"Mayor's Men" Fight Back

About 100 Memphis police captains contest the

city budget reduction that abolishes their rank.

Ultimate Ultimatum: At a press conference last August, Memphis mayor Willie Herenton said local police officers were not the director's men, but "the mayor's men."

Those familial feelings were torn asunder last week when 92 of the mayor's men were given an ultimatum: take a demotion or resign.

Those affected are the 30-year captains, officers who received the rank under a 1927 city charter guideline which automatically promotes personnel after 30 years of service. Giving the captains an ultimatum was police director Larry Godwin's way of reducing the police budget by $1.3 million, a move necessitated by the city's $6.4 million budget shortfall. After last Friday's announcement, officers were given a week to notify Godwin of their intentions.

Protect and Served: "I think it's a cheap way of using the city's budget woes to get rid of 30-year captains, which have never been popular with MPD management," said Memphis Police Association (MPA) president Tommy Turner.

Most of the captains have signed affidavits to be included in litigation against the city. The MPA was granted a temporary restraining order Tuesday, which freezes the positions until a March 7th hearing. The injunction also intervenes in the February 25th notification deadline required by Godwin.

"It's not a rank that we need," said Godwin. "The rank is given at the tick of a clock upon [reaching] 30 years, not a process in which we test skills. I think you should achieve it by merit."

Badge of Honor? At the core of this protest by 30-year captains is what Turner and the MPA see as a violation of city charter. Under that original code, police and fire personnel received the captain distinction in recognition of their service during the yellow fever epidemics in the late 1800s, according to department administrators. Upon receiving the promotion, officers then retired with the pension of a captain.

Many of the 30-year captains received their promotions at ages well below retirement age and remained on the job, drawing salaries that in some cases doubled their previous wages.

"I feel like I've been rode hard and put up wet," said officer Jim Johnston, 57. After his captain's promotion in September, the former sergeant reorganized his family budget based on his new salary. With college tuition to pay, Johnston's options are limited. "Mr. Herenton is not running me off this job. If that means having to stay here and work at a lower pay, I'll have to work a lot of overtime and make it up. I'm here until I fulfill my obligation."


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