Letters surface in Airport security controversy

The controversy over privatizing security at Hancock International took on a new twist as letters surface and the Miner Administration pushes back the deadline for proposals from private security companies.

Even though airlines reimburse the City of Syracuse for security at Hancock airport, Mayor Stephanie Miner has contacted eight private companies to takeover many of the duties now performed by Syracuse Police officers. Officials say the City pays out more than $3-million dollars in overtime for the police officers, which in turn is reflected in higher airline ticket prices. "It's really about being fiscally responsible to the flying public." says Interim Airport Commissioner Christina Reale.

Reale supplied CNY Central with two letters. One is dated August 26th from 6 airlines. It shows a comparison between seven airports and complains of the high cost of security at Hancock. "As you can see, SYR is at least a dollar more expensive per enplaned passenger for security...when compared to similar size nearby airports." the letter reads.

Another letter, marked "confidential" is dated December 27, 2010. It was sent by Mayor Miner to eight private security firms asking them to "consider submitting a proposal for supplimental security services..." The letter lists a number of specific services such a proposal would contain. Reale says this was not a public "Request For Proposals" but rather part of a procurement process that is not public. "When we need expertise and experience in certain areas, we have the ability to seek this type of information." she told CNY Central's Jim Kenyon.

The proposals from the security companies were supposed to be submitted by Friday, January 28th, but Reale says three local security companies came forward so now the deadline is February 11th.

The union representing Syracuse Police says security at the airport should be subject to contract negotiations. Police Benevolent Association Jeff Piedmonte says the union was kept out of the loop as the Miner Administration sought to privatize security. "We feel we were left out of the loop...they're trying to do this behind out back and be sneaky." Piedmonte added "We're concerned about the secrecy of it but also...we're professional police officers that represent the city and dealing with the travelers."

Friday afternoon, the Mayor's office issued a statement:

The administration approached the PBA with a compromise plan to do a 60-40 split in which retired police officers would be hired at a straight-time pay and 40 percent of airport security details would be covered by the Syracuse Police Department. The union attorney told the administration that the union would not accept the 60-40 plan; therefore, the administration is pursuing a private security alternative.

Reale says any new private security arrangement would have to be approved by the TSA and the Syracuse Common Council.

Click here to download and read a letter from the city to businesses soliciting those proposals.

Click here to download and read a letter from a group representing the airlines, asking Miner to look into ways to better control airport overtime costs.

Update - Security Bids Delayed:

Controversy over privatizing security at Hancock International Airport has taken on a new twist.

The Miner administration has extended the deadline for proposals from private security firms until February 11th after several local companies came forward according to Interim Airport Commissioner Christina Reale.

The city had given security companies until Friday, but when news of the intent to privatize security came out, more businesses came forward. Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner had contacted eight companies in an attempt to save $3.1 million in overtime paid to Syracuse police officers who work at the airport.

Click here to download and read a letter from the city to businesses soliciting those proposals.

Miner's plans have run into opposition from the Syracuse Police Benevolent Association. PBA president Jeff Piedmonte says the union was kept out of the loop when Miner sought proposals from security companies. He says such a change should be part of contract negotiations.

Click here to download and read a letter from a group representing the airlines, asking Miner to look into ways to better control airport overtime costs.

Story from January 12:

SYRACUSE -- Syracuse Common Council members heard from the Syracuse police chief and fire chief, in response to an audit that showed Syracuse is exceeding Rochester's overtime spending by millions of dollars.

Fire Chief Mark McLees says it comes down to staffing. He says his department is dealing with 39 vacancies, and it takes time to train new employees. In the meantime, he has to use overtime to make sure the work gets done.

"We had people we hired, but the overtime was still there because we can't just hire them and put them in a fire truck," McLees says. "We had to train them, so this is that same six month period he just happened to focus on."

Police Chief Frank Fowler says since he took over as chief, he has eliminated more than 26,000 overtime hours in the department. He says Mayor Stephanie Miner asked him to cut back, and his year-to-date savings has been $1.3 million.

"That's an awesome task for someone to undertake, and I think we've been extremely successful," Fowler says. "When you see those inflamed numbers, and it points directly at your hard work, it's a little difficult to take."

Another point of contention is the fact Syracuse police officers handle security at Hancock Airport. The city is reimbursed for the pay, but the additional work increases pensions for the employees.

From this point, Common Council members say they'll see if there's anything they can do administratively to decrease overtime hours. For example, the city is considering changing the airport over to an authority.

Chief Fowler says he's trying to get grants that will help crime prevention. He says if crime goes down, so will overtime hours in the police department.

Click here to read the city overtime audit.

Story from January 6:

SYRACUSE -- Keeping an airport safe is no easy - or small - job. Working out of an airport division office, Syracuse Police handle the security needs for Hancock Airport, including many federally mandated requirements.

"That includes work in the terminal building, the perimeter road, all of our access points and gates - so they are the law enforcement entity of the airport," said Interim Airport Commissioner Christina Reale.

Enforcement can run up a big bill. Syracuse city and police officials confirmed that most of the officers at the airport are there on costly overtime shifts - overtime that costs about $3 million a year. On Wednesday, the City Auditor suggested Syracuse higher more full time officers rather than pay out all that overtime. Deputy Mayor John Cowin disagreed.

"That may have been a good idea years ago but now we're in transition from a city run airport to an authority run airport so we wouldn't want to hire all those employees and then what do we do with them if they want to use a different method of security," said Cowin on Wednesday.

Money from the airport budget reimburses the city for the overtime costs. The airport gets that money from fees and charges, many of which are passed on to travelers.

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner has made changing Hancock Airport over to an authority one of her priorities. An authority would not be obligated to use Syracuse Police for security.

"The authority is going to look at variety of cost savings measures. Certainly there are areas they will look at and competitive bidding any service is always the best option," said Reale.

The Syracuse Common Council has approved changing Hancock Airport over to an authority. The city is now waiting for approval from the FAA and other government agencies. Reale said it could be several months before any change is made.

A spokesman for the Syracuse Police Department said all questions about police overtime at the airport should be directed to the mayor's office.

For more on The Syracuse City Auditor's report on Police and Fire overtime, click here.

Original story from January 5:

The City of Syracuse's auditor, Phil LaTessa, is calling for more monitoring of overtime for city employees. The auditor says overtime cost the City $1.5 million a month in 2009.

The biggest source of overtime was the police department, which accounted for 22 percent of the total overtime costs.

The city's newly sworn-in police chief, Frank Fowler, says that's something he'll be working on. "We'll look at where the OT is coming from and what support services the OT goes to pay for and we'll go through and strategically make cuts where we have an opportunity to."

The auditor recommended that the city look for alternatives to having employees work overtime and also institute a city-wide policy on authorizing overtime.