Members of the Orlando firefighters union should not have been paid by the city for their time spent working on Mayor Buddy Dyer’s campaign, a grand jury concluded. But the jury, impaneled during an investigation into the March election that kept Dyer in office, issued no indictments.
“While the grand jury finds that the evidence is insufficient to charge criminal violations, it does find that the practice of using public funds to compensate firefighters while engaging in union activities to be a violation of the public trust and poor stewardship of public moneys,” the grand jury foreman said after Tuesday’s closed hearing.
The union is one of the most active labor groups in central Florida. Under their contract, there is money set aside to pay members for time spent on union business. The city lets the union decide what constitutes union business, and as far as union leaders are concerned, political campaigning is covered.
“It is the feeling of the grand jury that this is a practice that gives an unfair advantage to incumbents or to other candidates the firefighters support,” State Attorney Lawson Lamar said. “It is the feeling of the grand jury that it should not happen again.” Union president Steve Clelland said the organization is reviewing its policy and expects to stop the practice, but “we will not stay out of politics.”
The Fla. Dept. of Law Enforcement (FDLE) also is investigating allegations that a consultant on Dyer’s campaign mishandled absentee ballots cast by predominantly elderly black voters. A voter rights organization has protested the FDLE’s investigative tactics, claiming that agents with side arms who knocked on doors were trying to intimidate those people. [Associated Press, 9/3/04]