published Thursday, June 21st, 2012

Chattanooga mayor's office, union rep spar over raise 'options'


by Cliff Hightower
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Mayor Ron Littlefield's administration proposed Wednesday that no salary increases be given to police officers after a police union representative made some comments about the raises during a City Council meeting.

"This is an option," said Richard Beeland, spokesman for Littlefield.

The administration sent an email Wednesday afternoon to the City Council and media titled "Response from Administration." It listed a series of what it called inaccuracies made by police Sgt. Craig Joel, a representative from the Fraternal Order of Police. The release then gave what the administration said is the correct version of events.

"The administration hesitates at throwing an another $1.3 million in a career development program that representatives of the police department are not satisfied is equitable," the release said.

Instead, the administration calls for money to be used to fund a study to determine the best way to pay police officers.

"If the people at the police department aren't satisfied with it, then let's not throw money at it," Beeland said.

Joel sent out an emailed response Wednesday saying his words did not reflect the views of the Chattanooga Police Department, but the views of 300 officers in the police union.

"I apologize for any unnecessary anxiety this has created for Chattanooga's officers, and I have full confidence that the council will see through this as the retaliatory threat that it is and not punish their officers over what is clearly a personal issue that should be beneath their [City Council] office," Joel wrote.

The dispute between the city and Joel comes on the heels of the council trying to find ways to fund pay raises for city employees. The mayor has proposed a 3 percent raise for all city employees except sworn personnel, and also wants to put $1.3 million into the police department's career ladder, which rewards officers for extra training.

Some council members said they would like an across-the-board pay raise for all employees, while others said they think the salary increases are too high.

Members of the council contacted Wednesday said they did not want to comment on the tit-for-tat between Littlefield and Joel.

Council Chairwoman Pam Ladd said she already has made up her mind on how she would like pay raises to be divvied out and the email doesn't convince her otherwise.

"It looks like we have a little fight going on between them and I don't want to step into it," she said.

During the council's business meeting Tuesday night, Joel praised the mayor for providing options to the council, but then said officers were frustrated because there is no pay plan set up for the department, sergeants, lieutenants, captains and chiefs are excluded from the career ladder and anyone who comes into the force has to wait three years before getting a raise.

The mayor's administration said that was false and highlighted that Joel had been given substantial raises between 2006 and 2010, raising his salary from $36,000 to $55,000 annually.

The administration also said higher police ranks were excluded from the proposed raises because they have their own pay system set up. Cadets get an automatic 5 percent pay bump once they graduate from the police academy and join the department, said the statement from the mayor's office.

Joel said in his statement that his criticism was toward the pay plan because it is the only way officers can get raises and said it was ludicrous his comments would garner a reaction from the mayor's office.

Police Chief Bobby Dodd also reiterated Wednesday that Joel did not speak on behalf of the department. But he said that, for the last two years he has been focused on getting the career ladder funded and doesn't want the plan to go away.

"I hope it's not in jeopardy," he said.

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