With the defense or public retirement benefits on the minds of most in attendance, members travelled to Corpus Christi for the 35th annual CLEAT convention October 20-22nd. CLEAT pollster Todd M. Smith and political consultant Nancy Fisher addressed CLEAT leaders at a retirement seminar on Thursday in which the focus was the recent attacks on public pensions. Smith relayed that public attitudes on defined benefit retirements are not as negative as national pundits would have you believe. When those polled learn the facts, such as most public safety employees do not participate in social security and contribute 6 to 14% of their income to their own pension, then polling results were found to be favorable. For example, in the poll commissioned by CLEAT, 95% of those polled believe that police officers deserve a descent retirement and 69% believe it should be higher than those in the private sector.
Nancy Fisher was called in to help during the 2011 legislative session when local “agreed to” pension legislation for Austin Police and Fire came under attack. Opponents attacked the bills with misinformation and the key was educating legislators on the truth. She praised CLEAT for efforts made within the internal political process to overcome the opposition and move the legislation forward.
In the general session on Friday, President Todd Harrison addressed the membership on the state of CLEAT. He reminded members that CLEAT was formed by regular cops 35 years ago to bring rights like civil service, collective bargaining, and arbitration to the rank and file. They did it by organizing and meeting in hotel rooms across the state, including a hotel room in Corpus Christi not far from the current convention hotel. Since then, the membership has grown to over 18,500. Despite tough economic times, CLEAT’s growth and finances are strong, he said. He also reminded members that CLEAT’s books are “open records” to anyone interested in how CLEAT has invested or spent the members money or if you are a CLEAT member with a question, our staff is ready to assist you.
Sean Smoot, of the Illinois Police Benevolent Protective Association addressed the membership. Smoot outlined the fight to defend police pensions and benefits in Illinois. Smoot discussed the PBPA “We are One” campaign and the importance of educating both the public and legislators as to the truth. He explained that organized opposition in all of the national attacks on pension benefits is coordinated through the use of a process known as “astroturfing” which is a form political advocacy that is designed to give the appearance of a “grassroots” movement when in fact the attack is orchestrated by a political group or entity with a predetermined agenda. He pointed out that millionaires like the Koch brothers are behind a lot of these “astroturf” campaigns.
Also, on Friday, members heard from Brent Hatch from Texas’ Division on Workers Compensation. Mr. Hatch discussed the new changes to the Texas Workers Comp system for first responders. These changes were a result of legislation developed and passed by CLEAT during the last legislative session.
On Saturday, members honored those who have made great sacrifices protecting the public the past year. In an emotional presentation, members remembered 20 officers who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the last 12 months. Medals of Valor were also awarded to Sergeant Patricia Lenoir (Sweetwater), Officer Lee Ortiz (Snyder), and Corporal Darrell Campbell (Snyder).
Lt. Governor David Dewhurst addressed the membership and thanked CLEAT for the support shown over the years. Dewhurst outlined important legislation supported by CLEAT that he we was able to help through the legislative process as the president of the Texas Senate. Dewhurst also addressed the retirement issue and committed to ensuring that officers pensions are secure in the future.
CLEAT also honored the following award winners, Corpus Christi Police Officers Association – CLEAT Local Association of the Year, Brownsville Police Officers Assciation – CLEAT Organizing Award, Wayne Vincent (Austin) – Ludwig Bruno Award, Jose Marrufo (El Paso County) – Douglas Ward Award, Michael Helle (San Antonio) – Reuben Cisneros Award, Edward Garces (Brownsville) – Lifetime Achievement Award, Ron Martin (El Paso) – Brass Balls Award, Edward Martin (Jefferson County) – Legislative Steward Award.
CLEAT’s Regional Directors also awarded Officer of the Year awards to a members from their regions. CLEAT congratulates the following winners: Sergeant Antionio Molina, Jr. (Region 1B), Deputy Cynthia Hooper (Region 2), Detective Michael Helle (Region 3A), Deputy Loudes Najara (Region 3B), Deputy Luis Alva (Region 3C), Officer Henry Rivera (Region 4A), Detention Officer Jean-Claude Drouin (Region 4B), Officer Lee Ortiz (Region 5), Sergeant Landis Cravens (Region 6), Detective Edward Martin (Region 7), Lieutenant Gary Rosch (Region 8A), Sergeant Sam Stock (Region 8B), and Sergeant Brad Meyer (Region 9).
In new business, a number of proposed constitutional amendments were tabled. President Todd Harrison announced that a two-day constitutional convention would be called next year to develop a constitutional changes that can be supported by all groups in CLEAT. Also, an effort to expand the size and membership of the CLEAT executive board was defeated in roll call vote of the board of directors.
Pictures from the convention can be found online here: