DALLAS (CBS11) - At Dallas City Hall Wednesday, the fight over pay raises for Dallas police officers and firefighters turned nasty.
During a city council briefing, Mayor Mike Rawlings accused police and fire associations of using bullying and intimidation tactics to get more money.
"It is a strategy that suggests we need to intimidate public officials," said Mayor Rawlings.
The mayor cited as evidence a cartoon produced by a police association consultant, Ron DeLord.
It shows a cheetah or leopard, depicted as a police union, feasting on a dead wildebeest, symbolized as an elected official.
Another wildebeest is seen saying, "that could be me next time."
Rawlings announced, "It is mean. It is belligerent. It's immature. It's violent. It's bullying."
He then called on the associations to reject it.
"Associations, I ask you to disavow this visual and this strategy," said Rawlings.
Christian Hinojosa, President of the Dallas Hispanic Firefighters Association, Thomas Glover, President of the Black Police Officers Association, and Michael Mata, a Vice-President for the Dallas Police Association all denounced the cartoon.
"We did not produce that, nor did we ask them to produce that," said Mata.
When CBS11 asked him if they disavow it as Mayor Rawlings asked, Mata said, "Absolutely. It's disgusting."
But Mata rejected the Mayor's accusation.
"And any way shape or form to insinuate that we had something to do with that, I thought was very disingenuous," said Mata.
The police association's consultant, Ron DeLord told CBS11 by phone he's not apologizing for the photo, and says he never discussed it with the associations.
It turns out DeLord produced the cartoon in 2012.
When asked about the four-year-old visual, the Mayor's spokesman cited DeLord's stated strategy, and that the year the cartoon was produced didn't make a difference unless he publically changed his strategy.
In response, Mata said, "I would hope that the Mayor after chastising the association on public television, would admit that he made a mistake by accusing us of threatening and attempting to intimidate council members. He questioned the professionalism and integrity of the leadership of the Dallas Police Associations and he was wrong."
DeLord told CBS11, the Mayor should focus on giving raises to the third of police officers and firefighters who won't be eligible to receive a raise under the city manager's plan because they topped out.
Under City Manager A.C. Gonzalez's proposal, only starting officers and those with fewer years of service would receive a double-step increase, which is up to a ten percent pay bump.
Instead, the associations want a single-step bump, plus a five percent salary increase for all officers for each year during the next three years.
The associations say all officers took a pay cut years ago to help a struggling city during the recession.
Glover with the Black Police Officers Association said, "They expect us to say we're okay with 30 percent of the people not getting raises when 100% of the people and police and fire took pay cuts."
Mata said the veteran officers froze their pay for four years.
"We gave that up to them with the promise when times were better, we would get that back. Now, we're having to fight for them," said Mata.
City leaders say giving the officers and firefighters what they want would cost an additional $50 million during the next three years.
Gonzalez and Chief David Brown have focused on boosting the salaries for starting Dallas police officers who make more than $44,000 a year.
That's about $11,000 below the average for other cities in Dallas-Fort Worth and large cities across Texas.
Plano has the highest starting pay at nearly $65,000 a year.
Gonzalez and Brown have said they also want to raise salaries for officers who've been at the department between five and ten years.
Records show more officers with that experience level have been leaving Dallas to work in other North Texas police departments that pay more.
That forces the city to train new officers at a cost the police associations estimate at $150,000 each.
The city wants to hire a total of 549 new officers next year.
Two-hundred would be new positions and the rest would be hired through attrition.
Gonzalez, the Chief, and the associations agree paying more at the lower end is vital to keeping them from going to other law enforcement agencies.
But they disagree over pay increases for veteran officers.
City leaders say as the pay scale increases, Dallas becomes much more competitive with other cities.
Late in the day Wednesday, the mayor repeated that he backs the city manager's plan.
"For us to be thinking about $50 million more than the city manager is proposing in the discussion is, I just don't understand how we do that. I've been clear to the associations, to my comrades, and the city manager, I think it's more prudent to give these folks the raises they need so we can keep them, hire the officers we need, solve the pension issue, and then come back and deal with this in a long-term way," said Rawlings.
The city council didn't vote on the pay plan.
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