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A contract aimed at fixing Key Biscayne’s nagging and lagging maintenance issues is in limbo after council members punted on Tuesday, while also engaging in a remarkable public discussion of ongoing union negotiations and whether the Village needed to address stubbornly-high inflation. 

The union  issue left one elected official questioning his colleagues’ discretion in discussing a sweetener for outstanding union contracts, because labor discussions typically are reserved for closed-door Council sessions. 

“We make an offer, they make an offer, we compromise,” said Council Member Ed London. “It’s not a public discussion. Maybe, I’m missing it but as long as I’ve been negotiating union contracts it’s never been.”

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Council members took up what seemed a pro forma issue: ratification of contracts covering police lieutenants and for the Village’s civilian staff. Firefighters are expected to vote on a tentative agreement next month, while rank-and-file police officers rejected their tentative agreement partly because it cuts extra pay for rifle training that most officers currently receive. 

All of the pacts would raise wages in the first year 5.5% — but the police rejection led to a discussion of whether Key Biscayne was adequately addressing cost-of-living pressure for all of  its workers. 

Responding to a question by Mayor Joe Rasco, Village Manager Steve Williamson said that inflation remains an issue for unions because South Florida is lagging behind the rest of the nation, which has seen inflation cool dramatically.  As of November, prices in the Miami region were up 7.4% from a year ago according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Council Member Frank Caplan opened a window into the body’s closed door labor thinking when he said a path to resolutions with all unions was to make a generous offer in response to the inflation surge. 

“A one-time kind of gesture to try to patch over the deprivations of the last number of years,” Caplan said, while noting that he and his colleagues hadn’t reached consensus behind closed doors. 

Village CFO Benjamin Nussbaum said increasing wages half a percent for all of the bargaining units would cost about $85,000 a year. The assumption? That if the wage offer were to be sweetened, the two bargaining units that have already reached agreement would have a right to insist on matching increases, said Rasco, referring to what is known as a “me too” provision. 

Council Member Fernando Vazquez – who was challenging the administration all night on numerous issues – chimed in to say, “Are we sure that inflation is really something we anticipate that it’s going to go down? I don’t want to get into that debate but why I’m saying that is that it would hate to create a precedent.”

London then got cheeky with frequent opponent Caplan and suggested paying everybody at the highest rate of pay. “Why discriminate?” he said.

VIllage Attorney Chad Friedman then interjected – he appeared exasperated at several moments on Tuesday night with the antics on the dais – that London was right. “I think that maybe we should reserve this for one of those opportunities where we don’t have a public meeting and there’s an exemption.”

Council then unanimously ratified the two contracts for the smaller bargaining units.

Maintenance Contract

Another topic fraught with criticism was a long-sought pivot to more professional maintenance of Village facilities, a process that started in June when the Council decided to split janitorial work and comprehensive maintenance into separate contracts, knowing that costs could significantly rise. 

With Vazquez and London serving as lead inquisitors, a $313,000 contract to assess and repair facilities, be it a bathroom faucet or an air conditioner, came up for approval. The contractor, UG2 LLC, would develop a computerized facility operations system and preventative maintenance program, and would also supply an engineer and technician to make many repairs. The company was the only remaining bidder; the other competitor withdrew in June when the contract was split off from the janitorial work. 

Public Works Director Cairo Cangas said the idea was to be proactive rather than reactive in taking care of the Village’s assets. 

London said the Public Works Department should have already accomplished a systematic maintenance program with existing staff and assess the Village’s assets. Vazquez blasted the memo handed to Council on the issue, saying that the contract was really for three years with two one-year options or more than $1.5 million.

Williamson defended his memo — which the clerk’s office said was circulated Dec. 7. “It says $313,000 for three years,” he said. Vazquez shot back, “We shouldn’t be doing the math here.”

The Council decided to defer the contract until Village staff could better brief  council members about it. 

Mayor Joe Rasco seemed frustrated that he could not move ahead with a plan to address maintenance issues, calling them Key Biscayne’s “Achilles’ heel.”

“Everyone has said let’s focus on the big picture and the big picture is we got to get a hold of our maintenance so that we don’t have constant complaints,” Rasco said. “This thing eats me up day and night all the time.”

Vazquez and London also led the charge to torpedo $128,000 to buy a new telescopic forklift that Cangas and Parks Director Todd Hofferberth said is badly needed. Council told Cangas to come back with how much it would cost for the Village to rent one.

Cangas said he feared that the Village would be left without a vital piece of equipment to remove debris from roads following hurricanes and storms. He also worried if one would be available to rent during emergencies.

“We believe that it puts a village in a precarious situation,” he said

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JOHN PACENTI is the executive editor of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.

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JOHN PACENTI is the executive editor of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.