After comments attributed to an attorney representing Winter Garden in negotiations with the Fraternal Order of Police were published on social media, the city has removed Jeffrey Mandel from its negotiating team.
The comments were made Sept. 13 during a three-hour negotiation between the FOP — the union that represents Winter Garden’s police officers — and the City of Winter Garden.
“If you think that you’re going to sit here and tell us you’re heroes and risk your lives and it’s going to work on us, it’s not. We (the city) don’t care,” read the quote attributed to Mandel and posted on the West Orange Residents Discussion Facebook group.
The post received nearly 100 comments before it was deleted.
“Considering all that has transpired, we have decided to remove Jeff Mandel from the negotiating team,” Winter Garden City Manager Mike Bollhoefer said Monday, Sept. 19. “We believe this is in the best interest of our police officers, the union and the city.”
As a labor attorney, Mandel negotiates for many police and fire departments around the state. Mandel maintains his comments were made in response to a statement made by someone in attendance and were misrepresented.
“I respect and admire anyone who dons a uniform, and the notion that I am anti-law-enforcement officer(s) cannot be further from the truth,” he said. “It was never my intent to create the perception that the city, or I, do not care about the city’s police officers.”
Although Mandel is no longer a part of the negotiations, Bollhoefer, who was not present at the meeting, said prior to the Internet furor, both parties believed the meeting went well.
“I have spoken to all the members who were at the meeting with the exception of one police officer, and they’ve all denied the statement was made in that context,” he said.
According to email correspondence between Mandel and George Hachigian, the FOP’s general counsel’s chief of staff, the quote was not interpreted in an offensive manner by the FOP.
“Now I will tell you this, if we had an attorney and that were his feelings about public safety officers, we would fire him. Because I wouldn’t want an attorney (who) felt that way about safety officers.”
“As per our telephone conversation today, I did confirm what you relayed to me,” Hachigian wrote to Mandel in an email. “The Florida State Lodge Fraternal Order of Police Incorporated is the certified bargaining agent and was not aware of what had occurred. I would like to apologize for the actions of the members of the local FOP. … For the record, I did not interpret any of your statements or comments in the way they are being portrayed in the social media rant.”
Bollhoefer defended the attorney and said he doubted Mandel “would ever do anything to insult or denigrate the job that (police officers) perform,” considering how “foolish” that would be.
“Now I will tell you this, if we had an attorney and that were his feelings about public safety officers, we would fire him,” Bollhoefer said. “Because I wouldn’t want an attorney (who) felt that way about safety officers.”
However, he has now been removed from the negotiating team for the union contract, Bollhoefer said.
Bollhoefer assures that Mandel’s removal will not affect negotiations. He believes his removal is necessary because some officers were offended by his comment.
“Although there is disagreement as to exactly what was said, and, according to most in attendance, the comments were taken out of context, it is clear an inappropriate comment was made,” Bollhoefer wrote in an email. “Therefore, we decided to remove Mr. Mandel from the negotiating team.”
Contact Gabby Baquero at [email protected].