Taxpayer dollars earmarked in Tampa CRB debate

Posted at 2:48 AM, Sep 18, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-18 02:48:58-04

While applications are being accepted for the Mayor’s appointed citizens review board the City Council is still looking at ways to make a review board of their own.

On Thursday, they heard from upset residents and the city attorney on a possible conflict of interest.

Frustrated City Council members voiced their concerns Thursday about the Mayor’s executive decision to appoint nine of 11 members to a citizens review board, leaving the council with no say on who holds the police department accountable.

“The problem is, it’s about jealousy, about not being able to do whatever the hell you want to do,” said District 2 Council Member, Charlie Miranda.

With no authority over the mayor’s board, the council is looking at ways to create its own citizens review board.

Thursday, they took issue with City Attorney Julia Mendell and whether or not she has the right to advise the Mayor when he and council disagree.

“If you are seen as someone that serves only the mayor and not the city you’re not doing your job,” said District 1 Council member Mike Suarez.

To clear up the issue, the City Attorney is paying an outside law firm $10,000 to investigate whether or not there’s a conflict of interest. That money would be coming from the City Attorney’s budget, which is funded by taxpayers.

“Trust me when I tell you they don’t work that cheap normally. So for them this is borderline pro-bono," said Mendell.

“We’re spending $10,000 which you have to and people out there are not eating, sleeping in the steets. I don’t feel good about it,” said Miranda.

It’s not sitting well with people we talked to either, Laila Abdelaziz says this wouldn’t be an issue if the mayor and council could get along.

Now the board created by the mayor gives members no subpoena power and the police department is not obligated to follow its recommendations.

Abdelaziz says she wants no part of something like that.

“I’m not going to waste my time on a board that rubber stamps the police department,” said Abdelaziz.

Next Thursday, the City Council will host a workshop detailing everything they want in their citizens review board using feedback from people in the community.  The outside first firm investigating whether or not there’s a conflict of interest involving the city attorney will have an answer by early next week.

The City Council also called in Tampa Police Chief Eric Ward, wanting to get more detail as to why Tampa’s review board was created similar to St. Petersburg’s. Ward said he chose a review board without subpoena power after looking at many cities including St. Petersburg.

He says he adopted the model because our crime, citizens and make up of our city.

“I like the structure of their board and the way they conducted their meetings meaning open to the public open to public comment and it was recorded, “Ward said.

The citizens review board in St. Petersburg has handled 208 cases since it was created in 2007.