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Fire union cries foul

By Staff | Sep 8, 2011

The Cape Coral Professional Fire fighters Union Local 2424 plans on filing a grievance claiming the city violated a collective bargaining agreement by meeting with a private company to discuss fire services.

Local President Mark Muerth said a meeting between City Manager Gary King and representatives from Palm Beach Gardens based Wackenhut Corporation, as well as email exchanges between the mayor and the company, violated that agreement.

Worse, Muerth said, the administration has duped the public by casting themselves as bringers of trust and transparency to the city while holding unpublicized talks.

“They claim they run a transparent government and that is false,” Muerth said. “They have conspired and done things behind closed doors in regards to privatizing certain functions.”

Mayor John Sullivan was communicating with Wackenhut as early as June 13 of this year, when he received an email from a Wackenhut representative pitching its services to the city.

Wackenhut was looking to open a dialogue with the city about reducing the fire department overhead by 25 percent.

The mayor forwarded the message to City Manager Gary King on June 14, after which the city manager and Wackenhut representatives attempted to find a date to meet, according to correspondence.

Sullivan did not return phone calls for comment.

King confirmed he met with Wackenhut officials on July 1. King classified the meeting as “introductory” and “informational” only. King said the company reached out to the city to offer its services, but as of now no Requests for Proposal or Requests for Information are in the public realm.

King added such action is a possibility.

The city manager added he liked what Wackenhut had to offer.

“At face value, based on what information they brought with them, they provide comprehensive service that could be a match,” King said.

King said the discussions were not a union busting move, but instead an exploration of options for the city.

“I think people want a cost-efficient, high level of service,” King said. “How you provide that is subject to debate to anyone.”

Conversations with Wackenhut were ongoing during union negotiations, according to Muerth, who said the city administration should pursue the option of privatizing within the public eye.

Replacing 200 sworn fire fighters would be a difficult transition, he added.

“If they’re serious about this, they’re really going to put the public safety in jeopardy,” he said.