Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Enough Is Enough

About 1,000 active and retired police and firefighters, their families and friends marched to Dallas City Hall in support of their promised pension benefits and to protest Mayor Rawlings campaign of lies against first responders.
The marchers carried 697 boots to symbolize the number of police officers who have let the department since the pension crisis began. The number of officers have dropped to the lowest level in almost a decade while calls for help have increased and crime has risen.
The pension crisis has become a public safety crisis because of Mayor Rawlings, City Councilman Lee Kleinman and Rawlings' supporters from the wealthy private Dallas Citizens Council.
The mayor fiddles while public safety burns. 
We were there for you. Please be there for us. Call the Mayor's office at 214-670-3301 and tell the mayor it's time for him to shut up and put up what was promised to Dallas' first responders.

Friday, April 21, 2017

SOUND THE ALARM: Is your safety worth $1.50 a month?

Take off the gloves. It’s a no-holds-barred 7-alarm disaster. The mayor is at it again, trotting out his repertoire of false information and lies.

It’s a Signal 1-7 all call for the truth, and retired Assistant Fire Chief Debbie Carlin has answered the alarm to put out the mayor’s lies.

It comes down to this: a mere $18 a year.

That’s $1.50 a month--less than a tall Starbucks latte.

$18 a year.  A buck fifty a month. That’s what it would cost each person if every Dallas resident chipped in each year to ensure the pension plan is strong enough to keep our fire and police on the streets. 

Aren’t our active and retired first responders worth that much? Isn’t public safety worth $1.50 a month?

“The Dallas's Mayor either cannot add—or he is a liar,” Carlin said. “In his letter to the public, the mayor claimed the city would be out $1.35 billion over the next 30 years to save the police and fire pension. Those numbers are not accurate.”

Here is the real breakdown of additional costs as stated in HB 3158:

City of Dallas: $626 million (11% increase)

Active police and fire officers: $1.2 billion (91% increase) plus another $1.4 billion in reduced benefits by age 80 for a total increase of $2.6 billion.

Retired first responders: Reduced cost of living adjustment going forward (and, of course, the Mayor still wants to steal back $700 million in benefits already earned). 

Of these three groups--taxpayers, active members and retires--the City's burden is considerably lower than everyone else’s burden. Plus, the city's burden is spread over more than 1 million people while the remainder rests solely on the backs of 10,000 active and retired first responders.

“The Mayor is engaging in ‘fake math,” said Sam Friar of theDallas Police and Fire Pension board. “The Mayor’s words and actions are consistent with our belief that he is willing — and possibly attempting — to kill HB 3158 and the current pension plan in order to start a new one.”

Carlin and Friar aren’t the only one to sound the alarm about the mayor. In a guest commentary in The Dallas Morning News, state representative Jason Villalba notes that HB 3158 is not a taxpayer bailout as Mayor Rawlings erroneously claims. Rep. Villalba also notes that the entire Dallas delegation to the Texas legislature supports HB 3158. 

Immediately after Rawlings’ letter of lies, Dallas City Councilman Scott Griggs publically chastised the Mayor.

“I am AGAINST this letter,” Councilman Griggs posted on Facebook. “I fear that this letter is part of an organized effort to ‘kill the bill.’ Attempting to kill the bill is shameful.”

Shameful indeed.

In an April 21 press release, State Pension Chair Dan Flynn who authored the pension bill said he was “deeply disappointed in the Dallas Mayor making allegations and spreading incorrect information that won't hold up under scrutiny.”

According to Flynn, the mayor’s “own staff gave him incorrect information based upon unsubstantiated assumptions” that  “he touted as true.”

Flynn also said the Mayor’s bullying, name calling and refusal to negotiate in good faith “lends a lot of credence to the opinion of many that the Mayor just wants to take over the Plan and drastically attack benefits by collapsing the plan. Well that’s not going to happen.”

“The city can't recruit because they have a preference for parks over police and firemen, suggesting to everyone those officers rate below dirt and grass,” Flynn said. “The current legislation raises no taxes and requires no bonds, and I have no idea why the Mayor thinks it is so.”

“I suggest he stops wasting taxpayer dollars on expensive PR firms, lobbyists and lawyers, quit claiming bankruptcy is the answer and starts taking public safety seriously,” Flynn said.

Retired Assistant Fire Chief Carlin confirms that police and fire officers are leaving in record numbers “because they can make more money and have a lower work load just about anywhere else. And City Hall is showing them how much they really don't care.”

It’s time, she said, for taxpayers and city council members to “stand up and tell the Mayor to sit down and shut up. Tell the Mayor you think Fire and Police are worth another $18 a year.”

#backthepension #peoplebeforeprojects #morethandirt #sitdown&shutup

Monday, April 10, 2017

Mayor Rawlings & His Plateful of Lies

It’s time to stop playing nice and quit inviting Mayor Rawlings to the pension solution table especially after he back peddled on promises he made at the April 3 state pension hearing.

Mayor Rawlings has become a liability. A stumbling block. A non-negotiator.

He reminds me of an obnoxious restaurant patron who orders something, eats it and then complains about paying for it.

Well, here’s a bit of news for you, Mayor Rawlings: This ain’t no friggin’ Burger King. You don’t get to have it your way, and, when you renege on promises you make, you should be barred from your place at the table.

At the April 3 state pension hearing on HB 3158, everyone agreed that the proposed funding floor was essential to stabilize and save the pension. 
In fact, Mayor Rawlings even asked State Pension Committee Chairman Dan Flynn if he could return to testify to “clarify something.”

Here’s what he said two hours, 24 minutes and roughly 40 seconds into the hearing testimony:

“We believe in a floor. What we are committing to right now, the hard dollars--even if we have less officers--we would keep in. It’s the lack of the ceiling that we are concerned with. So the floor--if anybody is worried about the floor--OK right now we’re planning on spending that money.”

Flynn wanted to make sure and re-iterated that Mayor Rawlings was not concerned about the funding floor in the bill, but about what the mayor characterized as an “open ended ceiling.”

“We just don’t want an open end, “ Rawlings confirmed.

Without Flynn’s funding floor, the pension can’t be saved. It’s that simple.

Four days later on April 7, Rawlings sent Flynn a letter saying he wanted to change and decrease that funding floor knowing full well that such a change would not only jeopardize the pension fund but would be catastrophic for the fund.

Dallas Police & Fire Pension Chairman Sam Friar warned state lawmakers last week about Rawlings plan to kill the pension.

“I absolutely believe their plan is for this pension to fail,” Friar said about Mayor Rawlings and the city of Dallas.

Friar was absolutely right.

If we are going to save the pension, it’s time to set the table without Mayor Rawlings, so that the promises made to the city’s active and retired first responders can be kept.

It’s time to set the table without Mayor Rawlings so we can move forward to an equitable solution and finally serve the citizens of Dallas and ensure public safety instead dishing out a plateful of lies.

#backthepension #peoplebeforeprojects

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Councilman Kleinman, Chairman Flynn & Me

“Some words when spoken cannot be taken back” –Nothingman
Now that I have had almost a week to calm down and let the pension hearing in Austin sort of filter and percolate in my head, I really can’t let some of that testimony go unanswered. 

So many comments were thrown around like strands of spaghetti against a wall in the hopes that they might stick.

Like most of you, I was especially appalled by Dallas City Councilman Lee Kleinman’s comments. I was also especially grateful for Dallas District 114 Representative Jason Villalba for his empathy towards first responders.

A particularly low point in the pension hearing testimony came in an exchange between Kleinman and Villalba:

Dallas City Councilman Kleinman: “Can you tell me where in this plan there is shared sacrifice on the part of the retirees?”

State Representative Villalba: “Are you kidding me?… They have no access to drop… They’re going to have a situation played out in the course of their lives. They die at 58 and a half… Interest rates are gone. COLAs are gone. These are real situations with real people. I’m just asking you in this process tonight to think about people. Get away from the numbers… Get away from this political grandstanding. Think about the folks.”

Villalba also chastised Kleinman, telling him, “You’re not being constructive by bringing additional junk to this process.”

That wasn’t the only time Kleinman was scolded at the April 3 state hearing.

State Pension chair Dan Flynn questioned whether the Dallas councilman really supported saving the pension. That’s what happens when you call our pension an “egregious enrichment scheme” and throw out comparisons to Bernie Madoff and Ponzi schemes. That’s what happens when you begrudge the recent and long-overdue raises recently given to active first responders. You get questioned about stuff like that.

Geewillikers, it sure was difficult to stay seated. If Kleinman kept talking unchecked like that, I was indeed going to have to call for lawyers, guns and money.

But Chairman Flynn did manage to rein Kleinman in a bit when he asked about Kleinman’s attendance on the DPFP board. Of course, Kleinman insisted he was there.

“I would venture to say I showed up for 95 percent of those meetings,” Kleinman told Flynn and the state pension committee.

Hmmmm… 95 percent?

OK… I’ll give him credit for 100 percent perfect attendance in 2016. But let’s see how the rest of it looks…
  • 2013 shows 67 percent in attendance
  • 2014 shows 76 percent in attendance
  • 2015 shows 74 percent in attendance
Chairman Flynn also asked Kleinman if he believed the city should start a new plan, which would effectively abandon everyone in the old plan.

Kleinman’s response was chilling.

“I think the city should have that as an option,” he told the chairman.

Chairman Flynn then noted, “What you just suggested will not fix this plan… That would kill the whole thing.”

So there it was. Out in the open. I think everyone there that day realized that Kleinman and Mayor Mike Rawlings really do want to kill the whole thing. All of it. Droppers and non-Droppers. Everyone in it. Kill the whole thing.

Another interesting tidbit was Kleinman’s rant about how he didn’t “have a million dollars" in his bank account for his retirement or a defined benefit plan like first responders or state legislators. Now, I don’t know if any of that is true, but let’s look briefly at what he does have:

  • A 7,154 square foot home situated on 1.95 acres
  • A home valued at $2.5 million or so on the tax rolls
  • A spouse gainfully employed as a physician
Let’s briefly look at what I have:
  • A 1,922 square foot home situated on 1.3 acres
  • A home valued at $172,370 on the tax rolls
  • A retired spouse with two bum knees, no social security and a pension fixin’ to go belly up.
Kleinman could probably sell his home for closer to $3 million in today’s market and downsize and still have a nice chunk of change to survive on.

And me? Well, I could probably sell my house for $220,000, but then how would I live and where would I go? I’m not very good at math, but I know enough to know that $220,000 isn’t enough to get me anywhere.

I’m left with placing my faith in God (always a good thing) and my hope in Villalba and Flynn (an unsure thing).

“These people have been promised something,” Villalba told Kleinman at the hearing. “We owe them that promise.”

Yes, indeed.

#backthepension #savethepension #PoundOfFlesh

Monday, March 27, 2017

Sound The Alarm

After my guest column ran in the Dallas Morning News, I was surprised when I checked my inbox and found several emails from readers. Some were supportive, some were informative and some were, well, mean.

I understand opinions.

I understand dissention.

I understand a free exchange of ideas.

I do not understand mean.

Just like I don’t understand how we got to the point where the top priority for city leaders is not public safety but rather improving Dallas’ sliding negative credit and pushing the mayor’s transformational projects.

I do not understand why the city of Dallas refuses to pursue any revenue stream that will shore up the Dallas Police and Fire Pension Fund. Raise taxes? No. Allocate DART funds? No. Secure Pension Bonds? No.  Divert money from the mayor’s multi-million dollar transformational projects? No.

These naysayers and pension mess has started to take a toll on public safety.

Earlier this month, the fire department administered an entrance exam for prospective firefighters and paramedics.  Usually more than 1,000 candidates show up for testing. This time only 398 people took the test.

According to the city and news reports, 201 police officers have left since October 1, and that number is expected to double before the fiscal year is out. That will be the most officers to leave in decades, and the first time in nine years that the police force has dropped below 3,100 officers. In 2011, there were 3,690.

Meanwhile, the number of citizens and calls for help continue to grow. Officers have reported holding low priority calls for seven hours because the police department is short staffed, and the understaffed emergency call center with its recent technology and staffing snafus has placed hundreds of emergency callers on hold.

I do not understand why any of this is OK.

First responders are leaving and the no one is coming because of this mess. Why would you work for a city that doesn't pay a fair wage, breaks all their promises, and threatens your retirement? 

This is a 5-alarm public safety crisis.

What good are all the parks, the businesses, the bridges, or the neighborhoods if you do not have your first responders there to ensure your safety so you can walk through your parks, drive across those bridges and live in your neighborhoods? 

Why would the city of Dallas continue down this path leaving us to wonder just how many police and firefighters will be left to answer the call? 

I will never understand why we even have to ask that question.

#backthepension #PoundOfFlesh #savethepension

Monday, March 20, 2017

Thank Your First Responders By Backing The Pension

In her 33 years as a Dallas police officer, Crista served in many positions--on patrol, in Internal Affairs and Narcotics. She worked undercover as a high school student to help get drugs out of Dallas schools.

When her husband retired, they selected his pension and survivors benefits based upon her pension benefits and DROP account. All that is threatened now as Mayor Mike Rawlings and the city of Dallas attempt to seize DROP money and take back money already earned by retirees by garnishing their pension checks.

All that is further threatened by State Representative Dan Flynn who has sponsored HB 3151 that attempts to save the pension fund solely on the backs of its first responders by including the clawback provision, increasing the retirement age, eliminating cost of living adjustments and politicizing the make up of the pension board to one where the city gains control by allowing the mayor to appoint three additional members.

"The City of Dallas has benefited from our years of dedicated service and the DROP program," Crista said. "They immediately were able to keep senior officers, they were able to pay officers a 20 year pension versus a 30 year pension benefit. Yet, they are now threatening to abandon our pension. The City of Dallas and Mayor Mike Rawlings are bullies. They will use any and all forms of coercion to accomplish their goal of destroying the Dallas Police and Firefighters Pension Fund."

"My pension, DROP, and the annual adjustment is not a 'pie in the sky Ponzi scheme' crafted by 'greedy officers' intent on defrauding the citizens of Dallas, as Mayor Mike Rawlings has stated," she said. 

As a "greedy retiree," Crista volunteers more than 400 hours each year as a Reserve Police Officer, saving the City over $20,000 annually in wages and benefits for an on duty officer. She also assisted in the formation of the nonprofit Dallas Police Youth Foundation and has raised money for the operating expenses for the Dallas Police Department Youth Outreach Unit. 

"Many retirees perform similar activities" she said. "We don't serve the community because we are greedy. We serve in this manner because we have servant hearts and have earned our pension which we use to continue to give back to our community. Now is the time to thank your police officers and fire fighters by saving their pension."

#backthepension, #savethepension, #PoundOfFlesh