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City ignores serious problems at WPPD

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Economic threats to salary, benefits and retirement, along with the Winter Park Police Department administration’s history of questionable promotion procedures and unfair disciplinary tactics, drove the men and women who proudly serve and protect the citizens of Winter Park to vote nearly 2:1 in favor of seeking union representation in June 2009. In large measure, both before and after organizing, the officers have been largely ignored by police administration and subsequently by city leaders. Those same officers spoke once again in a stronger voice, saying they have no confidence in the leadership ability of their chief.

There were several assertions in your article (“City backs Railey” on Feb. 24) that were without merit and designed to cast disparagement upon our membership that I would like to address. The first of those is City Manager Randy Knight’s statement that “the vote was already expected.” We believe that Mr. Knight indeed recognizes there are acute issues between the administration and its officers, but is apparently choosing not to address the officer’s concerns.

Instead Knight attacked the credibility of the vote saying, “The Teamsters called for the vote. The Teamsters established the voting process. The Teamsters administered the vote. The Teamsters counted the votes behind closed doors. Teamsters reported the results.” Knight seems to be implying, without justification, that union leaders reported misleading information; such an inference is not only untrue, but insulting.

The no-confidence vote was conducted over several days to ensure each officer was allowed sufficient time to express his or her opinion by casting a secret ballot. Stewards personally contacted each officer, individually, to ensure they received a ballot; only five officers did not accept ballots when offered. Officers accepting ballots signed a receipt, then marked their ballots in privacy, and sealed them into an envelope. Once their ballot was sealed into the envelope, officers were provided with a security seal, which they affixed to the envelope to ensure it remained unopened until the votes were counted. The envelopes were returned to the stewards.

Ballots were not counted behind closed doors, but in an open business. There were six persons present during the count. Steward Bill Holley, who supervises all elections conducted by the Winter Park Police Officers Association, examined the receipts to assure only qualified officers voted. He also examined the sealed envelopes for integrity, and counted and examined each ballot to confirm the voter’s intention. Each of those materials was then re-examined by another steward and a member of the Department not qualified to be a part of the collective bargaining unit. The process was observed by two other stewards and a member of the public.

According to the article, Knight said “that such a vote was a typical negotiating tactic for unions hoping to gain leverage against the city during contract negotiations.” Neither Mr. Knight, nor Chief Brett Railey, who made similar statements to the media, have presented any empirical data, historical or otherwise, that public sector no-confidence votes are a “typical negotiation tactic.” We can find no information to substantiate that claim, and it is most certainly untrue of this situation.

Your article went on to say that, “None of the union’s battles with Railey were mentioned in a letter explaining the confidence vote.” While it is true they were not specifically mentioned in the letter, the letter clearly referred to the “Proclamation of No Confidence [where] the Executive Board has expressed the concerns of their constituents.” That document details the issues that prompted the no-confidence vote and is available at wppdunited.com

Lastly, both Knight and Mayor Ken Bradley referred to the reduction in crime, which they say “fell 13.2 percent in 2009, and then 18.3 percent in 2010, under Railey’s helm.” According to the FDLE, the actual figure was an 11.6 percent reduction for 2010. Both figures are consistent with statewide trends for the last two years. But when considering crime trends over a five-year period, Winter Park has had an increase in crime of 26.4 percent, while both Orange County and Florida have decreased 5 percent and 10 percent respectively. The city’s statistics are a selected snapshot designed to effectuate confidence and do not tell the entire story.

Seventy percent of the officers who work each day to make this a safer community say there are serious problems with the department administration. Ignoring them will not make the problem go away or the community safer.