At that packed meeting Fuhrmann made a lengthy presentation to the council in which he said that a year from now only 85 police officers will be available for patrol in Antioch – fewer than in 1989, when he was hired. There will actually be 91 sworn officers on duty, but six of them will be pulled off the streets to do support jobs formerly provided by the city’s 22 community services officers (CSOs), the last 11 of whom were laid off July 22, he said.
“At this time next year we stand to be down 35 sworn (officer positions) and 22 CSOs, for a total (shortage) of 57 employees vital to public safety,” Fuhrmann told the council. “Fifty-seven public safety employees (cut) from an authorized 148. That’s unacceptable. That’s more than a 40 percent staffing shortage in the police department. What do you think will happen to this community when you cut your police department by 40 percent?
“With the changes over the last year of eliminating scheduled overtime and being down 21 sworn positions, the layoffs of the CSOs last year combined with the additional layoffs of our final 11 CSOs, the city has piled almost 85,000 man-hours of work back onto a staff that is depleted and is gravely low and not able to keep up with the demands placed on them. The safety of our citizens and officers in this community is imperative.”
Fuhrmann’s remarks were unusually confrontational for a police official to the City Council in a public meeting: “For the past two years we have sat back and listened and paid attention to what goes on in this council chamber. We listen as other bargaining units lambaste us. We listen as the council defames us. And still yet say nothing and allow it to continue and come to work and do our job every day.
“Unfortunately, things have come to a head. As you recall, a little over a year ago I spoke about the famous frog in the water and turning up the heat. The water is boiling.”
Fuhrmann argued that when economic times are tough, it’s more important for a family to pay the PG&E bill than take the kids to an amusement park.
“You have no plan to get through this,” he told the council. “You continue to spend on luxuries such as a water park, animal services and a community center that’s a pipe dream if you think we can afford to open the doors and staff it at the end of this year. And you cut spending on the most basic and essential services.
“You pass a budget that says ‘layoffs of 20 city employees.’ But you don’t tell the public where those cuts are coming from. You simply tell department heads, ‘Here’s the amount of budget shortfall your department is responsible for.’ And you force them to make the decision on layoffs, so as to keep your hands clean.
“You don’t consult the chief of police publicly on what impact this will have on public safety, because you don’t want the public to hear it. Your hands are not clean, and you are accountable for your actions. You can’t claim plausible deniability. You can’t ask a diminishing staff to continue to do more and more with less to the point of mental and physical exhaustion, and then expect them to bear the burden of balancing the city’s budget as well. The city is in crisis – not just an employee crisis.”
Fuhrmann, noting that he is an Antioch resident, said he would support paying higher taxes to help close the city’s budget gap. But later in the meeting he said that the APOA is neutral on the council’s half-cent sales tax hike measure that will be placed on the November ballot. Like many who spoke at the meeting, he’s pessimistic about its chance of passage.
“This community will not vote for a tax unless there’s transparency and the council has done everything possible to close the budget gap, but to no avail,” he said. “You have no plan to get through this other than on a wing and a prayer. You knew we would be here a year ago, yet you did nothing. You know where we will likely be next year. And I fear you will not take steps toward a plan until it’s too late. And then you will sit up there with a look on your face as if the dog ate your homework last night.”
Many in the audience laughed while the council members sat stonefaced.
“In a time of crisis we can’t afford subsidizing to the degree we are luxuries such as the water park, the county library, animal services, the historic society and any other special interests that come down the pike,” Fuhrmann continued. “When the city was founded as a charter city, the men and women that ran this city had to start from square one with a set budget. They had to figure out what the primary function of the city was, and they had to figure out where the priorities were and the money needed to be spent. We are at that point again. We need to get back to square one and we need to fund the city appropriately. We need to provide services appropriately.
“It’s imperative that this council address the issue of community service officer layoffs. It’s had a direct and dire impact on the safety of the public, the safety of each and every one of our sworn personnel and, most importantly to me, the safety of my family. You should be thinking about the same for yours.” Fuhrmann received a standing ovation from many in attendance.
Reggie Moore was the only council member to challenge the charge of council fecklessness in the past year as the budget crisis built. Moore said to Fuhrmann, “Two years ago I saw this crisis coming and I asked the leadership of your association and others in this community to back me in moving a police (tax) district to the ballot – because public safety clearly is the number-one priority of this community. But yet I could not garner support to move that measure to the people for action. So that’s wrong. It’s not true to say that no one did nothing.”
The idea of a property tax hike – this time channeling the money only to police services – has resurfaced. The Citizens Public Safety Initiative, sponsored by a group called the Friday Morning Breakfast Club, proposes to raise property taxes enough to provide Antioch with a force of 150 police officers at a cost of $126,000 annually per officer for salary, benefits and training.
Antioch resident Terry Ramus asked the council to support the initiative, which he said might increase property taxes $96 per year. Mayor Jim Davis noted that there are things in the initiative that he likes, but he voted with the other council members for the sales tax hike instead.
The council vote was preliminary – it was the first reading of the ordinance to place the tax hike on the ballot. The second and final vote is scheduled for the next council meeting on Tuesday, July 27.