ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman has said transparency is an important part of his administration.
Yet twice on Thursday, city staffers tried to limit reporters' access to the final four police chief candidates while they were meeting with two key groups — the City Council and police officers.
Interim Police Chief David DeKay asked a reporter to temporarily leave the main area at the Coliseum where the candidates were meeting with police personnel for about an hour before the public was let in at 5 p.m., even though the Mayor's Office had cleared the request earlier in the week. DeKay said he wanted officers, who'd also had a chance to meet with the candidates that morning at the police station, to feel more comfortable.
And although an earlier meet and greet with the council was noticed as a public meeting and listed on the city's website, officials on Thursday initially kept reporters from attending that, too.
Security guards told a TV crew that it was not allowed upstairs. Then, once reporters did get upstairs, they were kept outside in a hallway.
City spokesman Ben Kirby said the administration didn't have a problem with reporters being present, but that the legal department advised him that the meeting did not fall under state open meetings laws because the matter is not coming before the council.
"The fact that they noticed it as a public meeting is (the administration's) problem," City Attorney John Wolfe said. "The council can meet with them because they're not making the decision. They have no say on who is going to be police chief."
About 30 minutes after the meeting's scheduled start, officials let reporters into the council's conference room. The candidates and council members stood around, chatting about community policing, juvenile crime and the size of the police force.
Later Thursday, during the regular weekly meeting, the council voted to have an open discussion about the candidates.