The O ran a two-part front page screamer about the Portland police and fire disability system on Sunday and yesterday. It pointed out that lots of folks retire from the local forces on disability even though they're still able to be gainfully employed. One guy appears to be a bodyguard for Paul Allen. Another one joined the armed forces and served as a medic in Iraq. And yet they collect disability pay from the city, many for the rest of their lives. Some even get pushed off the force, even though they say they'd like to stay on and serve their bureaus in some capacity or another. Today, the O's editorial board is calling it a scandal.
When the O reporters stuck the needle into City Commissioner Randy Leonard, a former firefighters' union president, about this, he gave his usual response: Everything's fine with police and fire disability. Nothing's broke, and so there's nothing to be fixed.
I dunno. Those articles sure made it sound as if there were lots that could be improved.
There's a showdown looming on all aspects of the pension and disability benefits enjoyed by the men and women in Portland blue. Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who's running for re-election and needs to bolster his portfolio quick, is making an issue of the fringe benefits that ex-cops and firefighters get. And it's easy to stir up the public if they look at the facts. The disability anecdotes are bad, but even the basic police and fire pension benefits are much more generous than most workers in the private sector could ever dream about.
As I understand it, after a certain number of years on the force, even if you're only, say, 45 or 50 years old, you can turn in your badge and start a lifetime of pension checks. You can take on all the new work you want, and the retirement funds keep a-rollin' in from City Hall.
Fireman Randy himself reportedly takes down around $48,000 a year in city fire pension, over and above his $89,000 salary on the City Council. Mayor Tom Potter, the ex-police chief, reportedly draws an annual police pension of around $91,000 over and above his $104,000 pay as mayor. Potter says he's in favor of reforming the system, while Leonard seems opposed, but you wonder why they both shouldn't have to recuse themselves from voting on the matter. On the other hand, I guess any changes that would be made wouldn't affect ladies and gentlemen of their vintage. Legally, they probably couldn't.
In any event, although I mostly plead ignorance on this, I suspect there are many state and local governments that also have very, very generous pension and disability systems for their police and fire officers. But as I've pointed out here before, in Portlandia the police and fire retirement fund makes up 24.3 percent of all the property taxes that I (and presumably others) pay to the city. Nearly a quarter out of every dollar is now going to the retired and "disabled" public safety folks, including to perfectly able, fully employed guys like Leonard and Potter, who are taking home two city paychecks each. Potter's add up to $205,000. That's a real eye-popper in my book. What they heck do they think this is, the PDC?
And no matter how good the officers may have it in other cities, I don't know of any other place that's so strapped for public safety funds that they close the police precincts after 6:00 at night and all weekend long, as we do here in the Rose City. Maybe we need to be a little more careful with the bucks.
Too bad The Oregonian ran the series on July 3 and 4, when readership was sure to be low. Oh, well. Methinks the pot has been stirred nonetheless.
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