Our Opinion: Police lawsuit deserves quick resolution

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 14, 2005

Let’s hope the lawsuit filed by veteran Suffolk Police Officer John K. Cooke against the city of Suffolk is resolved quickly and amicably.

Suffolk, not unlike many localities, has spent far too much time in court over the past several months including but not limited to cases involving:

-Free speech, Leroy Schmidt vs. former Mayor E. Dana Dickens III.

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-Suffolk firefighters challenging the city to have for a voice on department matters.

-A still-pending case involving ousted city employee Darlene Wilkerson, who the city has vigorously fought to keep her off the payroll. That case is now possible headed to the state Supreme Court.

Now comes Cooke, who alleges that the city has not accurately reported his earnings to the Virginia Retirement System, a process that ultimately determines how much pension he’ll receive. The lawsuit charges that the officer is being shortchanged.

We don’t know the city’s side because it’s customary not to comment on pending litigation, particularly if it pertains to personnel issues. Nonetheless we would like to think this could have been headed off with good faith negotiations from both sides. Lawsuits are normally a last resort and in many cases, once the bills are tallied, there are no winners.

What’s more, this suit could open the door for similar claims from officers and city employees across the board.

The city should move swiftly to review all pertinent data as it relates to Cooke’s retirement compensation and resolve this issue – perhaps by an independent body. Also, the city should evaluate how it’s currently computing all VRS contributions.

Once sued, city officials have no choice but to defend themselves. Nonetheless, the accusation has been made that they are treating an employee unfairly and in the interest of morale, it’s important to not just win the case, but to prove that the charges are not true.

We all want to ensure that our police officers are fairly compensated once they retire, particularly considering that they put their lives on the line daily. City employees at large deserve no less.

Officer Cooke deserves an answer from the city with regard to his earnings.

The lawsuit certainly raises the question as to whether current retirees are receiving what they’re entitled to, or if calculations used to set future retiree rates are on the mark.