WatchSonoma Watch

Rohnert Park won’t outsource police and fire service


A tentative labor deal laden with concessions from Rohnert Park public safety workers has put to rest a controversial proposal to contract out police and fire services.

The decision on outsourcing hasn’t been formally announced, but the agreement makes it plain, prohibiting “contracting out” during the two-year contract. Rohnert Park officials also confirmed it Wednesday.

“We’re not going to be going to the sheriff,” said Mayor Gina Belforte.

The concessions, which include changes to benefit plans, will save the city $2.3 million over two years. That will help pull the city back from a financial brink it has perched on for three years.

“It’s tremendous for what it means for the city … we don’t have to worry or talk about bankruptcy,” Belforte said.

Central to the savings are changes to the public safety officers pension plan — a major development for a city struggling under the weight of its employee benefit costs.

Under the new contract, which is retroactive to July 1, all officers will pay their own share of their CalPERS retirement plan premium, roughly nine percent of their salaries Previously, the city paid that share. That amounts to a two-year savings of $793,000.

“That puts real cash into the city’s general fund coffers that we can continue to use for funding city services to our residents,” said City Manager Gabe Gonzalez.

That give-back was a major goal of city negotiators during the labor talks, he said: “We knew going in that we had to make some structural changes in the compensation packages of our employees.”

The contract also provides no pay raises.

It’s not clear what role the outsourcing proposal played in contact negotiations, but the talks took place against the backdrop of heated debate over Gonzalez’s idea, which he first floated in February.

And the contract’s savings are roughly the amount that the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office had said it could save the city if it provided the police services. The concessions value also equals the city’s general fund deficit.

Gonzalez’s plan would have farmed out public safety services, which in Rohnert Park are combined in one department, to the Sheriff’s Office and the Rancho Adobe Fire Protection District.

Gonzalez said the idea was one of many the city needed to explore to save money, and the council supported his initiative. It became a fierce political fight, with public safety officers campaigning against it and accusing the city of betraying voters who approved a half-cent sales tax in 2010.

On Wednesday, both sides said that was past.

“We’re very excited that we were able to reach an agreement that has no contracting-out for two years,” said Sgt. Dale Utecht, president of the Rohnert Park Public Safety Officers Association, or POA. “It was a lot of work for both sides and we appreciate all the work that the city and the council put into it,” Utecht said.

Belforte praised the union’s efforts.

“It shows outstanding leadership,” she said.

Other contract concessions range from no longer reimbursing officers for sunglasses to eliminating personal leave days.

Also, the contract leaves four positions unfilled and changes the patrol shift schedule, an adjustment that will save just over $600,000 over two years, according to a summary of the agreement

“It’s truly kind of Herculean task and hopefully the citizens appreciate it,” Public Safety Director Brian Masterson said of the contract.

He is not a union member and is unaffected by the contract. But he had strongly resisted the proposal to contract for police and fire services and enjoys the support of the department rank and file.

Both Masterson and the union sought public support against the proposal, including with a POA-fundedmailer campaign.

“The public was very important for us,” said Utecht. “It let the council know that keeping public safety in Rohnert Park was important to them. I’m sure it had some effect on negotiations.”

The talks were “marked by a common understanding that the city faces unprecedented fiscal challenges,” Gonzalez said.

POA members said the six months since Gonzalez asked the Sheriff’s Office for a proposal have been hard as they worried about their job security.

“It hasn’t only been difficult for our members but it’s also been difficult for their families; they see them dangled on a string for months on end,” said Sgt. Dave Welch.

“Me, personally, having been an employee for 23 years, I hope that the City Council and the administration is fiscally responsible with the savings we provided,” he said.

30 Responses to “Rohnert Park won’t outsource police and fire service”

  1. truth in news says:

    RP will be back at the sheriffs table within the year. All their POA did was suck a little more life blood out of the people of RP.

  2. Many departments have a uniform replacement policy wherein if you damage your uniform in the line of duty the city pays to replace the damaged garment or equipment. This policy has in many cases been interpreted to mean if you drop your $500 Ray-Bans while leaning out the driver’s window at the drive-thru, the city will cut you a check for a new pair.

    Seems to verge on ridiculous.

  3. Time to govern says:

    What is the big deal about the sunglasses? Why do writers keep mentioning sunglasses? Do they really get free sunglasses? Where does it say that? Come one now, let’s have some verifiable facts.

  4. BigDogatPlay says:

    David Stubblebine replied….

    In this case “deserved” meant “needed to stay competitive with benefit packages of other similarly sized agencies” based on comprehensive salary & benefit surveys that were compiled jointly by the City and the POA – and none of the comparison agencies fought fires.

    That still does not equate to “deserved”. And the notion of wages in the public sector needing to be “competitive” is a canard that is being played more and more often by public sector employees trying to justify the salaries they’ve been able to garner through collective bargaining.

    It could also be argued, rhetorically, that RPDPS doesn’t fight fires either. The agency has a middling record of it, at best. Which sort of makes your argument all the more moot.

    Bottom line, if one is fortunate enough to be employed as a PSO for RPDPS, they have a fat hog cut in the rear end and might be better served by keeping their pie hole shut about how their wages need to be “competitive” and focusing on doing their job better. You know… actually really earning that competitive comp plan.

    RPDPS has, again, long been one of the highest paid public safety agencies in the state, police or fire. With compensation and fringe benefits (remember the sunglasses… tip o’ the iceberg, that) above and beyond many similarly sized agencies. That comp and benefits has come courtesy of a very strong union, that for years operated with the imprimatur of the powers that be in Rohnert Park, and which held political sway over the council year after year but just changing in the last election.

    Yet the agency seems to not be able to solve and close a lot of cases and the fire side of the agency is, to be honest, well meaning but very amatuerish at times. Granted that’s the perspective of an outsider, but one who spent many years in public safety and who has observed the department closely over the past three decades.

    Take it for what it’s worth.

  5. Time to govern says:

    Having RP public safety officers pay their share of retirement is a start. In two years maybe Joe Callinan’s city manager can take negotiations to the next level and increase the amount public safety officers pay for their health care insurance. While the rest of us lucky enough to have health care insurance pay an average of 25% of the cost, RP city employees have a long way to go before they catch up. Anything less is unsustainable.

  6. John Hudson says:

    Observer: “Paying officers extra not to work because they are too big a liability on the street, but know too much dirt to be fire, that is corruption.”

    Hey, that’s normal operations for public entities. Carl Leivo got a $250,000 payout because he knew where the bodies are buried. It is of this that golden parachutes are made.

    The ugly fact is that the city government has absolutely nobody in it who does not tow the company line. Measure L is a good test. There is nobody on the city council or employed by the city who supported Measure L. The 53% of the people who voted yes on Measure L are completely unrepresented in city government. Of course, they are too wimpy to stand up to the city council when it voted to cancel Measure L without voter approval. I am confident of victory in court if somebody had the balls to file suit. (I am ready to represent somebody, but refuse to be the only one to stand up.) Nobody does. That’s why the city council and city officials get away with their corruption.

  7. Observer says:

    Agreed, perception is most people’s reality. Too many looked down their noses at THOSE public servants and scoffed. Now that reality has a different view, people have changed their perceptions. The shoe is on the other foot.

  8. GAJ says:

    @The Observer.

    You are correct; the more that City budgets are eaten up by the voraciousness of Public Safety the punier the pay will have to be for other employees providing other essential City services.

    Anyone who thinks that the pay and bennies for Public Safety are “puny” doesn’t have a grip on reality.

  9. Observer says:

    Good try. However these posters don’t want facts,they want headlines. They want catch phrases for the water cooler. They have no clue, nor do they want one.

    I know some cops and some deputies. I make more than they do and they do not begrudge me for my income. I see the hours they work and many time wonder why they work so much for the pay they do get to bring home. If I put in those hours, my income would end up in the PD next to winery owners.

    I lived in Southern CA a long time ago. The city of Stanton was corrupt and it’s police dept was out of control. Sonoma County residents have no clue about corruption. They think corruption is a negotiated pay raise. When you see city officials helping to cover up a bad police shooting because they know they are liable for the lawsuit, that’s is corruption. Paying officers extra to not work because they are too big a liability on the street but know too much dirt to be fired, that is corruption.

    Wait a few more years. When the economy turns the rest of the way around they will be belittliing you all once again for you puny public employee salaries.

    Full cirlce of the clueless.

  10. Ricardo Sorentino says:

    RE: David Stubblebine – ” “paid at the high end of the pay scale in Sonoma County when you factor in salary and benefits.” Simply not true – hasn’t been true for ten years. Update your salary surveys.

    Oh, okay, I’ll simply ignore the articles in the Press Democrat that run every couple of years, posting the salaries and huge OVERTIME that is paid out to the Rohnert Park Safety Officers.

    “It’s very common that employees have to pay into their own retirement.”

    -To repeat, it was the City’s proposal to pay the employees’ share (BEFORE the union became strong).

    Doesn’t matter that it was originally the City’s proposal; the simple fact is that most employees have to pay at least a small share into their own retirement, and cities paying 100% of all retirement costs isn’t sustainable. What’s left in a few years when 70%-80% of the general fund is spent only on public safety? We are currently headed that way.

    I too realize that I can’t change your mind, but sorry, you can fool yourself, but you can’t fool me.

  11. David Stubblebine says:

    @ Cotati station neighbor “They have three too many politicians dependent on their campaign contributions.”
    @ Jim “This is just another example of caving into unions.”
    @ Betty Boop “Unions continue to strong arm officials.”
    You grossly overestimate the RPPSOA’s political influence.

    @ Ricardo Sorentino
    Re: “paid at the high end of the pay scale in Sonoma County when you factor in salary and benefits.” Simply not true – hasn’t been true for ten years. Update your salary surveys.
    Re: “It’s very common that employees have to pay into their own retirement.” To repeat, it was the City’s proposal to pay the employees’ share (BEFORE the union became strong). For example: a 2% raise as a salary increase means the City’s salary costs go up 2% AND the City’s retirement costs go up 2%; a 2% raise as 2% towards the employee’s retirement means only the City’s salary costs go up – the City saves money. Assuming there would have been a raise at all, this was a fiscally sound approach at the time and nothing has changed.

    @ BigDogatPlay
    In this case “deserved” meant “needed to stay competitive with benefit packages of other similarly sized agencies” based on comprehensive salary & benefit surveys that were compiled jointly by the City and the POA – and none of the comparison agencies fought fires.

    @ Jim
    If the job offering you describe were made, there might well be 2,000 applicants – not one of whom would you want wandering through your neighborhood with a gun. Ask the residents of Mendota what they think of their minimum wage, pensionless police officers. These workers are expected to deliver critical services; don’t we want to attract the best candidates for these positions?

    @ Betty Boop “I wish the city would have filed for bankruptcy. Then they could get out of the pension plan obligations.”
    This is just woefully misinformed. The only city in California to actually file for bankruptcy was Vallejo – a case that is being watched closely by observers on all sides – and the experience there is showing that bankruptcy was likely a mistake. It did not get the City out from under their contractual obligations and is costing Vallejo millions more than if they had not filed bankruptcy.

    My comments here are not intended to change anyone’s mind. Every person’s opinion is theirs to make. My only wish is that public policy opinions would be based on as many accurate and objective facts as are available. I do not see that on these pages; whether it is wildly inaccurate facts (work 20 years for 90% pension), or completely outdated information (Rohnert Park is the highest paid agency in Sonoma County), or comments made with obvious ignorance of the historical contexts (City paid employee pension contributions/$300 [sic.] sunglasses), or grossly fanciful assessments of the political landscape (Rohnert Park cops own City Council). Anyone who disagrees with me based on accurate, complete, and current information will be deemed a “worthy foil”; others will be considered crackpots.

  12. BigDogatPlay says:

    RPDPS has a long, long history in fire circles as doing a great job of saving foundations.

    Until the fire side of the house was beefed up following the infamous time sheet falsification incident and several caustic reports on capability and staffing it was largely cops playing at being firefighters with a small handful of professional fire fighters on board in addition. Fire insurance rates, historically, in Rohnert Park, were well above average for similarly sized cities. That has changed to some degree over the past decade or so.

    But the July 4 fire was, yet again, another example of the department being largely out of it’s league.

    RPDPS is among the highest paid public safety officers in the county. Always have been. At one time they were among the top 5 in the state. But for what they deliver in terms of real service, across both their roles, they are overpaid.

    And when one folds in some of the concessions that RPPSOA has been able to force over the years (full reimbursement for sunglasses….. really? I know of guys who were buying $300 Revos and laughing when they lost them in a lake), the protestations of union officials as well as rank and file here and elsewhere ring very hollow indeed.

  13. John Hudson says:

    I must take issue with Cry Baby. If the fire services in RP were inadequate the insurance industry would let us know.Money talks. The money the insurance industry has at risk screams if it feels endangered.

    The fact is that Rancho Adobe really sucks. They let the McNamara building in Penngrove, right across the street from their main fire station, burn to the ground. People in Cotati feel that Rancho Adobe played them for suckers by not disclosing the unfunded pension liability. Frankly, I believe that a major factor in the decision to keep the present arrangement was the unattractiveness of joining Rancho Adobe.

    Consider that this statement of support comes from somebody who sued the RP cops for stealing his significant other’s car in 1998. I am not a fan of the RP cops. However, the city council majority is just as corrupt as any city council we have had in the past and I have seen worse cops both in terms of efficiency and conduct.

  14. GAJ says:

    @Betty Boop.

    Hey now, don’t give them any ideas.

    They currently can retire with 90% after 30 years, but I’m sure they’d prefer to be able to do it in 20.

    These bennies were extorted, not negotiated, from spineless politicians beginning even before Gray Davis’ massive giveaway in 1999 that precipitated this 90% boondoggle.

  15. cry babys says:

    PRPS is the biggest joke of the county. Less then half of them could make it as a deputy. Non of them are real firemen. The city should have got rid of them.

  16. Betty Boop says:

    I wish the city would have filed for bankruptcy. Then they could get out of the pension plan obligations. Wow….work 20 years and then retire at 90% of your pay. The city officials that every agreed to such an arrangement should be thrown in jail. Pension plan obligations are killing every city in nation. Unions continue to strong arm officials. Get rid of them and privatize.

    I say outsource and be done with those arrogant, lazy donut eating fools. They will get their raises next contract negotiations. As soon as the city gets a cent of black in the budget, they will be there wanting more.

    Half of the private sector has had to deal with the threats of job loss, paying their own health insurance and contributing to their own retirement. Grown and remember we are in a rescission.

  17. John Hudson says:

    What has really happened is that the city council now has a 4 – 1 majority that was campaigned against by the RP cops. This would not have happened if the candidates supported by the cops, Leivo and Borba, won at the last election.

    In terms of other issues there has been little change. Calainan voted with the majority to cancel the Measure L election result so that sewer infrastructure can be furnished to Codding, Brookfield Homes and Ratto at public expense. Unfortunately, nobody seems to have the courage to sue the city to force compliance with Measure L, which remains the law in Rohnert Park. The law is not obeyed by those who don’t like it unless somebody is willing to stick his neck out. I am willing to represent a solid citizen type in court. However, I am unwilling to be the only one who sticks his neck out. Anybody who has the cahones can give me a call. I’m the easiest to find man in town.


  18. Jim says:

    I must point out that the police paying 9% into their pension DOES NOT even come close to the benefit of a lifetime annuity payment. Does anyone who can add actually believe that saving 9% in a 401k generates a lifetime supply of money after age 50??? This is just another example of caving into unions.

    Why wouldn’t the City stand up and lay off everyone, then re-post the positions for $80,000/each with NO PENSION? I guarantee you that there would be 2,000 applicants for the jobs. The free market would show that the jobs can be done for a fraction of what they cost now, and the pension isn’t necessary. Yet the City caves into the union for what reason? Oh, to get re-elected.

  19. BigDogatPlay says:

    It would appear that the RPPSOA blinked…. never thought I’d see that. The entire exercise was, as I said elsewhere, a political power play. The RPPSOA has largely run the politics of the city for decades and, clearly, that paradigm has begun to shift. And the sun is clearly setting on RPPSOA as a political power base…. which is a good thing.

    @ David Stubblebine…. “deserved raises”? Really?

    Just because your union had previously been able to extract 12.5% in raises does not necessarily mean they are “deserved”. The use the term deserved infers that the employees are being comped and raised based on merit. You and I both know that is not how public employment works. If you stay, you get raises until you reach the top step of your grade. Whether you do a good job or a crappy one. Then you either promote, or languish at top step and get raises through COLAs or promote. And to coin a well worn phrase, deserve’s got nothing to do with that.

    It used to infuriate me, when I worked in government, to see that system at work rewarding (in some cases) outright slackers equally to me when I busted my hump to do the best job I could. My wife’s experience in government was very similar.

    Your raises are not ‘deserved’. They are ‘entitlements’.

  20. John bly says:

    Good job Belforte and Gonzalez. Negotiations are effective when you can show the other side that there is some risk if a deal is not reached. Santa Rosa should outsource their negotiations to Rohnert Park next time.

  21. Ricardo Sorentino says:

    RE: David Stubblebine – “…it is important to understand that public safety just gave back 12.5% in previously deserved raises that they will likely not see again and got nothing in return.”

    I wouldn’t say they got ‘nothing’ if you factor in they all keep their jobs since public safety isn’t being outsourced to the sheriff’s department.

    As far as the ‘cuts’ go, the safety officers will still be at the high end be paid at the high end of the pay scale in Sonoma County when you factor in salary and benefits. It’s very common that employees have to pay into their own retirement, as they should, so why not public safety? And they’ll get no pay raises for two years. Sniff, sniff… plenty of people here have had pay cuts of 10-15%, with furloughs AND increased medical costs.

    Let’s ask all those people, along with the long-term unemployed and underemployed if they’d take this deal. Sounds like a sweetheart deal compared to what most people have had to endure in this economy.

    The Press Democrat should post statistics on the percentage of private sector employees, public sector employees and public safety employees that have filed bankruptcy and foreclosure. Let’s see which group has endured and suffered the most…

  22. r says:

    Take note SRPD. I guess the die is cast though in SR, seeing the shell game the FD and SR played on the public. I wonder what the PD in SR is gonna do next year when their contract is up. I already answered my own question.

  23. Stop Crying says:

    Bad move… should have went with the Sheriff- its ok, just give it 2 more years and then you will be driving White Crown Vics! Well not all of you- but the ones that can pass the backgrounds and physicals.

  24. Cotati station neighbor says:

    This deal would never have happened without the possibility of outsourcing. The POA never would have cooperated with these kind of concessions. They have three too many politicians dependent on their campaign contributions.

  25. David Stubblebine says:

    Now that this deal is done, it is important to understand that the City-paid retirement member contributions the union just gave did not spring out of a vacuum and it was not the result of any so-called “Union Bullying” from the past. In the 1980’s it was common for employers, not the unions, to propose handing out the negotiated raises in the form of paying the employees’ retirement contributions. Once both sides agreed that raises were deserved, this was a way to get the money into the paychecks with a little savings for the Cities and for the employees. It was a win-win strategy for both sides. Now the public is crying that this arrangement is somehow “foul” and demanding Cities go back on the deal. In the case of Rohnert Park, it is important to understand that public safety just gave back 12.5% in previously deserved raises that they will likely not see again and got nothing in return.

  26. Pearl Alquileres says:

    Wise move.
    Suck it up, work a deal & keep the County from digging any deeper into your municipal wallet than they already are!

  27. Steveguy says:

    One of these days, our military will have to rescue us from our police.

    A $50 fine ends up costing $350. Protect and Serve ? Nope, it is ” Fine and Extort”.

    No respect here for them at all.

    Ask any good cop, and he/she will tell you that at least 25% of them are bad ones. Really

  28. Anthony says:

    Good job on both sides! RP is a better place with the Sheriff, who seems to be involved with a lot of shootings and WAY better off without Rancho Adobe Fire and its B-League fire tatcis and people. I beat the big fire on the 4th was their fault and not anyone elses

  29. A Measured Opinion says:

    Of course Rohnert Park is not going to outsource their police services. Was this ever a question? Only “Pot Hole” Jake would be audacious enough make noises about contracting out.

    It is too bad the city council doesn’t have a clue about how to conduct labor negotiations. They can’t stay cool in the face of criticism and cats jump out of every bag in all directions.

    It is too bad for the poor taxpayers of that little town.

  30. Jon Bixler says:

    Bloody shame that it takes the threat of dissolving the public safety agencies to get them to come to the table with serious concessions.

    Having said that, at least they did it (finally). Glad everyone gets to keep their jobs.