With a mayoral election on the horizon, the Bridgeport Police union on Wednesday approved a new four-year contract granting firing power and assignment flexibility to Police Chief Joe Gaudett, 2.5 percent pay increases each year for officers and some concessions in a 260-79 vote by membership. The union had rejected a contract proposal last year. Three of the four years of the contract are retroactive so police negotiators will be back at the bargaining table with the city next year.
Chief Gaudett had sought firing power, saying he had been handcuffed in disciplinary action. Firing power had been a function of the mayoral-appointed Police Commission.
Facing the lowest staffing levels in two decades with more projected depletion in ranks this year, the department just completed a new recruitment effort in the hope of attracting candidates who better reflect the racial, ethnic and gender makeup of the city.
Police staffing has dipped below 400 in a city challenged to compete with the pay scale and benefits offered by surrounding communities. Veteran members of the department have left-–many cashing in retirement pay–-for higher-paying communities and private-sector security positions. In recent years collective bargaining agreements have required city police officers to contribute growing shares to medical benefits. Some area communities are offering lateral movement hires, meaning city officers can segue right into the respective systems because they are certified in law enforcement. The towns save money on training of recruits.
“The residents in Bridgeport have asked me more times than I care to remember, ‘Where are the black police officers?'” says retired police office Ron Bailey, now chief of police for a community college in Massachusetts. The makeup of police and fire personnel will become an issue in the mayoral race as Mayor Bill Finch prepares to seek a third four-year term.
Former Mayor Joe Ganim is gearing up for a run for his old job with a formal announcement likely early April. Finch’s 2011 Democratic primary opponent Mary-Jane Foster is expected to make a decision about a run in the next week. Three-time mayoral candidate Charlie Coviello is an announced candidate.
OIB has heard from many police officers who say they will openly support Ganim for mayor. Will they also open up their pocketbooks? Finch has more than $300,000 in his campaign account and counting. Ganim, a relentless fundraiser as mayor, must pick up a lot of financial ground to share his message and counter attacks from the Finch political operation reminding voters of his fall from office.
Ganim won’t have as much moolah as Finch. Will he have enough to compete?