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Goldsmith on DROP: ‘The city is not on a crusade’

June 2, 2009 - 3:11 pm

San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said today that his memo suggesting that the Deferred Retirement Option Program was never legally valid should be interpreted as narrowly as possible. Speaking to reporters, Goldsmith said that he and his staff prepared the memo as part of their response in the lawsuit filed by the Police Officers Association over the question of whether the City Council could alter DROP without a vote of the workers. He emphasized that the memo was only intended to address the question of whether a vote of the workers would be required to eliminate DROP, and not a question of whether all of DROP was invalid.

“We’re still bound by state labor laws and MOUs,” he said. “I’ve taken angry calls, some very angry, from the unions, and I don’t blame them. This program has been in place for 12 years.”

In a memo released this morning, Goldsmith noted that several important conditions had not been met in 1996, the year DROP was negotiated into the city’s labor agreements. In particular, while the retirement system had gotten a majority of workers who voted to approve the new agreement, it had not gotten a majority of all workers. Goldsmith’s memo says that this means DROP was never legally valid.

But the implications of the memo are dramatic: Is all of DROP invalid? What does this mean for the other benefits negotiated in the 1996 agreement? How common was this voting practice? What does it mean for other benefits if they didn’t meet this voting standard?

Goldsmith declined to answer most of these questions from reporters. He focused on the fact that this memo was meant as an argument for a hearing on Friday, and he’s still waiting to hear from the retirement board’s lawyers to get their thoughts on the matter.

“The city is not on a crusade to end the DROP program,” he said.

Goldsmith said union lawyers asked him whether the problem could be corrected with a new vote. Goldsmith didn’t opine, but he did say that he’d be concerned that the members of the system are not the same as they were back in 1996.

City Councilmember Carl DeMaio has requested that Goldsmith go over the rest of the city’s labor agreements to see if there may be other technicalities. Goldsmith didn’t commit to anything but did say he would not avoid doing the work.

Joan Raymond, the head of the city’s blue-collar workers’ union, also spoke at the end of the press conference.

“We just learned of this today,” she said. “We consider DROP to be a bona-fide program.”

Of course, all of this raises the question of how it could be missed for the last 12 years. The program was enacted under City Attorney Casey Gwinn, and the issue went unexamined under City Attorney Mike Aguirre.

“I just asked the stupid question,” Goldsmith said. “Sometimes that’s all it takes.”

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