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Nine police set to be demoted after union rejects deal

STORY BY EILEEN KELLEY, (Week of September 27, 2012)
Photo: Phil Huddy to lose sergeant's rank and $5,400 a year Monday.

For four straight years, Phil Huddy scored the highest when testing on the sergeant’s exam at the Vero Beach Police Department. In March 2011 when an opening finally came through, the Vero Beach police officer who then had 11 years of service with the department, finally got the promotion he wanted.

But on Oct. 1, his new annual salary will drop about $5,400 when he is expected to be returned to the rank of corporal.

Huddy has done nothing wrong.

The paperwork, demoting him and eight others on Oct. 1, will be turned in by the end of this week unless members of the police union have a major change of heart.

Union members voted 36 to 3 last week against a plan that would have reduced the number of paid holidays, forced officers to contribute 2.5 percent more to their pension plan, and paid overtime only to those officers who actually worked the holiday. The current contract pays officers who work during a holiday time and a half plus eight hours of straight pay for, or double time and a half.

Even if they don't work the holiday, they get the double time and a half if they work the next day.

City Manager Jim O’Connor said the police vote and budget limits leave him with no choice but to cut the pay of Huddy and eight others by reducing their rank.

Three of the city's least senior lieutenants will go back to being sergeants and three sergeants, like Huddy, will become corporals. The three least senior corporals will return to being officers.

The savings will produce about half of the $200,000 that O'Connor said needs to be cut from the department budget. An equal amount will be saved by not filling an assistant chief's job that opened when Dave Curry was promoted to police chief earlier this year.

"The only thing I can do is reorganize the police department," O’Connor said.

O’Connor made that clear Sept. 18 during a televised City Council meeting when he told council members that if the union didn’t agree to fewer paid holidays, the over-time and the pension measures, nine officers would have their pay cut Oct. 1.

That announcement to the public, while known to the police officers, didn’t sit well with Huddy and other officers who were voting on whether to accept the contract.

"It’s like he’s got this big old Louisville Slugger baseball bat behind this contract and he’s saying "Sign this contract that we think is a good deal or get beat over the head with a baseball bat,’" said Huddy.

"That upset the majority of officers here."

Huddy, an official with the union, told Vero Beach 32963 at press time he was going back to the officers to find out if there is anything they would do to finally put this contract behind them.  The officers have been working without a contract for more than a year.

Huddy said he doesn’t know what to expect but he is certain on one thing: "Morale here is at an all-time low."

Huddy’s $5,400 pay cut is small compared to some others.  For one officer, the pay cut will amount to $17,000 a year.

"There are no winners here," said O’Connor.