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Castor remains opposed to independent attorney, subpoena power for police board

The Tampa City Council will meet in a special meeting next week to try to find a solution.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, speaking in May at a press event. On Wednesday, Castor said she remains opposed to key changes sought by police reform activists.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, speaking in May at a press event. On Wednesday, Castor said she remains opposed to key changes sought by police reform activists. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Jun. 9
Updated Jun. 10

TAMPA — For a year, Mayor Jane Castor and City Council members have not seen eye to eye on police reform.

But things are heating up before a scheduled June 17 final vote on a proposed overhaul of the city’s Citizens Review Board.

Chairman Orlando Gudes said Wednesday he has agreed to schedule a special call meeting next week to update council on the mayor’s positions, after he met with her and senior staff Tuesday.

The date of the meeting hasn’t been set but would have to come before next Thursday. Castor said she isn’t supportive of the current proposal scheduled for a vote. She said she hoped she could find common ground with council members.

“I don’t know if I’d call it a compromise,” she said, but a conversation toward a solution.

That may be hard to find, considering the 5-2 vote in favor of the existing ordinance, which would give City Council a 7-4 edge in board appointments.

Castor told the Tampa Bay Times Wednesday that she isn’t willing to concede on giving an independent attorney, investigators and subpoena power to the 11-member volunteer board.

Changing the board’s “sway” from where the mayor controls the majority of appointments to one in which the council does, doesn’t solve anything, she said.

Castor agreed to a previous deal to split appointments 5-5, with the final appointment reserved for a Tampa NAACP member.

That’s what should be agreed upon, Castor said.

“I’m not willing to compromise on that,” she said in an interview in her office.

Castor could veto any ordinance, which would require five votes to overturn. That means she would have to pick up one council member to back her.

Council members have also explored sending the question of independent investigators and attorneys to Tampa voters.

Castor’s administration says council members lack authority under the city charter to make these changes without the mayor’s approval.

But the mayor advanced a different argument Wednesday, saying that decisions about the board’s composition and power shouldn’t be passed off to voters in a charter amendment.

“We were all elected by the people to make decisions in the best interests of the community,” Castor said. “These are proposals in search of a problem.”

Castor said her experience as a consultant in Miami showed her that the money spent on attorneys for that city’s police review panel was ineffective. She said costs ran in excess of $1 million.

“There are plenty of places we can put that $1 million to use,” she said, mentioning body cameras and mental health response as examples.

At least one other council member has had discussions with senior staff about the board.

Bill Carlson said he has had “several discussions” with staff “over a wide variety of options” to reach a consensus.

Asked Wednesday if the options he might support would include scrapping the independent attorney for the board, Carlson said he would only “support those changes if there was a good reason.”

He said he is open to a compromise because the larger goal is so important: protecting the public and the police.

Kelly Benjamin, a social justice activist who has been involved in review board issues since the fight with former mayor Bob Buckhorn to create the panel in 2015, said the mayor is standing in the way of more community control over policing.

“She’s just clamping down,” Benjamin said. “It’s unbelievable.”