PORTLAND CITY COUNCIL met for two hours on Tuesday, March 2, to talk about the city's Fire and Police Disability and Retirement program (FPD&R). I'd love to tell you more about what they talked about—but if I did, I'd be breaking the law.
Under Oregon public records law, city council is allowed to meet in a semi-private "executive session" to discuss certain matters like labor negotiations and potential legal settlements. The news media are allowed to attend these meetings, but oddly we're not allowed to report on anything that's said. Meanwhile the general public are excluded.
There's something icky to me about trading access for the right to publish. Fortunately one of the commissioners present, Randy Leonard, was all too willing to spill a few beans (on the record) afterward. Leonard told me he thinks FPD&R should go ahead and pay $104,000 to former firefighter Tom Hurley, and not appeal it in court. Hurley has been claiming disability checks from the city since 1993, after he hurt his back. He went to the French Culinary Institute in New York while collecting disability checks of almost $3,200 a month, and eventually became a famous chef—particularly at his now-shuttered Northwest restaurant, Hurley's, which attracted animal rights protesters with its ubiquitous use of foie gras.
The city tried to force Hurley to rejoin the firefighters under a new "return to work program" in 2005, but Hurley refused, so the city stopped paying the benefits. An arbitrator ruled recently, however, that FPD&R should have bargained over that "return to work program" with the union before asking Hurley to return to work. The arbitrator said FPD&R owes Hurley $104,000 to "make good."
Leonard says the "return to work program" should still be bargained with the union, but that Hurley's claim of $104,000 is separate. Although City Commissioner Dan Saltzman disagrees with Leonard, he was also willing to go on the record late Tuesday.
"I don't think we should be paying anything to someone who doesn't want to work as a firefighter and who appears to have been milking the system pretty successfully," he says. "Mr. Hurley was the poster child for FPD&R reforms overwhelmingly approved by the voters in 2006, and it's not just the $104,000. There's also the $3,200 a month in disability payments. I think we should be pursuing all avenues to get this to court, because we haven't been very successful at arbitration."
Needless to say, council had some very interesting discussion about all of this in the secret meeting. I just wish I could tell you all about it... but I can't.