Lakeland City Commission votes to support LPD advisory board, but divided on how it should operate

Mayor formed panel in wake of scandals

LAKELAND, Fla. - The Lakeland mayor's hand-picked advisory board to help get the scandal plagued police department back on track, officially got the green light from the city commission.

However, the full board appears somewhat divided on how the panel should operate.

The 10 member advisory board did not want to proceed until it new it had full support from the city board.

Commissioners voted six-to-one Monday morning to give the panel its support, but their opinions differ on how deep the panel should dig into the leaders and the scandals.

The biggest issue facing the city is the sex scandal surrounding civilian employee Sue Eberle.

She says she had sex with nearly 20 on and off duty officers -- some consensual, some against her will. About half the officers have lost their jobs, and more discipline is expected.

"The issue is in my view, leadership in this whole thing is not just a component -- it is the issue," said Commissioner Don Selvage during the agenda study session.

One of the sticking points is whether the advisory board is allowed to review the actions and performance of two key leaders: Chief of Police Lisa Womack and City Manager Doug Thomas.

As defined, the board's task is to figure out how to improve the speak-up culture at Lakeland Police and within the city, and to identify faulty policies and procedures so similar scandals don't happen in the future.

Some think it needs to go further.

"They've got to be able to go wherever it takes them," said Commissioner Justin Troller, who later presented a hypothetical to the mayor.

"So, if this committee came to us and recommended leadership needs to change at LPD and at the City of Lakeland," Troller asked Mayor Gow Fields.

The mayor responded, "If they want to come put that grenade in our lap, than that's for us to deal with. Now that's not what I charged them with doing, though."

Fields made it clear that both Womack and Thomas will answer any and all questions the panel has, and are by no means "off limits." However, the panel doesn't have the power to fire anyone.

Bruce Abels, advisory board chair, left the meeting with the answer he was looking for -- a majority vote of support from the full commission.

He's now confident the hard work his panel is about to embark on will be taken seriously, perhaps leading to real changes.

"I think the commission is still somewhat divided in terms of the approach, but at least publicly i think they have cleared up some issues," Abels said.

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