Police union blues  

Boca Raton and Delray Beach are spectators to the police pay dispute in Boynton Beach, but those two cities should be interested spectators.

Boynton’s police contract expired last Sept. 30. The city offered a 3 percent, across-the-board raise, but the Police Benevolent Association rejected the offer, and the matter went to impasse. The city has come back with a 6 percent offer, but the union wants 20 percent. Fat chance.

So last week, the union tried a new tactic: intimidation. Officers picketed on city streets—using nasty caricatures of Police Chief Jeffrey Katz, City Manager Lori LaVerriere and City Attorney James Cherof—and showed up at Tuesday night’s city commission meeting to demand that Boynton Beach disband the department and contract with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.

The union claims to be standing up for all of Boynton Beach’s nearly 200 officers. In fact, the union wants longer-serving officers—who tend to be union favorites—to get more of the salary increases than newer officers. Further, LaVerriere believes that the union’s real gripes are cost-saving measures Katz has taken, because some of the changes rankle what she calls “the old guard.”

Katz took over last year, after former Chief Matt Immler retired and LaVerriere fired two majors who had served under Immler. Katz, who had been with the department for 15 years, began a reorganization that, LaVerriere said, has cut the number of lieutenants and enabled the department to restore some civilian positions that had been lost during recent budget cuts. Civilians can handle much of the inside work and free sworn officers to focus on investigations and crime prevention.

Most important, Katz has cut the overtime that not only can bust budgets but also can inflate pension costs; police officers in Boynton Beach and other cities can use 300 hours of overtime in calculating pension benefits. LaVerriere says the city’s contribution to police pensions this year will be $4 million.

In Boynton Beach, all detectives had worked regular shifts. If called out at night—when most violent crime occurs—they all got overtime. Now, a detective is assigned to each shift, which has reduced costs—but upset some of the detectives who once piled up the overtime.

Having stated its grievances, the union demands that the Boynton Beach City Commission disband the department and switch to the sheriff’s office. But Sheriff Ric Bradshaw is not encouraging such a change. “We don’t have a dog in this fight,” he said Monday. Two years ago, at Immler’s urging, the sheriff’s office made a preliminary takeover proposal that showed a $5 million savings in operating costs. But that city commission wanted to keep the department, and this city commission agrees.

At least for now. At some point, since police and fire make up about 60 percent of full-service cities’ budgets—in most cases, property taxes don’t even cover the cost of both departments—Boynton Beach, Delray Beach and even Boca Raton may think about consolidation. On Thursday, Delray Beach will discuss the idea of contracting with the county for fire-rescue. For now, though, Boynton Beach is taking the right stand regarding the police union. The two sides next will go before a magistrate late this month or in early July.

Police contracts also are up this year in Boca and Delray. The union always tries to come off as sticking up for law enforcement. In most cases, though, the union mainly is sticking up for the union. Taxpayers in Boca Raton and Delray Beach should understand the difference.

Sticks and stones…

Last week, the Delray Beach City Commission actually voted unanimously on a big issue. Then it was back to politics as usual.

Just after the commission had chosen Noel Pfeffer to be city attorney, Commissioner Adam Frankel complained that a member of a city board had called him a word that “begins with ‘a’ and ends with ‘hole.’ “ Since commissioners appoint members of the city’s roughly two dozen citizen boards, Frankel wanted to know if the commission could remove the board member—whom Frankel would not name—for using the, um, description.

Mayor Cary Glickstein and Commissioner Shelly Petrolia, who normally disagree with Frankel on almost everything, this time agreed on the need to avoid such name-calling. “We should govern ourselves as well,” Glickstein said. The moment of harmony passed quickly, as Frankel went on to complain about a supposed “impeachment campaign” against himself and Commissioner Al Jacquet and a related meeting at Spot Coffee that Petrolia’s husband had attended. Petrolia responded that her husband was not part of any such campaign, real or imagined.

For the record, city commissioners cannot be impeached. They can be recalled. There is talk of a recall effort against Frankel and Jacquet, but any recall petition would have to state as grounds for the petition an example of “malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty, drunkenness, incompetence, permanent inability to perform official duties. . .or conviction of a felony involving moral turpitude.” It’s a long way to there from a word that begins with ‘a’ and ends with ‘hole.’

Slow train?

For all the talk about All Aboard Florida providing “high-speed” passenger train service between South Florida and Orlando, the service itself wouldn’t be nearly as “high-speed” as trains elsewhere with that label.

All Aboard Florida trains would travel at 79 miles per hour through Miami-Dade and Broward counties and southern Palm Beach County. Leaving West Palm Beach, the last station, the trains would accelerate to 110 miles per hour on their way to Cocoa Beach, then reach 125 miles per hour for the run west to Orlando.

That would be faster than Amtrak, whose trains from South Florida to Orlando top out at 79 miles per hour. But in the European Union, “high-speed” means at least 125 miles per hour and usually more often 155 miles per hour. Last year, I rode a Spanish train from Barcelona to Madrid that hit 180 miles per hour. Japan’s futuristic “maglev” trains, expected in about 10 years, are projected to reach 300 miles per hour.

All Aboard Florida, which still has not disclosed ticket prices, says it can make money selling three-hour, one-way trips. Amtrak currently offers tickets as low as $31 for a trip that takes about 30 minutes longer. How much more will people be willing to pay for “high-speed?”

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You can email Randy Schultz at randy@bocamag.com

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About the Author

Randy Schultz was born in Hartford, Conn., and graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1974. He has lived in South Florida since then, and in Boca Raton since 1985. Schultz spent nearly 40 years in daily journalism at the Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post, most recently as editorial page editor at the Post. His wife, Shelley, is director of The Learning Network at Pine Crest School. His son, an attorney, and daughter-in-law and three grandchildren also live in Boca Raton. His daughter is a veterinarian who lives in Baltimore.