The Fullerton City Council this week narrowly approved a 9 percent raise over two years for the city’s firefighters, with accusations of hypocrisy and pandering accompanying the vote.
The two-year agreement, which gives firefighters a retroactive raise of 5 percent dating back to July 2015 and a 4 percent bump for the 2016-2017 fiscal year, will cost Fullerton nearly $2 million.
The vote was 3-2, with councilmen Greg Sebourn and Bruce Whitaker loudly dissenting.
Whitaker, who has been a leader of the Tea Party wing of the county Republican Party, expressed his concern on how the city is going to afford the raise and the increasing pension costs. He said that the math doesn’t add up.
“This council has not only succeeded in kicking the can down the road, but the can has become rocket propelled,” Whitaker said.
Mayor Pro Tem Jan Flory, who along with Mayor Jennifer Fitzgerald and Councilman Doug Chaffee, characterized Whitaker as a hypocrite for railing against pension costs when he receives multiple pensions.
“I’ll tell you one of the things that absolutely knocks me out … my colleague to the right of me (Whitaker) … has been taking off the government tap for a very long time,” Mayor Pro Tem Jan Flory said, adding that Whitaker has three government pensions.
Flory added that she is self-employed along with Mayor Jennifer Fitzgerald and Councilman Doug Chaffee. “We are not sucking on the government tit.”
Whitaker insists he does not take a public pension and that Flory is peddling misinformation.
“Please provide any documentation you have supporting that claim,” Whitaker shot back to Flory during the meeting. He said a check of Transparent California, a website that discloses local and state officials salaries and pensions, would show that Flory is wrong.
During public comment, some residents asked why the city jumped onboard a two-year agreement as opposed to a four-year pact like the one given to police officers.
Flory said that the city opted for a two-year agreement because Fullerton and Brea are negotiating a possible joint powers authority between their respective fire departments.
The command staff between the two cities has already been merged at “great savings to the city”,” said Flory, who estimated the savings as over $1 million. “We are hoping that by merging the entire departments, we will achieve even greater savings.”
Resident Joe Imbriano said during public comment that the “problems here are very simple. The unions own all of you. But if they don’t, I would like to hear from you tonight.”
Whitaker and Sebourn were quick to disavow any union connections.
“I do not benefit … from the support of these city groups on my election process,” Whitaker said.
“I’ve ran for office twice and never had support of these groups,” Sebourn said.
Fitzgerald made it clear to everyone that it is her policy to not take any money from the public safety groups.
Chaffee said that while he’s not looking for reelection any time soon, the city needs to “have public safety as number one priority.”
Flory echoed Chaffee’s sentiment of the importance of public safety.
“When your house is on fire, when you have a heart attack … you’re going to call 911,” Flory said. “Public safety is certainly at the top of the list.”
Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Councilman Bruce Whitaker’s name. We regret the error.
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC intern. Please contact him at Scustodio21@csu.fullerton.edu.