing with ICMA does so at their own risk. A consultant may be paid to provide a report to the local government to provide political cover for making cuts to fire department staffing and resources.”

Were it not for ICMA’s unsettling presentation at the supervisor’s meeting, I may not have done this research.  I am now convinced that the township, and specifically the Police Department, had better thoroughly review ICMA’s recommendations before instituting – and that includes the level of staffing requirements.

Was there an agenda behind the hiring of ICMA?  Was it to substantiate the police department staffing requirements for the 2013 budget?  Was it an honest attempt on the part of the supervisors to better understand the police operations and needs? 

The one question that the supervisors (and the residents) wanted answered – What is the minimum staffing level of police officers required to maintain our quality of service? A clear, concise response to this question seemed to escape O’Connell.  Even supervisor Michelle Kichline said that she read ICMA’s report five times and was still confused as to the number of officers!

Here’s what we do know – the township currently employs 41 uniformed police officers, and there is authorization for 47 officers (and funding) included in the 2012 township budget.  The ICMA report suggests 43 officers are needed to maintain acceptable service but the proposed 2013 township budget only includes 42 officers.  Police Superintendent Tony Giaimo asked the Board to increase the level from 42 to 47 officers to keep it at the same level as the 2012 budget. Kichline made it clear that there would no new-hires until the police contract was signed.  However, when will that be?  The independent arbitrator has had the Tredyffrin Township Police Association/Tredyffrin Township collective bargaining agreement for 11+ months.

The unsigned police contract is causing many unknowns in the township’s proposed 2013-budget.  With most police contract arbitrations taking 3-4 months for settlement in Pennsylvania, what’s the hold-up in Tredyffrin?  The answer may be simple – the township and the police union started the police contract negotiating process in extreme opposing positions.  By my count, there were 18 police officers in attendance at Monday’s Board of Supervisors meeting – about as many police as there were regular audience members.

The police union started the contract negotiation process from a status quo position, seeking a new contract with the township that contained benefits in their 2009-11 contract, including the post-retirement medical plan.  Faced with the $40M unfunded medical liability, the township’s position was the polar opposite.  It is my understanding that the township’s starting position in the police contract negotiation process was to eliminate post-retirement medical benefits for all new-hires.  I’m guessing the answer for the arbitrator must lie somewhere between these two positions.

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Since January 2012, the collective bargaining agreement between the township and the police union has been in arbitration.  An independent arbitrator, Michael Zobrak, is the third member of the arbitration board (jointly chosen by the township and the police union).  The other two members of the arbitration board represent the township and the police union, respectively.

In reading Pennsylvania Police & Firefighter Collective Bargaining Law, Act No. 111, there is no timeline indicated for a determination.

PA Act No. 111: An Act specifically authorizing collective bargaining between policemen and firemen and their public employers; providing for arbitration in order to settle disputes, and requiring compliance with collective bargaining agreements and findings of arbitrators.

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