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Bradenton mayor vetoes police reform, keeps control of department

Discussion around the charter amendment kicked off last summer, when the local NAACP chapter asked the city to implement a citizens oversight committee for the Bradenton Police Department. That power now rests with the mayor’s office.

BRADENTON — An ordinance that would have allowed Bradenton voters to strip power from the mayor’s office has been vetoed by Mayor Wayne Poston.

Poston previously expressed his concern with the ordinance, which would have put a charter amendment on the Nov. 3 ballot. Voters would have determined whether to remove the mayor’s responsibility as commissioner of police for the Bradenton Police Department.

“The suggested changes are not in the best interest of Bradenton or its citizens. The changes were conceived by too few people,” Poston said at Wednesday’s Bradenton City Council meeting.

Some council members said they predicted the mayor’s veto and were disappointed in Poston’s decision.

“Personally, I saw it heading in this direction a long time ago,” said Councilman Harold Byrd Jr., after Poston read his statement vetoing the ordinance. “It’s no surprise to me that we’re at this juncture.”

Byrd is challenging Poston for mayor in the November election.

The discussion around the charter amendment first kicked off last summer, when the local NAACP chapter asked the city to implement a citizens oversight committee for the Bradenton Police Department. That power now rests with the mayor’s office.

According to Police Chief Melanie Bevan, her department continues to research other police review boards across the state of Florida to find the best method possible.

“We are actively researching different models. What I’m trying to find is what works best for the agency, for the citizens, for the officials here within the city,” Bevan told council members. “I work for the mayor, I work for you all, but I also work for the people, so those discussions have been going on with various members of various groups, along with a discussion on body cameras and my commitment, as well, to move forward with testing and evaluating those.”

“It’s an appropriate question and we’re looking into the right way,” Poston added. “My thought is that it shouldn’t be the council that should be the review board. It should be citizens serving as the review board.”

Opponents said that approach exists solely to benefit Poston, who stands to retain his role as commissioner of police.

“It only benefits you, not the people,” Councilman Bill Sanders told Poston. “In this time of crisis that we’re witnessing, I believe we’re the first governmental agency to not want reform. I’m appalled.”

The council made an attempt to override Poston’s veto, which failed by a 3-2 vote, with Councilman Gene Brown and Councilman Gene Gallo voting against.

According to the city’s code of ordinances, any ordinance approved by City Council must be approved by the mayor. If the mayor chooses to veto, the objections must be submitted in writing to council members at the next regular meeting.

Council members first approved ordinance 3064 at the May 27 meeting. A four-vote super-majority is required for City Council to override a mayoral veto.

Brown and Gallo agreed that the charter needs to be changed but noted that the process should have involved more community engagement.

“The proper way to do this is just like the mayor stated in his letter. We need at least two people from each ward and we need meetings to discuss the charter and then we can go to the community and get their opinion about what to put on the ballot,” Gallo said.

“We’re not giving them the opportunity when we say we want A, B and C, and we want you to vote on it,” he added.

Brown took issue with the attempt to give the entire City Council the power to oversee the police department, citing the limitation that would occur due to Florida’s Sunshine Law, which prevents elected officials who serve on the same board to communicate privately.

“For a legislative body to run any department, five people would have a hard time doing that,” Brown argued. “We’re not able to talk or negotiate anything outside this room, and it would be difficult to run a police department that way.”

Bradenton voters will still vote on two other charter amendments in November. The referendum questions ask voters to approve the clarification of the vice mayor’s powers in the mayor’s absence and to approve the removal of archaic language that specifically refers to the mayor and the police chief as men.

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