BROOKSVILLE — Over a light lunch at Applebee's, the conversation drifted from lightweight topics like alma maters, golf scores and work histories. The talk will almost certainly get tougher when it comes time for actual negotiations.
In the run-up to collective bargaining negotiations with the city, two leaders of the newly formed union that will represent Brooksville police officers met with police Chief George Turner on Tuesday.
Michael Krohn, who will represent the Brooksville union and is executive director of the Pinellas County Police Benevolent Association, sought the meeting with Turner as he attempts to organize the officers following a narrow vote in December to form the union.
"It was a meeting to shake hands and get to know each other," Krohn said. "There wasn't any reason behind the meeting besides putting faces with names."
Turner echoed those sentiments, several times referring to the lunch as a "meet and greet."
"We didn't talk about much business there," Turner said in his office a couple of hours after the meeting. "I got to know them a little."
Since taking over as police chief in September, Turner has said he would be willing to work with a union. Turner has worked on both sides of the negotiating table since starting his law enforcement career in New York in 1976.
Turner was a member of the union when he was a deputy police chief in Ulster, N.Y., and even filed a lawsuit against the city in 1999 after Ulster officials eliminated his position.
However, the police chief at the Longboat Key Police Department where Turner was formerly a captain, told Brooksville officials during a reference interview that Turner was "instrumental in helping to decertify our union," according to internal city documents.
Organizing a union in Brooksville has often been a contentious issue, as officers have accused former police Chief Ed Tincher of working to defeat their efforts over the years.
That might be part of the reason Brooksville officers decided to form a union by the margin of a single vote. The vote, which was tallied Jan. 4, was 6-5 in favor of forming the union.
Krohn said he plans to meet with the officers in the next week, hoping to learn of any issues they'd like him to bring up when it comes time to negotiate with the city.
"We're just getting things off the ground," Krohn said. "We haven't sat down and talked with the officers yet. We want it to be a low-key event, give them a chance to breathe."
So far, Krohn said, he's gotten mostly positive reviews about Turner.
"The chief seems like a nice individual … he's very pleasant," Krohn said. "It seems like we're all on the same page. Hopefully that will be evident when we sit down at the contract table."
Joel Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 754-6120.