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Long Beach to hire law firm to negotiate police contract

Long Beach City Council members voted last night to hire a law firm to negotiate a contract with the local police union.

The city's police force - with 77 members, the fourth biggest in Nassau County - has been working without a contract since July 2008, officials said.

The city's decision to retain Mineola-based law firm Bee, Ready, Fishbein, Hatter & Donovan at a cost of $24,000 comes after union members rejected a tentative agreement the city negotiated with union officials.

The salary increases over the five-year span of the rejected contract ranged between 3.5 percent and 3.85 percent.

Sources said the proposal was rejected because it required givebacks on retroactive pay raises. The retroactive part of the increase would have been three-fourths the value of the raises going forward. Long Beach Police Benevolent Association officials weren't available for comment Tuesday.

City Manager Charles Theofan said the giveback was necessary given the impact of the economic downturn on city finances, which has brought reductions in state aid and increased expenses such as the MTA payroll tax.

Theofan, an attorney, and the city's corporation counsel have handled negotiations until now. But Theofan said they lack sufficient labor law experience to oversee mediation and arbitration stages.

He said until about five years ago, the city had used outside counsel in negotiations, but he "decided that we would not get outside counsel, that we would do it ourselves."

Now, however, "we needed to bring someone in with expertise," he said.

The council voted 3 to 2 to retain the firm. The council's two Democrats, Len Torres and Michael Fagen, voted no.

City officials said they expect the mediation process to start next month.

The law firm will also be the lead negotiator in contract talks with the firefighters' union. That contract expires in June.

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