PHOENIX (CN) – Two taxpayers claim Phoenix unconstitutionally pays $1.5 million a year to members of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association to do work for the police union.
The Goldwater Institute, which represents the two plaintiffs in Maricopa County Court, claims that “because the city receives very little from PLEA in return, this grant to PLEA represents a clear violation of the Arizona Constitution.”
The two residents of Phoenix claim a Memorandum of Understanding signed March 17, 2010, “bestows lopsided benefits on PLEA, which constitute an unconstitutional subsidy under the gift clause.”
Lead plaintiff William Cheatham says the city “finances the benefits to PLEA under the MOU through city tax revenue,” and grants PLEA “tens of thousands” of release-time hours, which “permit PLEA to release Phoenix police officers from their official duties to perform union duties while still receiving full pay, benefits and insurance coverage from the city.”
The union is also allowed to designate six Phoenix police officers to work for it full-time, the complaint states, and those officers are granted leave of absence by the police chief. PLEA may also designate 35 police officers as part-time union representatives, who “continue to engage in ordinary police duties but are authorized by PLEA to interrupt those duties to engage in union work,” the complaint adds.
The city does not have permission to audit the union’s use of release-time hours, and the union is “not required to account for its use of release time hours,” according to the complaint.
The plaintiffs say that each full-time position receives 4,160 paid release-time hours, and each position also gets 320 hours of overtime release-time, for which the officers are paid “1.5 times their ordinary base pay.”
The Goldwater Institute claims the average salary and benefits package for Phoenix police officers who use release-time hours is at least $100,000 per year, and the average value of the release time is at least $1.5 million.
According to the complaint, the “benefits to PLEA under the MOU serve to promote the union’s purposes, and do not serve a public purpose.”
The plaintiffs claim the benefits “granted to PLEA under the MOU, including release-time hours to further the mission and organization existence of PLEA, constitute a subsidy and an impermissible gift to an association, which exceeds defendants’ lawful powers.”
The plaintiffs seek to stop the city from “spending public funds to subsidize PLEA through the grant of release time and other benefits.”
The plaintiffs, William Cheatham and Marcus Huey, are described as two Phoenix taxpayers.
Named as defendants along with the city and PLEA are Mayor Phil Gordon; Vice Mayor Thelda Williams; City Manager David Cavazos; and City Council Members Jim Waring, Bill Gates, Tom Simplo, Claude Mattox, Sal Diciccio, Michael Nowakowski, and Michael Johnson.
The plaintiffs are represented by Clint Bolick and Taylor Earl with the Goldwater Institute.