homepage logo

Police chief opt-out has fire union head concerned

By Staff | Aug 20, 2013

An ordinance that would give the police chief an opt-out option in the Cape Coral police retirement plan has created quite a stir among those on the council and those involved in collective bargaining.

So much so that current Police Chief Jay Murphy may decide to put off his retirement plans.

Murphy has reached the term limit with the state Deferred Retirement Option Program after serving more than 35 years on the Cape Coral force, mandating his retirement.

However, if Murphy wanted to come back, City Manager John Szerlag would be able to choose that option, since he is the one who will hire the new chief.

During public input at Monday’s regular City Council meeting at City Hall, Fire Union President Brendan Fonock took to the podium to address his concerns.

“This will damage the retirement security of workers and their families and prevent us from attracting new people,” Fonock said. “Here we are introducing an ordinance to exclude one person from reform. What’s good for one is good for all. It sends a bad message.”

Councilmember and former policeman John Carioscia said the rationale behind the ordinance is to attract a new chief to replace Murphy, who would likely come from outside the area.

“The last four chiefs have lasted three or four years. Any candidate who applies knows 10 percent of his salary will be put into a pension he won’t benefit from,” Carioscia said. “We want what’s best for the department. No union has the right to dictate who we hire.”

Szerlag said the ordinance is there to make the hiring process a little easier. And it is a multi-part process.

“With upper management positions you hire from outside. Reforms in the pension plan say you have to be here at least 10 years to be vested. Someone might not want to be here 10 years,” Szerlag said. “Someone near the end of his career doesn’t want to put into a pension plan because it wouldn’t benefit them.”

The second part, Szerlag said, is if the current chief wants to opt out, he could negotiate with him an agreement for him to stay for cost effective reasons.

“It doesn’t mean it would happen, but it means it would give me the option to engage the chief,” Szerlag said, adding he wouldn’t make an opinion until he finds out what council wants to do.

The ordinance was introduced Monday and a public hearing date was set for Sept. 9.

It was one of five pension-related ordinances that came before the council for the first time.

In other business, the city also established the South Cape Community Redevelopment Advisory Board to provide “an ear to the ground” for the CRA and advise on CRA issues.

It also reimposed the solid waste service assessment for FY 2014, setting it at $149.79, down from $157.25 last year, as well as set a similar fee for commercial developments and multi-family dwellings.

The stormwater fee was again set at $75 and also approved lawn mowing assessments. All were passed unanimously, 7-0.