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Police union wins suit over pension cuts

By KELLY NIX

Published: May 24, 2013

A JUDGE Friday ruled in favor of a Pacific Grove police union over a lawsuit it filed in November 2010 alleging the city violated labor laws when it capped the contributions to police officers’ pensions.

Monterey County Superior Court Judge Thomas Wills ruled that the pension plan, which was adopted by
the city council after voters approved a similar measure, is unconstitutional, a point the police union had argued in its lawsuit.

The council’s ordinance had capped the city’s contribution to an employee’s pension plan at 10 percent of workers’ salaries. The city had contributed 19 percent for police officers into the CalPERS retirement plan.
“We are happy that the judge agreed with our stance on the illegality of Measure R,” Pacific Grove Police Officers Association president Jeff Fenton told The Pine Cone Monday. “We look forward to being able to set this aside and move forward.”

The PGPOA’s 26-page lawsuit, which named city manager Tom Frutchey and the 2010 city council, alleged the city violated labor laws when it capped the contributions and gave voters and the council the right to regulate retirement benefits without consulting the police union beforehand.

The complaint was filed by Sacramento attorney Christopher Miller on behalf of more than two dozen officers and other police employees. The P.G. Police Management Association, also a plaintiff in the suit, represented the police chief and its commanders.

The backers of Measure R argued the measure was necessary to help control skyrocketing pension costs, which have strained city resources.

“The city has spent over $100,000 defending the police law suit and the city will probably pay more than that for the police attorneys,” said resident John Moore, who contributed to the initiative. “But that is peanuts compared to the millions it will cost in future pension by losing a case that could not be lost.”


Initiative proponents file suit

Meanwhile, the authors of the latest ballot initiative to cut pension costs in Pacific Grove filed a lawsuit this week to force the city council to put it to voters.

In legal documents filed May 21 in Monterey County Superior Court, residents Sally Aberg, Dan Davis and Frances Grate ask a judge to compel the city to set an election to let voters to decide whether to enact an ordinance that would void a generous 2002 pension plan for police and firefighters.

The group contends the council violated the California Elections Code when it voted May 15 to have a judge review the initiative to determine its legality instead of enacting it or putting it on the ballot.

This suit, which names the City of Pacific Grove, its clerk and the city council as defendants, argues the council only had two choices and the one it selected last week wasn’t a legal one.

“It’s a certified initiative,” Davis told The Pine Cone Tuesday. “The council had only two options — put it on the ballot or enact it.”

It also notes that city attorney David Laredo did not object to the measure until after the group had collected enough signatures to put it on a ballot.

“We filed our intent to circulate the petition,” Davis said. “At that point, the city attorney, if he thought it was an illegal initiative, could have gone to a judge and declared it illegal. He didn’t do that.”

On Oct. 1, 2012, the group notified the city of its intent to circulate the petition. On Oct. 12, the backers received a title and summary of the initiative (dated Oct. 5) from Laredo and it was published in a newspaper on Nov. 2.

The group collected 1,195 signatures that were certified by the Monterey County Elections Office April 18.

“Now after we have gone and collected all these signatures and done all of this work, they are saying it’s illegal?” Davis questioned.

The initiative asks voters to void a 2002 plan that boosted the CalPERS pension plan for public safety workers to “3 percent at 50,” allowing employees at least 50 years old to retire with pay equal to 3 percent of their highest year’s compensation for every year they worked, to a maximum of 90 percent of their highest pay level.

The 2002 council’s decision to adopt the plan was unlawful because a public hearing was never held and crucial financial information on how much the increase would actually cost the city was not disclosed to the council and the public, according to Aberg, Davis and Grate.