North Miami Beach police chief fired

(MIAMI HERALD)   North Miami Beach police chief loses his job for “administrative reasons,” according to the city manager. Union officials called the firing questionable, citing the manager’s demands for police department cuts.

North Miami Beach’s police chief was fired Monday morning in a move that surprised even the city’s mayor.

City Manager Lyndon Bonner would not provide a specific cause for the firing, other than to cite “administrative reasons”.

But the city’s police union was quick to seize on the firing as questionable — pointing to Bonner’s recent demands that the police department reduce its budget amid deteriorating citywide finances.

“It’s sketchy on why the chief got fired,” said Officer Mike Pons, the International Union of Police Associations representative. “Mr. Bonner is trying to reduce the police department completely.”

Chief Rafael Hernandez Jr. is currently president of the Miami-Dade County Association of Chiefs of Police. He joined the city as chief in 2008. Hernandez could not be reached for comment.

City Manager Lyndon Bonner would not directly comment on whether the chief’s firing was related to plans to reduce the police department’s budget.

“This was a simple administerial decision. We’re going to be pursuing law enforcement in a different direction now. There’s nothing more to it than that,” said Bonner, who became city manager in March after leaving a municipal job in Ocala.

During recent budget discussions, Bonner told the council that serious belt-tightening would be in order to overcome an anticipated $7.5 million shortfall for the coming 2011-12 fiscal year.

And because the police department accounts for 52 percent of the 2012 budget, or $22.7 million, Bonner told the council that Hernandez had to come up with cuts that would equal 52 percent of the shortfall, or $3.9 million.

Hernandez, who earned an annual salary of $114,000, was scheduled to appear before the city council July 26 to present his suggestions.

One of Bonner’s proposals: firing 24 police officers and 13 police civilian employees. The move has drawn criticism from the city’s police union and some residents who say the city can’t afford to reduce its force of 113 by more than 20 percent.

Before joining the North Miami Beach police department, Hernandez oversaw the operations bureau of the Tallahassee Police Department. He grew up in Miami and was previously chief in Sweetwater, South Miami and Chelsea, Mass.

Hernandez has 37 years of law enforcement experience. He will be able to cash out any unused sick and vacation days. Major Larry Gomer will act as interim chief until the city finds a replacement.

City council members and the mayor said they were unaware the chief had been fired until the city manager called them Monday morning.

“I had no clue,” said Councilwoman Barbara Kramer. “The manager said he needs to make administration changes in the organization and look into this year and beyond,” she said.

Mayor George Vallejo said the change in leadership will likely have an impact on the city’s pending budget decisions.

“With the budget situation, this change gives us an opportunity to look at the department from the top up and the bottom down,” he said. “We’ll move forward.”

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