Cooper contract meeting produces no results

Cooper contract meeting produces no results

March 25th, 2010 by Cliff Hightower in Politics Local

A meeting between Mayor Ron Littlefield and City Councilman Peter Murphy failed to deliver any type of compromise on a proposed three-year contract for retiring Chattanooga police Chief Freeman Cooper.

The contract, which stalemated in a 4-4 tie at Tuesday's council meeting, will come up for a second vote next week, officials said Wednesday.

"As far as I'm concerned, the deal is what it is," Mr. Littlefield said Wednesday afternoon.

Mr. Murphy said the mayor "indicated he negotiated out what he negotiated out and he didn't want us to micromanage."

The mayor and Mr. Murphy met at City Hall to hash out a possible compromise for Chief Cooper, who plans to retire next week on his 28th anniversary with the force.

Mr. Littlefield wants to keep the chief on another three years under contract, paying him his current salary of $116,822 a year. Chief Cooper also would be able to draw almost $80,000 a year in his pension and receive a one-time lump sum retirement bonus of about $174,000.

The issue has become contentious on the City Council, with some council members saying Chief Cooper could be "double dipping" by drawing his pension and salary at the same time.

After Wednesday's meeting with the mayor, Mr. Murphy said no ground was gained in trying to find different options. He said he brought up several incentives, but those were not accepted.

Mr. Littlefield has said that one of the reasons Chief Cooper, a prostate cancer survivor, wants to leave is because he would not be able to pass his retirement bonus or Deferred Retirement Option Plan on to his heirs if anything happened to him.

In Tuesday's council meeting, Mr. Murphy proposed possibly buying a life insurance for the chief or finding some way to create incentives for the chief to keep him on.

Mr. Murphy said he also found in his research that, in the past, most city employees who've returned under contract came back at a lower salary.

"I don't think we've ever had an employee come back at the same rate of pay," he said.

Mr. Murphy said he also wants to talk face to face with the police chief to see if he still has the passion for the job to come back.

Mr. Littlefield said the council can make its decision at Tuesday's meeting.

"The cleanest, simplest thing to do is what we're proposing," Mr. Littlefield said.

Council members have asked that Chief Cooper's contract be put on the agenda for the regularly scheduled council meeting.

Chief Cooper could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Councilwoman Sally Robinson, who was absent from Tuesday's meeting, which led to the 4-4 tie, said Wednesday she was surprised by the vote.

"I had no idea it would turn out to be one of those situations where you need all nine members," she said.

WHAT'S NEXT

The City Council will bring Chattanooga Police Department Chief Freeman Cooper's proposed contract back up for a vote Tuesday at its regularly scheduled business meeting. Council members said Wednesday they have requested the contract be put on the agenda.

Mrs. Robinson did not want to say how she would vote or how she would have voted Tuesday night, but she said she carefully is weighing all options.

Councilman Andraé McGary, who voted against the contract Tuesday night, said the council needs the week to get input from the public. He has said he has no qualms about the contract, but he wanted public opinion to weigh in before he takes another vote.

One option from the public involves offering the chief a one-year contract and looking for a possible replacement, Mr. McGary said.

"I think we're a better city and a better guardian of tax money if there are some options," he said. "I don't think there have been any options at this point."

Continue reading by following these links to related stories:

Article: Chief Cooper to retire, but could stay under contract

Article: Police chief's contract delayed another week

Article: Chattanooga: City Council fails to approve police chief's contract