Liccardo: San Jose police rift could last months

Sam Liccardo was inaugurated as San Jose’s 65th mayor Tuesday, noting that it would take “many months if not years” to mend differences with police and fire unions that backed his opponent in the Nov. 4 election.

In remarks to the media after his inauguration ceremony and address attended by about 2,000 people at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, Liccardo said the city’s biggest challenge this year “is rebuilding this (police) department, and doing it quickly,” he said.

He said he specifically aims to work on improving compensation for officers and to “create incentives for officers to stay on board and come to San Jose.”

Liccardo said he had appointed several city council members who opposed his candidacy last year to chair council committees to deal with unions still bitter over issues such as disability pay, pensions and pay cuts:

“It’s an expression of determination that we are going to have open dialog in this city, we’re going to engage with the best of ideas regardless of whether those ideas are supported by me or my allies, or not. … And I’m hoping that through that spirit of dialog, we’re going to start to build relations again.”

Liccardo narrowly won the Nov. 4 mayoral election over Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese in a campaign featuring harsh statements against Liccardo by police and fire union leaders critical of support for reforming city pensions while he was a council member representing District 3.

He defeated Cortese, the recipient of much support and campaign cash from the unions, by a margin of 2,750 votes, or 1.5 percent of the 180,930 votes cast, according to the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters.

The San Jose Police Officers’ Association objected to Liccardo’s support of Measure B, passed by voters in 2012, that permitted the city to amend any previously approved retirement system and require employees to contribute up to 16 percent of their annual wages toward the unfunded liability in the city’s retirement fund.

The union sued and won a partial victory in court last year, but a judge let stand many of the measure’s provisions. Police labor leaders said the uncertainty has led to retirements, resignations of officers, low staff morale and difficulty recruiting new officers.

Liccardo said now that the election is over, he has replaced former Mayor Chuck Reed and the POA itself has a new leader, it “enables everybody to take a breath an have conversations about how we can work together.”

He said he wants “our officers to know, as all of our city employees know, that I am absolutely committed to doing everything I can within our budget to ensure that we are able to rebuild services in our community and that begins with our police.”

But Liccardo acknowledged that hard feelings among police and firefighters would continue for some time:

“The mending of fences is work of every day, it’s not going to happen overnight and we know that it’s going to take many months if not years, so every day, we’re going to take new steps.”

he said. Tonight’s ceremony at the performing arts center showcased the inaugurations of Liccardo and four new members of the City Council elected in November. Council members Charles “Chappie” Jones of District 1, Raul Peralez of District 3, Magdalena Carrasco representing District 5 and Tam Nguyen in District 7 were each sworn in, although like Liccardo they had legally taken office on Jan. 1.

In his inaugural address, Liccardo, often joking with the audience, admonished residents to ignore “pundits who lament” that San Jose has an “identity crisis”:

“Today, we can stop lamenting. … We’re from San Jose. Let’s embrace our city’s distinctive identity, one characterized by our diversity, our openness, and our culture of innovation.”

By virtue of the city’s long association with technology companies, Liccardo said San Jose’s:

“… dynamic social landscape has become the perfect breeding ground for the world’s most innovative community. … San Jose produces more U.S. patents — over 5,000 annually — than any other city on the planet.”

Quoting Connie Martinez, the chief executive officer of nonprofit arts organization Silicon Valley Creates, “Let’s face it, we’re geeks,” Liccardo said:

“San Jose has provided the launching pad for the geekiest and greatest ideas, from the disk drive to high-efficiency photovoltaics, from commercial radio to e-commerce, from even fruit cocktail to the Eggo waffle. … We are instinctively creative, and our creativity manifests itself in every homegrown source of pride: from bicycle art to Bike Party, from San Jose Taiko to the Taco Festival of Innovation.”

Those in the audience for the inaugurations included many state legislative, county, school board and other elected officials, including Cortese.

The evening ceremony followed the first meeting early this afternoon of the City Council and mayor at City Hall downtown, where the panel discussed and passed the list of members Liccardo recommended to fill council committees and then adjourned after less than an hour.

Councilman Donald Rocha, re-elected to District 9, was sworn into office inside the council chambers prior to the meeting.

At the news conference, Liccardo said that Wednesday’s Rules and Open Government Committee, which he chairs as mayor, would consider directing the City Council to resume settlement talks with police and fire unions on their lawsuits against the city over Measure B, deferring parts of Measure B until July 1 and holding discussions on disability pay and other issues.

The Police Department’s contract with the city ends this year and negotiations will have to commence on a new labor pact, he said. Liccardo said last week that his top priority this year would be ensuring public safety in the city and working with the POA on adding officers to the city’s police force.

He said other goals early in his administration include creating job programs for at-risk teens and deploying energy-efficient LED lights across the city to reduce power consumption and costs. Liccardo’s salary is $114,000 per year with a $350 monthly car allowance.

Council members receive an annual salary of $81,000 and also a $350 monthly car benefit.