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Similarly, the town's police officers average $175,000 in total compensation — far beyond normal cop pay in California — but see so little action that their biggest recent case involved a flasher who harassed girls.
Burns' father was a cop, as was his uncle. He has worked with police and firefighters throughout his 20-year civilian career in emergency services.
"I respect public-safety guys individually," he says. "But together they've become a too-powerful political force that is damaging our city."
The simmering salary debate escalated this summer with a smart bomb launched by Robbins, a former councilman–turned–gadfly who filed a public-records request and got documents showing the total compensation of all city employees — by name. He posted the explosive data at his blog, publicsafetyproject.org.
A few weeks later the Los Angeles Times broke its blockbuster corruption story about the city of Bell. After that, El Segundo City Council, which boasts about the town's free trash pickup — a heavy tax burden is borne by oil giant Chevron and aerospace megacorporations — was beset with demands for spending cutbacks and union concessions.
"The taxpayers of El Segundo can't afford these bloated compensation packages handed out to police and fire," says Robbins, a software engineer. "It's unsustainable."
In the last decade, Robbins said, El Segundo has become a small-scale model of the type of government takeover by public unions that is happening all over California. He urged taxpayers to connect the dots.
"Police and fire unions have become major political forces by endorsing and funding their preferred candidates," Robbins says. "When those candidates get [onto city councils] they are beholden to the unions. It's big city–style politics."
Last week, the council approved a budget for the 2010 fiscal year that began October 1. The council achieved it by draining the $3.6 million city reserves, which temporarily balanced the $55.5 million General Fund.
Mayor Busch, who was endorsed by the police and fire department unions — and then voted to approve their raises — insists, "I would do the same thing again." He calls it "fiscally responsible for the long term."
Brann, who wasn't endorsed by the police or firefighters, strongly disagrees: "All the budget trend lines were moving in the wrong direction. But who wants to fight the police and firefighters?"
Especially when a high-ranking cop thinks it appropriate to find your place of work, check out your salary and give you a tongue-lashing if you dare to expose the $302,000 in pay and bennies he gets to police a tiny city where, until now, little ever happened.
Contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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