Speaking in public for the first time since returning from a trip to Ireland with the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn lashed out at activists who have criticized his plan to name the majority of the members of a police Civilian Review Board.
He also said that the City Council’s plans to continue to workshop the idea of giving them the power to name that board will go nowhere.
“We’re going to get a civilian review board that is in the best interest of the community, not the 20 folks that showed up at the Council meeting, because I’ve got to balance the needs of the community, the Police Department and the neighborhoods that they serve,” he said this morning. (There was approximately 40 people who spoke at the Council’s meeting last Thursday.) “I’m not going to permit a board of appointees from the Black Panther Party or any of these other fringe groups that want to do nothing but tear down our community. I’m not going to allow that to happen.”
Kelly Benjamin, an activist involved with the group Tampa for Justice that has presented an alternative proposal for a civilian review board, called the mayor’s comments “disappointing.”
“If he bothered to meet with us and discuss the larger issues with his proposal, he would recognize that this actually IS a large and diverse cross section of the community that he is supposed to represent, and that there are very legitimate reasons to institute an independent police board that isn’t stacked with his hand-picked appointees,” Benjamin said, adding that, “this issue will not go away with his poor attempt to sweep it under the rug and insult the caring people who are speaking up on this important issue. “
It’s a concept already present in most major American cities, but the demand for such an agency in Tampa only originated with any force after a Tampa Bay Times report in April that showed that the Tampa Police Department was disproportionately citing blacks for bicycle infractions. Since then, officials with the ACLU, NAACP, CAIR and other community activists have demanded that Tampa create such an agency.
Those groups also say they want a civilian review board that has subpoena power to call witnesses.
Fat chance that will happen, says the mayor.
“My reality is what the Charter says,” Buckhorn said, referring to what is essentially the Constitution for how the city of Tampa government operates. “My reality is what the law says. There cannot be a board that has subpoena power. That is prohibited by law. The policeman’s Bill of Rights trumps whatever happens on a local level, so you cannot create board that has subpoena power.”
The mayor is referring to the Florida Officer’s Bill of Rights. However, as has been cited by the activists, the city of Miami’s Civilian Review Board does have such powers. City of Tampa Attorney Julia Mandell maintains that Tampa’s Charter does not provide adequate authority for the delegation of such powers to such an agency. Mandell also says that the Charter only permits the mayor, and not the City Council, to nominate members to a civilian review board.
Tampa City Council Chairman Frank Reddick contends that Mandell is not an honest broker offering unvarnished information, but actually the mayor’s own attorney, thus creating a conflict of interest. Mandell says she will bring an independent attorney before the Council later this month to determine whether there is that conflict of interest.
“There is no conflict of interest,” Buckhorn said today. He also called City Council Attorney Marty Shelby’s opinion that the Council does have the authority to name members to the civilian review panel “creative at best.”
The Council is poised to engage in a workshop later this month regarding the idea of appointing the majority of members of the CRB. Under Reddick’s proposal that the Council approved last week, the Council would appoint seven members to the nine-member board. Buckhorn said today that they can go ahead and proceed to do so, but that neither he nor Mandell would ever sign such an “illegal” ordinance.
Regarding complaints made by Council last week that his executive order preempted their previously scheduled meeting last week to hear from Police Chief Eric Ward about a review board that worked best for Tampa, the mayor said that he didn’t preempt anything, since “their plan is not permissible.”
“They cannot create this board,” repeated. “Only the mayor can create this board. So in essence I did what they were asking me to do, whether they chose … the credit for it is a whole other thing, but I did exactly what they asked me to do.”
When asked if he might be willing to compromise with the Council regarding the selection of the members of the civilian review board, Buckhorn said he would be open to suggestions, but expressed little sympathy for their issues.
“For some, the Charter’s an inconvenience, and I’m sorry about that, but that’s the law, that’s the governing document that rules how this government works. I can’t change this. That’s not about me, that’s about the structure of the government. If they want to run a government, then run for mayor. I mean it’s that simple. Otherwise, Council has its authority. I don’t intervene in their stuff, and so I would be hopeful that they would respect that Charter.”
SaintPetersBlog contacted three separate City Council members for comment, but none returned our phone call by the time of this posting.
Officials say that a link for people to apply to the civilian review board should be up on the city of Tampa’s website within the next day or so.