With Sag Harbor Village and the police union embroiled in contract negotiations for years, leading to a threat of disbanding the police department, a former government official has decided to hold a forum for the community to discuss the matter.
Bill Jones, formerly a village trustee and Suffolk County legislator, will outline his case on the arbitration process, which he says favors unions, during the forum at Pierson High School on March 9.
Jones, who grew up in Sag Harbor Village, the son of a village police officer, has voiced his opinions about the process being unfair in letters that have appeared in The Sag Harbor Express. He said he has watched the issues unfold, including Mayor Brian Gilbride's decision to look at the costs to hire outside agencies to police the village, and finally decided to speak out in a public forum.
While Jones said he has never directly been involved in police contract negotiations, he said over the course of his 25 years in government he has become very familiar with the budget impacts.
"These are negotiations in name only," he said. "Local municipalities have very little power because of the arbitration process."
Jones served on the Village Board from 1988 to 1992, when he was elected to the Legislature, where he served for two years. He has also worked under the county executive in the 1990s. He became the director of human services for Southampton Town in 2004, and later became the deputy supervisor under Linda Kabot. He lives in Hampton Bays.
"Simply put, no matter what the process, the public should be outraged that any public union should think they deserve a 4.5 percent raise, considering their salaries and considering the current dire economy," he said. "Arbitrators are giving the store away."
The Taylor Law, which outlines the process, is supposed to consider the locality's ability to pay. "A couple of arbitrators decided that because a local municipality has the unlimited ability to tax, it has the unlimited ability to pay. That is the crux of the problem," he said.
"It is unfair that police unions have the upper hand, in fact a stranglehold, on the process and it is unfair that police costs consume so much of a municipality’s budget," Jones said in a statement, released on Tuesday. "For over 20 years both Democrat and Republican elected officials have attempted to correct this injustice. The fix, unfortunately, relies on action by Albany."
Sag Harbor Village Police Officer Patrick Milazzo, the president of the Sag Harbor Police Benevolent Association, declined to comment.
On Tuesday, Gilbride said he will attend the forum and will encourage his fellow trustees, as well as leaders of other municipalities, to attend.
After being read a statement from Jones, Gilbride said, "I thank Bill for it." He shares Jones' belief that the arbitration process is "a rigged system."
The situation Sag Harbor finds itself in is one that many other municipalities also face. Gilbride said he just looked at the topics for the New York State Conference of Mayors Association and union negotiations are one of the major focuses. "We're looking for the governor to at least clear up some of the language," he said.
While Gilbride said he has taken some personal attacks over this issues, he continues to seek affordable police protection.
"My hope is that residents from all the communities will come so that they start to hear how this is a lopsided system," he said.