Thursday, March 6, 2003

Arbitrator: FOP finding is ready

City, police both deny asking that report be delayed

By Gregory Korte
and Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The fact-finder in the contract dispute between Cincinnati and its police union said Wednesday that his report has been written for several weeks, but he was told by city and union lawyers not to release it.

The issue for David Stanton, the Louisville arbitrator, is whether assistant police chiefs should continue to be selected from civil service rules, as required by the contract, or whether the city manager should have the power to hire and fire them, as required by a 2001 charter amendment.

City Council rejected a new contract for police supervisors in December, leading the police union to raise the specter of a police slowdown in protest.

Stanton said the report is "ready to go" but that the police shooting of a burglary suspect Feb. 9 and the dismissal of two officers Feb. 26 have delayed its release.

"Given the recent events, we all agreed it would be in everyone's best interest to release this report when it could be considered, and when there was nothing else going on in the city," he said. "You have to understand the political nature of these things."

But both city officials and union leaders denied putting any pressure on the arbitrator.

Roger Webster, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said he had "no clue" the fact-finder's report was being held up.

"Why would we ask them to do that?" he said. "I wanted it out immediately."

City Manager Valerie Lemmie said almost the same thing.

"Why would anybody ask for that? Nobody can get paid until we resolve it, and the mayor and council members are asking me every day when it's going to be done," she said.

There is at least one - and possibly two - assistant chief openings, including the one vacated by Lt. Col. Ronald J. Twitty. He resigned last year after pleading guilty to attempted obstruction related to a report of damage to his city car.

Stanton said the request for a delay came from Stephen Lazarus, the FOP's lawyer, and Donald Crain, the city's lawyer. Both denied making the request, and each said he was "puzzled" at the suggestion they had.

Once Stanton releases his report, each side has seven days to approve it or reject it. No action means the party automatically accepts it. If rejected, the process goes to binding arbitration, and then to Common Pleas Court.

Stanton said his decision could be released as soon as this week if the parties agree. He said he wouldn't have the final word. "This is an issue - and the parties are well aware of this - that will have to be decided in a public forum," he said.

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