Saturday, February 23, 2002

Police, voters at odds on issue

FOP files suit, says amendment violates contract

By Tom O'Neill and Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The union that represents Cincinnati police officers filed a lawsuit Friday, claiming that a charter amendment passed in November violates its contract with the city.

        Specifically, the suit challenges a portion of the amendment known as Issue 5 that takes away the rights of assistant chiefs to appeal disciplinary action and termination.

        Attorney Christopher Finney said the Fraternal Order of Police wants a judge to toss out the entire charter amendment.

        Cincinnati Councilman Pat DeWine, one of the authors of Issue 5, called the FOP's action “a pretty flimsy lawsuit.”

        The charter amendment passed by voters last fall, Mr. DeWine said, doesn't take civil service protection away from the present group of assistant police and fire chiefs — just the ones that will follow them into those jobs.

        “I don't know how anybody can claim that somebody's rights are being violated when every assistant chief in office now has a right to appeal,” Mr. DeWine said.

        Mr. Finney said the councilman is right — the present occupants of the job are still protected.

        “But if one of them were to die or retire, he would be replaced by somebody who did not have the rights guaranteed them by the FOP contract,” Mr. Finney said. “That person would be harmed.”

        Mr. Finney said more lawsuits will follow, but declined to be specific about the disputes or when they would be filed. Friday's lawsuit was filed in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.

        Mr. DeWine dismissed the idea of further legal challenges to Issue 5.

        “I think if (Mr. Finney) had better legal arguments than this, he would have made them in this suit,” Mr. DeWine said.

        The FOP acknowledged the suit might be viewed as divisive by some, because Issue 5 was voter-approved and because it was prompted by the city's response to last April's riots. But they say the legal question is a simple one.

        “(The contract) gives specific rights to assistant chiefs,” FOP Vice President Keith Fangman said. “It's a negotiated right, and we're not going to give it up and we never will. Issue 5 takes away the appeal rights.”

        But the FOP's current two-year contract with the city expires on Dec. 13 and city officials are unlikely to negotiate contract terms that violate a charter amendment passed by the voters.

        The main thrust of Issue 5 is to allow the city to look outside the ranks of assistant chiefs when choosing a new police or fire chief.

        “This isn't sour grapes,” FOP President Roger Webster said Friday. “The people who put out the Issue 5 ads lied to the public (in saying it didn't violate current labor contracts.)”

        Among the groups campaigning for Issue 5 last fall was the Cincinnati Community Action Now (CAN) Commission, the group named by Mayor Charlie Luken to address racial issues in Cincinnati.

        CAN supported the change, CAN chairman Ross Love said, “because it allows the city to hire the very best people across the board in all departments and is a step towards holding these managers accountable.”

        The FOP raised $21,000 to fund the lawsuit, through voluntary $25 paycheck deductions from members. Mr. Fangman said 88 percent contributed, and that no outside sources were used.


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