by: Amanda Warford Updated:
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Hundreds of police officers and firefighters packed City Hall on Tuesday, in silent protest of a bill that could change the way their pension board is selected in the future.
Currently, the police and fire pension fund board is made up of five members. Two are appointed by city council, one by the police union and another by the fire union. Those four then select a fifth member.
Council members are considering a proposal that would allow the mayor pick the fifth member, who the council would then approve. The change would be pending a final decision by voters.
Supporters argue the change would be better for taxpayers, but those opposed worry it could impact the passage of the current pension reform agreement between the mayor's office and the pension fund. The agreement keeps the current board selection process in place.
After an hour of heated debate Tuesday, council members voted 9-8 to defer the decision to change that process to their next meeting on Aug. 27, thus preventing it from appearing on the November ballot.
Councilmember Don Redman said waiting is the right thing to do.
“I have to know what I'm voting on and I have to have answers,” he told Action News.
Redman said he is undecided on the bill and needs more information from board members, who were not present at the meeting.
“I wonder if that was on purpose,” he said.
Councilmember John Crescimbeni, who is a co-sponsor of the bill, calls the delay disappointing.
“My colleagues voted for this unanimously in January, and caved in tonight when the room was full of police officers and firefighters,” he said.
Fire Union President Randy Wyse said the audience was not intimidating to the council, and while he is pleased it will not appear on the ballot, he isn't calling the deferral a victory because if it approved before the reform agreement next week, then it could still put the agreement in jeopardy.
“It still creates a lot of unanswered questions. How do we have pension reform when that's still floating out there?” Wyse said.