New Milford police union leaders say town officials' unwillingness to negotiate without lawyers and arbitrators to reach a contract agreement made the process unnecessarily costly and bitter.
NMPD investigator Henry Marino said he suspects the town has spent about $100,000 in legal fees to settle this one contract.
"We reached out to settle this amicably and were rebuffed,'' Detective Marino said Tuesday.
He said he fears the arbitrated contract will do "irreparable damage to the department.''
Mayor Patricia Murphy said Tuesday the union's demands and leadership changes prompted the Town Council to seek legal representation for this contract. The union, too, created delays due to cancelled and postponed meetings, she said.
Detective Marino is president of the police Local 47 that represents 46 officers and sergeants. The contract does not include thse at the rank of lieutenant, captain, deputy chief and chief.
The long, often contentious, process to forge a three-year police contract is now in the hands of a three-member state arbitration panel that will deliver a final, binding agreement on June 30.
Police union leaders and town officials have been working on the contract that expires next July for almost two years. The final award will be retroactive to the contract's expiration date in June 2008.
"This is going to leave a scar for a while,'' said Detective Marino.
Negotiations for the next contract will begin again in January because this contract will expire next July.
On March 5, the arbitrator's held a final hearing and by later this month the union must produce its last, best offer for consideration. The town has already made its final proposal.
Union leaders and rank and file members suspect this new contract could prompt resignations and make it more difficult to attract high-caliber officers willing to build a career in this department.
"But only time will tell,'' Detective Marino said.
Neither side could site specifics about the final offers based on legal requirements of the negotiation process.
Both sides have filed unfair labor practice complaints.
Ms. Murphy said she is frustrated with the union "posturing through the press'' to win public favor for their cause. She said the police currently have benefits, including retirement options, that are not common to most residents.
"There was no acrimony on our part,'' Ms. Murphy said. "My job is to think about everybody, and who is footing the bill.''
The town's obligation is to assure these employees are treated to a fair compensation and benefits package the taxpayers can afford, Ms. Murphy said.
"If the public knew the amount of money being requested, they would be really upset,'' the mayor said.
Contact Nanci Hutson
or at (860) 354-2274.