Four MoCo Council Members Intervene in Disability Talks
Four Montgomery County Council members have intervened in contentious negotiations over changes to the government's disability retirement program for police officers. They said today that police union leaders have offered a responsible roadmap for overhauling the troubled system that should allow County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) to quickly strike a deal.
But Leggett's top aide suggested that the council step aside instead of complicating the administration's ongoing discussions with union officials.
"You've got to let us finish the process. Bargaining is hard enough," said Leggett's chief administrative officer Timothy Firestine. "If they want us to negotiate this, they should just leave us alone and let us do it."
For six months, Leggett's aides have been in talks with police union leaders to try to reach consensus on changes to the system that has come under scrutiny by the county's inspector general and federal law enforcement officials. Separately, two council members - Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville) and Duchy Trachtenberg (D-At Large) - have introduced legislation that would overhaul the program by establishing a partial disability benefit and more stringent oversight.
Four other council members - Valerie Ervin (D-Silver Spring), Nancy Floreen (D-At Large), Michael Knapp (D-Upcounty) and George Leventhal (D-At Large) - said they reached out to union leaders when it appeared Leggett was not making progress in talks with the police union, and after he reached an impasse over cost-of-living pay raises for the county's firefighters.
Those council members, who have become an increasingly vocal and unified bloc in prodding the county executive on various issues, met privately with union leaders over the last four weeks. Ervin and Knapp said the group was not bargaining per se, but having conversations to try to spark further discussions.
"We felt someone had to lead and we decided it would be us," Ervin said.
Under Montgomery's current system for police officers, all retirees who qualify for service-connected disability receive a tax-free benefit equal to about two-thirds of their salary. Leggett and some council members called for reform because of concerns about the higher percentage of police collecting disability benefits in Montgomery than in neighboring jurisdictions.
Yesterday, council members circulated a summary of changes that they said reflected recommendations by the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 35. The union proposed creating three levels of benefits, depending on the severity of disability, that would apply to employees hired starting July 1.
Trachtenberg, who backs legislative changes, called several elements of the offer "problematic," particularly the provision that it would not apply to the current police force.
"You're basically giving people a get out of jail free pass. That's foolishness," she said. "The public is demanding meaningful reform."
April 14, 2009; 3:46 PM ET
Categories: Ann Marimow
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