By CHARLES RABIN And MICHAEL VASQUEZ
A growing turf battle between Miami and Miami-Dade police officers -- and their respective politicians -- threatens to delay or derail the long-sought $525 million Florida Marlins ballpark, even as cranes ready to take down the historic Orange Bowl.
The fight is simple at its core, centered on which agency gets to patrol the ballpark grounds and reap millions in off-duty pay during the team's 35-year lease. While the ballpark would be built in the city, the county would own the facility.
Politically, the solution is not so simple, as each governing body -- Miami on one side and Miami-Dade on the other -- wants to ensure its officers get their share of the spoils. Each has passed dueling resolutions.
Elected leaders fear giving in means they'd lose the support of two of the most powerful voting blocks in South Florida, the Police Benevolent Association representing county police and the Fraternal Order of Police overseeing Miami.
The unions' political might extends beyond the 5,000 officers, said former Miami Police Chief Ken Harms, to the ability to organize and campaign for commissioners.
'No reasonable politician wants to alienate his or her police or fire department. They want to be able to say down the line, `we supported you guys,' '' said Harms.
The police issue threatens to delay the aggressive schedule the Marlins have crafted to complete the massive construction job within a 28-month window so the team can play in Little Havana by 2011.
Despite the Baseball Stadium Agreement being approved two weeks ago in broad form by the city and county, a host of other issues -- including a management contract that would include the policing duties -- must be resolved and voted on by commissioners before the digging begins in November.
The agreement also says that if the plan falls apart because a management agreement isn't reached, the county could be on the hook for one-third of any money spent to that point -- Marlins architectural drawings, for example, or any Miami public works -- whether the county spent any money, or not.
The coveted off-duty pay -- which averages $28 an hour in Miami and $30 in the county -- is significant to Miami police, and even more so to county officers who use it to bulk up their pensions. The BSA calls for the Marlins to fund police presence.
The agreement calls for land under the stadium to be deeded to the county -- freeing the city from a pricey property tax bill.
But the decision to deed those 13 acres or so has set off a threat by the county's most powerful union boss ''to blow up'' negotiations; a protest by the union representing Miami police; and the specter of a grievance by Miami police -- against city commissioners.
''They're [county police] proposing to have double the amount of police officers, just so they don't get sweaty outside,'' said FOP boss Armando Aguilar, who represents Miami's 940 police officers.
The turf battle surfaced unexpectedly two weeks ago as county commissioners prepared to vote to finance the stadium, when John Rivera, the PBA union boss, threatened to detonate the deal if his members were left out.
Commissioners, their aides and Marlins officials searched for a way to appease Rivera. Several hours later, Rivera accepted the financing vote under the condition that city and county administrators return with a negotiated settlement within 30 days -- or the ballpark deal would die.
Last week, as city commissioners passed a unanimous vote for Miami officers to patrol the stadium, about 100 members carried signs and strolled the circular City Hall parking lot protesting any potential county presence.
Said city Commissioner Tomas Regalado: ``Common sense never is present in any dealings with the county.''
Then Tuesday, after county commissioners passed a similar unanimous vote for county officers to patrol the new ballpark, city commissioners were put on notice -- by their own police department.
FOP attorney Osnat K. Rind cited the city's collective bargaining agreement in contending there was no leeway when it comes to patrolling in Miami. ''The union considers the city's action a serious breach of its obligation to act in good faith and fairly with employees,'' wrote Rind.
During the county hearing, commissioners harped on how county forces lost lucrative jobs at the AmericanAirlines Arena and the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. They vowed to never let that happen again.
''I'm not blinking,'' piped in Commissioner Joe Martinez.
County Mayor Carlos Alvarez and Manager George Burgess, and city Mayor Manny Diaz and Manager Pete Hernandez, aim to settle the dispute. Alvarez and Burgess declined comment.
Hernandez said he's trying to get the two police departments to talk. He said he spoke with FOP's Aguilar Tuesday and is willing to sit down with Rivera.
The parties have two weeks to reach resolution. With that deadline looming, some see signs of light, others not so much.
Union bosses representing city and county firefighters -- who, like police, are also negotiating for territorial rights -- are talking. PBA's Rivera said he's fine with his troops working from the stadium sidewalk in, and city police the adjacent streets.
''I never implied we wanted to encroach,'' he said.
Replied Aguilar: ``They want to be the boss. Well, let them build it outside, in the county, then. Let them build it in the Everglades.''