ATLANTIC CITY — About 20 police officers turned out to challenge City Council at its meeting Wednesday night after learning the layoffs their department faces may have nearly tripled.
David Davidson, president of the city’s PBA Local 24, held up a stack of 59 layoff notices targeting his members, despite the city administration’s state-approved plan to cut just 20 police officers.
“I’ve been sitting on my hands. ... I’m not apologizing anymore,” he said. “This is a systematic destruction of our police department.”
Steven Glickman, a city labor attorney, said the increase in layoff notices is necessary because the city hired many of the officers on the same date, giving them all the same seniority. To determine who loses their job, the city will send the 59 names to the state for a “tiebreaker.”
However, neither Glickman nor Business Administrator Michael Scott would definitively say that the police layoffs would not rise above 20 officers.
“It could go up, it could go down,” Glickman said. “We’re not there yet.”
Police officials believe the number might have to go up if Mayor Lorenzo Langford insists on cutting the department’s budget by more than $6.5 million, as detailed in a recent memo. Police Chief John J. Mooney said that number could not be met simply by cutting operating expenses. Most of the cuts would have to come from salary and wages, he said.
However, Glickman said, the requested $6.5 million is “not a hard-and-fast figure.”
“Depending on what savings we find through our ongoing discussions, it might not be that high in the end,” said Glickman, adding that June 1 will likely be the cutoff for negotiations with unions.
The Police Department has been the target of several cuts and scrutiny by the administration as the city deals with a fierce financial crisis. Along with the police layoffs and demotions of 15 high-ranking officers, including Mooney, the city recently reviewed more than $2 million worth of retirement payouts for a list of public safety employees, the majority of them police and fire officials.
After long delays, City Council approved the list Wednesday, but only after the administration cut the payouts almost in half. Council awarded more than $1.1 million to 18 retiring employees for unused sick and vacation leave.
“There always could be litigation,” Scott said when asked about the accuracy of the payout figures. “We feel we are as close as we should be.”
The payouts are currently calculated by paying retiring employees for their accumulated sick and vacation days at the employee’s current pay rate, which provides thousands of dollars more for a longtime city government employee.
City Council President William “Speedy” Marsh has led arguments that retiring officials should receive pay for their accumulated days at the pay rates that they earned at the time the sick or vacation day was saved.
But opponents insist the city is obligated by current contract agreements to pay the days at the current wage rate.
“You’re attacking us from all angles,” Davidson told City Council.
He hoped to continue to chastise the legislative panel, but his time ran out. Several other police officers in attendance offered to donate their time to allow Davidson to finish. The group stood to rousing applause inside chambers. But just as Davidson began to speak again, Marsh told him he would not allow it.
“I understand. The truth hurts,” Davidson replied.
Although Langford hopes to cut various aspects of the Police Department, members of his staff drafted an ordinance considered by City Council on Wednesday that would have added to the department to save six sergeants from demotion.
The measure would have added six sergeant positions to the city code, which would effectively save six sergeants from being dropped to police officer positions as a result of the demotion plan, which includes the chief, deputy chiefs, captains and lieutenants.
However, City Council voted the measure down Wednesday after Councilman George Tibbitt argued that it would make the process unfair.
“Why are we saving this one group of people?” he said. “If we’re going to do this fairly, we have to do it fair. ... This is what the unions are yelling about.”
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