The issue of compensation benefits for public safety employees has become a point of contention between Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik and the Tucson Police Officer’s Association.
I have kept out of this conversation because I recognize that compensation and benefits are issues for the labor unions and city management to negotiate.
Unfortunately, Kozachik has made some inaccurate and inflammatory statements that reflect negatively upon the Police Department in an attempt to influence public opinion against the TPOA. Because of that, I find myself in the position of defending the Police Department in a situation where we don’t belong.
In media coverage and ward newsletters Kozachik has called officers unbalanced, suggesting the community should be “concerned about guys like that running around with guns and billy clubs.” He stated that it is “off kilter when the police are investigating an elected official for things he does that are not in violation of the law” and that “the union’s misuse of information raises doubt on how officers conduct other internal investigations, such as the recent handling of the University of Arizona riots.”
Finally, he accuses officers of “playing fast and loose” with facts in order “to protect their interests.”
The first allegation is insulting and inflammatory. Kozachik said this because the TPOA requested information on his salaries at the UA and city jobs. This is public information and a type of inquiry that is protected by law to provide transparency in government — the same transparency he and the media took advantage of to publish salary and benefits of several city employees, including myself.
This action is hardly grounds for claiming the officers were acting in an unbalanced manner.
The second statement also stems from the salary request, and implies the department will intimidate anyone who questions their benefits by launching an investigation against them. Again, the salary request was a lawful inquiry by a union member, and the department had nothing to do with it. Presenting it in any other way is misleading and intended to reflect poorly on the department.
The final statements are the most shocking, and a blatant attack on the integrity of the department. It is particularly surprising since just a few days after the riot, Kozachik sent me a phone text telling me that I needed to expedite our investigation of it.
He stated he was out there that night and based upon what he saw, my officers showed tremendous restraint and there should not be anything found wrong with their conduct.
He also praised the police officers’ actions in his newsletter. As I have advised the community repeatedly, we will take the time to conduct a thorough investigation. But based upon the text I received, and these subsequent divergent statements, I am confused as to why Kozachik has suddenly changed his opinion about the officers’ actions.
Most of this controversy revolves around the sick-leave sell-back program that Kozachik opposes. This program was offered by the city to police and fire employees to be competitive in recruiting and retaining quality personnel.
It was designed and accepted through the labor negotiation process, and if the city wants to revisit it, the unions are just requesting that it be done through proper negotiations that take all factors into consideration.
This can only occur when both management and labor sit down and discuss their positions, not by making inflammatory statements that increase animosity.
It is my hope that Councilman Kozachik and the TPOA can resolve this matter in a professional and productive manner that allows us to move forward and better serve the city.