Commission votes against hike in officer health care costs

Mayor says layoffs needed to balance budget

By Ben Kennedy - Reporter

MIAMI - Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez says police layoffs are necessary in order to balance the city's budget. His comments stem from the Miami-Dade Commission's decision not to approve a measure that would force Miami-Dade police officers to pay an extra five-percent toward their health insurance.

"I'm disgusted with what happened here today," Gimenez told Local 10's Ross Palombo

Before the vote, Ginenez tried to argue, "We need this 5 percent additional contribution to health care to help balance the budget. It was part of the original plan to begin with."

The measure was denied 7-6.

After, the mayor said that layoffs "are unavoidable now."

It could mean 154 police officers and possibly 145 corrections officers could lose their jobs, and one of the corrections facilities could be closed.

The police force sees things very differently.

"We don't need layoffs," police union representative John Rivera said. "Those are threats. There are other ways, verifiable ways."

"It just seems like nobody wins," Police Director Jim Loftus said. "It was a win for those contributing, not a win for those 150 going home. There's no joy in this."

On Friday, Gimenez and Loftus were pulling a seniority list to decide who would be laid off first.

Gimenez proposed the new cost-cutting contract. Just last year, the Miami-Dade Police Department's overtime and incentives were slashed, and union leaders said enough is enough. 

"Ten percent, over and above the fact that we gave up three times more concessions than any other union," said union leader John Rivera.

Thursday's vote came after a meeting that lasted nearly all day, during which officers and their family members spoke out against the measure.

"I don't want to be disrespectful, but how much would you pay to risk your life?" asked the mother of a Florida Highway Patrol trooper who died on duty. "You need to realize this: they risk their lives to protect us. You need to realize that."

Elizabeth Somohano, whose husband Jose was shot and killed in 2007, held up a bullet that hit him as she spoke.

"Whenever you are home with your family and your children are safe in bed, ask yourself 'How much is a life worth?'" said Somohano.

"We, like most people, live paycheck to paycheck. We don't have an exorbitant amount of money," said Sgt. Jeri Mitchell. 

Mitchell has served 26 years on the force. She knows firsthand the sacrifices officers make, after her former partner, Officer Amanda Haworth, was killed while serving a search warrant last year. Another officer, Roger Castillo, was also fatally shot that day. 

"We give up our families to serve this community. Sometimes, like Amanda and Roger, we don't go home," said Mitchell, who notified other family members of Haworth's death. "I will live with their screams the rest of life, 'Why her? Why her?'"

"It took 19 seconds for the lives of Amanda and Roger's families to spiral into a dark and bottomless abyss," Haworth's life partner, Rosie Diaz, told commissioners. 

"While I am not against the cuts that have to be imposed on everybody, I am against the way the mayor is putting it right now," said Chairman Joe Martinez after the vote.

Copyright 2012 by Post Newsweek. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.