Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Tredyffrin Pays $83K for Police Contract Arbitration, or … was it really $133K?

The Board of Supervisors and the School Board have their first meetings of the New Year this week. As is often the case, Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors meeting conflicts with the TESD Board meeting. Scheduled for Monday night is both the Board of Supervisor’s organizational and regular meeting at the township building and the T/E School Board will hold a special school board meeting to consider the 2013-14 budget at the T/E Administration Building. Unfortunately, both meetings are at the same time – 7:30 PM.

The Board of Supervisor’s organizational meeting includes the adoption of the meeting schedule for the various township boards and commissions, naming of emergency service providers, adoption of township fee schedule, legal and accounting reviews, etc.

One of the interesting aspects of the organizational meeting each year is the naming of the Chair and Vice Chair of the Board of Supervisors. The seven Board members nominate and vote on these positions. Historically, these positions go to the longest-serving members on the Board. However, in 2012, that tradition shifted with the naming of Michelle Kichline as Chair. Kichline had only served 2 years as supervisor and neither as a Vice Chair, but received the unanimous support of her fellow board members for the chair position. Having served longer than Kichline, many had expected John DiBuonaventuro to receive the 2012 nod for Chair but instead he served as Vice Chair. The Board of Supervisors saw their share of controversy in 2012, so it will be curious to see if Michelle receives another vote of confidence to continue as Chair and JD to continue as Vice Chair.

After the ceremonious organizational meeting, there is a regular supervisors meeting, including a Public Hearing to “consider and enact an ordinance of the Township of Tredyffrin, Chester County, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, fixing rates of taxation for the year 2013.” We learned at the last BOS meeting in December that the township tax increase is set at 3.1%, down from the 5.5% originally forecast.

Since the December 17th supervisors meeting, we have learned of the Act 111 Arbitration Award issued for the collective bargaining agreement between the township and the police union. Much has been written about the agreement on Community Matters with many comments. If you are interested in details of the 4-year contract (2012-15), I would suggest you review posts from late December. Once the arbitration award was announced, I submitted a right-to-know request for a complete accounting of the arbitration related expenses paid by the township. It should be noted that this is the second police contract in a row that has gone directly to arbitration by the township. In both instances, the impartial arbitrator came down on the side of the police union in regards to the post-retirement benefits. We know that retirement benefits , including pensions and healthcare, were major contributors to the long-standing debate between the two sides.

According to township manager Bill Martin, the arbitration costs to the township (taxpayers) re the police contract is as follows – Michael Zobrak, impartial arbitrator $14,136.46 and township arbitrators John McLaughlin, Patrick Harvey, Brian Pinheiro, etc. billed 273 hours for $69,337.50. If my math is correct, the taxpayers paid $83,473.96 for the arbitration of the police contract.

Below are the details that Bill Martin sent for the township arbitrator costs. John McLaughlin, Patrick Harvey and Brian Pinheiro are all partners in the Philadelphia law firm of Ballard Spahr. The law firm billed the township 273 hours for a total of $69,337.50 which equates to $254/hr on the average. On April 3, 2012 there are 100+ hours billed to the township under the name, ‘PFM’ — I am clueless as to what that means but I will contact the township manager for clarification.

I am struggling to understand these billable hours from Ballard Spahr. It was my understanding that there was little (if any?) movement from the township’s initial position going into the arbitration process. If that is the case, how is it that the total number of hours in 2012 (setting aside the hours from 2011) are so substantially higher than the total billable hours of Michael Zobrak, the impartial arbitrator.

Something else I should point out is that on my right-to-know request in which I asked for ‘costs to date’ was dated January 1, 2013 and Martin’s response was dated January 4th. If you look at the last billing date from Ballard Spahr (below) it was back on Oct. 18, over 2 months prior to the signing of the arbitration agreement on December 23, 2012. It stands to reason that there are additional billable hours yet to be received from Ballard Spahr for those 2+ months, including the review of the arbitration award before its release. I would maintain that the township has not seen the end of the costs — $83K may not be the entire costs.

TT Arbitrator Costs

I would suggest that we should also add the ICMA (International City/County Management Association) police department consulting fee of $49K to the total cost of the police contract negotiations. Much of ICMA’s report was boilerplate language and their specific, cost-savings suggestions would require collective bargaining changes. The way I see it, the township has already spent approximately $133K trying to lower police department expenses. Based on the arbitration award, we know that the police department retained most of their prior contract benefits.

What bearing is the Act 111 arbitration award going to have on the township’s 2013 budget? The supervisors and the finance director Tim Klarich did not have the benefit of a crystal ball in regards to the arbitration award when they calculated the 2013 budget. In addition, we still have the issue that there were 47 uniformed police in the 2012 township budget and the 2013 budget has the number reduced to 42. The 42 uniformed police officers is two more officers than are currently in the department. Now that the police contract is settled, will the supervisors OK the hiring of those two additional officers?

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  1. The township’s lawyer spent about 50 hours preparing for and participating in the “interest arbitration hearing … held on January 18, 2012, at which time the Township and the Association were afforded a full opportunity to present testimony, examine and cross-examine witnesses, introduce documentary evidence, and offer explanatory presentations in support of their respective bargaining proposals.”
    He spent about another 100 hours in “Executive sessions .. conducted by the Board on February 24, 2012, May 23, 2010 and June 8,2010 and [e]xtensive telephone conversations among the arbitrators…”
    He must understand the reasoning behind the one-sided award. Will he let the public know?
    I notice the billing by PFM (public financial management) of 100 hours. That’s a large expenditure that deserves an explanation. They might have produced an analysis of the $40M OPEB unfunded liability or projected the tax impact of several settlement scenarios. (PFM is used by UCFSD) A RTK request might pry that report loose.

    1. Thank you Keith for explaining ‘PFM’ — I was clueless as to what that meant. Since PFM billed 100 hours at a cost of $17K+, I was thinking that I should ask for supporting documentation. Now that you suggest that there was possibly an analysis of the $40M unfunded liability as part of their investigation, maybe I should follow-up with a specific RTK for the details.

      1. The PFM report, if it exists, might be covered by the negotiations exception in the RTK Law. Even if the Law allows the township to keep the document secret, it doesn’t compel them to do so. The township could choose to be “open” and publicize the document.
        Whenever a citizen has a question about RTK requests, RTK denials and RTK appeals, I’d suggest a visit to the PA Freedom of Information Coalition website. The FOIC is a non-profit organization dedicated to open records and open meetings. They have an excellent forum with a knowledgeable moderator who will answer questions concerning the RTK Law and the Sunshine Act.

  2. The School Board will vote on using allowable exceptions to Act 1, the PA taxpayer relief Act, to raise taxes above the state index of 1.7% for the 2013-2014 school year. If the board votes to apply for the exceptions, the preliminary budget will be displayed on January 8, 2013 for public comment. The board will then consider the preliminary budget at its Jan.28, 2013 regular board meeting.

    Not only does the BOS meeting conflict with the TESD School Board meeting, but college football’s greatest matchup ever, which could become one of the most-watched college sporting events in history, the BCS championship game between Alabama and Notre Dame is tonight. I guess there are no college football fans on either board.

    Keith, have you started your negotiations with the teachers union. Any information you can provide would be greatly appreciated.

    1. All districts with union contracts that expire this year are required by law to start negotiations in January. That means UCFSD will start negotiations later this month. I’m part of a team so my comments will be limited.

  3. when the calendar was made for this year I doubt even the most ardent college football fans on either board would have noticed tonights game. Imagine if they moved the meetings to accomodate the game? This board would be on fire!

    1. This is a special school board meeting, recently scheduled, not on the yearly calender.

      Interesting that there are board members who are big sports fans.

      1. If this is a special, recently scheduled meeting, I might even speculate that the schedule was intended to minimize the crowd ? :( I cannot imagine anyone caring about tonigiht’s meeting EXCEPT those who understand that the fund balance has previously been dedicated to minimizing the impact of the PSERS increases, which may now be the same reason they apply for exceptions.

        Oh well — someone will probably ask how they will fund the police in the building….on 1.7%.

        1. Yes, your speculation was my insinuation. However, I think maybe they wanted to minimize the crowd because they know talk about increasing taxes in this tough economic climate wouldn’t go over too well.

  4. NSN — let me echo your sentiments about the game. And absolutely go back to my time on the board when I would publicly proclaim a conflict and change agendas if possible. Ironically, there are many on the board that are big sports fans….so perhaps they will make it as short as it can be when there is a slam dunk decision. (that only the public would comment on). Married to a Tide alum, Roll Tide….

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