Asked if Mayor Frank Jordan has an opinion on the efforts of his police chief and fire chief to obtain huge raises, Jordan's press office curtly answers: "He doesn't have a position on the police and fire chiefs issue."
Mayor Jordan's position can best be described as supine (with hand extended). Jordan could ask his political appointees to forgo a lawsuit that will raise their compensation by $27,000. But he won't for reasons of self-interest: The raise will incidentally increase Jordan's own pension by about $10,000 a year for the rest of his life.
Fighting the raise to a standstill last week was Supervisor Tom Ammiano, and his opposition is likely to provoke a lawsuit from the chiefs' representatives. But how did we arrive at this state of affairs where the supes are facing off against the chiefs and the whole mess is going to court?
I'm so glad you asked.
The chiefs claim that -- by tradition -- they always make a bundle more money than the next highest rank. How much is a bundle? Twice as much as any other city department head, who generally are kept to about a 5 percent difference between their pay and the next lowest rank.
In fact, the raises would make Police Chief Anthony Ribera and Fire Chief Joseph Medina the highest paid city bureaucrats at $136,942 per annum. Indeed, San Francisco's chiefs already rank No. 2 in the nation for pay, according to a survey of 46 cities performed by the city of Phoenix.
The lower ranks in the Police and Fire Departments received hikes in pay and benefits beginning three years ago.
But who negotiated the big 1992 rank-and-file raises that pushed the pay envelope for the chiefs? Capt. Anthony Ribera, then the head of the department's fiscal branch.
Ribera, who added a fourth star to his collar because he wasn't satisfied with the three-star designation of all previous chiefs, is a former Police Officers Association (POA) executive committee member. The "negotiations" in which he participated as a police captain consisted of rubber-stamping the POA's proposal. Naturally, the contract he "negotiated" included raises for captains.
"We accepted those figures," says Carl Bunch, a deputy city attorney who represented Jordan's office at the time. "It's quite true that the city did not do an independent survey."
The firefighters then got the same deal as the cops, although a new collective bargaining system allowed the city to make a separate bargain. As a result of the "parity" with police pay, San Francisco firefighters already had the highest pay and lowest hours of any firefighters in the state. The "negotiations" just gave them more.
"I was really naive about this, but I knew the firefighters were a very early supporter of Mayor Jordan," says Bunch. "So when we did the police negotiations, it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure the firefighters would be the same."
If the little fellas were getting more lunch money, the Big Men assumed they deserved Big Cigars. "Deserved" is a funny word, though, because it suggests a concept called "pay for performance." And, by odd coincidence, the "pay for performance" concept was originally in the city's salary talks with the police and fire chiefs.
"It fell by the wayside," Bunch says. "I do believe there was some early-on discussion about pay for performance. I'm inclined to think we really didn't address it in negotiations."
A lucky thing, too, for the fire chief. Consider this excerpt from a new report from the federal court special master, which was released the same week as the pay hike went to the supes.
"The management of the department is founded on finger-pointing rather than responsibility for its commitment. It assigned the blame to everyone but itself. ... This reflects a serious absence of leadership," the report states.
"The Chief disregards the orders of the Commission with impunity. This sends a message to all members of the department that management does not take seriously its commitment to maintain a workplace free of discrimination and harassment. When confronted with the need to change the system, the Commission and the Chief respond with delay, evasion and even outright misrepresentation," the report continues.
The report's conclusion: The federal court should order the Fire Department to hire outside skilled managers and then obey their advice.
The court's advice is not just so much verbiage from just another government report. A week ago, Lt. Ann Young won a $300,000 judgment (legal fees may cost the city an additional $400,000) against Fire Chief Medina and the commission for failing to act on complaints of discrimination against her.
There is no similarly independent report on Police Chief Ribera's performance, but increased city costs due to poor management are easily documented. In one legal case, the SFPD faces a legal damages bill of nearly $300,000 because police officers helped a stalker track his victim. He found an ally -- or allies -- in the Police Department who used police computers to track changes of address on the victim's driver's license. Ribera claims he can't uncover the rogue cops.
Ribera also has failed to fix the troubled 911 crisis line that alerts police, fire stations and paramedics to emergencies. Last month, he dispatched a deputy to tell the supes that he had failed to fill the critical civilian director's job for nearly two years because the pay of $72,000 was too low to attract candidates and there wasn't money to increase the position's salary.