Tampa Mayor Jane Castor undercut her own choice for police chief with a selection process that all but excluded any public input. That’s why the Tampa City Council, which must confirm any appointment, pushed back so hard on Thursday, and why there are no winners whatever the outcome.
This month, Castor tapped Mary O’Connor to lead the Tampa Police Department, where she spent 22 years climbing through the ranks before retiring as an assistant chief in 2016. Her appointment signals one thing — that O’Connor has the confidence of both Castor, who ran the department herself before being elected mayor, and John Bennett, the mayor’s chief of staff, another former assistant police chief. But what’s the qualification beyond that? The lack of transparency makes it hard to know.
The mayor’s office would have you believe that O’Connor was selected as the “best and brightest” from a national search that produced two other finalists: interim chief Ruben “Butch” Delgado and Miami Police Department Assistant Chief Cherise Gause. But it couldn’t say who or how many others were considered or explain a vetting process that looked shakier by the day.
In what served as a dress rehearsal for O’Connor’s nomination hearing, council members gave Bennett an earful Thursday about a search process that they saw as closed, biased and perhaps fatally flawed. Whether those legitimate complaints ultimately sink the nomination remains to be seen. But no one can defend a search that included only one semi-public event, an invitation-only audience with the finalists. Is that the mayor’s idea of transparency?
Several council members have said they prefer Delgado, though given the secrecy involved, it’s unclear what any of the finalists bring to the table. Why this administration rushed a selection is anybody’s guess. Same with why it didn’t bother doing the legwork required to get a finalist confirmed.
So now the nominee is wounded, a second choice — Delgado — is caught in a bind, and the mayor and council have further politicized the post of police chief. Talk about a friendly-fire episode.
This all could have been avoided with a collaborative process that reflected both the mayor’s authority to appoint a chief and the council’s discretion to consent. Now the most important department at City Hall is the center of a power struggle — one sure to outlast any confirmation vote in the coming weeks.
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