Editor's note: This article is separated into three sections. Read about the police overtime audit here and read about the police management study here. Also, the word "affect" was corrected on Wednesday at 9:10 p.m.
If Monday night is any indication, Mayor Rob Dolan and the Melrose Police unions are headed toward combative collective bargaining negotiations this coming year.
Melrose Police officers and some of their family members filled the Aldermanic Chambers on Monday in a show of union solidarity as the Melrose Board of Aldermen approved spending $16,000 on two audits of the police department requested by Dolan.
Dolan pitched the audits last week to the aldermen's Appropriations Committee, which is comprised of the full board. In doing so, the mayor said that the police department has spent an "unacceptable" amount of overtime so far this fiscal year, and cited the department's command structure as being "based upon the 1970s model," which he said has resulted in a "top heavy" police department.
On Monday night, Melrose Police Lt. Timothy Maher, president of the Melrose Police Superior Officers Union, said that last week Dolan made "baseless and inflammatory comments about the Melrose Police Department" and that "we are puzzled by the mayor’s choice of words."
Maher said that vacation time is a contractually bargained right and that the planned overtime audit "will not produce a complete picture of the contractual obligation," and with regard to the department's organizational structure, that the department "is not top heavy, but we are in fact bottom light."
Both the Melrose Police Superior Officers Union and Melrose Police Patrolmen's Union are working under a contract agreed to last year during the city-wide wage freeze and set to expire on June 30, 2012, with negotiations set to start after the first of the new year.
City Wants to 'Turn the Table Over;' Unions Say Process is Flawed
In his remarks before the aldermen last week, Dolan that "the Melrose Police Department is very good, but it is not excellent, and we strive always to be excellent."
The audits that went before the board, Dolan said, would give the city the tools to identify where the police department can improve as an organization. He compared the process to the reorganization of other city departments, "most notably" the Fire Department and the Melrose Retirement Board, and said that he began his tenure as mayor focusing on the financial practices of the city.
"In fact, I brought in then Plymouth CFO Patrick Dello Russo (now Melrose city auditor and chief financial officer) in 2002 to be an outside evaluator of our practices," he said."I believe we have made the often difficult organizational changes necessary to bring those departments to excellence."
Speaking to changes within the city's retirement system, Dello Russo said that system was "totally operationally inept" and now has received an award from PERAC (Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission) for operational efficiency.
"That would not have happened if we didn’t turn the table over, identify, implement and monitor," he said. "Those are the steps we have to do there."
Dolan added, "We have to have this discussion in public and that’s difficult, because it hurts. We have to convince the police department and public we’ve done it for other departments because the only road now is less police, less public safety, less for Melrose."
However, on Monday night, Maher and Officer Joe Donovan, president of the Patrolmen's Union, offered a rebuttal to the aldermen, saying that the scope of the overtime audit is too limited in scope to accurately pinpoint the reason for higher overtime costs this year.
The union presidents also said the lack of an engagement letter specifying the scope of the management study, and a potential conflict of interest because the conductor of the study previously worked with Dello Russo in Plymouth are reasons for concern.
Dolan also drew the ire of the union presidents by specifically citing last week the current vacation policy, as enumerated in the collective bargaining agreement, that allows an officer to take a vacation day and work a detail, as something that has to change; and by saying "there’s not going to be any more" funding available for more officers.
Maher said that there are "fiscal realities" that the city and Melrose Police Department face together.
"Many of these can and should be discussed in collective bargaining, which is due to commence one month from today," Maher said. "While the board considers spending approximately $16,000 on limited audits, it’d be best for city officials to collaborate with the department and with the individuals who can provide much of the relevant data—and for free."
Aldermen Cite Need for Independent Evaluation
In comments at last week's Appropriations Committee meeting, when the committee approved both the overtime audit and management study funds unanimously, several aldermen commented on the need for independent and objective evaluation from outside experts.
Ward 1 Alderman John Tramontozzi said that the board "should not fear this proposal.
"What I mean is time management concerns not only affect municipalities and city departments, but the private sectors," Tramontozzi said. "It's not unusual to hammer out the problems. I just want to make sure we’re getting our value for our money."
Alderman at-Large and Board President Don Conn said he wanted to make clear that the board has "absolutely nothing to do with labor relations" and that the aldermen's role is to monitor city spending.
"This order, if we pass it, is going to authorize a study that is going to analyze how we’re spending money in the police department," Conn said. "I would like to see why the overtime is spiking up ... I’m not going to vote for overtime if I don’t think it’s justified.
"Maybe there’s a good reason (for the overtime). I’m looking for this gentleman to tell me," he added, referring to Daniel Sullivan of public accounting firm Sullivan, Rogers and Company, which will perform the overtime audit.
On Monday night, after the union presidents addressed the board during public participation, the full board ultimately approved the management study—one of several items in a free cash appropriation before the board—without any further discussion, which seemed to surprise members of the police department still present.
When the overtime audit came before the board again, Ward 7 Alderman Bill Forbes asked Melrose City Solicitor Rob Van Campen that if the management study produces several recommendations, "don't they have to go before collective bargaining to be approved?"
Van Campen replied that it depends on the nature of the recommendations, as any recommendations that may require providing the unions notice and the opportunity to collectively bargain, and other recommendations may not touch on subjects related to collective bargaining.
Forbes then asked Maher and Donovan to address the board again and Maher pointed out that the order in front of the aldermen was not the management study, and that the overtime audit before them is "a very specific request that has to do with whether vacation is used for details or used before or after details." He added that "there are many areas we do have issues with."
Tramontozzi asked Dello Russo to clarify his understanding that the overtime audit "is not designed to name names, it's not designed to interfere with any of the rights of the officers' contractual obligations," and that the audit is "not suggesting in any way there is any abuse."
Dello Russo reiterated the specific scope of the audit itself and said that it does not suggest any abuse, citing state law in his reason, as the city's chief financial officer, to question any city payments that may fraudulent, unlawful or excessive.
Van Campen added that the overtime audit seeks to ensure that overtime spent in the police department is spent "as efficient and wisely as possible.
"To the extent we can use this order to be smarter, better and more efficient on behalf of taxpayers, that’s what this is all about," he said.
The aldermen approved the overtime audit by an 8-3 vote, the minimum number of votes needed for passage. Voting no were Forbes, Ward 4 Alderman Robert Boisselle and Alderman at-Large Ron Seaboyer.