11/14/2005

Fla. police protest pay rate at city's birthday party

BY CARLI TEPROFF- The city of Aventura celebrated its 10th birthday Sunday with a party for residents,but those who protect them said they have nothing to celebrate.

Members of the Aventura Police Department chose the family-oriented festivity to get the point across that they feel underpaid.

''We are here to make our statement very clear,'' said John Rivera, president of the Miami-Dade Police Benevolent Association, who led the demonstration. ``These officers deserve more.''

The police department, which has 80 sworn officers, protects the 3.2-square-mile city with a population of 28,000.

Rivera said the Founders Day party at a city park was the perfect place to let residents know that the salaries of Aventura police fall short of those of officers in surrounding cities.

''We need the residents to know that the officers are not getting the proper wages,'' Rivera said.

The protesting officers and their relatives wore navy blue T-shirts with slogans that read: ''I'll Die for You . . . What's that worth? Support Aventura Police.'' Aventura City Commissioner Billy Joel was irked by the demonstration. He felt the family day celebration was not the right place to air such complaints.

''This is a day for the children and their families,'' he said. ``Not a day for discussing contracts.''

Sylvana Rosenblat, 44, who brought her two children to the celebration, said she was surprised by the officers' display. ''This isn't the place for it,'' she said.

The city staged the weekend-long celebration to commemorate the day in 1995 that it pulled away from Miami-Dade County and incorporated, the second to do so in the county in recent history.

Key Biscayne broke from the county to incorporate as a village in 1991, becoming the county's first municipality in 30 years.

Aventura's celebration began Friday night when the city held a teen dance. Saturday was adult dance night, and Sunday was to be a full day of festivities culminating with a performance by Air Supply and the Blues Brothers Revue.

Beginning at noon Sunday, families flocked to the park to enjoy pizza, ice cream, rides and games. Several came to cheer on their ''Aventura Star,'' the winner of the talent competition.

But while children and adults sang and danced on stage, a small plane's engine roared as it circled the park, displaying a sign that read ``Aventura City Manager Soroka mistreats your police.''

City Manager Eric Soroka said the administration has ''negotiated in good faith'' with the officers.

''We had committed $1 million to the department over the next three years,'' he said.

Soroka said the administration has been in negotiations since June and ``will do what's right.''

Aventura Police Chief Thomas Ribel was also surprised his men had used the city celebration to air pay complaints.

''I thought we were close to an agreement,'' he said.

According to Andrew Axelrad, assistant general counsel to the PBA, a Sunny Isles Beach officer's starting salary is $40,703 with maximum of $68,397.

North Miami Beach officers start at $40,620 with a maximum of $63,352.

In comparison, he said, Aventura officers begin at $37,000 with a maximum of $55,000.

''That is a big difference,'' he said. ``That doesn't even figure in the other things, including the pension.''

One Aventura police officer, who would not give his name for fear of retaliation, said: ``We love the city. But we need to pay the bills.''

 Miami Herald (http://www.herald.com/)

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