Recently, two divisions of law enforcement personnel at your Sheriff's Office voted to unionize for collective bargaining under the organization of the International Union of Police Associations, or IUPA for short.
IUPA is chartered by the AFL-CIO and previously represented state law enforcement agencies in Florida - like the Highway Patrol - for a short period of time before being voted out. I can only assume that fact was considered by the electorate, as it seemed to me it would have raised the proverbial red flag.
Lee County Sergeants and Deputies below the rank of Sergeant each have separate bargaining units with IUPA. Both votes were relatively close and, in each instance, approximately 20 percent of those eligible to vote did not do so. A vote took place last year and a different Union was turned away by another relatively close margin.
I have been consistent and forthright with my opposition to unionization at your Sheriff's Office, and while I campaigned against these recent efforts as I did last year, I respect the process and the outcome. I understand that several consecutive years of extremely tight budgets with no cost of living increases leads to frustration; however, the realities in examples all around us clearly indicate that households and businesses everywhere are hurting.
About two weeks ago, I received a proposed contract from IUPA on behalf of the Sergeants. Within this 118-page document are numerous requests for more, more and more. Like most of you reading this, I am a taxpayer and it is of course tax dollars that ultimately pay the freight.
A request that caught my eye was that carpet cleaning and pest control be afforded the members of our agency that handle a K9 partner. I will say that another way, in case you are rubbing your eyes with a fear that you misunderstood what I just said. The proposal includes a provision that the Lee County Sheriff's Office pay for carpet cleaning and pest control in the home of Deputies that handle a K9.
My first reaction was to question how many of those Deputies have other pets in the household, and sure enough, 18 of the 23 K9 Handlers - or 80 percent - have family pets in addition to their brave, crime fighting partners. This begs the question: Who paid for cleaning those carpets and controlling those pests prior to the Union's proposal that the taxpayers pay for it?
This is not an indictment on our K9 Unit, they are among the bravest of the brave in law enforcement and for all I know, none of them even voted for the Union; rather, it is but one example for you, the taxpayer, of why I opposed the Union. I am unable to share all my concerns due to the confines of this column, but I am satisfied most of you will get the point.
Meanwhile, my team and I have streamlined our budget down $17 million over the last three years without layoffs, furloughs or pay cuts. We have managed to keep the crime rate on a downward trend; as well as stepping up in major areas like school safety by assuming that responsibility for campuses in Fort Myers and Cape Coral.
My staff and I remain proud to serve and focused on the mission, and I assure you that the mission is not carpet cleaning; although I have often quipped that certain aspects of law enforcement are akin to pest control.