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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Saltzman Still "Mad as Hell" About Cops' Fitness Pay Perk

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Wed, Jan 18, 2012 at 3:14 PM

From left to right: Yvonne Deckard, Mike Reese, and Daryl Turner.
Commissioner Dan Saltzman got his wish this morning: a chance to thunder in front of all creation about a physical fitness premium paid to police officers who merely showed up for a blood test, and a chance to threaten he'll try to change city code to rein in the city's human resources director.

But his controversial resolution calling for the city to "rescind" the premium until cops did something more strenuous to earn it, like endure an obstacle course? His colleagues very diplomatically told him not to bother, putting off the official vote for two more weeks so it could be amended into something that won't put the city in legal trouble. (And also so Mayor Sam Adams, who leads both the human resources and police bureaus, could attend; he's in Washington, DC, for a meeting of mayors.)

On all counts, it was a weird meeting—on a subject typically held in "executive session." At first, Saltzman's colleagues didn't even want to let him start in on the angry remarks he'd prepared—or call anyone, like Police Chief Mike Reese, Human Resources Director Yvonne Deckard, or Portland Police Association boss Daryl Turner, to speak.

Nick Fish, among those seeking a delay, pointed out that Saltzman's resolution didn't even correctly quote the city's contract with the Portland Police Association. "You put quotation marks around a phrase that doesn't appear in the contract." (The word "physical" does not appear in front of "fitness test" in the contract.)

But Saltzman started in anyway. He said he was "mad as hell," a phrase he repeated so many times I lost count. "It's gone through a bizarro land," he said of the fitness premium, paid out to 91 percent of PPA members, according to an Oregonian story earlier this month. It's "now an entitlement."

"That's why I introduced this resolution," he said. "Because I'm really mad. I'm sure we can wait a week and be caught in legalese... be confused and dazzled... but this is a time to reach out and react as the public reacts."

And so, the council relented.

Randy Leonard wound up voting against his own motion to suspend discussion, bemoaning the "one-sided nature" of the proceedings and accusing Saltzman of seeking "good copy for the paper" instead of a sensible policy solution. "I don't make decisions based on being mad as hell," Leonard said. "Because I like to be right."

Saltzman, given the green light, then promptly started reading from his remarks. He went back to the "mad as hell" well, but in another miscue, incorrectly said Jason Robards was the actor who made the line famous in Network as crumbling TV anchor Howard Beale. (Sorry Peter Finch!)

The he came close to accusing Deckard and Reese of deliberately lying to him, saying he "felt duped" by what two bureau directors had told him about the contract before the council ratified it last February.

"This is not what I or the public expected," he said, beginning his closing flourish. "What was going on here? How did we end up in a situation where something that was so clear ended up as something so different?"

Then it was Deckard and Reese's turn to talk. Deckard said she negotiated the change from an actual fitness test to a blood test and repeated much of the rationale she gave me when I asked her about it last week.

The union filed a grievance last March, thinking the tests should be done on the city's time, but the police bureau decided that would be too logistically difficult, and maybe too expensive, if cops needed overtime.
To avoid paying overtime—in case a grievance arbitrator ruled against the city—she and Reese came up with the blood test workaround.

Asked why a fitness test couldn't be administered during police officers' annual "in-service" training sessions, both Deckard and Reese said the contract's approval last year came after the city scheduled its training classes. Compounding the issue, they said, the city doesn't have an all-weather training facility where it could host the test for cops who do their in-service training in lousy-weather months like this one.

Fish then asked Reese whether he played a role in Saltzman's resolution or whether Satlzman consulted him before crafting it.

"I don't think I had any role," Reese said. "Commissioner Saltzman called me and indicated he was upset about the physical fitness testing and that he was filing the resolution. I appreciated his calling me to let me know that."

Fish teased out the fact that Saltzman also didn't consult with the city attorney's office before shoe-horning his resolution onto the council agenda.

"Does the council have the unilateral authority to rescind a benefit it has negotiated?" he asked Deckard.

"No," she said, quietly.

It's not that the commissioners weren't sympathetic to what Saltzman was driving at. It's just that they were aghast he was using such a blunt instrument—a legally dubious resolution written with little input from his colleagues or city staffers—to get his way.

Amanda Fritz very strongly said, for example, "I disagree you should get a premium just for taking" a blood test.

Eventually, they decided to punt to February 1. And it looks like Leonard might be taking the reins from Saltzman (who said after council he'd be pitching ordinance changes that force the human resources director to work more closely with city council.)

Leonard made sure Turner, the PPA boss, was on record saying he didn't oppose, on its face, a fitness test. Then he invited Reese and Deckard to his office, for a more "private discussion," saying he had an idea for how to amend Saltzman's resolution and make the whole thing work. The goal will be fixing things for the next PPA contract, not this one.

Saltzman, who had accomplished most of his goals, nodded his assent. After the meeting, Reese and Deckard headed over to Leonard's office. And Saltzman headed back to his.

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