Observations and musings on Jacksonville Politics

Bad Cops Get Help From the Legislature

In a recent post on Jaxpolitics about the FOP’s call to close the public’s access to internal investigations, I referenced a bill (Senate Bill 624 by Fasano) that was before the Legislature that, among other things, would allow for police officers to corroborate their stories, i.e., get their stories straight, prior to investigation of incidents where two or more officers are involved.  That bill passed the Legislature and is headed for the Governor for signature.

The bill wasn’t just an idea someone thought up.  It wasn’t even meant to address a situation where a police officer was treated unfairly, but instead arose to address a real situation according to a St. Pete Times editorial that calls for the Governor to veto the legislation.  According to that editorial, the bill was proposed in the wake of four Tampa police officers being fired or forced to resign in December after investigators using GPS technology found they had gone home or to other jobs during the time they were supposed to be on duty.

The bill also makes it easy for bad officers to avoid punishment by tying up the disciplinary process. Officers who feel unfairly treated by investigators could request an internal review. Then the games start. Officers could bounce an investigator off the case, delay the proceedings and effectively shop for lenient colleagues to rule on their case. This would gut the ability of internal affairs investigators to do their jobs and make internal affairs a dead-end career move.

Police chiefs and sheriffs understand that their ability to self-police the ranks is the only defense against any public call for citizen review panels. This legislation would move Florida away from the great strides it has taken in professionalizing the police forces. No wonder, then, that the Florida Police Chiefs and Sheriffs Associations object to the bill. “This is a bad law that helps bad cops,” Tampa police Chief Stephen Hogue wrote the governor last week.

Not one of Jacksonville’s legislative representatives voted against this bill, which should give you a good indication of where their priorities lie – looking for support for reelection in 2010.  If the Governor doesn’t veto this bill (as has been requested by numerous parties), look for Jaxpolitics to begin a very public crusade for a citizens review board here in Jacksonville.

Read the entire St. Pete Times editorial here.

Filed under: Florida, Florida Legislature, Florida Politics, , , ,

Workers Comp Bill Favors Police and Fire

Remember when Nelson Cuba, FOP, was upset about the limits on attorney’s fees in workers’ compensation cases – calling the bills filed in the Legislature “preposterous” and “un-American”?  Well, it looks like Nelson will be happy with the Florida Senate.  They recently amended their version of the workers’ compensation attorney’s fees bill to provide different criteria that could result in the recovery of more attorney’s fees and costs.  The bill is currently ready to be heard on the Senate floor.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? How would you feel if I were to tell you that police and fire were singled out for special treatment in the bill?  Maybe not so great, huh?

Well, that’s exactly what the Senate bill was amended to do on Wednesday.  Only police and fire are entitled to use different criteria in calculating attorneys fees and costs in their worker’s compensation cases which will likely result in them being able to recoup more attorney’s fees and costs than provided to anyone else in the bill.  Interesting.  Especially since their attorney’s won’t have to jump high hurdles to prove their cases like everyone else will.

In addition, there is also legislation that could result in higher police and fire pension costs for the City when terminating a plan.  One of the bills would have provided a 2-year relief period to cities, allowing them to use non-committed insurance premium tax revenues to pay for the current level of police and fire pension benefits rather than providing new, extra pension benefits.  However, that language was stripped from the bill.

These are the kind of shenanigans that make me truly dislike the Florida Legislature and the political process.  But I guess it’s no different than in 2007 when the Legislature passed more special favors for “first responders.”  

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Florida, Florida Legislature, Florida Politics, Jacksonville, , ,

Cuba, FOP Grandstanding Again?

This morning’s TU article on the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office internal investigations was certainly interesting.  Nelson Cuba’s “attitude” once again comes out with the statement “if they don’t like it, we’ll stop giving them a statement, and they can get over it.”   Cuba calls the Sheriff’s statements “grandstanding”, but it appears that the only person grandstanding on a consistent basis lately is Nelson Cuba himself.

Even though I have not supported citizen review boards in the past, if the FOP is successful in their quest to close proceedings, I will be more than happy to join in the chorus to call for a citizens review board.  It is bad enough that the Legislature is currently considering a bill that would allow for police officers to corroborate their stories, i.e., get their stories straight, prior to investigation of incidents where two or more officers are involved.

Filed under: Jacksonville, , ,

Council positioning Corrections Officers’ pension bill for a vote

On 1/26, Council President Ronnie Fussell made good on his word to the FOP and added the Corrections Officers pension bill (2008-983) to this week’s Council Committee meetings.  At today’s (2/2) Council Rules Committee meeting, the committee voted to amend the bill.  The amendment excepts the corrections officers pension bill from the requirement that pension plan enhancement must be 90% actuarially funded in order to be introduced and approved.  The amendment was approved by voice vote.  The Rules Committee then took up the bill as amended.  The bill passed out of committee 5-1 with Clay Yarborough casting the lone vote against the measure.  

Later in the day, the Council’s Finance Committee took up the measure.  This time the bill passed 6-1 – again with Clay Yarborough passing the sole vote against the measure.  But this doesn’t necessarily indicate that the bill will sail smoothly through City Council.  Any exceptions to the actuarial funding requirements can only be approved by Council after a public hearing and a 2/3 majority vote.

In addition, there was alot of tightrope walking by numerous council members during both committee meetings with some of them clarifying that a vote to move the bill out of committee did not necessarily signify their support of the measure.  Webb in particular seem a little more interested in ensuring that this monkey got off of his back and on to the back of the full Council during the Rules Committee meeting as he repeatedly asked for reassurance that amending the bill to allow an exception to the 90% actuarial funding requirements still meant it had to have a 2/3 vote of Council for approval. Corrigan was unashamedly enthusiastic in his support for the measure during Finance Committee meeting, though.  However, it appeared as if many of the Council members were merely looking for safety in numbers.

In between the two committee meetings, the Office of General Counsel determined the public hearing on the bill could be held at the next City Council meeting (February 9th), and Council would be able to vote on the measure then. 

It will take 13 Council members voting “yes” next Tuesday night to pass the bill to allow corrections officers to retire with 20 years of service at any age with a guaranteed annual 3% cost of living adjustment.   Let’s see if Council members are willing to break the pension fund and the City’s budget in order to approve a deal agreed to by the Mayor’s staff in better days…..a deal City Council was not a part of, nor one they are required to approve. 

BTW, kudos to Clay Yarborough for publicly taking a stand during Committee meetings and not hiding behind the safety of full Council proceedings.

Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, Mayor of Jacksonville, , , , , ,

Nelson Cuba:“I want a yea or a nay…If not, then I’ll sue.”

Last night, Jacksonville’s City Council did not hear 2008-0983, the correction’s officers pension bill that would allow them to retire at any age after 20 years of service and provides a guaranteed annual 3% cost of living increase.  Either someone talked Nelson Cuba off of the ledge, or we’ll be seeing a lawsuit filed soon.

Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, , ,

Community forum: police involved shootings

Tonight Sheriff Rutherford participated in WJCT’s community forum with other community leaders discussing the subject of police-involved shootings.  The sheriff cited the statistics behind police involved shootings and proffered a solution:  restrict criminals access to guns.  Prior to the forum, the sheriff had interviewed with CBS 47 and had these suggestions:

“Some of the points include making it tougher for crooks to get their hands on guns.
He says people should not leave guns in their cars and should properly store them at home. 
He also wants people to report stolen guns right away to cut down on traffickers
He also suggests doing background checks at gun shows and making sure gun buyers have purchasing permits.

Here’s a link to the report issued by Rutherford on JSO’s response to resistance and the rise in gun violence in Jacksonville.

Harry Shorstein, who also participated on the panel, was busy pointing out that the sheriff often ignored his criticisms and suggestion on handling officers involved in shootings.  And the sheriff responded by telling Harry he didn’t know what he was talking about.  Now that’s a productive conversation, isn’t it?

In the meantime panelist Nelson Cuba was busy winning friends and influencing Jacksonville’s citizens by sharply criticizing fellow panelist Isaiah Rumlin, the leader of the local NAACP.  Geez….hadn’t Nelson already offended enough of Jacksonville’s citizenry yesterday with his threats to sue the City, i.e., us taxpayers,  if we don’t fork over early retirement benefits and guaranteed cost of living raises to corrections officers and then calling City Council members dishonest today? 

Before the kettle goes to calling the pot black, Nelson might want to recall the Ethics Office and IG Office investigation  last spring (2008-4) into the Mayor’s Hispanic American Advisory Board during his term of leadership which found improper procedures pertaining to purchases (17 of them in total – of which 6 had memos from the Mayor’s Office warning them to follow the correct procedures, with an E-mail informing the Board of the correct procedures issued prior to the last 3) and a lack of board meeting minutes – sunshine law/open government violations.

If you missed the debate tonight, the broadcast will re-air 6:30 p.m. Sunday on TV-7. It will also be shown 8 p.m. Feb. 1 and 6:30 p.m. Feb. 4.

Filed under: Jacksonville, , , , , , , , , , ,

Legal blogs weigh in on Matt Shirk and his FOP party

It seems that locals aren’t the only ones who think the apparent “relationship” between Matt Shirk and the Fraternal Order of Police is a little odd.

The Law of Criminal Defense blog by John Wesley Hall Jr. (the NACDL’s original ethics advisor) had this to say:

When the elected Public Defender getting sworn in has a party thrown for him by the Fraternal Order of Police, something is seriously wrong with the Public Defender’s Office. See Jacksonville.com.

The Jacksonville Fraternal Order of Police, which supported Shirk in the November election, threw an induction party for him Tuesday night.

While paying lip service to being an adversary, the PD ran for office promising the police that Public Defenders would not question the credibility of police officers.

This will get ugly before it’s over. The systemic problems this creates boggle the mind.

And over at Arbitrary and Capricious (Skelly Wright’s blog), they posted the following:

FL: cops and p.d. sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g

Lest we forget Matt Shirk, another Floridian just elected p.d., John Wesley Hall Jr. at Law of Criminal Defense reminds us:

Jax Public Defender has “induction party” thrown by FOP

When the elected Public Defender getting sworn in has a party thrown for him by the Fraternal Order of Police, something is seriously wrong with the Public Defender’s Office…

Followed by this post a couple of days later that is obviously referencing Shirk …

FL: orderly transition

Odd news out of Sarasota: newly-elected public defender takes office, no employees summarily axed, no police throw a party for the p.d. or search the p.d. premises. From WWSB:

Larry Eger sworn in as Public Defender

For the first time in more than three decades, someone other than Elliot Metcalfe holds the position of 12th Judicial Circuit Public Defender. Republican Larry Eger took his oath of office Friday in Manatee County…

Filed under: Jacksonville, , , , , , ,

Objectivity of the new State Attorney and Public Defender in question

In today’s TU, Ron Littlepage makes the argument for a civilian review board for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.  The argument basically goes police may be biased in reviewing their own, and the backup to that review is the State Attorney.  The next sentence in Littlepage’s column really popped out at me:

Next month, the state attorney will be Angela Corey, who owes her political life to the police union, raising questions about her objectivity.

Question:  Since Matt Shirk also owes his political life to the same police union, doesn’t that raise the same questions about his objectivity?

Filed under: Jacksonville, , , , , , , , ,

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