Commentary: Expect unions to play a big role in the election

As of Dec. 31, the Newport Beach Firefighters Assn. Political Action Committee had $76,115.67 on hand. By the end of summer, it should have more than $90,000 at its disposal.

The Newport Beach Police Employees Assn. Political Action Committee had $89,192.28 on hand. It should hit $100,000 by the time election season heats up.

According to Newport Beach's human resources director, the Lifeguard Management and Police associations' contracts are up June 30, with negotiations between the police and the city already begun in earnest.

The firefighters' memorandum of understanding ends Dec. 31.

So in this election year, with three open City Council seats as well as that of Mayor Rush Hill, will they be in play?

Firefighters Assn. PAC President Brian McDonough told me, "We have not determined how or if our PAC funds will be used during the upcoming campaign season."

But in 2006, with an unfriendly City Council, the firefighters' association let its lifeguard contract expire June 30, and then spent more money than most of the 10 candidates in that election getting its slate of candidates elected, which conveniently resulted in lucrative contracts for the full-time lifeguards in February 2007.

Can they make that much of a difference this year, and is this really a different political climate?

Take into consideration how much these public safety officers earn now. According to, the fire division chief earns $354,657 in total compensation (pay plus benefits), while the fire chief earns $277,286. Between those two men are eight city employees who earn between $348,095 (the police chief) and $278,533 (a police lieutenant).

These salaries far outpace those of most Newport Beach residents, according to census data.

Overall, 123 city employees earn more than $200,000 a year in total compensation, and 22 of these earn more than $250,000.

Guess how many of them are not public safety employees? Twelve, with City Manager Dave Kiff at the top of that list.

Don't forget that many of them will be able to retire with up to 90% of what they've earned for the rest of their lives.

Why? Because previous councils were too afraid to stand up to the public employee unions and associations.

Just as PACs from the Stop the Dock Tax and the Save the Fire Pits folks will be playing a role in the November council election, don't be surprised to see the police and fire associations do the same.

With more money on hand than 90% of the council candidates have, expect the police and fire PACs to be big players in the race.

They have too much to protect.

Newport Beach accountant JACK WU is a conservative columnist for the Orange County Register's weekly Current and a former Daily Pilot columnist.

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