At a D.C. Council committee hearing on Friday concerning D.C. retirement legislation some believe would lead to a golden parachute for police brass, police and fire union leaders asked why the bill was necessary in the first place.

“A: It’s not good for morale,” said Kris Baumann, head of D.C.’s Fraternal Order of Police. “B: It doesn’t make any financial sense.” Baumann argued that the legislation would benefit those who had been promoted to the top echelons of Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier‘s command structure during her tenure. Some of those who were promoted didn’t technically meet the requirements of their new rank. As a result, if Lanier is removed as chief, they could be bumped back to their previous rank. The bill might allow those who find themselves in that precarious situation to retire immediately, and at their current pay. Fire department union chief Ray Sneed agreed with Baumann: “What I see the bill doing is basically rewarding all the management.”

Presiding over the hearing as chairman of the Public Safety Committee, At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson said the bill, which would make it so cops receive “an annuity of no more than 80 percent of his or her average pay, or 80 percent of his or her basic salary at the time of retirement, whichever is higher,” wouldn’t just benefit Lanier’s top aides. “I understand the officers of the lowest rank will not benefit from this,” the councilmember said, but, he pointed out that a lieutenant being downgraded to sergeant could. (Mendelson said in an earlier interview that the bill won’t permit high-ranking cops who serve at the chief’s pleasure to retire immediately, but will instead allow them to factor their current salaries into their retirement somehow. )

Baumann hammered back that he believed the bill was not only unfair to police rank and file, but to taxpayers as well. He said the bill would cost taxpayers a bundle and that he failed “to see what the benefit is to the public.”

Several times during the back and forth, Mendelson implied that he thought Baumann had the wrong version of the bill on hand. But Mendelson also later said that all versions of the bill were identical. Adding to the confusion, when Baumann read from a declaration attached to one version of the bill, the councilmember insinuated he’d never encountered its language. That seems odd, as Mendelson’s office sent a copy of the declaration to City Desk via e-mail about a week ago.

Chief Lanier appeared at the hearing to assure the public that there was no funny business going on. A study had been done by the Retirement Board that showed that the city could manage the costs involved. She also guaranteed that her favored cops wouldn’t be receiving any golden parachutes: “There’s no special carve out for anyone here.”

Photo of Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier by Darrow Montgomery

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