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Police pick preferred candidates

Jared Felkins Director of Content • Updated Jul 26, 2013 at 9:37 PM

Lebanon Lodge No. 83 Fraternal Order of Police president Cpl. Jerimy Pruitte announced Tuesday the candidates officers endorse in the November city election.

The FOP, made up of 54 of the 73 officers that make up the Lebanon police force, voted to endorse Philip Craighead for mayor, Lanny Jewell for Lebanon City Council Ward 2, Annette Stafford for Ward 3 and Robert “Tick” Bryan for Ward 5. In addition, the FOP voted to endorse Mark Pody for state House District 46. Pruitte said Pody responded to a questionnaire separate from those given to city candidates.

“On behalf of all of our members, we respectfully ask that our citizens vote for and support these candidates,” Pruitte said.

Pruitte said the endorsement process of governed by guidelines which require any candidate the FOP endorses to receive at least 60 percent of the members’ vote. He said 94 percent of the members participated in voting, and all the endorsed candidates received well more than 60 percent of the vote.

The endorsements were made based on candidate answers supplied to the FOP’s endorsement committee through a recent questionnaire, along with interviews. The questions included in the questionnaire asked whether the candidates would be supportive of plans to decrease the amount of time an officers would need to work before being eligible for retirement, pay restructuring and increases and enhancing the command structure of the police department.

In all, plans included in the questionnaire would increase city expenditures by more than $200,000 annually.

 “We just wanted people to listen to us and hear our concerns,” Pruitte said. “We don’t just want a yes or no vote. We want people who have open ideas about moving our city forward. We are actually wanting to come up with a way to pay for this ourselves.”

Pruitte said all the candidates except for Jim Mills, who will face Billy Weeks and Robert Tick Bryan for the Ward 5 councilor seat, turned in questionnaires on time and met with the endorsement committee.

The seven-part questionnaire included information and asked for support on a variety of topics, mostly concerning pay and benefits for FOP members.

The first question dealt with an option offered by the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System that allows police officers to retire after 25 years of service. This option, backed by the FOP on its website at lebanonfop.org, would change the city’s current rule that allows all city employees to retire after 30 years of service with full benefits.

The estimated increased cost to the city, according to the questionnaire, would be 3.5 percent of an officer’s annual pay, which equates to about $115,000 to buy into the plan. Pruitte has said he did not know the costs associated with paying benefits for an additional five years for officers who chose the proposed option.

Pruitte has said it costs the city between $15,000-$20,000 to train a new officer. He said Lebanon has lost about 25 officers in the past eight years to other cities that offer better pay and benefits, such as Metro Nashville and Mt. Juliet.

Pruitte has said officers haven’t received a pay increase in three years, which equates to $398.692, and members would be willing to give up future pay increases to allow for the 25-year retirement plan. He said cities, such as Brentwood and Franklin, are using the 25-year system and have higher retention rates than Lebanon. 

The second question dealt with disciplinary action concerning city department heads. According to the questionnaire, Lebanon’s charter requires both the mayor and two-thirds of the council take disciplinary action against a department head.

“No city employee, except for department heads, has this much job protection, and we feel it is only fair that the rules are applied equally to them like everyone else [who] works for the city,” the questionnaire said.

The questionnaire asks whether the candidate would actively support and vote for changing the charter to allow either the mayor or two-thirds of the council take disciplinary action against a department head.

Another question claimed patrolmen have a disproportionate pay plan. According to the questionnaire, there is no longevity pay for patrolmen, but in 2007 there was a one-time pay increase for patrolmen serving five or more years.

“Since then, many patrolmen have exceeded five years of service but still continue to be paid less than those who got the one-time raise in 2007,” the questionnaire said.

The questionnaire asked whether candidates would support patrolmen pay grades being restructured. This plan would be at a cost of nearly $26,000 annually to the city, according to the questionnaire.

Still another question concerned disproportionate pay for supervisory officers compared to patrolmen. The questionnaire asked candidates if they would support a plan, which would be an added $12,305 annual cost for the city.

A third question dealing with pay concerned rates for dispatchers and supervisors the FOP claims is “not fair and competitive.” The questionnaire asked candidates whether they would support changing the pay scale for these employees at a cost of nearly $21,000 to the city.

Another question asked candidates whether they would support enhancing the command structure of the department. Through promotions, this plan would add an additional captain for a new division, sergeant for the detective division and two corporals for the traffic and flex units. The annual cost to the city would be about $19,000.

The final question asked candidates if they would ensure the FOP’s leadership would have a voice regarding decisions affecting the police department.

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