Milton police department awaits chief appointment, union contract
Officers might learn that day the identity of their new (or old) chief and get word about their future working conditions.
The Milton Police Commission has scheduled a Feb. 21 meeting, as have the department’s union, the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, and the city’s negotiating team.
Currently, the department is down two full-time officers because of a hiring freeze. It’s also down a chief since the retirement of Chief Tom Gilland took effect Jan. 7.
The chief position easily could be filled before the officer positions. The police commission is considering rehiring Gilland as an “annuitant employee,” one who is receiving retirement benefits but still is employed.
Gilland became eligible to enter into a contract with the city Thursday, 31 days after his retirement.
But the commission chose to wait until Feb. 21 to discuss Gilland’s possible reappointment because it wanted more time to gather information, Chairman Stephen Tupper said.
Tupper declined to say what information the commission is gathering or if the commission is examining candidates other than Gilland.
Meanwhile, the two full-time officer positions probably won’t be filled until halfway through the year at the earliest. City Administrator Todd Schmidt only budgeted the positions for six months in 2008.
The city approved the addition of a ninth full-time officer for its 2007 budget, but the position never was filled because a hiring freeze went in place soon after. That fall, another officer resigned, leaving the department down two positions.
The Milton City Council approved the hiring freeze after learning of projected rising expenses of employee retirement benefits over the next 20 years. The city hoped to negotiate retiree insurance out of union contracts for new hires when the contracts expired at the end of 2007, officials said.
But it might find a fight from the police union, said officer Brad Smith, the department’s union representative. In December, Smith told The Janesville Gazette the retirement benefit could be “the single most important benefit” on the table in the upcoming negotiations.
The police union and city negotiators—Schmidt and city attorney Mike Haas—have met once so far, Smith and Schmidt said. At the meeting, the police union presented its proposal, which basically asks to maintain the status quo, Smith said.
The union expects the city to make its proposal at the Feb. 21 meeting, Smith said.
“I’m sure the city’s going to request some pretty big-ticket items,” he said.
But the union won’t be pressured to rush into a contract just because of the hiring freeze, Smith said. The department has been making up for the lack of full-time officers with overtime and with part-time officers.
“We obviously want to get through the contract negotiations as expeditiously as we can, but we’re not going to compromise the contract by jumping to a settlement on the retirement insurance,” Smith said.
Smith believes the city would prefer to have a chief in place to assist in the negotiations because some items on the table could involve department operations, he said.
Schmidt confirmed the city would prefer to work with a chief but said the lack of a chief won’t impede the negotiations. If necessary, the city might turn to an expert in police department operations, he said.
Of course, the question could become moot after next week’s meetings.
“We’ll know more on the 21st,” Smith said.