Galveston police union using billboard in pension negotiations

GALVESTON, Texas (FOX 26) — There is now a very public fight in Galveston over the pension fund for city police officers. 

The police association is making quite a statement with a new advertisement. In fact, the next time you drive out of Galveston, you likely won’t miss it. 

The massive message is posted along the Gulf Freeway and it is certainly a billboard you don’t see everyday. It reads, "Thank you for visiting Galveston, 'Home of the worst police retirement in Texas.'"

The Galveston Municipal Police Association, which represents Galveston police officers, put up the attention getting advertisement. 

"To let people become aware we are fighting for future benefits,” explains Officer Jeff Murdock, who serves as president of the Galveston Municipal Police Association.

"It’s almost shameful and embarrassing where we have our backs up against the wall," adds Clint Stevens the GMPA Political Action Committee Chairman. "We really need the community’s help.”

Here’s the issue. The police pension board chairman and Galveston police officer Geoffrey Gainer says for twenty years, the city has been paying far less into the pension fund than the 23 percent required by law. However, the City of Galveston says the 14 percent agreed upon in collective bargaining overrides that. 

According to the pension board chairman, it has been trying unsuccessfully to get the city to pay more for months. 

"Probably about a year now," explains Gainer. "I wouldn't say we’re battling. We’re in ongoing negotiations."

"The city is more than willing and we’ve already set aside money to contribute more to the plan, but throwing money at the plan isn’t 100 percent the solution,” adds Galveston City Manager Brian Maxwell. He also says the city wants the retirement age for all officers, not just new hires, raised from 50 to 55. Plus, Maxwell says the city can only likely reach an agreement if the seven-member police pension board isn’t made up of a majority of officers. 

“If it’s going to continue to command this much money from the city, the city needs to have a better voice or at least equal managing control," suggests Maxwell.

"You know these guys get out there and they put their life on the line every single day," says Clint Stevens, chairman of the GNPA political action committee. The veteran Galveston police officer also says the men and women who protect and serve in Galveston are getting the short end of the stick based on the numbers. 

Houston officers, for instance, pay 10.5 percent into their pension fund and receive a 24 percent return.  Galveston officers pay 12 percent into the fund and receive 10.9 percent. 

"So they’re paying more than they’re getting out," says Officer Gainer. He says of every public safety retirement plan in Texas, Galveston has the lowest benefit.

"We can’t afford to tax people out of their homes for this," says Maxwell. "The City of Galveston will do everything we can afford to do.”

"This is not going to affect our job function," explains Officer Murdock. "To protect and serve the public and visitors is something we take to heart and we try to do very well.”

"This is a problem that’s been going on for decades and we want to see a resolution to it,” says Officer Stevens.        

The billboard isn’t the end of the discussion. Both sides say they want to continue negotiations. The state pension review board is also trying to determine how best to resolve the issue.