June 16, 2011
Two years ago, when we took our respective positions in this Village we never imagined that we would be forced to send out the type of letter we are now writing. You may have seen a letter from Officer Sweeney of the Old Brookville PBA ("PBA") accusing the current administration of "dismantling and destroying our police department", "shrinking the department to unimaginable low staffing levels", and "jeopardizing your public safety" and saying we have "little or no regard for human decency". Such attacks are unconscionable, factually wrong, obviously politically motivated, and insult not only those of us who have volunteered our time and efforts to serve this community, but our residents, who are entitled to accurate facts. Having devoted countless hours to the Old Brookville Police Department as the Police Commissioner, Deputy Police Commissioner, and Mayor of Old Brookville, we are deeply disappointed that the PBA would resort to such inflammatory and sensational rhetoric on this important matter, the purpose of which can only be to panic our community, and we are compelled to write to set the record straight.
It is important to recognize that the PBA is a union whose primary goal is the enhancement of the compensation and benefits of its members. Although not a new negotiating tactic of public employee unions, it is unfortunate that the PBA has chosen to insert itself in our local village elections in an obvious effort to improve its own goals.
As you may be aware, for 62 years, our Village has been only one of the Villages that comprise the Old Brookville Police Department ("OBPD"). Our police department is the Old Brookville Police Department in name only. The budget for 2011-2012 for the OBPD was passed in February 2011, based on the vote of all of the 7 Villages that made up the OBPD, and included, among other things, a line item designating specific funds for termination pay reserve. Muttontown announced its unilateral decision to leave the OBPD to form its own police department after the 2011-2012 budget had been approved with virtually no advanced warning. As a result, and solely because of Muttontown's departure, the OBPD had to be restructured. The remaining six Villages had to operate on a budget reduced by approximately 26% or $3,059,608.00 from the 2011-2012 operating budget. Unfortunately that was not the only problem we faced. Almost simultaneously with the departure of Muttontown, the Village of Upper Brookville announced that, as a result of its concerns about the long term financial impact of Muttontown's departure, it was considering severing its relationship with the OBPD, in which event, OBPD would have to vacate its present headquarters in Upper Brookville. As fiduciaries and leaders of our Village, we were faced with determining how best to: (i) negotiate a resolution which would maintain the relationship between all of the six remaining Villages, including Upper Brookville (which was successfully accomplished); (ii) attempt, if possible, to come to terms with Muttontown which would afford us the appropriate time to properly restructure if Muttontown remained determined to leave, and (iii) ensure that the OBPD would remain a strong viable force which could continue to provide our residents with the essential police services we have come to expect, and maintain the present levels of police patrol coverage to each participating Village (again, which was accomplished).
Contrary to Officer Sweeney's allegations, the Villages followed the staffing recommendations made by the independent police consultant called in to assist with the tasks at hand and attempted to work with the PBA with regard to the staffing necessary to ensure continued protection for our community. Since only six communities will now be patrolled, the OBPD could operate with fewer officers. Muttontown's departure reduced the area, population and number of households served by approximately 30%. We, as you, are residents of this community. We, as you, rely on the OBPD for our protection and the protection of our families. We are proud of our department and the fine officers who put their lives on the line every day. We are not politicians, we are residents like yourselves who volunteer tens of hours weekly to this community. What possible personal or political motive would we have for "targeting" or "dismantling" our police department, the very men and women we have always respected and upon whom we rely to keep our community safe? To thoughtlessly level baseless accusations like that is shameful. Decisions were made only after countless hours of discussions and input from the administration and the outside consultants. Throughout this process, our residents' safety has always been our primary concern. We will still have a Chief, a Lieutenant, 18 police officers, 6 sergeants, 6 police communication operators and 2 typist clerks. We will have a four car patrol service in the six Villages, only one car less than the five we had when there were seven Villages to patrol. Of critical importance, there will still be a 24/7 Old Brookville Police Department dispatch service.
Officer Sweeney has vilified us for eliminating our Detectives. While we certainly would have preferred to keep some of our own Detectives rather than completely relying on Nassau County, very difficult decisions had to be made. It is important to recognize, however, that we have always utilized the Nassau County Detective Squad and task forces for major crimes and burglaries in conjunction with our own Detectives. The Nassau County Detective Squad and task forces have, and will remain, part of the services that are provided to our Village by virtue of the Headquarters Tax, which is part of our County Taxes. It is our hope that we can continue our efforts to bring back two Old Brookville detectives. Officer Sweeney does not tell you that the possibility of bringing back some detectives has been discussed with him. However bringing back two detectives does not simply mean restoring detective status to two police officers. Rather, it means bringing back two of the police officers who have been laid off, which, when combined with the additional salaries of the detectives, would cost the department close to half a million dollars. Difficult decisions had to be made, and we stand by our election to, as a first priority, use available man power to patrol our villages on a daily basis. The most important statement that our own Chief of Police has confirmed and supports, and which was confirmed by our police consultant, is that the first line of police protection, and the one that best serves our residents, is the officer in the patrol car patrolling your neighborhood.
Officer Sweeney states that the PBA was willing to make concessions in order to avoid layoffs, and that it made a "very generous offer" in order to save jobs. He does not tell you the specifics of what was offered, nor does he tell you all the facts about the negotiations that took place. Why?
From the onset the PBA was advised of the OBPD's willingness to work with them in an attempt to either avoid, or at the very least, minimize layoffs which would require reviewing the PBA contract to see if cost savings changes could be made to save jobs. Officer Sweeney mentions the labor counsel retained by the OBPD to assist with the restructuring and negotiations with the PBA and their attorneys. Although it is not surprising that the union would have preferred the OBPD to come to the table without benefit of an experienced labor attorney, it was clearly in the best interests of our residents that we retain someone who could address the PBA contract. After careful consideration and vetting to assure that there were no conflicts with any of the six Villages, Mr. Cohen's firm ("labor" counsel referred to) was retained.
About 90% of the expenses of the police department relates to personnel salaries, benefits and retirement costs which average over $250,000 per officer not including future health care expense liability of over $400,000 per active and retired officer. We therefore first suggested looking at the calculation of termination pay, a very costly benefit which the officers are paid when their employment ends, but the PBA was only willing to discuss this as part of a new multi-year PBA contract. As the six Villages are themselves presently working under a one year extension agreement of the OBPD contract, negotiating an entirely new PBA contract was not something we were realistically able to entertain under the severe time constraints. Accordingly, the union refused to consider any concessions with respect to termination pay. We also raised the issue of health insurance benefits, which we continue to pay with no employee contributions being made. Again, the union refused to consider any concessions with respect thereto. Attempts at early retirement incentives to save jobs were also rejected by the union. Despite what the PBA had been telling our residents, it was unwilling to forego the 5% raise which was to become effective June 1, 2011, to avoid layoffs. This would have gone a long way to significantly minimizing, if not avoiding, layoffs altogether.
The only change the union initially offered was to defer one paycheck. This would mean all officers would get paid 25 of 26 paychecks, and, when the officer left the force, he or she would get that paycheck at their then rate of pay. In effect, it is a savings account for the officers, which continues to grow as their salaries increase. Further, the union conditioned this offer on no layoffs. Deferring one paycheck would result in a short term savings of approximately $150,000.00 next year only, while no layoffs would have cost well over a million dollars, a condition which we could not entertain. The union then offered to defer two paychecks next year, which would have resulted in a short term savings of approximately $300,000.00. However, a deferral of wages to some time in the future, requiring us to pay whatever higher salaries are in effect at that time, was not something which would have avoided layoffs. The union was finally willing to not only defer, but to give up one paycheck next year. Although this move on their part was appreciated, the savings would only result in a small percentage of what we would need to avoid layoffs. Again our attorney asked the PBA to consider foregoing the raise. The PBA did not respond and there was no possible agreement being considered, so, on May 30, 2011, we did what we had to do and effectuated layoffs, effective close of business May 31, 2011.
However, our efforts to avoid the layoffs did not stop. Having received written notice that three of our officers would be retiring in the very near future, on June 1, 20 11, our attorney sent the PBA attorney an agreement which would have rescinded some of the layoffs. The PBA never signed this agreement. On June 3, 20 11, the PBA attorney was sent another agreement, which did not require the PBA to give up anything, but which: (1) allowed for one officer to retire as a detective instead of a police officer (at additional cost to the Department); (2) allowed other laid off officers, who will be recalled to work in less than a month, to keep some of their vacation and personal leave accruals for future use, an additional benefit to them; and (3) kept the health insurance in effect for the four police officers who were laid off, but who will be shortly returning to the force. It was not until June 8, 2011 that the PBA finally signed this agreement.
At this point in time, there are two police officers who have not yet found other positions and will not be recalled to the force without some agreement with, and concessions from, the PBA. We continue to remain hopeful, but with each day that passes without any encouraging communication from the PBA, our hope diminishes. The proverbial ball is in their court.
It was with great surprise that we read in Officer Sweeney's statement to our residents that "all negotiations have been terminated." We certainly did not terminate the negotiations, and our attorney was never advised by the PBA attorney that it was no longer willing to meet in an effort to reach an agreement that would bring back some of our laid off police officers. In fact, it was only last week that our attorney called the PBA attorney to set up a meeting to discuss a new multi-year agreement with the PBA, in yet another effort to encourage movement by the union. Apparently the PBA has unilaterally decided that the negotiations are over, at least until they see if they can effectuate a change of administration. It was also interesting to see his take on pension costs. He boldly states that those costs, which are significant, are expected to drop in five years. Not only does he fail to state where his expectations come from, he does not tell you how the costs will likely continue to increase before any decrease or leveling off is realized. He states that future retirements will reduce the size of the workforce through attrition, thereby avoiding the need for layoffs. However, by saying that there is no need to replace someone when they retire, isn't he is implicitly stating that we currently have more officers than are necessary, and acknowledging that an early retirement incentive program would have saved jobs?
It is indeed ironic that Officer Sweeney ends his letter with a statement regarding agendas backed by inaccurate and misleading information. Whereas he is correct in the fact that the Old Brookville Police Department has treated its officers fairly for over sixty years, he is incorrect in his implication that the Old Brookville Police Department has not continued in its efforts to do all that it can to treat its officers with the respect and fairness that they deserve. The PBA must accept its share of responsibility for what has occurred. How could it have been in the best interest of the more junior officers for the PBA not to have agreed to hold the line on salaries and/or benefits to avoid layoffs? Why would early termination incentives for those officers who planned on leaving within the next year not have been something they were willing to discuss? Officer Sweeney further attempts to obfuscate the issues we have dealt with by alleging that we are throwing money at a "plethora" of attorneys rather than use the funds to pay our own police personnel. First, there is no "plethora" of attorneys. The OBPD (all six Villages) have retained only one firm-which Officer Sweeney refers to as the "labor" attorney. Each Village is also represented, as it always has been, by its own individual counsel. What Officer Sweeney neglects to tell you is that the majority of the counsel fees to date have resulted from responsive papers and appearances in a lawsuit commenced by the PBA against the Old Brookville Police Department and all 7 Villages individually. We would have preferred to direct our energies towards meeting with the PBA for as long as it took in an effort to save jobs. Unfortunately it sadly appears that it is the PBA that has another agenda.
Muttontown's unfortunate departure was outside of our control. We have worked tirelessly to ensure the continuation of a strong and viable police department and to save our police officers. The restructuring of the department was carefully analyzed and studied to promote the best protection to our residents with the funding available. The result is an OBPD that, as the Old Brookville Police Department acting Chief of Police, Richard H. Smith, stated in his letter of yesterday, "will continue to provide the most personal and professional of police service that you deserve and have come to expect. I want to assure you that public safety has not been and will not be compromised in any way by the new staffing levels." The success ofthe police department has always depended on diplomacy and the compromise of many opinions, the Village of Old Brookville's being just one viewpoint. We have always been and continue to be strong advocates of the Old Brookville Police Department and have always voted for more rather than less. We assure you of our continued commitment to you, our neighbors and friends, and to the officers of the Old Brookville Police Department and will continue to work to ensure that our residents continue to receive the services we need, pay for and deserve.
We urge you to attend the Board of Trustees Meeting this Monday, June 20 at 6:30 at Village Hall when the Old Brookville Police Department will obviously once again be a main topic on the agenda.
With great respect, Mayor Bernard D. Ryba