Offers of early retirement were “the cornerstone” of the state’s Atlantic City takeover plan, legislators said in a statement Wednesday.
But the lawyer representing the state overseers said in court this week that the ERIs — or early retirement incentives — were off the table.
The ERIs were a point of contention during a hearing before Assignment Judge Julio Mendez on Monday, as Atlantic City’s police union fights against contract changes and layoffs the state is trying to implement.
The offer for officers with 20 or more years on the force had first been discussed as a “win-win,” Atlantic City PBA attorney Mark Belland told the judge.
But that offer from January was no longer on the table due to plaintiffs’ conduct, countered Ron Israel, an attorney with the law firm of state overseer Jeff Chiesa.
Belland said that proved the state was being punitive.
“When the Legislature approved the state takeover plan, the cornerstone of the legislation was an incentive plan for early retirement for public employees, police officers and firefighters,” state Senate President Steve Sweeney, Sen. Jim Whelan and Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo said in a joint statement released Wednesday. “The ERI was meant to avoid massive layoffs of police officer and firefighters who are so important to the city’s well being. The best way, the fair way and the responsible was to rightsize the public workforce without jeopardizing public safety is to provide incentives for early retirements.”
Atlantic City Police Capt. Frank Brennan, who heads the Superior Officers Association, said they had been confused by Israel’s assertion Monday.
“Obviously, by the statement from (the legislators), this is not the case and was misrepresented in court… at least from the standpoint of the legislators,” Brennan said. “We also feel the ERI is a key component to doing what is right and fair for all involved.”
The only reason it’s not being used “is because the state, for some reason, wants to punish us,” Atlantic City PBA President Matt Rogers said. “It’s common sense,” he said. “It gave a chance for employees topped out on the pay scale to retire and be back-filled by lower-paid employees. ”
The state is calling for 100 firefighters to be cut — nearly halving the department — along with about 19 officers to bring the ranks to a total of 250 officers.
Mendez previously stayed the firefighter personnel cuts as the case winds its way through his courtroom. He is not stopping the firefighter contract changes, saying the harm caused by any changes in hours or pay is not irreperable if the fire union’s fight is successful.
He is expected to render a decision on the police argument within the next few days, although the firefighter decision had the same promised timeline and wound up taking about three weeks.
“The ERI is in the bill,” Whelan told BreakingAC. “It’s in the law. We have consistently encouraged both parties to try to do an early retirement, and they haven’t gotten there.
“Whose fault that is?” he asked, asked, “It takes two to dance.”
Whelan said he is hopeful the parties can get together and “save a lot of money.”
The city’s PBA representatives have said they are willing to negotiate while waiting for the judge’s decision.
Israel could not immediately be reached for comment.