A Few Words From Officer Rob Dimel
In recent weeks Costa Mesa Police Officer Rob Dimel (shown here on the left discussing issues with activist Phil Morello at a recent council meeting) has posted some interesting comments on some of these threads. He's tried his best to provide some first-person perspective in the "Righeimer vs. The Cops" drama that's been unfolding since August. He's provided us some snippets of information in response to criticisms of the police position on the whole "pension reform" issue. Those little bits of perspective have been welcomed by me and, I think, more than a few of the readers here.
HIS WORDS, MY FORMAT
Tonight, on the eve of what might be the most important municipal election in our city in two decades, Rob Dimel has provided us with more than a few words to add to our understanding of this issue. I've taken those words he provided, massaged them, not for content, but to fit my format. The paragraph titles are mine, the rest is his.
A REAL COP
Rob Dimel is a career law enforcement officer. Except for the 6 years of active Army service, he has lived in Costa Mesa two dozen years. He's been a police officer for 18 years, beginning with time at the Orange County Sheriff's Department jail - just like our lame duck mayor. As a member of the Costa Mesa Police Department he has been a Patrol Officer, Gang Investigator, SWAT Officer, Detective, Field Training Officer and, currently, is one of the pilots who flies the Eagle helicopter, keeping our city safe from on high - you know, a REAL cop.
Without further fanfare, the thoughts of Officer Rob Dimel:
"US" VS. "THEM"
In this contentious political season, angst regarding public employee compensation has become the beckon call. The economy and some political candidates have created “us” and “them” camps. While not recession proof, public services, and public safety tend to be more recession resistant. Police and fire services are something that will just never go away, regardless of what the economy is doing. People who were working in industries that were booming just a couple of years ago, are now looking at the relative stability of public safety employees and saying “I don’t have that”. When people working in the mortgage and real estate industry were flying high at the height of the housing bubble, no one cared what a cop or firefighter was getting paid, or how their retirement worked. Now, those same people who were doing so well just a couple of years ago are coming after public employees with torches and pitchforks. The City of Bell scandal only muddied the waters. It’s become the poster child of those calling for public employee pension reform.
GROUND ZERO FOR IMMIGRATION REFORM
Much as Costa Mesa became ground zero for the immigration reform battle cry, there are forces at work, who would like to have made Costa Mesa the lab rat for pension reform. In reality, both amounted to little more than political pandering for politicians trying to play on the public fervor over the issue of the moment. Is it any coincidence that the politicians behind both issues here in Costa Mesa are political cronies? Mayor Mansoor’s “Rule of Law City” never amounted to much, although he will claim it as a victory. No officer was ever trained to screen arrestees for immigration violations. An immigration officer was placed in the city jail for a period of time, but that has since ended. In fact, immigration officers have routinely screened arrestees at the Costa Mesa jail for about 20 years. Long before Mayor Mansoor pulled his stunt. It was a lot of rhetoric, public outcry on both sides of the issue, and what was the overall outcome? It was like a dog on linoleum; a lot of frantic movement with no progress.
RIGHEIMER'S "PENSION REFORM"
Enter Jim Righeimer. Mr. Righeimer decided to make public pension reform his platform for his latest attempt at city council. He has polarized the citizens and the employees that serve them. He has tried to use the public’s discomfort with public employee pensions to somehow shame our employees. Never mind that he has completely misrepresented the numbers, the issue and his ability to do anything about it, even if he were to be elected.
REFORM IS NECESSARY - MUST START AT STATE LEVEL
Let’s just agree that some level of reform is going to be required. However, that reform must take place at the state level. Costa Mesa does not manage the retirement plan, the state does. The city and its employees are merely contributors and end users of the product. The employees that are currently enrolled in the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) are essentially locked into the retirement formula they entered into upon employment. It would not be legally possible to change their retirement formula regardless of what Mr. Righeimer says.
A TWO-TIERED PLAN?
A two-tiered plan could be adopted. New employees could come on under a different formula, while existing employees are “grandfathered” into their existing plans. Again, there are some legal considerations there. It’s not just a stroke of the pen to change the formula as Mr. Righeimer would have the voter believe. The city is under contract with PERS for the existing plan. In any case a two-tiered system would have no effect on the city’s current budget issue. The city is leaving positions unfilled, so there are no new employees coming in.
RIGHEIMER MISREPRESENTED THE PENSION NUMBERS
In his community commentary in the Daily Pilot, Mr. Righeimer stated that a public safety employee could retire as early as 50 with 98% of their salary. That’s patently false. Again, he twists the numbers to fuel the animosity against the employees. No one can earn more than 90% of their salary upon retiring. The “trigger mechanism” for that full 90% benefit is not age 50. It’s 30 years of service. The “3 at 50” plan is 3% of salary per year of service. Age 50 is the minimum age to collect. Since one cannot become a police officer until age 21, the earliest an officer could retire with full service retirement is age 51. In reality, officers are not often getting hired at 21. Most are coming on the job in their mid to late 20’s now. Thus, they cannot get the full service retirement benefit until their mid to late 50’s. Take our mayor as an example. He was under the 3@50 program at the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. He “retired” with probably 17 years of service. He is 46 years old, so he can’t collect on his retirement for four more years. When he does turn 50, he will only get 51% of his salary, since he didn’t do 30 years of service.
RIGHEIMER MISREPRESENTED THE SALARY NUMBERS
Mr. Righeimer presented some salary figures and makes the claim that officers are earning 200k per year. That’s just not true. There are some in management who have a total compensation figure at 200k per year. However, that’s not salary. It takes into account unused vacation and sick leave time and gives it a dollar value. Those figures do not calculate into the retirement, as he would have everyone believe.
WHAT'S HIS PLAN?
What I have heard, is Mr. Righeimer rail against the public pensions and cry for reform. What I have not heard, is any actual ideas from him as to how we would accomplish that. How does he plan to bring this reform to fruition? I would love to hear an actual plan. “Reform” is just a word. It’s not a plan, it’s not a strategy. Mr. Righeimer has thrown the word out every chance he can. His entire platform is just another dog on linoleum.
THE FUTURE OF COSTA MESA LAW ENFORCEMENT?
Thanks to Rob Dimel for his views on this important issue. If Jim Righeimer has his way we would have to start from scratch with our public employees, casting aside all the years of compensation planning and contract negotiations. We would most likely not be able to attract employees like Rob Dimel and the other current cops who proudly serve and protect us despite the slings and arrows from political hacks and their hangers-on. For some perspective, I give you a short video clip that shows what our law enforcement staff might look like if Righeimer has his way. Please be sure to VOTE tomorrow.