MIAMI (CBS4) –Members of Miami’s police union voted overwhelmingly on secret ballots Tuesday to spearhead an effort to recall Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado. The final vote came in at 432 for the recall effort, 16 against. That’s nearly half of the union’s membership.
Relations between the mayor and the police and firefighters’ unions have soured over the last few years. In 2009, cops and firefighters agreed to wage and benefit concessions. Last year, the Mayor and city commission unilaterally imposed more cuts. Now, for a third year, the city is looking to balance the budget by giving employees, including police and firefighters, less.
“Our benefits and pensions were totally devastated,” said Fraternal Order of Police President Armando Aguilar last week. “They cut our salaries significantly, our pension benefits were destroyed.”
Aguilar said the last straw, prompting the recall consideration, were golden parachutes handed out to departing city executives. The unions were particularly offended that the administration reportedly offered Police Chief Miguel Exposito, a Regalado foe, $400,000 to go away.
Fire union president Robert Suarez accuses Regalado of mismanagement. He told CBS4’s Natalia Zea, ”
While we’re cutting back on city services and on employees, we’re seeing political cronies and hacks being hired.”
Mayor Regalado cancelled a scheduled interview with CBS4 Tuesday evening but he released this statement:
The goal of this administration is to balance the budget, get the city’s fiscal house in order and create jobs without raising taxes. That is what taxpayers asked me to do, and that is what I am doing. By refusing to increase taxes we are improving the business climate and seeing concrete results. The recent decision by Swire Properties and the Genting Group to build two mega-projects (Brickell City-Center and Miami Resorts) in the City of Miami proves we are on the correct path. In the next few months these two projects will create over 3,000 construction jobs. Upon completion there will be over 6,000 permanent jobs. The people of Miami understand that times are difficult and revenue is scarce. I am doing all I can to move Miami forward, and at the same time, respect everyone.
Mayor Regalado told CBS4 last week he doesn’t think the unions will get enough signatures for a recall vote. If they do, he’s confident voters will decide against it.
“The people of Miami will have the opportunity of deciding if we should continue with big salaries and big pensions or reductions in taxes,” said Regalado last week.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez was recalled by voters outraged that he presided over a tax hike in order to give pay raises to county employees, including police and firefighters.
In Miami Regalado has done just the opposite, and has won the support of the leader of the Alvarez recall effort, auto magnate Norman Braman.
Union officials are upset that the mayor is seeking union concessions to avoid increasing property taxes in the city which is facing a $61 million deficit for the next fiscal year.
Miami Commissioner Frank Carrollo won’t say which side he supports in this recall wrangling, but he is concerned about the impact of another recall election.
“All this infighting and so forth is very bad for the image of the City of Miami,” he told Zea.
A court battle is also expected. Before the ink even dries on the votes the unions already expect a legal challenge from the City Attorney, on whether the City Charter allows for a recall.