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Brooksville police officers vote to disband union

BROOKSVILLE — Officers at the Brooksville Police Department have decided they no longer need a union.

By a unanimous vote Thursday, the officers agreed to decertify the Pinellas County Police Benevolent Association as their bargaining agents. The results of the vote were accepted by the state employee relations commission later that day.

Of the 18 officers eligible to vote, 14 turned in their ballots. All voted to disband the union.

Both police Chief George Turner and union representative Michael Krohn said the officers feel they are being treated well by the new administration and no longer feel the need for a union.

"It's a shame. You never like to see an agency go," said Krohn, who is also executive director of the Pinellas police association. "We'll always be there for them if they choose to come back. But if they're happier without the union in there, that's what we want."

Brooksville officers voted to form the union in December 2007, three months after Turner took over as chief of the department. But even then there was lukewarm support for efforts to unionize: Officers voted to approve the union by a tally of 6 to 5.

Organizing a union in Brooksville had often been a contentious issue, as officers accused former police Chief Ed Tincher of working to defeat their efforts over the years.

Turner had always said he would be willing to work with a union, noting that he had worked on both sides of the negotiating table since starting his law enforcement career in New York in 1976.

He said he remains a dues-paying member of the Fraternal Order of Police today.

"My personal thought was that I could work with a union or not work with a union," Turner said. "I never discouraged union participation. I came from unions."

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.

He claimed the city cut him because he was involved with the union, but a federal jury later voted unanimously to dismiss the case.

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.

This time, Turner cited improvements to the Brooksville department and general satisfaction among the officers as possible reasons for the decertification. Turner also mentioned that paying dues every month might have been a bit too costly for some of the officers.

"If you're already getting everything you want that's important to you, then you might wonder if it's important to have a union and paying for things that may or may not come up," Turner said. The officers "really didn't have many major demands," he said.

Krohn said the officers might have overlooked the need for union representation during less agreeable times. Without a union, Krohn said, Brooksville officers are now unable to negotiate for a new contract or come up with an alternative to appeal any disciplinary action.

"I don't have anything negative to say about Chief Turner whatsoever," Krohn said. "But this is a risk on their parts. Things can change. I just hope they're treated fairly."

Joel Anderson can be reached at joelanderson@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6120.

Brooksville police officers vote to disband union 07/31/09 [Last modified: Friday, July 31, 2009 9:18pm]
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