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Tampa City Council moves forward on police reform. Will Jane Castor veto it?

After nearly two hours of often heated debate, council members vote to give themselves control of appointments for the police oversight board.
Tori Brown, far right,  waits for a turn to speak at a Citizens Review Board meeting at the Tampa Convention Center on Tuesday, June 23, 2020.
Tori Brown, far right, waits for a turn to speak at a Citizens Review Board meeting at the Tampa Convention Center on Tuesday, June 23, 2020. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published May 20
Updated May 20

TAMPA — The power struggle in Tampa over who controls police conduct flashed into the open Thursday between council members and Mayor Jane Castor’s administration.

Council members voted 5-2 to give themselves control over seven appointments to the 11-member Citizen Review Board, along with other, non-controversial changes to the volunteer advisory board.

The often heated debate was largely a continuation of a fight over legislative power that the City Council and Castor have been engaged in since street protests over the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer last May.

Related: Tampa CIty Council tweaks police oversight board. City Attorney says mayor must approve changes

The Citizens Review Board has often been derided by activists as “toothless” since its 2015 creation.

Castor had wanted a 5-5-1 split, with the 11th board member being someone from the NAACP appointed by council.

The rhetoric leading up to that vote often ended up with interruptions and raised voices. Chairman Orlando Gudes summed it up: “We had an intense meeting.”

At one point, Police Chief Brian Dugan, who said the council’s proposal “neutered” him as a police chief, told John Dingfelder that he and his fellow officers didn’t “feel the love” professed by Dingfelder.

Dugan pushed for council members to adopt Castor’s proposal. Only Luis Viera and Charlie Miranda agreed.

Castor should veto the ordinance if she doesn’t support it, Gudes said.

Castor’s office was mum on the mayor’s plans Thursday.

But assistant city attorney Ursula Richardson said the current board was created by a joint executive order by former mayor Bob Buckhorn and an ordinance adopted by council members. The language creating the board says only the mayor can initiate changes, Richardson said, suggesting that overriding the veto isn’t even an option.

That didn’t sit well with Dingfelder.

“The only ordinance we can approve is the one the mayor has blessed?” Dingfelder asked. “If you’re saying we need the mayor’s approval then we shouldn’t be allowed to adopt any ordinance at all.”

Miranda said he didn’t want Tampa to become a partisan battleground like Washington, D.C. and that there had to be a “friendly” way to resolve the impasse.

Guido Maniscalco said he wanted to be a peacemaker and didn’t understand what the big deal was over control of council appointments.

Gudes quickly responded: “I can tell you what it is, Mr. Maniscalco. It’s power and fear.”

For now, council members will take a final vote on June 17, capping a year of seven discussions, often with vocal, passionate advocates like the ACLU and the city’s police union on opposite sides.

Castor could veto it, which would take a super-majority of five members to override, the same as Thursday’s vote totals.

Bill Carlson suggested that council members might have to sue the city or the mayor over who has the legislative authority to control the board and potentially expand its powers.

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Carlson and most other council members believe the city charter gives them the power.

City Attorney Gina Grimes said the charter did no such thing. Control over the police remains with the mayor under the charter, she said.

“City Council’s legislative power doesn’t extend to police because the charter says otherwise,” Grimes said.

City Council attorney Martin Shelby appeared to disagree, although he pleaded with council not to act Thursday but to wait for him to work with city legal staff to reach a resolution.

Many council members want the review board to have subpoena power, independent investigators and the board to have its own lawyer. Castor has opposed all three moves.

Dugan said his officers are worn down by public hostility and uncertainty on how they will be supervised. And who will do the supervising.

“The CRB isn’t the golden ticket that everybody seems to think it is,” Dugan said.

After the meeting, Castor and Dugan briefly met with reporters to express their frustration with council’s actions. They also announced a list of non-controversial reforms already agreed on between the administration and council that Dugan will put into effect administratively. Those include citizen interview panels for prospective officers and board members being alerted monthly about new citizen complaints.