Thursday, December 19, 2002

Council rejects a police contract

Supervisors' pact fails 7-2 over assistant chiefs

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Cincinnati City Council voted 7-2 to reject a contract for police supervisors Wednesday, leading the city's police union to warn of an immediate slowdown in enforcement by its officers.

"I'm not going to ask officers for a slowdown. I don't have to," said Fraternal Order of Police President Roger Webster. "They're going to take it on themselves, because they don't have any respect for this council."

At issue were four assistant police chief positions left in the proposed contract by city and union negotiators, despite a 2001 city charter amendment that removed them from job protections afforded by civil service rules.

The civil service reform measure, known as Issue 5, received 52 percent of the vote last November in what supporters saw as a key post-riot reform of the Cincinnati Police Department. By giving the city manager greater latitude to hire and fire the police chief and assistant chiefs, voters approved stronger civilian oversight of the department.

The FOP campaigned against the amendment.

Council members who voted to reject the contract spoke solemnly of their duty to voters and to the charter.

"However strongly we feel about the police, our oath is to the people, who speak through the charter," said Councilman David Pepper. "Once we agree to this contract, it's in stone. Issue 5 is gone."

City Council did approve a separate contract for nonsupervisors - the officers and specialists who make up about three-fourths of the 1,020-member police force. They will get raises of as much as 5 percent in 2003 and 5 percent in 2004, but will pay health care premiums for the first time.

The contracts also make important changes in arbitration. City officials hope the changes will help them get rid of bad police officers. The city has lost every arbitration case since 1996.

Mayor Charlie Luken said City Council's action Wednesday threatened to undo those important changes, which may be lost in arbitration.

"To turn this contract down over the ability to fire three or four people sends the wrong message at the wrong time," he told City Council. "When we win at arbitration, you can all tell me you told me so. But when this goes to fact-finding and arbitration, we are going to lose."

City Council members criticized City Manager Valerie Lemmie's decision to allow Chief Tom Streicher - a vocal opponent of Issue 5 - to lead the city negotiations. Ms. Lemmie said the city couldn't force the union to negotiate something the FOP considered a "nonstarter."

So Mr. Luken appointed Pat DeWine, the Law Committee chairman who was the chief sponsor of Issue 5 and led the fight against the contract, to sit in on future bargaining sessions with the FOP.

But it's unclear whether the union will agree to further negotiation, or simply send the contract to mediation - first a nonbinding "fact-finding," then a binding arbitration.

City Council's action comes a week after officers and supervisors narrowly approved the contract. Officers voted 210-191, and supervisors were more supportive, voting 83-47 in favor.

Union officials said it was the first time City Council had ever voted down a contract. FOP Vice President Keith Fangman said that by voting down one contract and not the other, City Council was engaging in "old-style union busting."

Mr. Fangman sparked fireworks when Councilman Chris Monzel - one of the two supporters of the police contracts - invited the union heads to address the City Council.

"If it's your decision to vote this way, have at it. Roger and I are not here to beg you to approve the contract. We're just here to give you a dose of reality," Mr. Fangman said. "There will be consequences. I am not going to elaborate on that, because we are not going to divulge our strategy."

"I take that as a threat," Vice Mayor Alicia Reece responded. "Are you talking about a slowdown?"

"I'm very disappointed in you that you would use a word like `slowdown.' I think it's shameful that you bring that up," Mr. Fangman replied. "I'm talking about legal consequences, and that's none of your business."

The conversation degenerated as Mr. Fangman and Ms. Reece yelled at each other, until the vice mayor asked Mayor Luken to intervene. "When I'm sitting there, people are ruled out of order and thrown out for that," she said.

After the exchange, Ms. Reece complained of a "lack of respect" by police officers.

"You saw that exchange going," she said.

"I would be afraid if I was a citizen, if a council member is treated like that. What we saw today was a candid demonstration of what people have told us they're seeing on the street every day."

Jim Tarbell, who voted for both contracts, said City Council's action would have a devastating effect on morale at a time when the city is poised to set a modern record for the annual murder rate.

"We have legal, we have ethical, and we have smart. No one is disagreeing whether this is legal or not, and we are splitting hairs on whether it is ethical," he said.

"We need to restore effective policing to this city. If it comes down to splitting hairs, what's best for the community long-term has to trump splitting hairs on what the charter says."


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