St. Pete official rejects Tallahassee police chief job

St. Petersburg Assistant Police Chief Antonio Gilliam blames Tallahassee officials for the breakdown in contract talks.
St. Pete assistant police chief Antonio Gilliam speaks during a news conference Dec. 5 in St. Petersburg. Gilliam was set to be Tallahassee’s next police chief, but he pulled out of the job Thursday after contract negotiations soured.
St. Pete assistant police chief Antonio Gilliam speaks during a news conference Dec. 5 in St. Petersburg. Gilliam was set to be Tallahassee’s next police chief, but he pulled out of the job Thursday after contract negotiations soured. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published Dec. 19, 2019|Updated Dec. 20, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — Assistant Police Chief Antonio Gilliam said he will not become the next police chief in his hometown of Tallahassee.

The longtime St. Petersburg police commander said Thursday he pulled out of contract negotiations because Tallahassee officials would not commit to certain provisions they had already verbally agreed upon. In a scathing three-page statement that laid out a timeline of negotiations and why they broke down, Gilliam blamed city officials there for deceiving him, leaving him with no choice but to back out.

“Despite unnecessary unresponsiveness, lack of internal coordination, and potential untruths on the part of some persons, I remained determined to arrive in Tallahassee,” Gilliam said. “However, an individual can only proceed so far before his cognitive abilities overrides the emotion of returning home at any and all costs.”

He went on, addressing Tallahassee residents: “I wanted to become your next police chief, but it should have been the priority of others in certain positions to want the same, and to get the job done.”

RELATED: St. Pete assistant police chief will be Tallahassee’s top cop

Tallahassee City Manager Reese Goad held a news conference Friday and denied Gilliam’s assertion that city officials misled anyone about the contract negotiations. He said the city would select a new chief from eight other finalists.

Gilliam, 41, said he asked for the power to hire and fire his own command staff, a standard prerogative enjoyed by law enforcement commanders such as St. Petersburg’s own police chief.

He also asked for a contract provision stating that Tallahassee’s city manager cannot fire him without cause before October 2026 — the month he was set to retire had he stayed at the St. Petersburg Police Department.

Goad and Assistant City Manager Cynthia Barber verbally agreed to those terms twice, Gilliam said. But when he got his first written offer of employment on Dec. 2, he said there was no language addressing autonomy over his staff, and his tenure was only for five years — a year less than his October 2026 request.

Gilliam said he discussed his concerns with Goad. The city manager then sent him a revised offer of employment on Dec. 4, “this time containing much of the initially agreed upon terms,” Gilliam said in his statement.

But those terms never made it into the employment contract, Gilliam said. Instead versions of the contract were “devoid of any discussion regarding command staff autonomy” and included language that Gilliam could be fired at the behest of the city manager, not just for cause.

Goad said Friday that the city offered Gilliam “the most lucrative agreement in the history of the city of Tallahassee” that would have paid $2.1 million over seven years. Goad also said the city included language that defined the terms under which the chief could be fired and included severance.

“We were willing (to negotiate)," Goad said. "But that’s his choice.”

A Tallahassee city commissioner took to Twitter to side with Gilliam, saying his requests were reasonable “considering the tenure of previous police chiefs and the politics of coming to a city with one of the highest crime rates in the state.” The previous chiefs resigned amid battles with public perception of the department and the city’s crime rate.

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“If we aren’t willing to give a police chief the same considerations we give a football coach, where does that leave us?” Commissioner Jeremy Matlow said. “Completely baffled that this was mishandled and I will do a thorough investigation to find out what happened between the job offer and now.”

Gilliam has spent 18 years with the St. Petersburg Police Department, serving as a patrol officer and undercover vice and narcotics detective. He commanded the first street crimes unit, became a sergeant in 2008, lieutenant in 2010 and major in 2015. Last year he became assistant chief of investigative services last year.

Gilliam said Thursday he will stay on at the department as an assistant chief. He’ll move over to the department’s administrative services bureau on Jan. 6 as part of a previously scheduled reassignment, a spokesperson said.

Editor’s note: This story was updated Friday after the Tallahassee city manager held a news conference.