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Published: Wednesday, 4/29/2009

Attorneys square off over layoffs of Toledo police

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Sgt. Terry Stewart, left, chief of the Toledo Police Command Officers Association, listens to union attorney Gregory Lodge. Sgt. Terry Stewart, left, chief of the Toledo Police Command Officers Association, listens to union attorney Gregory Lodge.
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Twenty Toledo police command officers will learn before the end of business Friday whether the layoff notices they received from the city will in fact be enforced.

A Lucas County Common Pleas Court judge said Tuesday that he will decide whether to grant the request from the Toledo Police Command Officers Association for a temporary restraining order before the layoffs go into effect. Judge Frederick McDonald heard nearly three hours of testimony during a hearing yesterday - including from Chief of Staff Robert Reinbolt and union president Sgt. Terry Stewart - to help him decide the issue.

The city sent notices last month to 130 patrol officers, 20 command officers, and 17 civilian members of the police department in an attempt to help plug what has been called a more than $20 million hole in the budget.

Although the union and the city have agreed that the issue of whether there should be layoffs will be submitted to an arbitrator, what is disputed is whether the city should be stopped from making the layoffs before the arbitrator hears the case.

"To put these officers out of work before these issues are resolved is not in the best interest of the city of Toledo," union attorney Gregory Lodge said. "Until these issues are resolved these officers should remain in their jobs."

An arbitrator has been selected to hear the case but as of Tuesday, no dates had been set.

The union claimed in its complaint filed last week that the city violated its contract when the city sent layoff notices to the command officers. In response to the notices sent in March, the union filed a grievance asking that an arbitrator determine whether the city followed the contractual procedure for issuing layoffs to command officers.

Union attorneys said the city did not immediately respond to its request for arbitration requiring them to take action in court, asking the judge to "maintain the status quo with respect for contractually required manning levels pending arbitration."

In response, the city said it will have to make up for the costs of not laying off the command officers by laying off more patrol officers.

Mr. Reinbolt testified that the majority of the city's general fund is used to pay for police and fire services. He said the city is barred from laying off firefighters - the result of a court order upholding the firefighters' contract governing minimum staffing levels - and so "we have to take it over on the police side."

In response to Mr. Lodge's questions, Mr. Reinbolt admitted the monthly savings to the city if the 20 command officers are laid off is less than $150,000 - a small amount of the city's overall deficit. Mr. Lodge added that only a month would likely be needed to get the issue arbitrated.

Mr. Stewart testified that the command officers' current contract states the city must at all times maintain certain manning levels of 136 command officers, though 10 positions are vacant now. The contract also says the city may not reduce the number of command officers through layoffs until there has been a 10 percent reduction in officers below the rank of sergeant, he said.

It is only after this condition is met that command officers can be laid off, he testified.

Also testifying yesterday was John Bibish, the city's commissioner of finance, about the current budget deficit.

Attorneys for both the city and the union declined to comment after the hearing.

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 419-213-2134.



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