Hollywood, police union headed to negotiations

After nearly two years of animosity between the city of Hollywood and the police union, there may finally be an offer on the table that both sides can live with.

The city is offering to increase police officers salaries an average of 13.35 percent.

The union is offering to come to the negotiating table.

“It’s a more reasonable offer than the last one,” said Broward County Police Benevolent Association Union President Jeff Marano, who called a previous 8 percent raise proposal “a joke.”

The city and the union have been at odds after Hollywood declared financial urgency in 2011 and slashed salaries by about 12 percent, eliminated pay increases and reduced other benefits. Hollywood voters also agreed through a referendum to slash pension benefits.

Morale decreased.

Negotiations stalled.

Several officers left — and continue to leave — for other agencies.

Assistant City Manager Frank Fernandez, who took over negotiations on behalf of the city last August, said he has been working to “put a stop to the bleeding.”

He likens the situation between the city and the union to that of a surgeon and a patient.

“The patient doesn’t want us to administer the right medication,” Fernandez said.

In April, the city proposed a deal that would cost $3.7 million and increase officers’ salaries on average 8 percent. But after seven hours at the table, the union representatives walked away.

That deal, Marano said, mainly helped newer officers and officers who had had not yet been hired.

Instead, he said the union — which had declared impasse in October 2012— intended to continue the process of involving a third party.

Fernandez said the city never stopped working on a new plan that would bump salaries and offer a planned retirement deal.

“We can’t come up with a deal unless we have two willing parties,” he said.

The current plan raises the starting salary from $42,400 to $50,500, which would bring them more in line with other agencies. The plan will also give officers a retirement plan that would allow them to take a lump sum after retirement if they work a certain amount of years.

Commission Peter Hernandez said that offering a competitive starting salary is a start.

“We need to be able to attract officers and keep them,” he said.

Marano said the current offer is worth taking a look at, but there are still some major concerns, including the pension plan.

But some say it’s a little too late to make nice.

“It’s like a broken marriage,” said Don Huneke, who resigned Monday after 22 years with Hollywood Police.

He is one of several officers — many of whom have been with the city for many years — who is leaving Hollywood for the Broward Sheriff’s Office. “They are welcoming us with open arms,” said Huneke, adding that Hollywood’s newest deal doesn’t even come close to repairing the damage caused the city’s financial urgency declaration. “That is something we haven’t felt in years from Hollywood.”

Tony Adams, who worked for Hollywood for 15 years, said he, too, will retire from Hollywood and join BSO. He said he needs “stability” for his family’s future.

“We have no confidence that anything will change,” Adams said.

The Hollywood Police Department currently has about 290 officers. There are currently 20 frozen positions, plus 25 vacancies.

As of Thursday, BSO has made offers to eight Hollywood officers, said BSO spokeswoman Keyla Concepcion. Former Hollywood Police Chief Chad Wagner, who retired in January, is now BSO’s director of human resources.

Fernandez said Hollywood is aggressively hiring officers to fill the void. So far this fiscal year, he has hired 22 officers. Of those, eight are currently in the academy and will begin a four-month training program after graduation.

Fernandez said he is hoping negotiations progress Friday, and stop more officers from leaving.

Vice Mayor Dick Blattner said that while it is sad to see the officers leave, he is comfortable that the city is working toward a resolution.

“I am hoping that tomorrow the union leadership will demonstrate that they have an understanding of the city’s offer and that they see that it has merit,” Blattner said. “And hopefully, they will present it to the rank and file for a vote.”

The meeting will be held at 1 p.m. at Hollywood City Hall, 2600 Hollywood Blvd.