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Tampa Attorney Julia Mandell explains why proposed police review board doesn’t have subpoena power

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Critics of Bob Buckhorn’s executive order creating a police Civilian Review Board (CRB) in the City of Tampa have two major bones to pick with the mayor.

The first is that they say he’s hogging control of the board and making it into his own fiefdom by giving himself the authority to name nine of the 11 members of the board, with the City Council given just two selections. And they say the proposed agency lacks teeth because it doesn’t have subpoena power to call witnesses.

City Attorney Julia Mandell points to the City Charter in providing the answer to both points. However, as SPB reported on Monday, City Council Chairman Frank Reddick intends to challenge her assertion regarding who has the power to name members to the agency at this Thursday’s Council meeting. Reddick intends to enlist an attorney not affiliated with the city or the City Council to give an interpretation of the law.

Critics note that the Tampa/Hillsborough County Human Rights Commission has subpoena powers, so how can the city claim that the charter doesn’t allow for it to grant a civilian review board those same powers?

Mandell tells SPB that in order for any local government in Florida to be granted subpoena powers, those powers must be delegated through some legislative act — which can come from the City’s charter, or a legislative body.

In the case of the Human Rights Commission, that legislative authority came from the federal government.

Mandell says that Tampa’s Charter does contain a provision regarding subpoena powers. Tampa City Charter Section 2.14 which states:

In the exercise of its legal powers the council or any special committee thereof shall have the power to conduct such investigations and hold such hearings as the council shall deem necessary, expedient, and proper and shall have the power to compel the attendance of witnesses and production of evidence by all forms of subpoena…

Mandell’s analysis is that it would be rare for any non-legislative board like a CRB to be vested with subpoena powers with the delegation of a specific authority.

Last week Tampa Police Chief Eric Ward said in a press conference that he studied four different CRBs throughout Florida — including Orlando, Fort Myers, Sarasota and St. Petersburg.

He did not, however, investigate how Miami’s internal review board was created, which disappoints Laila Abdelaziz from Tampa for Justice, the community-driven group that has created its own Civilian Review Board draft ordinance. That’s because Miami’s CRB does have subpoena power.

But Tampa City Attorney Julia Mandell says that originally Miami’s charter included the same language as Tampa’s, and thus was later struck down by the Florida District Court, which concluded that its charter did not provide adequate authority for the delegation of subpoena powers to its civilian review board.

The City Council can make changes through its City Charter, but interestingly hasn’t done so in years, if not decades. That’s a far cry from how the Hillsborough County Charter works. This summer, as happens every five years, the Charter Review Board, consisting of 14 people named by the commissioners, has been meeting on a monthly basis to discuss issues like changing the contours of the county commission, as well as term limits.

However, the board has announced that it will be holding a workshop on the Charter soon.

“There’s things in there that changed 30 some years ago,” says City Council member Yolie Capin of the Charter. “It needs a good looking at and so that’s what we’re proposing.”

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 [email protected]

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