A Special Town Meeting in Pembroke Tuesday night approved a controversial contract with the town’s police union; but the meeting nearly didn’t happen. Voters arrived in the auditorium of the high school, but too few to constitute a quorum at the scheduled start time of 7:30 p.m.. Moderator Steve Dodge then pleaded to a live cable TV audience as other town officials made cell phone calls. Dodge called the meeting to order at 8:15 with exactly 150 voters in the room. Pembroke uses a lottery to select the order of Town Meeting articles. Voters worked through 15 of the 18 articles when article 8, the police contract article, came up. It asked to fund an agreement between selectmen and the police union at a cost of $55,300. Former selectman Bob DeMarzo spoke first. He held a complete copy of the agreement and criticized it piece by piece. He said it gave police a 1.5 percent retroactive raise and another 1.5 percent raise in the second year of the deal, a raise out of touch “with these tough economic times.” He said the deal, additionally, gave each police officer a one time payment of $750. He had harsh criticism for making the annual incentive pay of $1,000 officers receive for carrying defibrilators in the trunks of cruisers part of the base salary, noting that not all the cruisers carry defibrilators and the higher base pay would raise overtime costs. He also criticized the provision that automatically gives officers on road details a second four hours of pay if they work a minute past the first four hours. Union members will increase their contribution to health insurance from 22 to 23 percent, “the only benefit the town got.” “It’s not a question of public safety,” DeMarzo said. “It’s a question of what’s a balanced negotiation.” Former selectmen Paul Dwyer also criticized rolling the incentive into the base pay. Former selectman Vince Cogliano said the deal would set a bad precedent for negotiating other union contracts. Moderator Dodge asked for a show of hands and considered it too close to call. He asked for a standing vote. It resulted in a 61 to 42 vote in favor of the contract. Former police lieutenant, and current selectman, Bill Boulter recused himself from the negotiations and the Town Meeting discussion. Only one Pembroke police officer participated in Town Meeting.
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