Friday, September 4, 2015
A police union benefit that led to prison time
It looks like City Hall and San Antonio’s police union may be, at long last, close to reaching a deal.
According to the Express-News, the city’s latest offer includes dropping a relatively minor benefit left over from the infamous 1988 contract won by legendary union leader Sgt. Harold Flammia.
It’s a benefit Flammia probably wishes he had never put in the contract.
Because of it he went from being one of the most powerful men in San Antonio to spending four and a half years in a federal prison.
Flammia was a tough cop and an even tougher union leader.
As a cop, he was shot close range by a burglar, nearly losing his life.
As labor leader, he took charge of a whimpy police union in 1985 and turned it into one of the most powerful forces in City Hall.
His power was such that while Council met Thursday afternoons, he held court in a closed room right behind council chambers.
Council members would sometimes leave the dais and disappear – not to the restroom, but to consult with Flammia over matters at hand.
The union became the largest single contributor to council and mayoral campaigns.
Citizens didn’t fare so well.
If they filed an abuse complaint against an officer, the union sent them a letter threatening a lawsuit.
When it came to negotiating the 1988 contract, Flammia won just about everything he wanted.
The most problematic part of the contract was a retirement health plan designed to be pre-paid so that officers paid nothing after they retired.
The contract provided that officers paid $50 a month toward funding the plan, and the city paid $67 per uniformed employee.
Immediately after voting 10-1 for the contract, City Council voted to commission an actuarial study to determine how much money it should put into the fund to make it sound.
Its conclusion: The $117 per employee total the contract provided was about $200 a month short – or a total of $10 million a year.
The city has been trying to catch up ever since.
Unlike the retirement health insurance commitment, the benefit that the city now wants to drop was overfunded.
It was a legal insurance plan, providing police and firefighters with such services as divorces, wills and deed examinations.
Such policies were available on the market for less than $15 a month per individual, but Flammia asked for $30, possibly figuring the city would negotiate the fee down.
The result was that Larry Souza, the well-liked lawyer who was hired to provide the services, was flush with cash.
According to trial testimony by his wife, who kept his books, Flammia soon decided he deserved his fair share.
The tough cop demanded it, she said.
It started with a “recruiting fee” of $25,000.
Then he started getting checks of just over $4,000 a month.
But every time Souza’s firm got a raise, so did Flammia – including when firefighters were added to the plan and when the city bumped its per-employee payment to $32 a month.
Soon Flammia was earning $72,000 a year.
By the time he was indicted, his tab totaled more than $500,000.
Flammia contended that he earned the money, that it was honest pay for consulting services.
But the evidence overwhelmed him.
A few days into the trial, he folded and pleaded guilty.
The tough cop became an obedient prisoner.
The legal insurance didn’t cover his defense costs.
But as far as I know, he still has paid-up health insurance.