Two years later, the City of Gulfport and a police union representing local officers are still waiting for a ruling from arbitrator Kitty Grubb on a dispute involving the punishment of two officers.
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Gulfport’s long-lost police arbitration continues to exist in the mediation world’s equivalent to the Bermuda Triangle.

Seminole-based attorney and mediator Kitty Grubb held an arbitration hearing in October 2020 regarding the Gulfport Police sanctioning two officers over their handling of a domestic dispute on St. Patrick’s Day 2019.

She has yet to issue a ruling, frustrating both sides of the City’s police dispute.

“It will be two years in September since this case was argued in front of her. Never in my life have I seen such a delay by an arbitrator,” said Ken Afienko, an attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police.

Grubb has not responded to multiple requests for comment on the reasons for the delays, when a ruling could potentially be coming, and why her decision has been missing in action.

Grubb — whose resume filed with the National Mediation Board also lists her as an Olympic sports official — heard more than 13 hours of testimony on Oct. 22, 2020 on the Gulfport Police Department’s demotion of Rob Burkhart from sergeant to officer and suspension of officer Cory Smith over their handling of a domestic dispute involving two brothers and their mother.

Burkhart and Smith left the dispute scene without arresting a brother accused of fighting with his sibling. They also did not return to the residence that night. Police arrested the man the next day.

After an internal review, Gulfport Police Department Chief Robert Vincent demoted Burkhart and suspended Smith without pay for 36 hours.

Via the police officers collective bargaining agreement, the officers appealed their punishments, arguing their actions were signed off on that night at the command level.

FOP attorney Afienko, who represented the officers, took the dispute to arbitration. Both sides agreed on Grubb.

The MIA mediation has left both sides trying to figure out what to do next, and they aren’t necessarily on the same page.

“The City refuses to pick another arbitrator and retry the case, so I have another grievance filed to address that issue,” Afienko told The Gabber. “The grievance has not been heard by the city manager yet, but I expect to meet with him soon about a resolution to the original arbitration.”

Afienko is also running for Pinellas County judge and has been endorsed by Gulfport City Attorney Andrew Salzman, according to the FOP attorney’s campaign website.

“The reason for the delay is that the original arbitrator has given me every excuse in the book as to why she hasn’t ruled and refuses to give me a date when she will have the order done,” Afienko said.

Both Afienko and Gulfport City Manager Jim O’Reilly said there was no deadline date for when Grubb is supposed to rule.

“There’s nothing in the CBA. It’s moot on that point,” said O’Reilly in an interview with The Gabber.

O’Reilly said the City and FOP need to discuss next steps but he’s also hesitant to say too much about the long delays with a ruling still potentially pending.

“I’m still part of a legal proceeding,” he said.

Still, O’Reilly said he’s also in uncharted waters with the stray arbitration or mediation decision.

“I’ve never had it happen before. My experience is they are usually cleared within 60 to 90 days,” O’Reilly said.

Grubb is listed as a mediator with the National Mediation Board.

The federal agency offers listings of certified mediators and arbitrators throughout the country. That includes Grubb, whose resume lists business addresses in Seminole and Seymour, TN, according to the NMB.

She has bar and mediation association memberships and has ruled “in approximately 50 cases”, according to the government agency.

City and FOP officials said Grubb will not get paid for her work unless she renders a ruling in the GPD dispute.

The NMB lists her fees as $1,575 per day (up to 8 hours) for labor mediation with $196.88 per hour fees for additional research. Grubb charges $950 per day for grievance mediations with a $118 per hour for additional research.

She also charges an $118.75 per hour fee for travel time, according to NMB.

Afienko said the Gulfport fees are still to be determined.

The Gabber reached out to the NMB to ask about the Gulfport situation and professional standards and protocols when rulings are delayed or do not happen.

The federal mediation agency has not yet responded to those questions.

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