Tempers Tested During City, Police Union Arbitration Hearing

Tempers were tested as the city of Jamestown and the Kendall Club Police Benevolent Association arbitration hearing restarted Wednesday.

The discussion focused on the Jamestown Board of Public Utilities as David Leathers, BPU general manager, started the hearing by testifying about what had been stated previously by Charles DeAngelo, attorney for the police union, last month during his opening statement.

Leathers said some of DeAngelo’s statements on the BPU were misleading and inaccurate, which led to DeAngelo objecting to Leathers’ classification on his statements about the city-owned utility.

“(DeAngelo) attempts to create a bit of a smokescreen,” Leathers said. “Honestly, it’s a bit sad.”

DeAngelo also objected to Leathers talking about city issues, mainly the police union’s contract that expired at the start of 2016. He said Leathers should only be discussing the BPU, which led to an objection from Marilyn Fiore-Lehman, city corporate counsel.

Howard Foster, the independent arbitrator, who was joined by John Crotty, representing the police union, and Todd Thomas, representing the city, on the panel, said he had no problem with Leathers discussing the police union’s contract in comparison with BPU employees under collective bargaining agreements.

According to Leathers, one example of DeAngelo not presenting the whole story was when the attorney said it is ridiculous that city officials were only offering zero percent pay increases for the police officers. Leathers said in 2014 and 2015, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 459 accepted zero percent pay increases when they accepted a new contract in November 2015. He also said that the IBEW 459 pays higher health insurance premiums, more for prescription medication and doesn’t receive health insurance after the age of 65. Members of the Kendall Club receive health insurance after they retire and receive Medicare supplemental insurance after they are 65.

Leathers said it is not an accurate comparison made by DeAngelo when he said a starting police officer makes considerably less than a starting BPU employee. Last month, DeAngelo said a starting Jamestown Police Department officer makes $50,000 a year while a starting BPU line worker starts at around $70,000.

Leathers said it is true that a starting line worker does make $70,000 a year, but that is not an introductory BPU position. He said new electric workers start as utility workers and, after seven to 10 years, can progress to being a line worker. He said a new utility worker starts at around $31,000 a year.

Last month, Leathers said DeAngelo accused city and BPU officials of not trying to increase the tax equivalency payments, also known as TEP, they make to municipalities and school districts. Leathers said, through the years, the BPU has asked the state Public Service Commission three times to increase TEP payments and each time they were denied. He discussed in detail the 1994 full rate case decision by the PSC, in which the commission stated that if they raise TEP payments it would be unfair to BPU customers. He also said that in 1994 the commission reported that the BPU was paying a higher percentage of a TEP payment to school districts and municipalities than private utility companies in the state make.

Leathers, who has been the BPU general manager for more than 10 years, said at the beginning of the hearing that it was awkward for him to be in-between the police union and the city during an arbitration hearing.

“I respect the hell out of the officers,” Leathers said.