Alexandria officials said yesterday that city police officers and firefighters had closed the door on further discussions about details of a revised pension benefits plan when they went to court Wednesday to stop City Hall from enacting the changes.
Attorneys representing the city's almost 400 police officers and firefighters, filed a request in Alexandria's Circuit Court for a preliminary injunction against the City Council, City Manager Douglas Harman and Personnel Director Robert Burnett to block implementation of the controversial amendments to the plan, which is almost 30 years old.
"I'm not sure this was the most constructive way to approach the issue," said Vice Mayor James P. Moran. He added that he hoped the city could have continued to work out the finer points of the changes in the pension plan without going to the courts.
"There were a number of things in the plan I considered flexible," Moran said. "Once sued over them, those things lose their flexibility.
But Edward Trice, a firefighters spokesmen, said workers had no other choice but to turn to the courts.
"All of this has been upsetting to most of these people," he said. "They are trying to take something we have bargained for, something in this profession we need."
A key change in the pension plan requires that workers who want partial disability be found unable to perform any other job in their department before they are retired. City officials have complained that some public employes have retired on partial disability only to get equally stressful jobs in the private sector while receiving tax free benefits from the city.
Moran said police officers and firefighters were asked to suggest limits on the types of jobs workers could be transferred to instead of retiring on partial disability. But he said pending litigation has ended any chance for those talks now.
"It puts a screeching halt to talks," council member Patricia Ticer said of the suit.
The riff between City Hall and the officers began early this month when a council subcommittee suggested sweeping changes in the city's public safety employe pension plan. The committee concluded that the plan had become too liberal and some workers were taking advantage of its benefits, particularly in the area of partial disability retirements.
Last week, the council unanimously adopted the city's new operating budget, which included a $500,000 reduction in the $4 million pension plan.
The final blow to police officers and firefighters came Tuesday night when the council, calling for fiscal responsibility, made major revisions in the plan.
The injunction request maintains that the city acted improperly when it amended the plan, a charge City Attorney Cyril D. Calley said yesterday is unfounded.
"I think from a pure legal point of view, we were right," he said.
A hearing is scheduled for June 2 in Circuit Court on the injunction request in which the workers' attorneys are asking the court to award attorneys' fees to the police and firefighter associations.