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City Council Vote On Tampa Police Oversight Board Concedes To Mayor’s Proposal

A man in a suit sits at a podium looking down with his glasses on his nose
Councilman Charlie Miranda made a substitution motion Thursday that gave the mayor more power in nominating police oversight board members.

After months of debate, council members passed an ordinance that gives slightly more independence to Tampa’s police oversight board.

The Tampa City Council passed an ordinance Thursday by a 4-3 vote that will change the makeup of its Citizens Review Board, which investigates resident complaints about the city’s police.

Five of the board’s members will be chosen by the council, five by Mayor Jane Castor, and one by the NAACP Hillsborough County Branch.

The final decision comes after a long battle between justice advocates, council members, and Castor, who is ex-Chief of Tampa Police.

“We have gone back and forth on verbiage, we have gone back and forth on understanding,” said Councilman Joseph Citro. “I would like to make sure that the public knows everything.”

Initially, the council voted to give themselves power to appoint seven board members, taking majority control away from the mayor.

But that plan hit a legal roadblock. According to City Attorney Gina Grimes, any changes needed to be approved by Castor.

In response, representatives looked for a compromise as they finalized negotiations at a special council meeting Monday. Most of the discussion centered around the proposal that Castor favored — the 5-5-1 split.

They also talked about whether the mayor would play a part in the appointment of the NAACP representative.

“It's a formality to keep the balance,” said John Bennett, the city’s Chief of Staff. “To keep things in a perfectly balanced ecosystem, the administration stands by the balance of that ordinance.”

A man in a suit holds up his hand as he speaks
Councilman Dingfelder proposed the original motion that kept that mayor out of the nomination process for the NAACP board representative.

When they reconvened to vote on the police oversight board’s makeup Thursday, council members disagreed with that formality.

The first motion made by Councilman John Dingfelder outlined a process in which the NAACP would nominate a representative that would then be approved by the city council, without the mayor’s involvement.

“If we don't approve it, we'd send it back to the NAACP and tell them to send us another one,” Dingfelder said. “I mean, we don't have to approve what they send us. That's inherent in our vote.”

“I would agree with everything except leaving the mayor out of the confirmation because that makes it a default six-five balance,” Citro said.

After repetitive debate about the role Castor should play in the nomination, Councilman Charlie Miranda made a substitution to the motion that included the mayor.

That substitution — that the NAACP representative “shall be recommended by the mayor and subject to confirmation by city council” — replaced Dingfelder’s motion and passed 4-3, with Dingfelder, Bill Carlson, and Guido Maniscalco in opposition.

“Why does that NAACP need to be confirmed by the mayor?” Maniscalco asked. “NAACP says, ‘This is who we've nominated or want to appoint to this board. Council, can we get your approval?’ like we approve a department head, a police chief, and that's it—it doesn't go to the mayor for approval.”

“I can't imagine that the mayor wouldn't confirm that position,” Bennett retorted. “But again, it's a formality to keep the balance.”

The concessions were not welcomed by local justice advocates. Nearly all of the approximately 20 people who gave public comment at the meeting expressed disapproval of the 5-5-1 split and of the mayor’s involvement in the NAACP nomination.

A man in a suit and tie looks up as he speaks
James Shaw, a representative from the Greater Tampa Chapter of the ACLU of Florida, was one of many who opposed the mayor controlling five board nominations.

The only people who supported the compromise were from police and fire unions.

“We will have begun with a CRB (Citizens Review Board) that is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the mayor's office, and we will end with a CRB that is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the mayor's office,” said James Shaw, a representative from the Greater Tampa Chapter of the ACLU of Florida.

“Why is the law enforcement community fighting so hard for that? The only thing it is, is a voice. Why are they so scared of a voice?”

Other cities across the state have already implemented changes to their police accountability process.

“The mayor appoints one out of 11 CRB members in Miami, two out of 13 in Naples,” Shaw said. “Daytona Beach, Gainesville, Key West — none. City council appoints all of them. But here, our mayor was going to get four out of 11 and that wasn't enough. The mayor wants five and veto power over who the sixth one is.”

Jacob Wentz is the inaugural WUSF Rush Family Radio News intern for the summer of 2021.
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