Grand jury report critical of Lakeland police chief and "favoritisim" toward friend she hired

City spent 225-thousand to keep it sealed

LAKELAND, Fla. - The grand jury report that the City of Lakeland spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep sealed has been released.

The 18-page report criticizes Chief of Police Lisa Womack and even questions whether she should keep her job.

"We discovered two major problems: Chief Womack's attitude regarding public records and Chief Womack employing long-time friend, Ann Dinges as Public Information Officer," the report said.

Shortly after Chief Womack got the job in Lakeland in March 2011, she hired Dinges who she worked with in the past.

"There is no question that Ann Dinges is woefully unqualified and completely incompetent to properly perform the role of PIO," the grand jury wrote.

Numerous complaints were made by the media about Dinges not returning phone calls and not providing adequate public records, but the grand jury found she was still given an excellent review by Womack.

"We find Womack's evaluation of Dinges to be outrageous. This is a gross example of favoritism. Dinges reports to Chief Womack only. Dinges is untouchable. Chief Womack will not even hear of any criticism of Dinges," the report said.

Around the same time of the grand jury investigation, Dinges was moved to a newly created position that doesn't directly deal with the media. She still makes the same 60-thousand dollar salary.

"The taxpayers of Lakeland should be appalled," the report read.

Late Friday afternoon, the city held a press conference defending the chief and her decision to hire Dinges.

"I objected to it then and I object to it now," Womack said about the newly released report.

City leaders said most of the findings are opinions, half-truths, and inaccurate.

The chief also said many changes have been made since the report was complete to improve the release of information.

She denies the allegation of favoritism.

"I think that's completely inaccurate," she said. "Ann Dinges is very qualified for the position she was hired for. She meets all the qualifications and exceeds some."

City Manager Doug Thomas called the report "old news" and mostly false.

"You'll see no smoking gun. Not even a water pistol," he said.

He also defended the city's decision to spend more than 225-thousand dollars in legal fees on the grand jury investigation.

Most of it went to keeping the report secret -- which doesn't sit well with Mayor-elect Howard Wiggs.

"How can we justify paying taxpayer money to suppress evidence in a case where it looks like somebody just did not want to be embarrassed," Wiggs said.

Read the city's response here: http://bit.ly/18JZtaS
 

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