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City Council green lights fire, police contracts

By Staff | Feb 7, 2012

To those who approved it, it was an example of what can happen when both sides come together to work for a common cause.

After more than two years of mostly contentious negotiations, the Cape Coral City Council put its stamp on the collective bargaining agreements between the city and the unions for the fire and police departments at Monday night’s City Council meeting at City Hall.

But not everybody on the council was doing cartwheels over the deal that could save the city $3 million annually, saying that too much was done without council involvement and that the deal was a slap in the face to about 800 other city employees who have been forced to give up more.

The main points of the agreements were the reduction of wages by 2 percent and the 3 percent increase to the pension fund from 7 percent to 10 percent for both the fire and police rank-and-file.

They also agreed upon the reduction of two paid holidays, accrued leave time and to create a lower entry-level step for new employees.

Victoria Bateman, financial service director, presented the numbers while marveling at how both sides negotiated in good faith.

“I was surprised at how well we worked to achieve the savings we came up with for the 2-3 split,” Bateman.

Brendan Fonock, president of Cape Coral Professional Firefighters Local 2424, also expressed satisfaction at the end result.

“It was give-and-take. Before, it was take, take, take,” Fonock said.

The total savings comes to more than $3 million per year, which was music to the ears of District 7 Councilman Derrick L. Donnell.

“The numbers she’s showing us are huge. It is unusual to come to the table and work this way,” Donnell said. “We are trying to work in the best interests of the city. Look at the numbers.”

“This is the first time we’ve seen employees give back to balance the budget,” Mayor Pro-Tem and District 6 councilman Kevin McGrail said. “The key is to negotiate and have mutual respect. You can’t throw bombs at each other.”

Mayor John Sullivan was more than happy to supply the C-4, calling the way the deal was reached “unconscionable.”

“I didn’t like the way it was handled. It was improper. The council should have been appraised on how things were going,” Sullivan said. “I’m glad they gave something up, but I can’t vote for it if I’m not in the loop.”

District 4’s Chris Chulakes-Leetz shared Sullivan’s view, and added the council turned its back on lower-level city employees.

“I don’t think we should let higher paid employees take smaller pay cuts than smaller employees,” Chulakes-Leetz said. “We’re turning our backs on them when you agreed to be consistent. Well, I’ll be consistent. I won’t support it.”

He also bemoaned a city council he said has become “pro-union.”

“The city is run by the unions now. Look at the vote,” Chulakes-Leetz said.

Other city employees accepted a 3 percent pay cut and a 2 percent increase in their pensions last year.

Sullivan and Chulakes-Leetz were the sole no votes as the deals were ratified in a single 6-2 vote. They also rejected the separate ordinances to increase the amount of contributions for the police and fire pension funds from 7 to 10 percent, which also passed with a 6-2 majority.

Negotiations had been ongoing for two years, with fire officials unanimously rejecting a tentative agreement in August. But negotiations moved briskly once a new administration and city manager was in place, officials said.

The last agreement was tentatively agreed to on Dec. 28, with firefighters from Cape Coral Professional Firefighters Local 2424 approving of the deal last week.

The Fraternal Order of Police Cape Coral Lodge 33 voted on Jan. 6 to ratify.