Tallahassee City Commission votes to ratify collective bargaining agreement amid pushback on drug policy

On Wednesday the commission voted 3 to 2 to ratify the agreement.
Published: Mar. 22, 2023 at 6:38 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 23, 2023 at 12:18 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - After weeks of debate and public disputes, the Tallahassee City Commission approved a new collective bargaining agreement with the union that represents the Tallahassee Police Department.

The commission voted three to two in favor of ratifying the agreement. Mayor John Dailey, Mayor Pro-Tem Dianne Williams-Cox and City Commissioner Curtis Richardson voted in favor of the contract. City Commissioners Jeremy Matlow and Jack Porter voted against it.

Dailey and members representing TPD applauded the contract’s approval and the aid it will provide in hiring personnel for the department. But the dissenters expressed concerns over controversy surrounding sections of the article.

“If it’s the will of the majority to move forward that’s OK, but it’s not good practice,” Matlow said.

Commissioners and public speakers discussed the contract for an hour, focusing on the department’s drug policy, which has been a source of controversy over the last several weeks.

Much of the controversy centers on a clause in the current bargaining agreement that TPD Chief Lawrence Revell used in June to avoid firing a senior-ranking officer after he tested positive for a controlled substance.

Revell argued the clause gave him the judgment over whether to fire the officer. But some city officials, including Matlow and Porter, voiced concerns over the clause’s break from the city’s zero-tolerance policy for drugs.

“I think it sends a confusing and conflicting message,” Porter said. “I think we should have accountability that’s consistent across the board.”

Matlow and Porter also noted that the city did not include internal officials such as City Attorney Cassandra Jackson in the bargaining process of the agreement, which was a break from past procedures.

“It’s concerning to me when I get emails from our city attorney and city clerk saying we haven’t had time to do a financial impact analysis on how this is going to impact our community long-term,” she said.

TPD’s union, the Florida Police Benevolent Association (PBA), draws up a contract with the City of Tallahassee every three years. The vote Wednesday approved the agreement for October 1, 2023, to September 30, 2026.

The president of the Big Bend Chapter of the Florida PBA, Richard Murphy, applauded the commission’s move. He said the newly ratified agreement was a historic investment in rank-and-file officers.

The agreement includes a $6.1 million investment in wages, which will include raises for current and starting officers, investigators, sergeants, lieutenants and members of the PBA.

“This helps with recruitment, this helps with retention, this helps with the chief of police’s goals with community policing projects. And also, we’re going to combat violent crime,” Murphy said.

In his closing remarks, Matlow brought up another dispute that arose following news of the officer testing positive. He asked why Ellen Blair, the former city human resources director, was fired.

Internal emails obtained by WCTV revealed that Blair pushed back against Revell’s decision to retain the officer after the positive test result. She was fired shortly after the details of the officer’s situation emerged to the public.

Blair alleges the termination was retaliatory. But Dailey said in a conference Monday that the timing for her firing “probably wasn’t the best,” but that it was a “long-standing issue” within the city that needed to be addressed. He said he supported the decision.

Dailey referred Matlow’s question during the meeting to the city attorney’s advice. The attorney advised the commission against speaking about Blair’s termination publicly because of “a thread of litigation.”

Following Matlow’s remarks, Dailey said he wanted to end on a high note.

“As the mayor, I am very proud, Commissioner Matlow, of the direction of the city and where we are going,” he said.