Apopka police take first step to form a union

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Saying their concerns over pay raises have fallen on deaf ears, some of Apopka’s police officers have taken the first step to form a union.

A petition has been filed with the Florida Public Employees Relations Commission (PERC) in order to allow the Florida Police Benevolent Association (FPBA) to represent the officers in collective bargaining talks with the city administration, said Michael Rodriguez, city attorney.

Rodriguez said the city will likely respond to the petition, but that once the petition is certified, PERC will administer an election for eligible police department employees to decide if they want the FPBA to represent them.

Rodriguez also said that he plans to seek outside legal counsel to help the city through the process.

In its proposed budget for fiscal year 2020-2021 that begins October 1, the city has allotted funding for an across-the-board 1-percent cost-of-living raise for all city employees.

After an anonymous letter about pay raises and other issues was sent nearly three weeks ago to members of the City Council and local news media, discussion ensued at the August 5 City Council meeting, including a talk about the raises from Apopka Fire Department employee Todd Bengston.

At the Wednesday, August 19, City Council meeting, the writer of the anonymous letter, Off. Sam Anderson, spoke to the council.

“First and foremost, I wrote the letter that y’all received regarding the merit program. I stand behind it. I didn’t sign it for several reasons,” Anderson said. “First of all, I believe it represents the general mood within the police department and not the feelings of one person. I don’t think anyone could have written a letter that captured everyone’s feelings perfectly, but someone has to be the voice for those who have concerns. It served its purpose; it got a conversation started.”

Anderson went on to speak about pay raises other Central Florida cities are doing for their officers.

“They may have a merit or tenure-based pay plan,” Anderson said, adding that Ocoee has a step plan for raises.

He also questioned an email that Mayor Bryan Nelson sent out on July 31 in which the mayor cited certain budget numbers that affect funding for police department employees’ salaries.

Anderson said he looked at the city budget and said that there was an extra $919,000 in the budget that Nelson didn’t consider in his email.

Nelson responded, saying that his numbers were correct and that Anderson wasn’t reading the budget correctly.

The two did agree that if a city-owned parcel of property sells for more than $1 million, that the city will consider using the excess funds for employee raises.

The full story can be found on page 1A of the Friday, August 21, issue of The Apopka Chief. Subscribe today!