The Town of Mammoth has been plagued with the breach of contract lawsuit that ended in a debt payment of $29.5 million over 23 years. Now, Mammoth Police Officers have pointed to what they say is another possible breach of contract that could end up in court. In a letter from their lawyer, the police officers say if the Town does cut officers in January, police will go to court over a violation of their signed contract with the Town.
The proposal to cut police sounded more like an accomplished fact when officials specifically said they would make those cuts by January 1, 2013. Police officers pointed to their signed agreement with the Town which guaranteed a force of 17 officers through this fiscal year. Attorney Rob Sergi has sent a letter on behalf of the Mammoth Police Officers Association to the Town with a message that if the Town does follow through with proposed police cuts then officers will have no choice, he wrote, but to “seek relief from the courts.” Sergi’s letter says the police officers will “also consider it a breach of the entire agreement and seek reimbursement for benefits taken away from the original MOU.”
Faced with yet another breach of contract issue and a potential court fight, Town officials are expected to recommend a delay in police cuts until July 1, 2013. Attorney Rob Sergi sent the letter to Town Manager Dave Wilbrecht last week. Sergi made it clear that in June police agreed to re-negotiate their contract with the Town only because of a fiscal emergency and to avoid layoffs of police. Based on those conditions, police agreed to a 23% pay and benefit cut. The Town had agreed in that MOU to maintain staffing levels at 17 police officers.
Town Councilman Rick Wood said that the Town proposed police cuts but never made that decision. He said the Town is in a “fact-gathering phase for the long-term restructuring of government at a lower cost. We’re not ignoring the police agreement,” said Wood. The Councilman also said, “We fired a shot across the bow. It’s not a done deal. Citizens have said not to touch their tax measure money. There’s not a lot to work with.”
Councilwoman Jo Bacon said, “We were well aware of what is in the police contract and there was a consensus to start discussions about cuts.”
Attorney Sergi also says the police contract and staffing levels are a matter of negotiations not public opinion polls. He says the vote on the agreement was made and approved by police and the Town Council.
Town officials did create a community survey that asks several questions about whether to cut police. The police officers association letter is posted below:
ROBIN L. SERGI, ATTORNEY AT LAW
October 9, 2012
Dave Wilbrecht, Town Manager
Town of Mammoth Lakes
P.O. Box 1609
Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546
Dear Mr. Wilbrec
I write you on behalf of the Mammoth Lakes Police Officer Association (MLPOA) and to advise you that this office has been retained to represent them regarding recent contract negotiations and the pending breach of that contract.
When the MLPOA agreed to re-open the current MOU it was done on the representation that the Town was acting in good faith and in response to a fiscal emergency. Based on representations made by the Town Manager the MLPOA voluntarily re-opened their MOU for negotiation. This was done for the sole purpose of preventing planned layoffs of MLPOA members. At that time the Town was fully aware of the extent of the fiscal problems and the amount owed to their creditors.
On those grounds the MLPOA gave up significant amounts of their pay and benefits and in return the Town included provisions in the current agreement to maintain staffing levels at 17 sworn officers. This firm recognizes that generally public employers do have the prerogative of establishing staffing levels of the workforce. However there is case law that supports our contention that workforce levels are negotiable and are part of the working conditions of current employees, see Firefighters Union v City of Vallejo 12 Cal. 3d 608. To that end the Town itself opened the door to make staffing levels a negotiable item.
Current proposals by the Town Council are suggesting that those staffing levels that were agreed to will now be reduced to a point that will make it extremely unsafe for the citizens of the Town and the remaining officers. The safety of the officers are most certainly part of their working conditions and are subject to review by the courts.
The California Commission on Police Officer Standards and Training (POST) conducted a “Management Study” of the Mammoth Lakes Police Department (Dated September 20, 2012). Based on that extensive study, POST recommended a base of 20 sworn officers. This firm realizes that the reduction from the agreed 17 sworn positions down to 10 sworn officers are “proposed” and have not been made. It is our position that based on the current agreement; the contract and the stated staffing levels should not be up to public input, that vote has already been cast, as it was ratified by the MLPOA and adopted by the Town Council.
I would also like to advise you that if the Town does decide to follow through with the proposed changes to the agreement and reduce the number of positions from the agreed upon number then you will leave the MLPOA no choice but to seek relief from the courts. The MLPOA will also consider it a breach of the entire agreement and seek reimbursement for benefits taken away from the original MOU.
If you wish to discuss the matter further please do not hesitate to contact me at (562) 810-0560.
Robin L. Sergi, Esq.