MPA: City's $6.1M grant is an effort to 'circumvent' negotiations

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - The Memphis Police Association held a press conference to respond to the announcement by Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland on Monday regarding a $6.1 million grant. The association called the grant a "short-term fix."

"This is a slap in the face; this is a punch in the gut, and we don't want your scraps," MPA vice-president Essica Littlejohn said.

The grant, according to Strickland, is to help bolster the police force by retaining and recruiting officers over the next four years.

"The first we heard of a $6.1 million dollar grant was at a press conference, just like the rest of you, and that's unacceptable when it concerns the lives of officers and the citizens of this city," Littlejohn said. "It has been stated that this has been in the works for nine months, yet the MPA has heard nothing about it."

The MPA said the way the grant was handled and is being handled is an attempt to circumvent the Memphis Police Association.

"No contractual agreements regarding wages can be entered into with officers unless it's negotiated through the MPA," Littlejohn said. "The day before our first scheduled negotiation meeting the city's administration, in conjunction with the Shelby County Crime Commission, is trying to circumvent the negotiation process by allocating $6.1 million dollars, stating that it is a grant and designating how money will be spent in the city's budget prior to the first negotiation meeting in an attempt to continue to work outside our contract."

Strickland's said his proposed budget for 2017-2018 provides bonuses for officers, as well as a two percent raise for those with 12 years or more of experience.

However, Matt Cunningham with MPA said they had their first negotiation session with the city Tuesday, and during that first session the one and two percent pay raises were not presented to the MPA.

"There's been no consultation with the MPA whatsoever," Cunningham said.

The grant money comes from private donors from the Memphis Crime Commission.

"This could get very ugly to be perfectly honest, because we're getting to where the rubber meets the road like I continuously say," MPA president Mike Williams said.

MPA said they are trying to get the point across that there is a right way to do everything.

"As you continue to say we don't have money, but then you say we're going to spend $25 million on a front porch, Riverside Drive, then you say we don't have money and you continue to give money to these different ventures that are coming into the city and that's the issue I have with the grant coming into the city through the Crime Commission," Williams said. "I still want to know is it coming from Memphis Tomorrow or Memphis Fast Forward, those individuals that are plotting the course of the city of Memphis, but at the same time they're benefitting from a lot of the taxpayer dollars going into all these developments."

Williams said social media and the spread of information has caused citizens to be dissatisfied with the mayor.

"The citizens are getting it. They really are, and if the mayor does not want to be a one term mayor, he's going to have to take action," Williams said.

The City of Memphis said they have spent hours listening to officers and MPA and said Monday's announcement was not an attempt to go outside the rules of the negotiation process, but just one of the steps they have taken as a result of feedback from officers.

"We've spent countless hours listening to officers and the MPA to learn their concerns. What was announced Monday is one of the many steps we've taken in the past year in response to that feedback," City of Memphis Chief Communications Officer Ursula Madden said. "We're proud of what we've implemented and we're moving forward."

Madden said MPA spoke about an economic offer never being made during negotiations Tuesday. She said the negotiations did not reach that point because ground rules for negotiations must be established first. According to Madden, MPA brought several changes to the ground rules to the negotiations and the two sides were unable to reach an agreement to the ground rules Tuesday.

Madden also said restoring health care benefits to 2014 levels would require a 35 to 50 cent property tax increase and the health care changes were made so that the city could fully fund pensions.

The MPA said the grant wasn't enough and that health care benefits must be restored.

"Six million dollars is what it would take to put spouses back in the health care plan," Littlejohn said.

But councilman Berlin Boyd said the MPA should be looking for ways to work with the city instead of always being critical.

"I just think it's a little immature of individuals to always be critical and not say what is a way we can work together to find a real solution to this problem," Boyd said.

Boyd said the city must think outside the box to fund public safety as leaders work to fill a police force that is short hundreds of officers.

The Shelby County Crime Commission said the grant is not intended to be a permanent solution. Crime Commission president Bill Gibbons said there are no taxpayer dollars involved in the grant and it's a one time contribution from private donors to the Crime Commission in an attempt to help stop a surge in violent crime.

"They are really local Memphis-area individuals and entities who are interested in supporting what we are trying to do, namely make our community a safer place in which to live," Gibbons said.

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