by Todd Feurer, CBS Chicago web producer

CHICAGO (CBS) — Nearly 2 ½ years after the city’s last police contract expired, Mayor Lori Lightfoot says she understands officers are frustrated with the long wait for a new deal, but she bluntly denied she is stalling negotiations with a union with which she repeatedly has feuded.

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“We do want to get things moved along as expeditiously as we can, and we are starting the process of engaging them,” she said.

In an interview with the Sun-Times, Chicago Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham had accused the mayor of stalling on contract negotiations, and said the union would take their demands for an 18% pay raise over three years for rank-and-file officers to an independent arbitrator.

Lightfoot flatly denied Graham’s claim.

“No, of course not, we’re not stalling,” she said.

The mayor also said she does not believe the union can demand arbitration yet.

“There’s a procedural issue that has to happen before they can actually go to arbitration,” she said. “There’s no arbitable issues at this point, yet, because the discussions haven’t progressed to that point.”

Lightfoot said the city typically starts contract negotiations with the unions representing police supervisors before working on a contract for rank-and-file officers represented by the FOP.

“The bottom line is we will get to them. We’re finishing up with the substantive issues remaining in the supervisors’ contracts. We’re in arbitration with them right now. So, as soon as that’s finished, then we will get to FOP next, and they’re aware of that,” Lightfoot said.

While the city earlier this year reached an agreement on a 10.5% raise over five years for sergeants, lieutenants, and captains, other issues in the supervisors’ contract, such as disciplinary matters and items related to the federal consent decree governing CPD reforms, are moving to arbitration.

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Lightfoot declined to respond to Graham’s demand for an 18% raise for police officers over the next three years.

“I’m not going to negotiate in the press,” she said.

The mayor also suggested Graham is speaking out about the contract dispute now because the union’s elections are coming up in the next few months.

“FOP leadership is having an election some time in the first quarter of next year, so there’s going to be all sorts of things that happen that may or may not deal with the substance of conditions at the bargaining table,” she said.

Lightfoot and the Fraternal Order of Police frequently have been at odds since she took office. After the Memorial Day weekend, Lightfoot spread an unsubstantiated rumor that the FOP had told officers to “just lay back, do nothing” if they saw criminal activity over the holiday weekend.

The mayor also repeatedly has sparred with FOP Vice President Patrick Murphy, who frequently speaks during the public comment period of City Council meetings.

In June, when Murphy said Lightfoot should seek input from the FOP as she seeks to reform the department, the mayor shot back that the union has done nothing but object to and try to obstruct change within the department.

A month later, Lightfoot was caught on a hot microphone calling Murphy “this FOP clown” when he returned to speak on the council floor. The mayor later apologized only for making her comment out loud.

FOP spokesman called the mayor’s insult a “misguided and dangerous thing to say.”

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For its part, the FOP unsuccessfully fought to intervene in the process of drafting a court-enforced consent decree governing changes to the Chicago Police Departments practices and policies. The union has called the city’s reform efforts “unnecessary and counterproductive,” and Graham personally has said the consent decree “will have a devastating effect upon policing in Chicago.”