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Candidates pledge open ear to FOP

Jared Felkins Director of Content • Updated Jul 26, 2013 at 9:43 PM

Each of the four candidates endorsed by the Lebanon Fraternal Order of Police Lodge members said they are proud to receive the backing but promised nothing by way of raises or other benefits to officers.

FOP president Cpl. Jerimy Pruitte announced early last week 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 1, Annette Stafford for Ward 2 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 at the time.

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.

Craighead said while he appreciated the FOP’s endorsement, the only thing he promised to officers was to listen and hear their concerns.

“Some of their concerns are good, but they have to understand that I keep the checkbook for the city, and I’m responsible for that,” Craighead said. 

The first-term mayor said entertaining the FOP’s top request to allow officers to retire after 25 years of service instead of 30 was one that would be difficult for the city to undertake at this time.

“When you think of a 60-year-old police officer trying to chase down a 25 year old, along with the stress that comes with being a policeman, it makes you think. They have to understand I have a city to run, and decisions have to be a win-win for our citizens.

“I don’t see the city being able to do something like that without a lot of concessions on their part. During the process, we discussed officers in other cities giving a lot of concessions to be able to do that. The numbers have to be worked so that the numbers benefit them and the city, too.”

Jewell will likely not see opposition despite Robert Rogers’ name also appearing on the Nov. 6 ballot for Ward 1. Rogers was taken into custody Wednesday in Lebanon and awaits extradition to Cobb County, Ga. to face felony drug charges stemming from a 2003 incident.

Concerning the election, Jewell said he’s taking a business-as-usual approach to his campaign and took a different approach to the FOP’s questionnaire.

“I didn’t answer their questions,” Jewell said. “I sent them a letter. In a way, it almost shocked me that they called me in for the interview part.”

In the letter, Jewell said he found it hard to answer the FOP’s questions based on the city’s current economic situation in facing a $2.5 million budget shortfall and a proposed 1/2-cent sales tax increase also on the ballot.

“I told them, ‘let’s look at it.’ I told them that we need to have a work session,” Jewell said. “Before we do anything or make a decision on that, we need to put it out on the table and look at the facts. The big thing is that the budget is not there. People are hurting, not just the police officers, and it’s going to take a few years to work ourselves out of this.

“I was honest with them. I told them we need to take a look at similar cities and what they are doing. We’ve got to look at our budget woes, because we don’t want to train them and have them leave.”

Stafford said she appreciates the FOP’s vote of confidence and also said she’s willing to listen to its concerns.

“As long as the officers are willing to pay into a fund and the city should pay for it, I think we should look at it,” Stafford said. “At my age, I wouldn’t try to chase down a 16 or 17 year old. As I understand it, that’s what the officers were willing to do.

“What price do you put on public safety? Again, as long as the officers are willing to pay into the fund to build it up, I think it’s worth looking at or talking about it. I think it’s a good idea.”

Bryan also said he would also be willing to listen to the FOP’s concerns.

“I think it’s an honor to be endorsed by the FOP,” Bryan said. “They do an excellent job representing the police department, especially over the past four years, given none of the city employees were given a raise.”

Pruitte has said the FOP is merely looking for those who would keep an open mind as candidates it would support.  

 “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.”

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. 

Director of content Jared Felkins may be reached at 615-444-3952 or jfelkins@lebanondemocrat.com.

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