Some Atlanta councilmembers want to break impasse between mayor, first responders

ATLANTA (WXIA) — It is an ugly impasse between Atlanta’s mayor and Atlanta’s first responders over pay raises the Mayor refuses to allow. But now, some members of the city council say they want to break that impasse. They are seeking to raise the pay, despite the mayor’s refusal.

However, it won’t happen right away, if it happens at all. It would take ten votes on the council to pass veto-proof pay raises for the police, fire and corrections departments.

11Alive News has started polling individual Atlanta City Councilmembers to see where they stand, with a possible vote — if there is one — perhaps weeks away.

City councilmembers are finding themselves caught between two powerful forces – the city’s first responders, who are demanding the same three-and-a-half percent pay raise that other city employees have received, and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who opposes any pay raises for police and fire unless and until they drop their lawsuit against the city over pension reform.

At a City Council Finance Committee meeting Wednesday, Ken Allen, the President of I.B.P.O Local 623 — the Atlanta police union — pleaded with the council to intervene.

“So Council, I’m going to say it,” Allen said. “This is on your back. Because the administration has plainly shown that we are not going to get a fair shake.”

Stephen Borders of the Atlanta Fire Union did not mince words about the mayor’s refusal to support pay raises, firing back at the mayor in a press release. “He’s using it as leverage, he’s using it as retaliation [because of the pension lawsuit] and it’s illegal; it can’t stand,” Borders said.

Unions for both groups say excluding them from the recent pay raises because of their lawsuit violates their rights.

“It is our right to petition the government for relief from the court and that issue is completely separate from compensation,” Borders said.

Reed said he is no longer paying any attention to anything police and fire have to say about pay.

“Their press release, their emails, are totally irrelevant – and will have no impact on what I’m going to do; which is absolutely nothing as it relates to pay raises for them,” Reed said. “If they want to withdraw their lawsuit, I’ll meet ’em at the negotiating table tomorrow.”

City Councilmember Felicia Moore, for one, says it’s not right for the city to withhold pay raises just because first responders are exercising their right to sue the city over their pension plans.

“I want everybody compensated,” Moore said. “And I don’t want people retaliated against because of a lawsuit.”

Councilmember Mary Norwood agreed – and drew up one pay raise plan she said the city could easily afford.

“We’re not talking about fabulous sums of money,” Norwood said. “I think it’s the right thing to do, we value the men and women who keep us safe, and each of these groups keeps us safe.”

Councilmember Howard Shook said it is difficult for the city to make long-term financial plans as long as the lawsuit is pending. He said it’s important to find a way to raise the pay of first responders, but he also said if they win their lawsuit, “it will be catastrophic for everyone,” potentially costing the city tens of millions of dollars for pensions.

Again, 11Alive News has contacted all of the council members to see where they stand, and as we hear back we will let you know.

The full council does not meet again until August 17, and nothing about pay is on the agenda, so far.