Fortuna police officers seem to be experiencing some growing unfriendly feelings toward their city.
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Charles Ellebrecht, a sergeant with the department and president of the Fortuna Police Employees Association, took the podium during the public comment period of Monday’s council meeting and aired a grievance that it appears has long been simmering behind closed doors. At issue is a 3 percent raise the council approved for City Manager Regan Candelario back in September — a raise that the association claims puts the city in violation of its contract with police employees.
Reached by phone Thursday, Ellebrecht said the city and the association — which represents 15 department employees — reached an employment agreement last July, after months of negotiations. Because the city was in rough financial shape – facing a $500,000 budget deficit for 2013-14 fiscal year, according to reports in the Times-Standard – Ellebrecht said the association agreed to forgo its push for raises and cost of living adjustments. In return, the city assured the association that, in the interest of equity, if it gave raises to any other city employees, it would give equal raises to cops, dispatchers and police service officers.
“The parties agree that should any other city employees… receive an increase to wages, other than a merit increase for members of the city’s two bargaining units, during this agreement, all members of this bargaining unit would receive the same increase to be effective on the same date,” reads the agreement approved by the council Aug. 5, 2013.
Then, the city turned around and — after Candelario’s performance review by the council on Sept. 15 — gave the city manager a 3 percent raise to his $107,000 salary. The raise was a provision of the contract that Candelario, who is not a member of one of the city’s two bargaining units, signed in 2012. He’s also due a 5 percent bump later this year, pending another performance review.
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The association’s take is that its members are now due a 3 percent raise, retroactive to the day of Candelario’s. But, according to Ellebrecht, Candelario is claiming no such raise is in order. The city manager, Ellebrecht said, told him the city would “vigorously” defend itself from any litigation brought by the association on the issue.
The Journal connected with Candelario on Tuesday, and the city manager the agreement reached with the association, and specifically the "me-too clause," was intended to be forward looking, pointing out that the raises written into his contract were agreed to by the council in 2012.
"If you're going to look backward on a me-too clause, then you're going to be giving raises based on every other (cost of living adjustment) that's been given in history," Candelario said. "It just seems absurd to me to think that was the intent of the city when we signed a tentative agreement that included the clause."
Council members didn’t have much to say on the issue. Councilman Dean Glaser said he was unaware of the situation until Ellebrecht’s comments Monday, and declined to comment further. Mayor Doug Strehl similarly declined to comment.
For his part, Ellebrecht said the issue isn’t doing anything good for morale in the department, noting that Fortuna’s officers are already some of the lowest paid in the area and are policing an increased geographical area due to the annexation of Campton Heights and a growing population with the same number of cops.
“Officers are stretched thin and overworked, and I don’t feel they’re being fairly compensated,” Ellebrecht said.
Candelario said the city's intent is to treat all its employees equitably.
"The whole point of a me-too clause is we're going to try to be as fair as possible, and that's our intent: to be fair," he said.