by Richard Warbrouck
As the final special Legislative Session was coming to a close a joint legislative committee was appointed to discuss and negotiate a state budget that both the House and Senate could agree to. Unfortunately these budget committee meetings were behind closed doors and apparently exempt from the open meeting law and public disclosure requirements. At this time we don’t even know how many legislators or who were appointed to this committee.
On about Thursday, June 22, 2017 we learned that some committee members were proposing a LEOFF I LEOFF II merger. The fear was that a merger would be passed in the budget as NTIB (necessary to implement the budget), not subject to a hearing, only to a vote of the House and Senate and if passed by both chambers the signature of the Governor. So much for transparency.
We had informed our members right along that this could happen even though there was no merger bill introduced. With members from both houses and with both republicans and democrats on the budget committee, I am sure that a budget forwarded by the committee would be accepted by the House and Senate.
We informed our members that this could happen. A merger didn’t have to be passed in a bill. The budget is a bill itself. If you remember this is how they discontinued the LEOFF I contributions. We talked with Dennis Lawson, President of the Washington State Council of Firefighters, several legislators and went to Olympia to express our concerns. We learned on Tuesday that the merger proposal was no longer being considered in the budget discussion.
This proposal was generated in secret. The claim is that it was done solely by the budget committee working to find a way to pass a state budget. We were down to the wire with just a few days before there would be a government shutdown for lack of a budget. Of course this adds drama and serves as a vehicle to justify outrageous legislation. So everything is done behind closed doors and we are not supposed to learn about it until it is a done deal. Some how it got leaked on the 22nd.
Upon hearing about this we started contacting legislators and other organizations that might be impacted. The Washington State Council of Firefighters (WSCFF) was the first to hear the news and they passed on the information to the Retired Fire fighters of Washington (RFFOW). A legislative staff person also contacted both of these organizations. Interestingly no police organizations were notified. The president of the Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs (WACOPS) had heard nothing. The Council of Metropolitan Police and Sheriffs (COMPAS) had heard nothing. Some local fire fighter unions like Tacoma knew about the plan.
I don’t believe the LEOFF I Coalition was aware of this because I asked a few legislators if they heard from the Coalition lobbyist Joyce Willms, the response was no. There was no mention of this in the recent Coalition Newsletter! What would be more newsworthy?
Wednesday was the LEOFF II Board meeting. They did not have a quorum so the meeting did not take place but the parties interested in this issue were able to meet and review what had occurred. By this time we had learned that the merger proposal had been withdrawn and then on Wednesday morning we were advised that the legislature had secured a budget agreement.
But we were there so we had a meeting about the merger anyway. Present were representatives of the Council of Firefighters, the lobbyist for COMPAS, the lobbyist for WACOPS, two board members of the RFFOW, representatives from Seattle Fire Local 27, the Seattle Police Officers, and the LEOFF II Executive Director Steve Nelson.
We had a lively discussion because many were seeing conspiracy and collusion based on the way the information was revealed and strong connection with the WSCFF principles. Most of these concerns were dispelled in a period of frank discussion and with the leadership of the WSCFF president.
We did learn that the LEOFF II Board director, Steve Nelson, had been asked to draft a merger bill that would meet the ten principles in the resolution regarding mergers passed at the WSCFF annual convention months ago. Since Steve was doing this for the legislature he was unable to provide the name of the legislator or even a copy of what he had written. He did suspect the proposed bill would have been close to what he had written. While many of us feel the LEOFF II Board should not allow their employee to engage in the development of such bills in any forum except the public forum of the Board, they do permit him to do so at this time. In fairness to Steve he is in a bit of a hard spot because without such a restriction it is difficult for him to refuse a request from a legislator.
A big lesson was made clear once again. Political action pays off. The most politically active group, WSCFF appears to be the first to be notified of the secret move to pass a LEOFF I / LEOFF II merger. I guess this is to be expected given their connections with legislators and their political contributions.
The RFFOW was notified in the same manner, again, a product due to many years of walking the Olympia hallways ,making campaign donations, and for being active in protecting the pension fund.
We had a special Director’s meeting on June 27, 2017 to discuss the LEOFF I – LEOFF II merger proposal being considered in the budget committee and the need to look to the future In representing retired firefighters and law enforcement officers. Minutes of meeting posted in Newsletter. We also had a special joint board meeting with Jerry Taylor, members of the Seattle Re tired Police Officers Association and Ken Crowder of the Retired Snohomish County Deputy Sheriff Association (RSCDSA). We dis cussed future representation for retired fire and law enforcement officers. We have to broaden our base in representing the retirees and spouses and maybe the 3,300 LEOFF II retirees. The majority of the 7,300 LEOFF I members can make a contribution and have a voice in a democratic NON-PARTISAN organization with full transparency, elected officers, regular meetings, minutes of meetings and financial reports. I’m sure that the majority of the 7,300 LEOFF I retirees would be willing to pay their fair share. This is important: Any group asking for your help should be held accountable. The day that only the 1500 RFFOW members pay the full cost of political donations, attending fundraising events for legislators and candidates, lobbying in Olympia, and for representing police and fire retirees across the State with pension and disability board problems is coming to an end. We would appreciate your thoughts.
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