Anderson agreed. “We have an ordinance in place that has triggers. I wish the question had been asked properly to the state so we would have clarity. … I think it’s the right thing to do from a human point of view.”
Cabrera agreed: “When all of this is said and contemplated, it really is about doing the right thing. Not about siding with one or the other but doing the right thing. It’s an easy decision to support the ordinance.”
Cabrera is running for mayor, and support of the employee unions can be important in city races. But given the city’s $200 million in unfunded employee pensions, police officers have interests at odds with city taxpayers: The city workers want to keep their pension benefits, while the taxpayers, presumably, do not want tax increases to foot the bill.
On Tuesday, the other three commissioners, including Mayor Jim Cason, followed the city attorney’s interpretation of the law.
“Twenty million to future taxpayers of the city is problematic to me. I see it as a $20 million tax increase. That’s why I’m taking this position but at the same breath, we do need to do something for our employees and the way this is phrased concerns me,” Commissioner Frank Quesada said.
Vice Mayor Bill Kerdyk Jr. said he sees the cost of living increase as an additional benefit. “I concur with the city attorney at this point.”
Cason urged Leen to approach the state’s Division of Retirement for clarification. “I want to make sure the state answers the right question. I would like to see our attorney go back in a more fulsome way and get as quick an answer as possible to see what is the state’s position.”
Leen agreed to do so and to share his findings with the other legal team. “The COLA won’t go in effect Jan. 1,” he said, after the commission’s vote.
In other business, Cabrera hoped to reverse the commissioners’ 3-2 vote last month to authorize a beautification project that will add landscaping, trees and an irrigation system to the medians of LeJeune Road from Altara Avenue to Mendoza Avenue at a cost of $305,635.
Anderson had also voted against the project, citing the way it had been presented to the commission, but Kerdyk, Quesada and Cason voted to fund the project.
“We got a document that showed three blocks of a 30-block project,” Cabrera said, as he argued that medians could slow emergency vehicle response time on LeJeune, one of the busiest streets in the city.
Resident Felix Pardo also urged a re-vote on the issue, citing the “safety issue” and that the center of the street as it exists now provides “a safe haven to stop and try to merge into the lane.” However, doing so is illegal and dangerous and could result in a traffic citation, Salerno said, adding that the Florida Department of Transportation’s strict standards for approval meant that it took six months for the state to OK the project.
Independent traffic consultant Tim Plummer, who was asked to look over the city’s plans, felt the design of the islands was safe and valid. “With the FDOT it’s much tougher to get approval. They always take into account safety and operations,” he said.
Acting Police Chief Scott Masington, who spoke at Cabrera’s request, also could not say that the project would slow response time. “I don’t know how to quantify that this median design changes our response time.”
The beautification project will move forward.
Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.