The public sector unions in Jacksonville are exceptionally powerful, especially since this is a right-to-work state where one can be fired, in many other cases, for everything from halitosis to hangnails.
The Jacksonville City Council, likewise, has a certain amount of power.
Those who paid attention to last week’s council meeting noticed a bill to boost councilmembers’ pay was up for consideration, as a plethora of police officers stood in the back, arms crossed like members of Security of the First World.
Why were they ticked off?
Well, they haven’t had a pay raise this decade.
And this council, which routinely grouses about being underpaid, as they are classified as “part-time” employees, was set to give itself a pay raise.
The bill sailed though the Finance Committee, 6 to 1, and the public notice meeting called by Matt Schellenberg on this subject had gotten little in the way of actual public notice, except for what I wrote.
As is so often the case with the council, what flies in committee doesn’t quite make it under the glare of the Tuesday Night Lights.
Councilman Danny Becton said he had defended the bill to his constituents as a “restoration,” before mentioning that the Finance Committee boosted the pay to “what the state mandated” (with John Crescimbeni making that push), thus undoing the original intent of the bill in a manner he found to be “disingenuous” and laced with “pork.”
Councilman Jim Love, meanwhile, couldn’t “support this bill in good conscience.”
Love, like Becton, wanted the 2 percent raise for all city employees, including police and fire, before taking a pay raise himself.
Then Tommy Hazouri, of the group of 11 just elected, said, “How can we justify giving ourselves a raise five months into the job?”
“We should not come first. As elected officials, we should set the example. … we don’t deserve a raise right now; the city employees do,” Hazouri said, to applause.
Katrina Brown spoke up, saying she couldn’t take a raise while people in her district were “starving in the streets,” and it was around then that John Crescimbeni grimaced, grabbed a piece of paper, and stared down as he read it.
Then Crescimbeni noted that the budget “did appropriate funds to the restoration of all employees cut in 2010” who hadn’t had their
2 percent restored.
“Police and fire get step pay raises,” Crescimbeni said, before noting that the state sets pay rates, and “We’re the only ones who took a 2 percent pay cut.”
“We need to put ourselves back there … and direct the mayor’s office to get in the collective bargaining process.”
Mercifully, the bloodletting was stopped, as Bill Gulliford proposed a re-referral of the bill to Finance, which he chairs. That resulted in a unanimous vote, and the cops went home to their families.
Why are the cops pissed, though?
A big part of it: the demonization of the Police and Fire Pension Fund, as former director John Keane and his PFPF administration have come under fire in recent years, and crystallized in the recent forensic audit.
After council, Hazouri and Gulliford had a difference of opinion regarding the audit.
Gulliford wants the Lenny Curry administration to take decisive action on the audit.
“I’d like to see something more than just a little verbal reinforcement,” he said. “We have a serious issue here,” and “I just want to make sure there’s some action taken and that we’re moving forward.”
Hazouri — Council liaison to the PFPF — had a different take.
He wondered, from the time the audit was released, why it was that Gulliford kept him and some other councilmembers out of the loop, leaving them to find out the audit’s findings at the press conference.
“He doesn’t fill you in,” Hazouri said, regarding Gulliford’s moves on this front.
“It started with the press conference, and each time there’s something new, it adds fuel to the fire,” Hazouri said.
To sum up: The Finance Committee is at war with the PFPF. That leaves a political vacuum … and it appears Hazouri is filling it.
These battles between city governments and police forces can get ugly, and can have real consequences. We saw it in Baltimore last summer, where police officers, for the most part, stood down and let the underworld do its thing, after a combination of post-riot media outcry and getting jobbed in a couple of decades of pension negotiations.
Police officers appreciate good faith negotiations. They are very savvy about their money and what is owed to them. And if they don’t like something, they make it known.
#jaxpol fans: Get your popcorn ready.