Wednesday, December 19, 2001

FOP deducts pay to battle Issue 5

Sentinel leader says many officers irked

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Fraternal Order of Police raised about $25,000 Tuesday — by deducting $25 from each Cincinnati officer's paycheck — to start a legal fight against Issue 5, the freshly passed ballot issue that changes hiring policies for top city staff.

        City voters approved Issue 5 last month after a highly charged debate. Among other things, the change would allow the city to hire a police chief from outside the department for the first time.

        Police union leaders say Issue 5 violates the union's contract with the city and a 1987 consent decree that governs minority promotions. They say the money is needed to gear up for potential legal action.

        About 400 police union members approved the deduction from every officer's pay — except the police chief's — at a September FOP meeting, said Keith Fangman, the union's former president and current first vice president.

        Chief Tom Streicher is not represented by the union.

        “We are raising money through this assessment to pay for legal opinions as well as possible court action on our behalf,” Officer Fangman said. “Other than that, I am not going to disclose our strategy at this time.”

        But other officers, who were not aware the deduction was coming until they got paid Tuesday, were livid.

        “I think it stinks,” said Scotty Johnson, president of the Sentinel Police Association, which represents African-American officers. “To deduct it from everybody's check is unprofessional without their signatures and needs to be looked into. I have talked to close to 100 officers who are very upset about what has happened.”

        Officers who do not wish to contribute the $25 may request a refund from the union, according to Officer Fangman.

        Issue 5 removed 98 top city posts from civil service protection, including the police and fire command staffs. Proponents argued the measure allows the city to hire the most talented people available for top jobs, where previously only insiders could be promoted. Cincinnati was one of a few major cities without the option of hiring outside chiefs.

        Opponents — including the police and fire unions — maintained the issue stifles the upward mobility of its employees, politicizes the city's public safety agencies and might weaken service.

        Officer Fangman said the FOP contract, which is valid through Dec. 13, 2002, gives assistant police chiefs the right to appeal disciplinary action and terminations to arbitration. But Issue 5 doesn't allow appeal rights, he said.

        Members of the current command staff are grandfathered in. But if one of them left his position, the new hire wouldn't have appeal rights under Issue 5, Officer Fangman said.

        “I guarantee you when we re-negotiate the contract in October 2002, we are not going to give up appeal rights for assistant chiefs,” he said. “This is a clear violation to the FOP contract.”

        Police promotions are based on three things: the FOP contract, civil service law and a 1987 consent decree that governs minority promotions. Issue 5, Officer Fangman argued, ignores all three of those because it allows the city manager to appoint anyone he wants to be an assistant chief.

        Officer Fangman said he believes Issue 5 may be just the beginning of bringing more outsiders into supervisory ranks of the 1,000-officer police division.

        “That's another reason why we are collecting this money,” he said. “It will be used to combat that. We are going to gear up for that battle and not be caught with our pants down on this one.”

        Union officials said Tuesday's deduction was mentioned at every FOP meeting since September, but many beat officers were upset and confused when they learned the money was deducted.

        “I am mad about it,” said Officer Calvin Johnson, who works as a school resource officer. “I don't know enough about Issue 5 to have an opinion on it, but you don't just take my money out without asking me. Why would they do this at Christmastime? Twenty-five dollars might not seem like a lot to other people, but it's a lot to me. I can't afford to lose a dollar.”

        “I think it's ridiculous,” said Officer Victor Spellen, who works in District 4. “I'm definitely going to try to get my money back. They totally went about it the wrong way. A lot of officers feel that way about it, too.

        “I personally don't support Issue 5,” he continued. “I might have given them some money to fight it if they went about it the right way.”

        The Cincinnati Fire Union has no plans to deduct money from firefighters because it doesn't have the same legal issues as the police union, said Lt. Mark Sanders, union president.

        “But we will pursue some issues internally with the city on how we will be affected,” Lt. Sanders said. “If we feel we have a legal claim, we will take appropriate action.”


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