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Prisons chief's new fitness goals have some grumbling

Published January 5, 2007


TALLAHASSEE - Corrections Secretary Jim McDonough is trying a new way of trimming fat in government.

The head of Florida's prison system wants his agency's more than 19,000 employees to get into shape by 2009, when they'll have to prove they're fit to keep their jobs.

Some don't like the idea.

"We have people who have been with the department for 25 years, 20 years who have excellent evaluations, and all of a sudden, now they implement this physical fitness program," said Al Shopp, a spokesman for the Florida Police Benevolent Association. "They're no longer a valued employee because they can't do, say, five situps or 10 pushups or walk a mile?"

Shopp said McDonough's proposal has not been negotiated with the association and is damaging employees' morale.

"He is creating such anxiety," Shopp said. "He talks about esprit de corps in here - the morale in the department right now is so low that I don't know if anybody can pick it up."

McDonough's proposal, however, does have the backing of Gov. Charlie Crist, who called it a good idea on Thursday.

"I advocated during the course of the campaign that we reinstitute physical education in our school system," said the 50-year-old Crist, who is fit and often swims 20 laps to start his day. "So being in shape's a pretty good idea, especially in that line of work."

In the department's draft proposal, male employees over 50 would have to walk or run a mile in 17 minutes, do 19 pushups in two minutes, and a minimum of 27 situps. Requirements are less stringent for females.

Officers failing the test will have six months in a remedial program to reach the goals before being moved to a less strenuous job, if one is available.

A former Army infantry colonel, the 60-year-old McDonough runs daily.

"We have a number of occasions where an officer either on the job or in training, to prepare for the mission, has had a hard time. It's not just a question of responding to physical force ... it's the physical exertion itself," McDonough said.

"We're not talking about any adverse effects on this until 2009. I think people need to relax, resolve ... and get themselves in shape."

McDonough also is seeking to clarify a department rule on facial hair and is proposing a measure that would allow a full beard, mustache or goatee as long as they are tightly trimmed.

[Last modified January 5, 2007, 01:24:55]

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