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Possible movement in Tampa civilian review board saga?

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and City Council Chairman Frank Reddick had a sit-down meeting late Friday afternoon, and the result is that Buckhorn may – just may – allow the Council to add one more choice to the main nine-member police civilian review board.

“Potentially that could be an option,” Buckhorn said after emerging from his office to address reporters. “I had floated out last week to give them a total of four, one additional appointee and one of the alternates, but there may be other ways to skin that cat, so I think we’re moving in the right direction.”

“We made a lot of progress when I had the opportunity to walk into his office,” Reddick told reporters after exiting the meeting first. “That’s a first step and to have open discussion, and before that most of the discussion has been from Council Chamber talking to the media, but to speak to the mayor one on one, we had open dialogue, put everything on the table, and we just couldn’t reach that compromise on where we should go.”

The two did have a dispute about how often they’ve met since both were elected in 2011. Reddick says it’s the first time they’ve engaged in a one-on-one meeting in the four-and-a-half years both were elected in 2011, but Buckhorn later denied that, saying that they had met before during their first terms in office.

Buckhorn’s executive order signed on August 28 called for the mayor to choose seven of the nine member board, as well as two alternates. That angered many Council members and members of the community, who say that it’s allowing the mayor too much control for the sensitive committee that would review police procedures and policies.

After weeks of protest, the mayor showed some movement last week by suggesting that he would be willing to give the council one more selection to the nine-person board, as well as one of the two alternates.

Chairman Reddick has proposed on his own a 15-member board, with the council having seven picks and the mayor getting eight. Reddick has said that would allow each council member the power to name an individual member to the board, but Buckhorn said today that he has no interest in going beyond the eleven total he’s listed in his executive order.

“It gets too big, too unwieldy,” the mayor said. “It dilutes the effectiveness of it.”

Council member Lisa Montelione had floated the possibility of a five-four split between the mayor and the council at last week’s Council meeting, but that never came to a vote after angry members of the audience began chanting, “No compromise!”, prompting the board to leave the daïs, not to return for several hours.

In a letter sent to the mayor earlier this week, Reddick had mentioned that the mayor should meet with members of the community who have been outspoken about their unhappiness with how he has handled this situation.

The activists have come together as a group calling themselves Tampa for Justice. They include members of the NAACP and ACLU, groups that Buckhorn said he didn’t have any interest in meeting with since they seem intent on calling for the civilian review board to have subpoena powers, which the mayor says will not happen.

When asked if he was concerned that it might come across as insensitive to snub those groups, Buckhorn pivoted to discuss his support specifically for the NAACP, both as mayor and as a citizen.

“First of all the city subsidizes the NAACP to the tune of $8,000, and we have for years and I’ve approved that every year,” he said, referring to a jobs training program. Saying he’s been a card-carrying member of the group for years (though not a lifetime member), he emphasized that his reference to “fringe groups” at one point did not include them.

“I’ve heard their concerns – they haven’t been shy about voicing them,” he said. “I know where they’re coming from. I understand that. Some of this I can’t do anything about, some of which I philosophically disagree with, but I don’t think (not) meeting with them is in any way, shape or form a sign of disrespect.”

ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon expressed his disappointment with his group not getting a chance to sit down meeting with the mayor on Friday.

“I thought Chairman Reddick was dignified and showed real leadership,” Simon wrote to SPB in an email. “It escapes me why the Mayor has apparently decided to take a divisive path and imperiously dismiss meeting with leaders of community organizations – some of which he has dismissed as ‘fringe.'”

Simon went on to say that if Buckhorn would be willing to speak with community leaders, “perhaps there could be a discussion about how the people of the City of Miami were able to adopt a civilian investigative panel that – legally has the power to subpoena documents and witnesses.”

Buckhorn said today that the Florida Police Bill of Rights precludes that from happening, and that only by Miami making an amendment to the charter allowed that to be permissible.

Thania Diaz Clevenger, Civil Rights Director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Florida, said her office disagrees with that, and forwarded to reporters a legal opinion from the Florida Attorney General’s office that the organization says backs up that claim.

Buckhorn says he will review the council’s own prepared ordinance and his executive order and contact Reddick early next week with any proposed changes. The council will discuss the issue at their next meeting, scheduled for this coming Thursday, October 8.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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