Police union verbally attacks City Hall: Hein accused of budget-figure deceptions; Glassman, of making 'anti-union' remarks
(Arizona Daily Star, The (Tucson) (KRT) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Apr. 26--Claiming city officials are ignoring a "crisis" in the Police Department, police union officials have unleashed a string of increasingly shrill attacks on the top brass at City Hall.
Tucson Police Officers Association President Larry Lopez contends a lack of officers on the street and pay that is slipping below comparable cities in Maricopa County are hurting morale.
Lopez upped the ante in the growing dispute this week by accusing City Manager Mike Hein of manipulating and withholding budget figures and by calling for Councilman Rodney Glassman to be removed from a city panel for making "anti-union" statements.
Lopez said the union had to resort to attacking city officials because Hein, other city staffers and some council members are willfully ignoring the "crisis."
Hein said the union is trying to stir up emotions to get a better labor pact.
With the city fighting tough budget times, Hein has recommended no pay raises for any employees and no increase in the number of police officers for the fiscal year starting July 1.
Lopez and other TPOA members accused Hein of withholding information and called for other City Council members to strip Glassman of his position as head of their subcommittee on public safety at Tuesday's council meeting.
TPOA officials say Glassman made anti-union statements to a police detective during a break in the last subcommittee meeting.
Lopez said Glassman was quizzing a TPOA detective on why he wasn't wearing a uniform, and commented, " 'If I had your union president, I wouldn't wear my uniform, either.' "
Glassman denied making the comment and said the union's call for his removal was "disappointing." He said the whole budget situation involving the Police Department is "frustrating."
"There were no anti-union statements," Glassman said. "I'm committed to not let these personal attacks get in the way of my support for public safety."
Lopez called Glassman's reputed comment "character assassination," and said Glassman is too immature to be the head of the public safety subcommittee.
He accused Glassman, a Democrat, of being upset that the union endorsed his Republican opponent, Lori Oien, in last year's council race, saying, "This goes back to the campaign in '07."
Union officials are also offended that Glassman quizzed a number of on-duty officers as to whether they live in the city.
Glassman, an outspoken advocate of all city employees living in the city, said he hoped more officers would be city residents so they could better create a "community policing" program.
Lopez blasted Glassman's position as "unprofessional and unethical," saying the Tucson Unified School District is the main reason officers don't live in the city.
"TUSD is a school district that is one of the worst school districts in the nation, and most of us, like myself, would not want my children to go to TUSD schools," Lopez said during the last public-safety subcommittee meeting.
TPOA also wants the council to raid the reserve fund to pay for salary hikes and 40 new officers. The union wants to ensure that its members' salaries are at least 95 percent of comparable cities in metro Phoenix.
The raises and 40 new officers would cost $8.5 million a year, said Deputy City Manager Mike Letcher, at a time the city is already looking at an $11 million shortfall that must be corrected before next year's budget is approved in June.
"It's difficult to imagine how you can advocate for increased compensation when we're not increasing services to the community," Hein said.
He said the union's tactics are designed to whip up hysteria, and he likened the union's attacks to "biting the hand that feeds you."
TPOA has at least one ally on the council in Democrat Shirley Scott, who wants more officers hired despite the budget problems.
"I'm concerned about having enough officers on the street," Scott said. "I think we need to find the money to support that."
Scott was more circumspect about raises, however, adding she would support raises only if they went to all city employees, not just public safety officers.
"I don't think there is money at this time to give everyone raises," Scott said. "Certainly I'm for more cops on streets -- that's the bottom line."
She declined to comment on the criticism of Glassman.
Democratic Councilwoman Regina Romero said police officers receive good pay and benefits, and that the city doesn't have the money to pay for raises or more officers this year.
"I don't know how we can do that when we don't have the money," Romero said.
The city also can't get into a bidding war for officers with cities in Maricopa County because Tucson doesn't have the resources to win that fight, she said, adding that she expects the police to continue to act professionally despite the dispute.
Romero said she doesn't support Glassman's ouster but acknowledged that he elicited the controversy.
"We need to behave ourselves as elected officials," Romero said. "He needs to be a little more sensitive about his comments. I like Rodney, I campaigned with Rodney and and will not call for his removal from the subcommittee."
DID YOU KNOW
The Tucson Police Officers Association displaced the Fraternal Order of Police as the union representing city police officers in 1996, after gathering enough petition signatures to force an election. The FOP, which had represented the officers for more than 25 years, tried to re-claim its position two years later but failed.
--Contact reporter Rob O'Dell at 573-4346 or [email protected].
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