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Police group, Cary at odds over group's classification

The North Carolina Police Benevolent Association feels it's getting stonewalled in Cary, because the town's manager refuses to meet with the group.

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CARY, N.C. — The North Carolina Police Benevolent Association says it feels it's getting stonewalled in Cary, because the town's manager refuses to meet with the group.

Out of Cary's 167 police officers, more than 130 are members of the PBA, which works to promote and improve the law enforcement profession.

The PBA meets with town and city managers in other municipalities to bring forth concerns of its members.

Cary Town Manager Ben Shivar, however, says he considers the group a union, and that he does not meet with union representatives.

"North Carolina state law prevents contract agreements with union representatives, and that we take very seriously," Shivar said.

But PBA Executive Director John Midgette says the group is a non-union professional trade association that does not do any collective bargaining and has every right to free speech and association.

"To deny our ability to meet with him about these matters is not only repugnant on it's face, but it just flies in the face of everything that is proper, right and legal, as well," Midgette said.

Even if it were a union, Midgette said there is no law that prohibits the town manager to meet with the group. The law Shivar is referring to, he said, has been repealed as unconstitutional.

As a group, PBA has concerns it wants to discuss with Shivar – such as a shared sick-leave program and a retirement policy it believes is in violation of a new state law.

The group, instead, meets with Town Council members about its concerns. Recently, the Council approved staff reviewing the shared sick-leave program.

"We're talking about making suggestions, recommendations, bring up matters of importance that the manager can either act or not act on," Midgette said.

Shivar said he considers the PBA a union because it is linked to the Southern State chapter of the Police Benevolent Association, which he understands to be a union.

He said he also has concerns that meeting with the PBA could send the wrong message to other employees that they have to join a group in order to be heard.

"Recognizing and talking to union reps will tend to divide the organization," he said. "Our preference is to talk with employees as employees."

Shivar said any officer – as an employee – can voice his or her concerns to a supervisor, the town's police chief or him directly.

He also said the town has an organizational improvement committee that takes suggestions from employees to improve the workplace environment.

Shivar – whose predecessor Bill Coleman also never met with the group – said Cary's long-standing policy to resolve employee issues individually "has produced one of the healthiest, public service organizations in North Carolina, probably in the southeast, and the nation," he said. "We believe it is best to proceed the way we do."