Doral council has hot debate about adding ‘just cause’ firing clause to police contracts

Doral resident Luimar Garza stood before the council and placed T-shirt on the podium that read ‘authenticity.’ She told the council, ‘It seems transparency is permanently opaque’ — and used the rest of her two-minute speaking time to stand in silence.
Doral resident Luimar Garza stood before the council and placed T-shirt on the podium that read ‘authenticity.’ She told the council, ‘It seems transparency is permanently opaque’ — and used the rest of her two-minute speaking time to stand in silence. Miami Herald Staff

About 60 Doral police officers walked out of City Hall disappointed after the city council postponed an item that could keep cops from being fired at will and without cause.

Councilman Pete Cabrera on March 18 asked fellow council members to consider adding a “just cause” firing policy to the city’s police union contract. But the conversation didn’t go very smoothly.

Firing for “just cause” include grounds such as, but not limited, to immorality, misconduct in office and incompetency, according to Florida law.

Florida is an “at will” state that allows employers to fire people at any time with or without justification, unless there is a contract or a manual that provides for a “just cause” provision for termination.

About six years ago, Doral detective Tony Rodriguez was abruptly fired by then-Police Chief Ricardo Gomez. Cabrera said Rodriguez was one of many cops fired without cause during past city administrations.

Cabrera said many officers fear political agendas can interfere with their job security.

“Until this day, officers are still scared,” he said, noting that city politicians and staff are constantly revolving. “They're afraid to speak. And if they speak, then tomorrow, if the wrong person is there, they’re gonna be targeted again.”

Almost all departments in Florida have “just cause” firing policies, according to labor attorney Jim Casey, who represents the Dade County Police Benevolent Association.

“It’s rare for a department not to have it,” Casey said.

“Based on the extremely abusive situations that I have personally witnessed and experienced first-hand, I believe that ‘just cause’ is not only merited but needed to ensure the long-term stability of the department,” Cabrera said in a memo to the city.

Records show Cabrera received a $500 campaign contribution from the Dade County PBA. The group’s president, John Rivera, attended the Doral council meeting last week.

Police Chief Donald DeLucca told council members that a “just cause” policy would “formalize and give us a grievance process.”

Many of the off-duty officers at the meeting then smiled. Most of the council members didn’t.

“I disagree that we should be discussing this type of item in this form,” said Councilwoman Ana Maria Rodriguez, adding that putting a collective bargaining item on the agenda “politicizes it.”

Mayor Luigi Boria and Councilwoman Christi Fraga agreed with Councilwoman Rodriguez. Vice Mayor Sandra Ruiz remained mostly silent but seemed to support Cabrera’s initiative.

Union contract negotiations — collective bargaining — are usually done privately in the fall. Contracts are later discussed and voted on publicly.

Boria told the council that “there is a time for everything under the sky.”

Fraga said she believes contract negotiations should only be discussed in November. “I know you’re just back after being gone, but I’m not gonna allow something to be shoved down my throat.” Fraga said to Cabrera, who was reelected in November after being away for two years. Previously, he served on the council for almost a decade.

“If we want to get something done in benefit of them [police], we need to work as a team,” Fraga said.

Cabrera said he told the PBA he would discuss the issue now, rather than wait until November.

“I agree that under normal circumstances, this is something that you would do under collective bargaining. But this is something that I want to give them because they deserve that peace of mind,” he told the Miami Herald.

The council unanimously voted to revisit the issue in June.

DeLucca said “officers should feel safe” but that he was content with whatever the council decides.

“As long as I’m chief I’m going to treat your officers fairly,” DeLucca said. “I think that that is what you have empowered me to do.”

Some residents were upset the item was placed on the morning agenda and not heard in the evening, after daytime work hours.

Doral resident Luimar Garza stood before the council, placing a T-shirt on the podium that read “authenticity“ and a sign that read “As ye would that man should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.”

“It seems transparency is permanently opaque,” she briefly said — and used the rest of her time to stand in silence.

After about a minute, Boria asked: “Luimar, are you done?” The crowd gasped.

Garza told the council it was her right to use her two minutes in silence. She said silence represents how the council treats city residents. The she became silent again.

Several residents told the Herald they are afraid that if police are granted a “just cause” firing policy, some officers will not be accountable for their actions.

Doral officer and PBA representative Ricardo Granda told the Herald that the policy would make his team feel safer.

“I thought we were going to get the vote today,” Granda said. “‘Just cause’ gives the officer a protection. Perception is that if they put ‘just cause,’ the officer cannot be fired. That’s not true. The officer, if he commits a crime, he’s going to be fired. No police department wants a dirty police officer.”

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