YouTube Video And City Mailings Highlight Florida Pension Fight

HOLLYWOOD, FL &#8211 In one corner: a YouTube video features an animated firefighter questioning the mayor — dressed in a butcher’s apron and holding a hatchet — about why employee benefits are being chopped.

In the other: the city’s quarterly newsletter, sent to about 60,000 households, with a front-page caption that reads “Your vote could SAVE Hollywood more than $8.5 million dollars.”

With just two weeks before residents will vote in a citywide referendum on whether to reform police, firefighter and city employees’ pensions, neither camp is pulling punches.

“Our plan is to explain all the mismanagement that has been going on,” said Fire Union President Dan Martinez, adding that if the city had been more “fiscally responsible,” it would not be in the position it is in now.

Commissioner Dick Blattner is sending out emails to residents about exactly why they should vote yes to the referendum.

“If they vote no, we will probably have to let go 150 to 170 employees,” Blattner said.

For this upcoming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, Hollywood is facing a $38 million gap. City leaders have said the only way to reduce spending is to rein in pension costs.

In July, after negotiations between the city and the unions failed to yield contracts that reduced pension benefits by more than $8 million, the commission approved putting the decision in the hands of the voters, and scheduled a referendum for Sept. 13.

Both the police and fire unions have formed political action committees and plan on campaigning to defeat the referendum.

Martinez, the fire union president, said fliers will begin hitting mail boxes in the next week and many residents should expect knocks on the door from fire union members.

City spokeswoman Raelin Storey said the city is limited by state law in what it can do leading up to the elections. Cities cannot advocate for something, but they can educate the public on the referendum.

The city is using its quarterly newsletter, New Horizons, to list quick facts on the vote.

Wrapped around the 28-page newsletter, which cost the city $14,000 to produce, are four pages devoted to the referendum.

Although Hollywood cannot advocate for one side, with “$8.5 million” underlined and the word “save” in all caps on the front page, the city’s position is subtly apparent.

But far less subtle is a video posted for a brief period recently by alexvelez33 on YouTube.

“But, your honor, how can you do this to your fire department?” an animated firefighter asks the animated mayor.

The mayor figure responds: “One of the beautiful things is I’m not. I’m going to have the citizens do it.” The mayor figure waves his the hatchet in the air as evil laughter plays in the background.

From The Sun Sentinel