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FOP lacks confidence in mayor



Published: Wed, January 9, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The number of police on patrol has been reduced from four to two per shift, the FOP president says.

By TIM YOVICH

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

GIRARD -- Patrol Officer Greg Manente, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 52, the social arm of the city's police force, said the group has no confidence in Mayor James Melfi and is calling on Frank Rich, director of safety and human resources, to resign.

At the same time, Manente said, FOP members will not support any attempts to raise money through a police levy because it would not solve the city's financial problems.

The city is under a state-imposed fiscal emergency, and the administration and council are working to balance its budget.

Melfi and Rich say the FOP is reacting emotionally. Rich said he serves at the pleasure of the mayor.

Shortage in department: The FOP vote comes at a time when the police department is nine members short. Seventeen officers and dispatchers remain on duty.

Three officers were laid off last month, but, Manente said, while that may not seem significant, it's also not the whole story.

Four vacancies (three officers and a dispatcher) have never been filled and two other officers are on extended sick leave.

"The members of the department have done all we could to avoid any layoffs. We have offered to give back raises and other benefits and were told flat out it would not save our officers' jobs," Manente said.

Firefighters' situation: Monday, firefighters agreed to a freeze in wages and uniform allowance this year in exchange for no further layoffs.

Fourteen part-time firefighters have been laid off, leaving a force of 16. One is an inspector/investigator and another is off with injuries.

Firefighter Phil Cretella, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 1220, said there isn't enough staff to fill in when firefighters are off, such as during vacations.

As a result, some shifts have three firefighters instead of five to respond to fire calls and operate the ambulance service.

Manente says police staffing is at its lowest since the 1960s, while city administrative positions have increased.

The number of officers on patrol per shift has been reduced from four to two, Manente said.

"There simply aren't enough officers to respond to the volume of calls in a timely fashion," Manente said, noting calls have to be prioritized.

Mayor's comments: "If I were the FOP, I'd be upset myself," Melfi said, noting he has attempted to minimize layoffs in a community with a large debt and decreasing revenue.

"The situation is upsetting to everyone -- management and unions."

The mayor said the wage-freeze agreement is open to the police union -- the Ohio Patrolmen's Benevolent Association -- and other city workers represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Rich said a great deal of misinformation is reaching city workers.

Manente countered that the administration isn't consistent in providing information to police.

Blame for the city's financial problems isn't important, Rich said; the highest priority is getting the city out of its dilemma.

He said employees should want the results of state audits to better understand the facts.

yovich@vindy.com




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