Members of Tampa's City Council — save for Joseph Caetano — acted responsibly last week by voting to freeze police officers' salaries this year. The recession has forced the city, like every major public employer, to slash hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars from the budget to cope with the loss in tax revenue. The city simply has no money for raises in 2010 — something the rank-and-file employees recognized when they agreed to a wage freeze weeks ago. Now the council needs to send the same message to the city's firefighters.
The council decided the issue after budget talks between the police union and Mayor Pam Iorio's administration reached an impasse. Given that council members seek the union's much-coveted endorsement at election time, Wednesday's vote was a show of spine. Caetano's support for the union's demands, which a special magistrate had found baseless, was disappointing. It's unclear whether Caetano was playing to the cameras or was simply unprepared as usual.
The union's attempt to play on guilt and fear marked something of a low point in city relations. The Police Department should be proud of the 46 percent drop in crime in Tampa since 2003. But many people — including Iorio, former Chief Steve Hogue and neighborhood activists — deserve a big chunk of the credit. And the city has shown its appreciation with 9 percent annual pay increases for the police in recent years. It was wrong to imply that public safety hinged on these raises and to build a wall in these anxious times between the police and the community.
The firefighters, who have enjoyed 8 percent annual raises, are up next. They should realize that saving jobs in this economy is more important than seeking the outsized raises to which they are accustomed. They might want to look a year or two down the road and realize that burning bridges is bad strategy.