City leaders at odds over policy, oversight ahead of collective bargaining agreement vote

Two press events Monday painted different pictures of recent handling of city affairs.
Published: Mar. 20, 2023 at 10:50 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey commented Monday on the city’s handling of two controversial incidents regarding TPD officers, saying he supported the steps taken. Just hours before his statements, City Commissioner Jeremy Matlow hosted a conference scrutinizing the municipality’s decisions on the incidents.

The remarks come just days before the city commission, which Matlow and Dailey both sit on, is scheduled to vote on the city’s collective bargaining agreement with the Tallahassee Police Department.

Every three years, the city and TPD’s union, the Florida Police Benevolent Association (PBA), draw up a contract detailing employment terms including salaries, benefits and working conditions. The current contract expires this year. Commissioners will vote on the agreement for 2024 through 2026.

A controversial clause

Much of the controversy with the TPD officers centers on a clause of the current bargaining agreement that TPD Chief Lawrence Revell invoked last summer to keep a senior-ranking TPD officer on the force.

After the officer tested positive for a controlled substance on the job, Revell argued the collective bargaining agreement gave him discretion over whether to fire the officer, despite the city’s zero-tolerance policy for drugs.

But Matlow questioned how that discretion wound up in the contract and if it should remain in the next agreement.

Dailey said Monday during a press conference that he supports both the agreement’s language and the chief’s decision.

Three years ago, no one objected to the agreement during negotiations, Dailey said. The full commission, the city manager and the city attorney unanimously supported it.

The clause in question wasn’t specifically brought to the attention of the commission, he said, but he heeded officials’ responsibility to be aware before they cast a vote.

However,Matlow told WCTV “no one knows” how the clause ended up in the agreement.

“It was never flagged, it was never presented to the city commission,” Matlow said. “The PBA contract also explicitly calls for termination when an officer tests positive for a controlled substance.”

Mayor Dailey also reflected on the recent firing of former HR Director Ellen Blair. Blair had advised the city strongly against retaining the officer who tested positive for a controlled substance. Dailey said he supported the decision to fire Blair, adding the timing “probably wasn’t the best” and was a “long-standing issue” within the city that needed to be addressed.

WCTV obtained Blair’s personnel file through a public records request and is working to get clarification on her termination.

A different bargaining process

Both Matlow and Dailey acknowledged that the 2024 through 2026 contract went through a different oversight process.

The upcoming agreement leaves too many questions unanswered, Matlow said. He said the arrangement went through the office of City Manager Reese Goad, where it was directly bargained with the police union and without consulting the city attorney or members of the commission.

Mayor Dailey acknowledged Monday that the negotiations this time around will include the same group representing the city the Allen Norton & Blue law firm. He said the group was hired through the city attorney’s office.

The changes to the bargaining process, however, do not faze the mayor. He said the direction provided for the agreement makes him confident it will be ratified.

However, Matlow said he would not support the agreement. He said he was concerned it didn’t go through the city attorney and that the cost wasn’t provided by the treasurer clerk. And he said keeping the clause Revell invoked last summer is a deal-breaker.

“Frankly... any bargaining agreement with the union that continues to allow drug use, I’m not going to vote for it,” Matlow said.

Dailey acknowledged the clause might come up at Wednesday’s meeting.

“As an elected official, they have the opportunity to vote their mind. Can’t control how they act either, they’re going to have to be responsible for their own actions,” Dailey said. “But I’m very comfortable with the direction that the city’s going and the great conversations that we’ve had on the commission level.”