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KC police union drops efforts to collect fees from non-members

Updated: 2013-04-05T22:53:05Z

By CHRISTINE VENDEL

The Kansas City Star

Kansas City Fraternal Order of Police leaders have agreed to drop their efforts to collect fees from non-union police officers and sergeants because they say the issue has become too divisive.

Non-members were supposed to start paying their “fair share” of the FOP’s collective bargaining legal fees on April 1 or risk discipline. Non-members who refused to pay eventually would be terminated, union leaders said.

The deadline passed with some non-members not paying, but FOP leaders did not seek discipline. Instead, they decided to set aside collection efforts “for the foreseeable future.”

“We chose not to get into a battle with the people we work next to,” said Sgt. Brad Lemon, a union leader. “This was not our intent to create a war between our brothers and sisters.”

The issue had become a distraction from bigger issues that officers face, Lemon said, such as the city’s efforts to take control of the Police Department. Currently, the department is overseen by a five-member board consisting of the mayor and four local residents appointed by the governor.

“We need to have as united a voice as we can,” Lemon said.

Another obstacle to fees collection is the lack of a department policy to govern it. Officers can be disciplined only for violating a policy. Police officials said they were working to create one.

Union leaders say they have more than 900 members, leaving about 300 non-members. An email sent in February kicked off the dispute by telling non-members they each owed $73 for 2012 legal fees incurred to get raises and pension reform for all officers. The non-members were to pay a fee annually, although the amount would change based on collective bargaining costs.

The FOP recently won the power to collect some legal fees from non-members as part of a settlement of a lawsuit it filed against the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners and the city. The “fair share” provision remains in the FOP’s contract, which means FOP officials could restart their efforts.

A group of non-members believes the FOP did not follow required procedures when setting the fee and put its interest above the members “it purports to represent,” so it filed a federal lawsuit last month alleging constitutional rights violations.

The lawsuit, filed by the National Right to Work Foundation, is going forward, said Edward Greim, a local attorney on the case.

“Promises and comments aren’t enough to remedy the violation of law,” he said.

To reach Christine Vendel, call 816-234-4438 or send email to cvendel@kcstar.com.

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