City Hall

Hearts Bleed for Cops, but Money Is Money and Must Be Counted

Our souls are burdened by the murder of five police officers on the streets of Dallas just over a month ago. But we’re going to have to muster some patience and some self-control, anyway, while our City Council hammers out the fire and police pay and hiring issues on its plate now.

Money is still money. Somebody has to count it, come rain or come shine. Meanwhile, theatrical stuff is going on.

Two days ago the Dallas Police Association, the main union-not-a-union for the cops, “withdrew its endorsement” from District 11 City Council member Lee Kleinman. (In Dallas, the police, fire and teacher "unions" don't have the right to bargain collectively, so they're not exactly what Yankees consider unions.)

Ron Pinkston, head of the police union-not-a-union, told WBAP, the Rush Limbaugh station, that his group had never before withdrawn an endorsement. I wondered about that. I was sort of scratching my head, anyway, because I think of endorsements as having to do with election campaigns, and Kleinman isn’t running for office. He’s already in office.

Pinkston told the Limbaugh station that Kleinman had been instructed to remove the union-not-a-union’s logo and notice of endorsement from his personal (non-city) web page. So I guess this is an ongoing endorsement or seal of approval, like those stickers they give you if you give money to the police benevolent society so you can put them on the rear window of your car to get out of tickets.

Pinkston told the Limbaugh station: “If somebody is not going to be there to support you and at least listen to you, then we had to pull our endorsement.”

I called Pinkston. He was in a city council committee meeting but called me back later in the day.  I missed it. An earlier version of this story said he didn't call me. He did. It was my fault for missing the call-back. 

Kleinman called me back and said, “I work for the taxpayers. I don’t work for those associations.”

This is all about money.

Kleinman said, “I won’t pledge to them to give them an across-the-board raise.” He said he is “very supportive” of targeted raises to help with recruitment and retention of young officers.

The union-not-a-union leadership that he’s having strained relations with right now, he said, is made up of “the guys that used to control the pension system — all these older guys that were involved and just enriching themselves.”

Remember that Kleinman, District 1 council member Scott Griggs and District 14 member Philip Kingston were tasked by Mayor Mike Rawlings with cleaning up the city’s shipwrecked police and fire pension system. Staff and lawyers at the pension system fought back against proposed reforms by doing things like digging into Griggs’ private life in an utterly failed search for dirt and by trying and failing to officially censure Kingston for making a joke about one of the pension system’s investments.
Kleinman actually resigned from the pension board in May so he could advocate forcefully for the city on police pay and pension issues without the pension fund bringing some kind of made-up, capital, felony, conflict of interest, death penalty case against him for being on the pension board while negotiating with them for the city. Phew.

He said on the phone yesterday that he wants the city to be able to maintain its own priorities on police pay: “One of the major issues is that we can’t seem to keep young cops on board,” he said. “They go to other cities. That’s where we need to put our resources.”

He also pointed out that the police issue is not the only issue the council must weigh carefully in the ongoing budget process: “Jim, we have [loose] dogs, we have homeless, we have streets, we have code [enforcement for substandard buildings]. It’s not like policing is the only service we are providing.”

Kingston, who sometimes is not on the same page with Kleinman, to put it nicely, in this case is struggling with the same larger question of priorities: “My overarching issue,” he said to me yesterday, “is whether the amount of money we have to spend is sufficient to provide safety for the citizens of Dallas.”

Whatever that number may be — the proper amount of money for the city to spend on law enforcement — Kingston, like Kleinman, like all of the council and the mayor, must struggle with the divvying up part —how much for young cops, how much for old cops, how much for new cops, how much for pensions and so on.

The police and fire unions-not-unions are being represented in pay talks with the city by Ron DeLord, a national expert and negotiator of public employee contracts and the author of a book of techniques that police and fire associations can use to get better deals.

DeLord has a PowerPoint presentation you can see online, explaining what public employees need to do to defend themselves. And this is, after all, an era when public employees have faced tough assaults on pay and benefit levels that they fought for decades to achieve. One aspect of DeLord’s PowerPoint I found especially interesting – given the excommunication of Kleinman – was a slide extolling the value of taking down or humiliating an individual officeholder in a very visible way.

I can’t read all of the captions on the slide because of the way the file was saved, but the caption at the top ends, “… not lost on the rest of the Wildebeest.” In the background, several wildebeests are staring at the foreground, where a cheetah is feasting on the entrails of a felled wildebeest.

A label pointing to the cheetah says, “Union,” while a label pointing to the unfortunate wildebeest says, “Elected official.” A balloon over one of the wildebeests in the background says, “Wow, that could be me next time.”

So I guess we all get that one. The label over the felled animal might as well say “Kleinman,” except that he’s not felled yet, just lightly grazed.

And, look, I don’t have a position on the pay thing. I don’t know enough. Nor do I believe it’s wrong for the unions-not-unions to play hardball. Everybody else does. And this is, after all, about their livelihoods.

But I also know how raw and exposed our feelings are right now about the police and how badly we want to show our support. I’m just saying, look, this is about money. The people who have to balance the checkbook for us are our elected officials.

Do you really think Lee Kleinman, a North Dallas conservative if there ever was one, is anti-police? Kingston isn’t anti-police, either. This is a labor-management negotiation. Things get theatrical. You and I just need to not get played.
KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze