City of Miami Springs versus police contract seemingly unsolvable

08/01/2014 1:57 AM

07/30/2014 2:57 PM

As of this coming October, Miami Springs Police will have been without a contract with the city for six years. The situation is convoluted, complicated and difficult to explain even by those involved in the process, namely union reps and city officials.

According to police officers, it’s not a matter of wanting a raise. The major differences are over the amount of money officers must contribute to their retirement fund, and the city wanting to cut benefits. Benefits in question include the number of years an officer must work in order to qualify for retirement.

Civilian naysayers to police demands say that the cops don’t work that hard because there’s little crime in Miami Springs. Conversely, crime stats are relatively low because of the quality of the police force.

Logically, it’s not unreasonable that any type of crime that happens in Miami-Dade County can happen in Miami Springs. Last month a fleeing felon raced from the Kendall area and ended up in the city, where he was killed after a manhunt.

Local officers routinely handle traffic stops and domestic problems, which are the two most dangerous calls for police. The only Springs officer killed in the line of duty lost his life during a traffic stop.

Just because Miami Springs is an idyllic community, that doesn’t mean serious crimes don’t and can’t happen here. The average citizen has no idea what goes on in the city if it doesn’t make the news.

However, numerous residents unquestionably support the police. Also, city management and elected officials claim to support the police. Nevertheless, some elected officials were personally affronted by the recent picketing in front of City Hall prior to council meetings.

Some police officers also take the city’s non-action personally and don’t want to even shake hands with some elected officials. It may be a matter of business but some on both sides can’t help but take it personally.

FOP (Fraternal Order of Police) Union representative Officer Jorge Capote (the other rep is Detective Ray Tamargo), said the FOP attorney presented the city with a list of questions seeking answers.

“They answered one,” said Capote. “I don’t know why they couldn’t answer the other four.”

As for why negotiations have been ongoing for nearly six years, Capote had no definitive answer.

“We have made offers and the other side won’t even address them. The attitude is, ‘We’re not going to talk about this,’ ” said Capote. “Management chooses what it wants to discuss. That’s not negotiating.”

Capote said some council members have been in office long enough to have been part of the process. Capote acknowledges that some city leaders are annoyed by the picketing.

“Being silent for five years got us nowhere,” said Capote. “Since we changed unions, we haven’t demonstrated in hopes that the FOP can negotiate a settlement.”

At a July special meeting to accept a concept on a new aquatic center, two citizens used open forum to criticize the council for not taking action on the police contract and, although it was not an agenda item, council members responded.

“It’s untrue that this council has not tried to bargain in good faith,” said Councilman George Lob. “This council has bargained in all those five years, whether it was accepted is one thing, whether they rebutted is another thing. To state that we haven’t made an effort is incorrect.”

Councilman Billy Bain said, “That (critical) statement is unfair, at least during my time up here.”

It was mentioned that the police changed unions, which caused a setback of a few months. That’s a given, but no one could say why the process is approaching six years without an agreement.

With all the time that has passed with countless lawyers and mediators involved and tens of thousands of dollars spent by both sides, explanations of police wants have become more convoluted than ever.

According to Capote, the FOP union presented an offer to the city on July 23. However, with the budget set at last year’s rate, any agreement that costs the city money is highly unlikely to be accepted.

“It’s certainly not our fault that the process has been going on for more than five years,” said Capote.

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