Costa Mesa Is On the Verge Of Paying One Cop $23,000 a Month

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R. Scott Moxley
The sky's the limit for police pilot K.C. Gleason.

Calling its proposal a "potential savings," the Airborne Law Enforcement Services (ABLE) is contemplating giving one Orange County police helicopter pilot two taxpayer-funded paychecks totaling more than $23,325 a month for the next six months.

ABLE is the joint powers authority for the Newport Beach and Costa Mesa police departments. At ABLE's monthly meeting today at Newport Beach Police Department headquarters, ABLE commander Tim Starn did not mention that his plan would effectively pay pilot K.C. Gleason about $146 an hour. (That is determined by adding the officer's retirement pay to the amount of this special contract.) The outline of the proposal was contained in a Costa Mesa Police Department memo distributed at the meeting. Starn made it clear that, by his calculations, the move is not just wise but also cost effective.

Gleason, who already takes home more than $180,000 annually in pay and perks--according to documents reviewed by the Weekly--finds himself in his windfall position after he threatened to retire in December, a move Starn oddly hadn't prepared for even though the veteran pilot had alerted ABLE of his intentions as early as the outset of 2009. Like other pilots who've left since 2007, Gleason has been near retirement age for several years. According to Starn, Gleason's departure couldn't be foreseen in time to train a replacement, thus the need to offer the pilot the lucrative special contract.

But the deal hasn't been finalized. After Starn's brief presentation, Costa Mesa Police Chief Christopher Shawkey asked to postpone today's scheduled vote on the matter until a possible special meeting next week. 

"Costa Mesa is not ready to move formally [to approve the deal]," said Shawkey, who indicated that he favors the arrangement conceptually. "I'm in discussions with the city manager on that now."

Costa Mesa City Manager Allan Roeder did not return my calls for comment.

Shawkey told me in a telephone interview that ABLE's pending plan caps Gleason's special pay at $60,000 for the period.

"It takes about 18 months and $65,000 to train our pilots," he said.  

--R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly
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