Commentary: Generous pensions drive CMPD retirements

Have you heard of Costa Mesa's scandal de jour? Since 2012, 26 of our police officers have left. Most have simply retired.

News flash: A retirement providing an officer 90% of his highest annual salary at age 50 will encourage early retirement. It's not rocket science. Yet, part of Costa Mesa's perpetually outraged electorate blames their favorite boogeyman, the mayor, James Righeimer, for this simple law of economics.

An objective person looking for the cause could blame Gov. Jerry Brown for signing legislation more than 30 years ago that permitted our public officials to unionize, or CalPERS for misrepresenting that retroactively raising our officers' pensions by 50% wouldn't require increased city contributions, or naïve and ill-informed (pre-COIN, the Civic Openness in Negotiations ordinance) council members accepting these promises of a free lunch at face value (City Council candidate Katrina Foley).

No. It's easier to blame the mayor, who did not cause our current dilemma but is successfully guiding our city through these fiscal land mines. As a consequence of his leadership, our budget is now balanced, 25% of our roads will have been resurfaced, blighted areas are being renovated and capital improvement projects are marching forward. Costa Mesa is in the best shape it's been in for quite some time.

But to the aforementioned group of aggrieved, our officers are delicate flowers who flee Costa Mesa's "political environment" because they cannot tolerate any criticism regarding pay and pension — or any criticism — or call for an investigation regarding the targeting of the mayor through a false police report, the planting of a GPS tracking device on the mayor pro tem's vehicle and the effort to influence an election by entrapping candidates.

We know better. It's a contract year. Our sturdy officers have much to gain by portraying themselves as victims.

Aside from contract year shenanigans, I would hope that serious-minded and responsible Costa Mesans can agree that these acts are the most serious of allegations. When those with the legal power to take life and liberty are even suspected of such behavior, immediate and thorough investigation and complete transparency is required. Not acting undermines the credibility, authority and ultimately the effectiveness of law enforcement and stains the reputation of our entire Police Department.

The release of any internal or independent third-party investigation would be a first step toward addressing such suspicions. Citizens have the right to know who in the department (if anyone) engaged in or was aware of such targeting, bullying and tracking.

Yet, amid such public suspicion, the Cost Mesa Police Officer's Assn. continues to mount the most vigorous of legal fights to prevent its members from testifying under oath. As a result, Costa Mesa has not begun to address this issue, nor have we started to institute the reforms necessary to ensure that this cannot happen again.

Attorney TIM SESLER is a Costa Mesa planning commissioner.

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