With negotiations to reform the city’s ailing police pension system stalled, a Houston-based consultant has launched a campaign arguing the city’s police cars are too old and too few and its retirement benefits too meager.
Three posts on Wayne Dolcefino’s consulting website have blasted the city for not disclosing the locations of patrol cars, the condition and number of cars and for providing officers too little in pension benefits.
His claims aren’t true, City Manager Brian Maxwell and other officials said. The posts were a tactic that has been routine when the city and police union are bargaining, Maxwell said.
“It happens just about every year,” Maxwell said. “It’s not going to change how we do things.”
The city and Galveston Municipal Police Association will begin collective bargaining this summer, a routine process to determine pay and benefits.
Police and city officials have also been locked for months in discussions aimed at reforming the police pension, which has $32.1 million in unfunded liabilities and is out of compliance with state rules, according to actuarial reports. Those talks have reached an impasse, officials said.
Dolcefino’s website released police-related posts March 7, March 11 and Thursday.
Dolcefino, who worked for years as a reporter for ABC Channel 13 and now operates a media consulting firm, wouldn’t say who hired him or how much he’s being paid to write and publish the posts.
“We have a third-party client but it’s not who people think it is,” Dolcefino said. “We were asked by an existing client to do some research.”
The client is an individual, not an association or group, he said.
City officials were told the police union’s political action committee paid for the consulting services, Deputy City Manager Dan Buckley said.
That’s not the case, said committee Chairman Clinton Stevens.
He doesn’t know who paid for the services, and he wasn’t aware of Dolcefino’s posts before Wednesday, he said.
Association President Geoff Gainer also doesn’t know who’s behind the campaign, he said.
“I did not pay for it,” Gainer said. “It’s somebody friendly to us.”
Gainer, who is also chairman of the police pension board, became the association’s new president Tuesday night.
Although he’s not sure who’s behind the campaign, it’s hitting on police concerns, Gainer said.
“There was a long-standing problem with officers showing up to work and not having a unit to drive and there would be units out there but we wouldn’t have keys for them,” Gainer said.
Cars sometime had dead batteries or were not equipped with laptop computers, Gainer said.
He also complained that officers were being denied training.
Some of the issues had already been addressed, and the situation never indicated the department needed more cars, Police Chief Vernon Hale said.
Some of the problem was that officers were taking keys with them when they went off shift, Hale said. The department has a new key check-out system to prevent that, he said. The department also has ended a program allowing officers to take patrol cars home, so it can rotate old cars out of the fleet, he said.
The average age of police cars not in the take-home program is about 44 months, Hale said.
Dolcefino’s March 11 post cites a 2004 police car, but that car isn’t used for patrol, Hale said.
“It’s just wrong,” Hale said.
Hale said he sometimes does deny officers training, because officers sometimes want expensive training at far away places or training unnecessary to their job assignment.
“There’s going to be needs and there’s going to be wants,” Hale said.
The posts began appearing as talks about reforming the police pension ground to a halt.
Police and the city appeared last month to be nearing agreement, but are stalled over the age at which officers can retire, Gainer said.
“We had moved back to changing the retirement age and we hadn’t discussed this in months,” Gainer said.
Police previously have agreed to raise retirement age from 50 to 55 for new hires. The city argued some current officers shouldn’t be able to draw full pensions until 55, Maxwell said.
“They have not moved on contribution and age,” Maxwell said.
Both state Rep. Dan Flynn and Rep. Mayes Middleton have filed bills in the state House of Representatives aiming to reform the police pension.
Police, the city and state lawmakers aim to find a solution to the pension before the 2019 session ends in May.