ATLANTIC CITY - Mayor Lorenzo Langford agreed Wednesday to reopen negotiations on reinstating some laid-off public safety employees, after police officials confirmed discussions of bringing back 12 officers.
The Langford administration laid off 40 police officers last week as part of a wave of job cuts that left 93 city workers unemployed.
Public Safety Director Christine Petersen confirmed Wednesday night that the city has been discussing the reinstatement of some of those officers, but stopped short at providing more details; she said she was under the impression that Langford would discuss the plan during his public address before City Council on Wednesday night.
The mayor spoke, but made no mention of the laid-off workers or plans to rehire any of them. But after a large group of laid-off officers spoke out to council, the mayor agreed to reopen negotiations and meet personally with them at 9 a.m. today.
"With all due respect to your union leadership ... y'all got to stand up for yourselves," he said. "What are you willing to give up? Give me some concessions."
The comments prompted some in the audience to shout back, including Angelo DeMaio, president of the union representing city firefighters, who asked the mayor if labor leaders could meet with him to talk further. Langford agreed.
Langford asked the unions to bring their concessions in writing.
"I don't care how you get it to me, just get it to me," the mayor said. "That's how we start to bring people back."
But the Police Benevolent Association leadership still appeared to be in no mood for additional concessions.
PBA President David Davidson said before the meeting that he had discussed the possibility of reinstating 12 officers with Steven Glickman, the city's chief labor counsel. But he made clear that those officers would have to come back without any new concessions from his union.
"We've lost 60 officers," Davidson said. "I think we've given enough."
Several dozen recently laid-off police officers and firefighters attended the meeting to let City Council members know their opinions of the recent staff reductions.
Al Herbert, who was recently laid off after three years as a police officer, said the 60 officers who were let go include about a dozen who are bilingual in Spanish and English, one who speaks Cantonese and the department's only Arabic speaker, at a time when the city's Muslim population is growing.
"They're the lowest-costing, the most talented and the youngest and most eager members of the department," Herbert said.
Several of the laid-off officers have gotten jobs in other departments, which means Atlantic City taxpayers paid to train them so another town can benefit from their services, Herbert said.
"Not only are residents being hit in their pockets with taxes, but their car insurance and home insurance" are going up because the city is seen as unsafe, Herbert said.
Former officer T.J. Moynihan, a city resident who was laid off recently, echoed the sentiment.
"The people who are paying the price are the people sitting in the back of the room who don't have a job, and the residents who don't have public safety," Moynihan said.
Officer Jimmy Herbert, Al Herbert's brother, said he was shocked to find out only one officer was on duty in the city's Chelsea section recently, when someone was shot on Jackson Avenue. If rumors are true that the Chelsea fire station might close, a fire could turn into a tragedy if the Albany Avenue bridge is raised and another department can't get to the scene, he said.
Councilman George Tibbitt said he, too, was surprised to learn only one officer was on duty when the Jackson Avenue shooting occurred. He thanked the officers and firefighters who live in the city for protecting residents on their own time as well as when they're on the clock. But Jimmy Herbert quickly responded by noting that it was Tibbitt who previously told Davidson the city would not get to the point of mass layoffs in the Police Department.
"Well, hopefully we'll be bringing those guys back," Tibbitt replied.
Davidson said it's time for the city and the police to set aside their differences and start serious negotiations rather than fighting it out in the media.
"The PBA is not responsible for balancing the budget of this city," Davidson said.
With 60 layoffs - including his own son - and 30 officers recently retired, the police force is down to 288 members, Davidson said. The Police Department cannot do more with fewer people, and the best technology won't work if there's not a man or woman in the car to use it, he said.
"We need to bring these folks back," Davidson said. "They're young, they have the energy" to respond to the 911 calls.
DeMaio said City Council was not forthcoming with budget figures.
"Not once did the Fire Department know what our budget really was," DeMaio said. "The budget numbers constantly change, and we never really know what's on the budget."
Firefighters offered to work unpaid overtime this year, and to be repaid in compensatory time next year as a way to keep the city safe, but the offer was not accepted, DeMaio said, adding that with a shortage of personnel, the department is paying overtime money that could have been used to save at least 15 jobs.
"The Fire Department cannot run on the capacity we're at," DeMaio said. "If we shut down four companies, possibly five, don't tell me we're safer today than yesterday."
Council President William "Speedy" Marsh complimented the firefighters and police officers for the respect with which they spoke Wednesday night.
"Even Dave (Davidson) finally calmed down tonight," Marsh said.
If the talks had this tone back in January and February, he said, the laid-off officers would be strapping on their holsters and jackets and heading out to the street to work their shifts.
"The eleventh hour is no way to get things done," Marsh said. "It's always better to do things with communication and respect like we did tonight - what we should have done a long time ago."
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