One South Florida police chief forced out, another says “I’m not going anywhere”

North Miami Beach Police Chief Rafael Hernandez Jr. has been fired for “administrative reasons,” according to City Manager Lyndon Bonner. The department’s police union isn’t buying this explanation, though, believing instead that the chief’s termination has to do with the city manager’s demands that the police department reduce its budget.

“It’s sketchy on why the chief got fired,” said Officer Mike Pons, the International Union of Police Associations representative. “Mr. Bonner is trying to reduce the police department completely.”

Meanwhile, in Miami, Police Chief Miguel Exposito says he’s not going anywhere even though a contract he signed seven years ago pegged his retirement date as January 9, 2012. Chief Exposito, along with dozens of other officers, entered the city’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan, or DROP, back in 2005.

The chief and the city have different opinions as to whether his participation in the plan means he has to retire on the contractually agreed upon date:

But the chief apparently contends that a provision in the DROP agreement treats the police chief and his deputies differently than other city employees, allowing them to discontinue DROP yet continue to work as long as they pay into another retirement plan. When he became chief in November 2009, he got a perk: a 401(a) retirement plan to which he contributes, with a city match.

City leaders disagree. They say that even if Exposito opts out of the DROP before Jan. 9, he is considered retired and must adhere to the DROP departure date. They say being the police chief permits him to opt out of the DROP pension plan — but not the DROP agreement.

On Wednesday, at Martinez’s request, City Attorney Julie Bru issued an opinion saying Exposito cannot stay past January.

“Chief Exposito effectively retired from the city of Miami on 1/9/2005,” Bru wrote. “There are no provisions in the code that would allow for Chief Exposito to continue employment beyond 1/9/2012.”

Robert D. Klausner, a lawyer and expert on Florida public pensions who represents Miami’s Fraternal Order of Police union, agreed, saying he is unaware of any provisions in the city code that would allow Exposito to stay beyond his planned retirement date.

“I don’t know where he gets that from at all, because it says you’ve got to go,” Klausner said.

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The LRIS staff finds news stories on labor and employment issues affecting law enforcement, fire protection, corrections, EMTs and other public safety personnel.
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