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    Election Editorial

    Correcting Damages Done -- On Police

    (June 1, 2006) -- On taking office in July 1994, Mayor Beverly O'Neill inherited from outgoing Mayor Ernie Kell a budgeted police level of roughly 839 officers (FY 04-05). At that time, this equated to barely 1.91 officers per thousand residents.

    Twelve years later, LB still has a too-thin blue line of 1.91-1.93 budgeted officers per thousand residents despite a City Hall "Strategic Plan" which invited voters to believe that City Hall would deliver 1,023 officers by FY 2000. Those officers still haven't arrived for taxpayers as LB approaches FY 2007.

    The "Strategic Plan," a five volume Auditor/City Mgmt. production originally designed to avoid discussing police levels, grudgingly appended a "preliminary staffing strategy" indicating modest annual police increases. That piece of paper resulted after then-Councilmembers Doug Drummond, Les Robbins, Jeff Kellogg and Warren Harwood supported a proposed Charter Amendment proposed by publisher Bill Pearl that would have required City Hall to deliver minimum per capita police, firefighter and paramedic levels for taxpayers. The ballot measure, which effectively required that the Council fund public safety first, was supported by retired LBPD brass, neighborhood and taxpayer advocates. It was opposed by then-City Manager James Hankla and the Press-Telegram editorial page.

    In February 1994, after voting 5-4 to put Prop M (LB's Campaign Reform Act) on the ballot (where it passed), the Council took up the police/firefighter staffing measure. A motion by Councilmember Doug Drummond to put it on the ballot, failed 4-4 (Yes: Drummond, Robbins, Kellogg and Harwood. No: Braude, A. Lowenthal, Clark, Topsy-Elvord. Disappeared: Grabinski).

    The result effectively left public safety in LB dependent on the actions of subsequent Councils and the next Mayor...and LB's print media to hold them accountable (before there was

    Asked after the Council vote whether she had supported the proposed ballot measure, then-candidate Beverly O'Neill told Straight Talk interviewer Art Levine:

    "No. I understood the frustration of people in that. I understood the frustration and I really thought that it was too bad that it had to get to that point where people became so frustrated that they would come in with an initiative of this nature. I think that we need more police and I think we need more resources for the police, but the Pearl initiative in its mandates with the number of police and there seemed to be no visible means of support in that made me want to give a little more consideration as to how we could do it without that mandate."
    March 1994: Candidate Beverly O'Neill, Straight Talk. Screen shot from our tape archives used with permission of Straight Talk Productions...whose permission does not imply its agreement with the opinions in our editorial.

    City Hall's "Strategic Plan" helped neutralize police as a 1994 city election issue. Beverly O'Neill was elected Mayor.

    From the first city management budget she sent to the Council (FY 95-96) through her last, Mayor O'Neill failed to deliver police increases indicated in the Strategic Plan's preliminary staffing strategy. Her first forwarded budget from then-City Manager Hankla should have provided 878 officers in FY 95-96 to remain faithful to the Plan's staffing strategy...but instead proposed to freeze the city's 839 budgeted officer level through September 1996 (the final month of a special 15 month fiscal year, extended for reasons unrelated to the police issue) when 888 officers would supposedly arrive...basically a year late. The Council approved this.

    In August 1996, the Mayor unveiled Manager Hankla's next proposed budget (FY 96-97). It didn't include the 888 officers that the Council approved a year earlier. The Mgr-Mayor proposed budget included only 859 officers, a small increase from 839, the level O'Neill inherited and maintained since entering office. This left LB 70 budgeted officers short of the 929 officers needed for fidelity to the staffing strategy's FY 96-97 level. The Council approved this.

    Mayor O'Neill issued a press release saying she'd "increased police," then jetted off to Chicago to help renominate President Bill Clinton. There she delivered her less than auspicious "CAVE People" address to CA delegates, advising them to ignore Citizens Against Virtually Everything.

    LB eventually became less safe per capita in terms of violent crime than New York City, not surprising since Mayor O' Neill did the opposite of what NYC Mayor Rudi Giuliani did. At one point, Mayor O'Neill unveiled what she called her "Economic Advisory Committee," basically a group of her allies, who rationalized City Hall's refusal to deliver police increases to taxpayers as scheduled.

    Print outlets endorsed and re-endorsed O'Neill, saying she had LB "on the right track." While finding reasons not to provide police, City Hall gave itself perks, raises, sweet deals for favored interests plus a costly pension boost for non-public safety employees. The mid-2002 pension action required two Council votes...which were agendized just weeks after O'Neill was safely reelected to a third term. The votes were scheduled for the last meeting of an outgoing Council and the first meeting of the incoming Council...when attention would focus on ceremonies, not substance. Mayor O'Neill's office (without specific legal authority but with tacit Council acceptance) oversees the placement of items on City Council agendas.

    In recent years, city management has obtained additional federal money to help add roughly three dozen more police officers and has also budgeted (with Council approval) additional officers directly from LB's General Fund.

    On April 11, 2006, nearly 60% of LB voters cast ballots to replace incumbent City Auditor Gary of the primary architects of the 1994 police "Strategic Plan." Mr. Burroughs had been endorsed by (among others) the Press-Telegram, Business Journal, police and firefighter unions.

    The June 6th Mayoral runoff pits Bob Foster (who says City Hall can only afford 100 more officers (plus perhaps a few more if fiscally able over four years absent a tax increase) against Councilman Frank Colonna (who supports adding 300 officers over four years). Neither has categorically ruled out supporting a tax increase but both have said it should only as "a last resort."

    On May 23, 2006, without prior indication in its agendized written materials, city management revealed it is exploring a property tax levy ("parcel tax") for the November ballot instead of a LB half cent sales tax increase. Management indicated the measure tentatively includes (preliminary estimate) a levy of $100/yr on single family homeowners, $65-$75/unit for multi-unit residences and $1,500-$5,000 per year for commercial/industrial parcels for police, fire and libraries.

    At the Council meeting, LBPD said through Deputy Chief Tim Jackman that it now seems "most practical, considering both the financial and operational impacts" to add 100 patrol officers + 12 Sgts, 3 Lts, 28 Detectives + clerical support (143 sworn officers). Six of eight incumbent Councilmembers (not including Colonna), + LB police and firefighter union leaders indicated they favor (in principle) putting such a measure on the ballot.

    Responding extemporaneously at the Council meeting, Councilman Colonna voiced strong reservations about any new taxes, either sales tax or a parcel tax. He said those reservations were particularly justified now since city management had not yet presented its proposed FY 07 budget to the Council.

    In response to our inquiry, Mr. Foster told that as a matter of principle he isn't partial to earmarked taxes [for specific items] because it's difficult to anticipate future needs, tends to tie the hands of policymakers and avoids taking a more critical look at existing budgeted spending.

    With that said, Mr. Foster reiterated that he'd only support tax increases as an absolute last resort, wants an opportunity to view the budget anew after taking office...and voiced concerns about the equity and fairness of a parcel tax whose effects could be regressive (the same assessment felt differently by property owners in NLB and Naples). He also voiced concerns about the parcel tax's possible impact(s) on commercial or industrial property owners and whether such a measure would affect the city's ability to attract jobs and businesses.

    Former City Manager Jim Hankla retired from City Hall, successfully handled construction of the Alameda Corridor as ACTA's CEO and was appointed to the LB Harbor Commission by Mayor O'Neill in 2003. He supports Bob Foster for Mayor.

    Three Councilmembers (Drummond, Robbins and Kellogg) who defied City Manager Hankla in 1994 in supporting a Charter Amendment for per capita police and firefighter levels went on to vote in 95, 96 and 97 for budgets proposed by Manager Hankla and Mayor O'Neill. They have endorsed Mr. Foster.

    Councilman Colonna took office in mid 1998 along with Vice Mayor/Councilwoman Jackie Kell. While Colonna is seeking the Mayor's post, incumbent Vice Mayor/Councilwoman Kell is running a write-in campaign for a third-term on the Council. Both voted to approve City Hall's budgets from 1998 through 2005. believes City Hall's record of the past twelve years justifies giving voters an opportunity to approve Charter Amendment to guarantee minimum per capita police and firefighter levels for taxpayers...the type of measure opposed twelve years ago by then-candidate Beverly O'Neill and then-City Manager Jim Hankla.

    We have said we believe Councilman Colonna is correct in favoring 300 more officers while Mr. Foster has made a blunder in repeating mistakes of past in saying City Hall can only afford 100 (or possibly some more) new officers for taxpayers absent a tax increase.

    We have noted that no Mayor can add officers...but can use their powers to advocate adding officers. On that basis, we believe Councilman Colonna's stance offers the best immediate way for taxpayers to show they insist on correcting past damages done on police.

    Additional editorials in our series "Correcting Damages Done" will follow shortly. is posting dissenting and other views at Your Words Replying To Ours

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