Updated at 3:05 p.m.: Talks between Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and the police union's executive director did NOT go well. Whether it's initial posturing or a true rift between County Hall and the Police Benevolent Association remains to be seen. Formal contract negotiations will start soon.
Gimenez joined PBA executive director Blanca Torrents Greenwood in a Biltmore conference room Thursday to talk about stalled union talks. Both sides reported tension during the closed-door session, and afterwards Greenwood gave a definite thumbs-down to the talks.
"From my perspective, it was a completely useless and unneccessary meeting," she said in a telephone interview, citing a separate meeting Tuesday between Gimenez and PBA president John Rivera. Gimenez "certainly didn't indicate any willingness to make law enforcement a priority."
Last week, Gimenez announced his budget would require eliminating 110 police-officer jobs, about half as much as the initial proposal of 228 officer cuts. Gimenez said he would impose healthcare changes on supervisors and other non-union employees to create the extra savings, as well as redirect funds earmarked for the county's reserve funds and cancel a planned $1.4 million increase in tax funding for the Perez Art Museum Miami. All but $300,000 of the savings went to police payroll, allowing the lower job-cut figure, according to the county's budget office.
Now, Gimenez says if police and other unions will accept a new healthcare plan with some benefit reductions and cost savings, MIami-Dade can avoid all police job cuts.
In the interview, Greenwood said laying off "even one police officer is a disservice to this community." She also dismissed Gimenez's shrinking jobs-cut number, saying "it's like when a store has a sale and they hike-up the price" first.
Gimenez and Rivera have been exchanging barbs through spokesmen and media interviews, but this week was designed to notch down the public animosity. The mayor's side said they were happy to meet with Rivera and Greenwood together, while the PBA blamed County Hall for the separate sessions. On Thursday, Greenwood continued the harsh tone Rivera had adopted during coverage of the mayor's budget, which currently includes cuts to 110 police jobs.
"From my perspective, he's condescending," she said of Gimenez. "It's the same thing you see on TV."
We'll update this post when we get official word from the Mayor's Office on their take of the session.
Police Détente Week continues for Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez
Two days after a sit-down with a top antagonist, police-union chief John Rivera, Gimenez is slated to meet Thursday with the union's executive director, Blanca Torrents Greenwood. Like the huddle with Rivera, Gimenez will meet with Greenwood on neutral territory, at the Biltmore hotel in Coral Gables, according to his public schedule.
It's not known why Gimenez and the Police Benevolent Association arranged separate meetings for Rivera and Greenwood, a lawyer and former prosecutor. People on both sides blamed the other for Rivera not being on the guest list for Thursdays' meeting.
"We are going so we won't slow anything down," Stephanie Womble, a PBA spokeswoman, said in a text message Thursday.
Gimenez and Rivera have had such a hostile back-and-forth in the media over the mayor's plan to cut police jobs that Tuesday's meeting included an informal arbitrator: Rodney Barreto, a partner in a local lobbying firm and business owner who is well-known for his political connections.
Progress seemed to be made: after the meeting, Rivera sent Gimenez a letter Wednesday agreeing to resume union talks after Gimenez agreed not to use a former PBA lawyer as his negotiator for the talks.
While the Rivera meeting seemed more designed to tamp down a feud, the Thursday session looks more likely to get into the details of how to negotiate the union's new three-year contract and whether the PBA will accept Gimenez's request for changes in workers' health-care plans.
Gimenez's top aide, chief-of-staff Alex Ferro, sat outside the Biltmore conference room Tuesday as Gimenez, Rivera and Barreto talked. Ferro is slated to join Gimenez for the discussion with Greenwood, said Mike Hernandez, Gimenez's spokesman.