Tucson’s police chief took to Facebook to defend his department against comments made by City Councilman Steve Kozachik.
Chief Roberto Villaseñor said Kozachik besmirched the Tucson Police Department’s image and reputation during his most recent skirmish with the police union over the city’s sick-leave sell-back program.
Villaseñor wrote that he took umbrage with Kozachik’s claims in the media and in his newsletter that TPD officers were investigating an elected official, his questioning of whether or not the police can be unbiased in their internal investigation of the University of Arizona riots and his call to end the sick-leave sell-back program.
Kozachik considered Villaseñor’s platform to criticize him the wrong place to air frustrations.
“If he had issues with me, he should have picked up the phone and called,” Kozachik said. “Using the agency Facebook page was totally inappropriate.”
He said any blemish on TPD’s image can be attributed to the union.
“If the chief has an issue with the image of his department, he should have reached out to the union and told them to knock it off,” Kozachik said. “But the real sad fact is that the people getting tarred by this are the rank-and-file men and women out on the street. They deserve better from the leadership of the union, and now from the leadership of the organization.”
Villaseñor stressed that the Tucson Police Officers Association is a separate entity charged with negotiating labor matters between the department’s officers and the city, and it does not speak for the department.
“I can assure you that the Tucson Police Department is not investigating (Councilman) Kozachik,” Villaseñor wrote.
As far as the union requesting Kozachik’s UA salary information, Villaseñor said public employees’ salaries are public record. “An inquiry into those salaries is not an investigation but a lawfully protected inquiry to maintain transparency for publicly funded services,” he wrote.
Kozachik disagreed with the chief’s interpretation.
“When an FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) is filed by the Tucson Police Officers Association, that’s cops filing, not some private citizen acting on his own,” Kozachik said.
The person who filled out the form wanted to highlight police officers were investigating me, which is why he identified himself as a member of the department on the records request, Kozachik said.
Villaseñor wrote that he resented Kozachik’s implication that police officers will lie to protect their own interests, such as during the investigation into how the department handled an unruly crowd after the loss of the UA men’s basketball team in the championship tournament.
“We are doing a thorough and complete review of the incident to which he is referring,” Villaseñor wrote. “In order to avoid even the image of impropriety, I requested the Department of Public Safety to handle the criminal investigation into the issue with one of our members that caused a well-publicized controversy.”
Once the investigation is complete, Villaseñor said, all of the records will be made public.
Villaseñor said Kozachik has demonized officers who take part in the sick-leave sell-back program — which allows veteran police and Fire Department employees to sell up to 208 hours a year in unused sick leave — as culprits in the city’s lingering budget deficits.
“Police officers and firefighters are not taking anything that was not offered to them as part of their pay package by the City,” Villaseñor wrote. “To infer they are doing anything different or unethical is inaccurate and misleading.”
Instead of being a drag on city finances, the program keeps overtime costs down by incentivizing responsible sick-leave use and acts as a replacement for pay raises, he said.
He said Kozachik’s employer, the UA, uses a similar rationale when it pays employees for their unused sick days when they retire.
But the city’s lucrative program, in which public safety employees can get full value annually for selling their days, can’t be compared with the university’s, which makes only a one-time payment of up to 50 percent of person’s sick leave, Kozachik said.
“Of course the chief will defend sick-leave sell-back. He has been using it to try to spike his own pension. But to inference it with getting some percentage of what’s left at retirement totally dodges what it is we’re talking about. The two aren’t the same,” Kozachik said.
Kozachik said he only wants to end the city’s annual practice, not the sell-back at the time of retirement.