Incoming San Jose mayor’s first order of business: settle feud with cops

SAN JOSE — As promised, incoming Mayor Sam Liccardo has made his first order of business to try and solve what continues to be the biggest issue at City Hall: the feud with rank-and-file cops.

Liccardo on Wednesday said the city will seek to return to the negotiating table with its police union with renewed hopes of ending a legal battle over pension reforms voters approved in 2012. The retirement cuts, which have helped drive hundreds of cops to other better-paying cities, were the main point of division in this year’s mayor’s race as both candidates fought over how best to restore the short-staffed police department.

But Liccardo, in his latest proposal, did not offer any meaningful new concessions, and it’s unclear whether the latest effort will generate any results after years of agonizingly slow progress between both sides.

Public safety unions, though, signaled they were also willing to try and resolve the dispute over the pension reforms, and called Liccardo’s announcement “refreshing.” The unions said it’s clear the mayor-elect recognizes “that it is well past time to come to the table and negotiate a global settlement,” according to a joint statement from incoming police union president Paul Kelly and firefighters union president Joel Phelan.

Liccardo has already met with union leaders since his narrow win in November over his labor-backed opponent, county supervisor Dave Cortese, and thinks he has a window for negotiations during the postelection calm after a heated campaign. He also wants to send a message of encouragement to cops who are thinking about leaving.

“As police officers are mulling their options we certainly want to ensure that our workforce is aware that the city leadership is focused on finding a resolution,” Liccardo said. “We need to negotiate as long as it takes to get to a resolution.”

The downtown councilman’s proposal will be the first new item of business taken up by the new City Council when it is seated in the New Year, starting with a committee meeting on Jan. 7. It calls for laying out a process to bring both sides back to the bargaining table for the first time since last spring in hopes of settling the lawsuit unions filed to block the pension reforms.

The proposal also concedes that two key aspects of the reforms — requiring existing employees to pay more toward their pensions and making it harder for injured cops to receive a disability retirement — would be delayed another year, until July 2016. But those provisions had already been tied up in a lengthy ongoing court process, and it is unclear if they would be legally settled before 2016, anyway.

Liccardo is also continuing to offer smaller giveaways from earlier this year to help ease the tensions between cops and City Hall. Those include bumping up bilingual pay for officers and allowing retirement-age cops to work part-time while collecting a piece of their pensions, but the union had brushed aside those plans before the election, saying they did not solve their underlying concerns over Measure B.

Contact Mike Rosenberg at 408-920-5705. Follow him at Twitter.com/RosenbergMerc.

http://www.mercurynews.com/bay-area-news/ci_27110533/incoming-san-jose-mayors-first-order-business-settle