Las Vegas Sun

November 27, 2015

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J. Patrick Coolican:

Henderson police chief’s retirement adds final scandal ingredient: Money


Steve Marcus

Embattled Henderson Police Chief Jutta Chambers is shown during the Henderson State of the City address at Green Valley Ranch Resort on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012. Chambers announced in a meeting with staff today that she will retire effective March 1, a city spokesman said.

Click to enlarge photo

J. Patrick Coolican

Man kicked in the head by Henderson Police officer

Video footage from a Nevada Highway Patrol dashboard camera of a Henderson Police officer kicking a man in the head during a traffic stop, Feb. 7, 2012. Warning: The footage contains material that may be offensive.

Man kicked during traffic stop speaks out

KSNV coverage of a man speaking out after being kicked by a Henderson Police officer while he was having a medical episode, Feb. 8, 2012.

The city of Henderson has done its darndest over the past week to erode the already depleted stores of public trust in government.

First, we learned the city will pay a man $257,000 because he was in diabetic shock and driving erratically when he was pulled from his car by police at gunpoint, forcibly restrained on his stomach and then kicked in the head. We also learned the officer who did the kicking, Sgt. Brett Seekatz, kept his job and his rank.

Next, as I reported last week, we learned that members of the City Council found out about the incident, which occurred in October 2010, in just the past few weeks, and in one case, a day before the meeting at which the council authorized the settlement.

At the same time, we also heard disingenuous reports from the council and other city quarters that officials were satisfied with changes made by Henderson Police Chief Jutta Chambers, which were said to have reduced police use-of-force incidents 30 percent from 2010 to 2011.

As I noted, the whole tenor of the discussion was ... move along, nothing to see here.

Then over the weekend, something changed, and suddenly City Manager Mark Calhoun “retired,” to be replaced by ultimate insider Jacob Snow, currently general manager of the Regional Transportation Commission.

Chambers, the department’s first female police chief, was then clumsily asked to resign while on vacation.

What is this scandal missing? Money.

Wednesday we learned that instead of being fired or merely retiring, Chambers will likely take a buyout offered this month to city employees as part of a cost-cutting effort, a city spokesman said. Employees accepting the buyout will receive two weeks pay for each year of service.

Chambers, who Metro Sheriff Doug Gillespie said has been an honorable and effective police leader, has been with the department for nearly 30 years.

She makes $185,326, so she’ll receive at least $206,000, plus accrued vacation and sick time. Given our depressed real estate prices, she’ll be able to buy a couple of rental properties with that golden parachute.

That’s just the beginning. I used the Public Employees Retirement System benefit calculator to estimate her annual retirement: by my calculation, roughly $130,000 per year or more, for the rest of her life. Plus a cost-of-living adjustment.

I don’t mean to single out Chambers, and more generally, public employees receive unfair criticism. Most of them work hard in thankless jobs. Many of them are well educated and could make far more money in the private sector. And most will live on fairly modest pensions nowhere near as generous as that afforded to Chambers.

Contra the unfair calumny heaped on public workers the past few years, the Great Recession wasn’t caused by cops, social workers and teachers. It was caused, to a great degree, by greedy banks and Wall Street financiers and their Washington enablers.

Still, what we’ve seen in Henderson this past week — a toxic mix of insularity, incompetence and financial profligacy — is deeply unhelpful to those of us trying to promote an active and robust government that will hopefully create a more just and prosperous society.

So here’s a modest proposal to begin restoring public trust in government: Call it the “six-figure rule.”

The maximum pension benefit should be $99,999. If that’s not enough to live comfortably, then try your hand at the private sector.

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