A judge on Friday denied a request by Tucson’s police union to order the city to continue counting unused sick days toward their pensions.
The city stopped counting sick leave toward the public safety pensions June 1 after City Attorney Mike Rankin decided back in March it violated state law.
The Tucson Police Officers Association disagreed with Rankin’s opinion and filed paperwork seeking an injunction until a lawsuit over Phoenix police pension spiking is resolved.
“We feel like the city has jumped the gun and we asked them to hang on and wait for a ruling on sick-leave sell-back in Phoenix,” said Jason Winsky, government affairs director for the Tucson Police Officers Association.
Pima County Superior Court Judge D. Douglas Metcalf denied the union’s request to force the city to resume counting sick leave as pensionable dollars during a Friday afternoon hearing. He did the stage for a future hearing during which the two sides can present their cases. The exact date of that hearing will be determined later this month.
Each year, veteran police and fire employees can sell back up to 208 hours of unused sick time. The practice costs the city about $2.6 million in direct payments and more than $1 million in additional pension expenses.
An attorney for the union said the city over stepped its authority when it unilaterally acted without consulting the city’s pension boards because selling unused sick time has been a part of employee compensation for over a decade.
“We’re concerned about a due process violation,” said attorney Michelle Mozdzen. “They have a right to be heard.”
Counting sick-leave toward the pension was an administrative decision from the beginning, Rankin said. He said neither the pension board nor the council had to approve any changes.
Rankin said state law clearly prohibits the city from adding sick leave time to anyone’s pension and it had to stop.
A critic of sick-leave sell-back said the city didn’t end it soon enough.
Councilman Steve Kozachik said the city manager’s office should have halted the practice as soon as Rankin made his decision.
Waiting until this month needlessly wasted more taxpayer dollars on an illegal practice, he said. Kozachik said the city needs to go back and take those dollars away from active officers’ pensions.
Kozachik also criticized the union for turning to the courts to settle the matter.
“I find it ironic that our law enforcement agency is the one advocating that we violate state law,” he said. “They can’t argue for illegal spiking to feather their own nests and hope to maintain any credibility with citizens they encounter on the street.”