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Hey EJ Montini,Defending taxpayers is not an attack on Police and Fire Departments!

August 24, 2015

Originally written by EJ Montini for AZ Central

Response by Jon Riches for AZ Central

In an important victory for taxpayers, last week the Arizona Court of Appeals put an end to “release time.”

That’s a practice where government workers are released from the public jobs for which they were hired to perform work exclusively for private unions, all while receiving taxpayer-funded salaries and benefits.

The Goldwater Institute represented Phoenix taxpayers in a constitutional challenge to release time, asserting that the public should not bear the cost of funding the purely private activities of labor unions.

The Arizona Court of appeals agreed, and ruled that release time violated a provision in the Arizona Constitution that requires the government to spend money only on things that benefit the public.

This decision came at the same time as revelations of “pension spiking” abuses in Tempe, a practice where government workers cash in vacation leave, sick leave and other benefits in order to artificially inflate their retirement pay.

On the heels of news stories covering these events, Tempe firefighters union leader Don Jongewaard (Aug. 10 My Turn) and Arizona Republic columnist E.J. Montini asserted that concern for taxpayer resources and constitutional government is somehow an attack on public-safety employees.

E.J. Montini went on to criticize our nonprofit organization’s “well-heeled” attorneys, decried my “fancy suit,” and suggested that those in the nonprofit community do not understand the nature of public service.

When I took off my military uniform to put on this “fancy suit,” I did understand a thing or two about the high degree of trust the public places in those of us charged with the management of taxpayer resources. My time as a military officer also taught me that leadership means never taking advantage of the public’s trust for personal gain.

As a native Phoenician, I also want what is best for this community.

And I speak for my entire organization when I say we support police and firefighters, value the incredibly important services they provide, and appreciate the many sacrifices they make.

But support for public safety does not mean we should ignore unlawful behavior by government officials. Both release time and pension spiking are illegal activities and taxpayer abuses.

Release time has been declared unconstitutional by two separate courts. And the actual cost these practices have on public safety is immense: diverting precious resources away from police and fire budgets and into union coffers and private pension accounts.

Citizens should ask: Would we rather have more officers on the streets or more government-funded union bosses?

My organization will continue to stand up for taxpayers against special interests whenever such abuses occur. Especially when those abuses are perpetrated not by the rank-and-file, but by a handful of their leadership who should know better.

Being held to a higher standard was a lesson learned daily in the military. Those who purportedly represent our government workers, as well as those privileged enough to write for this paper, would be wise to remember that being held to a high standard means you don’t get a free pass for bad behavior.



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