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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."

By Anne Bartlett  |  April 14, 2009; 3:46 PM ET
Categories:  Ann Marimow  
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The council is not homeowner friendly. This is a clear example of using the homeowner as an ATM. For 8 months the council has done nothing about this prob lem.

I attended West Point with the class of 1964. We had 35 killed in action and over 100 wounded. Less than 5% retired on disability. So 60% of Montgomery County policemen retire on disability?

This is a clear example why we need somebody on the council to block the big property tax increase that the council has planned for next year. They need nine votes to do this under the Ficker amwendment passed by the voters with 195,000 votes last November. They already have 8 council members who have voted to exceed the charter property tax limit by 400%. When I am on the council, I shall not be the ninth vote they need to use the homeowner as an ATM.

Posted by: robinfickerofrobinrealty | April 15, 2009 9:40 AM | Report abuse

So, what's wrong with the Union's suggestions? Sounds this tax payer. I have no hatred towards the police and would like both officers AND taxpayers to get a fair break.

"The union proposed creating three levels of benefits, depending on the severity of disability, that would apply to employees hired starting July 1."

It is not really fair to "grandfather" in all police who have been hired and work under a certain agreement between management and the officers.

This will be interesting to see how it finishes. Let's just keep our eye on how much this change process is costing versus how much the taxpayer is really paying in disability payments. At a certain point, all this hubbub will cost us money.

Posted by: free-donny | April 15, 2009 1:56 PM | Report abuse

is it true that cops or firemen suffering 'ring around the collar' or 'skidmarks' can retire with full benefits after 30 seconds or 30 feet on the job?

Posted by: proudgaycuban | April 15, 2009 9:07 PM | Report abuse

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