With the March 17 vote fast approaching to approve or deny Tampa Mayor Jane Castor’s selection as police chief, city council members are now suggesting her administration is behind a campaign pressure to influence the vote.
On March 3, the City Council officially set the date for the vote on Mary O’Connor. The decision to set the date came after nearly two months of controversy surrounding O’Connor.
Several councilors said the process was disrespectful to council because they did not know Mayor Castor had chosen O’Connor until a press conference on February 8, when she announced the choice to the community in her together.
At that press conference, Castor told reporters she didn’t know when O’Connor would start. But nine days later, the mayor’s chief of staff, John Bennett, later told the council that O’Connor had started the day of the press conference, also to the council’s surprise.
O’Connor’s selection was controversial in light of his past felony arrest for assaulting another law enforcement officer. She and Castor were also among the officers who oversaw the controversial “Biking while Black” police program. O’Connor was also a high-ranking TPD officer during a crime-free multi-housing program, which disproportionately evicted black tenants.
During Thursday’s meeting, Councilman Bill Carlson said the Castor administration had brought in local businessmen and other influential people in the area to pressure the council to vote yes on O’Connor.
Carlson referred to an increase in emails from business people this week who wrote in support of O’Connor.
“It looks like we have a campaign by someone in the administration who is disrespectful to the city council and the public at best,” Carlson said at the meeting.
On Friday, other advisers backed his demands with Creative Loafing Tampa Bay.
Luis Viera confirmed that he has also seen an increase in support emails from influencers in the community this week.
“I think it’s a reasonable assumption that there’s a coordinated administration effort on her. [O’Connor’s] name, given the number of negative comments she initially received,” Viera told CL.
Viera, along with other councilors who spoke to CL, said comments about O’Connor’s confirmation were mostly against his confirmation, despite emails they received this week.
President Orlando Gudes said he also received additional emails supporting Castor’s choice.
“I’m not going to press charges,” Gudes said. “I just think it’s odd and weird that influential people who don’t usually come into contact with us are reaching out to us this week.”
Advisor Guido Maniscalco noticed similarities in the messaging of recent emails, but said he wasn’t sure the emails were part of an administration campaign. “Maybe it’s all legit, you know, and they look alike. I mean, like anything, if there’s a public backlash, the administration, or whoever it is, will try to get positive feedback from it,” Mansicalco said. .
Viera offered to send CL the emails he received both in support of and against O’Connor over the past few weeks through his assistant. But his aide then contacted CL to say a city attorney had become involved and wanted the request to go through a formal public records request process, which will take days or even weeks.
But Carlson forwarded some of the emails to CL, saying they were the emails he could easily find and the public records request should fill in the rest.
An email came from Marie E. Chinnici-Everitt, Managing Director and Chief Marketing Officer of Depository Trust and Clearing Corporation (DTCC), a financial market infrastructure company.
In his email supporting O’Connor, Chinnici-Everitt wrote: “I respect the concerns you have raised, however, it is important to note that Mayor Jane Castor has always exercised good judgment in her role as Mayor and before that as Chief of Police. She served the city of Tampa with honor and dedication, bringing more than 30 years of experience to her role as mayor. I trust her judgment in selecting Chief O’Connor, and believe she deserves the support of City Council and our community. »
She went on to say that “it’s time to put aside our differences and come together in support of our mayor and the new chief of police.”
When this CL reported calling to ask Chinnici-Everitt for her email and knowledge of O’Connor’s tenure at the police department, she declined to comment on the case.
Chinnici-Everitt is a colleague of Castor. They both served on the board of the University of Tampa in 2019, and also both served on the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation when it underwent a controversial name change to “Tampa Bay EDC.”
Another email, sent by Kelley Sims, head of development at Feeding Tampa Bay, echoed Chinnici-Everitt’s praise for Castor and his support of O’Connor.
“Mayor Castor selected Chief O’Connor to be Chief of Police based on his qualifications and local and national experience,” Sims wrote. “Our Mayor is uniquely qualified to make this choice given her long career at the TPD and her role as Chief of Police. She went through the same research process as many other mayors across the country.”
This search process, however, has been mostly private, with city officials telling CL that the mayor relied on his law enforcement connections to conduct the search, which so far has not produced only minimal public documents. Castor’s approach was very different from very public research conducted by his predecessor Bob Buckhorn.
Sims went on to write that she had met O’Connor and heard about her vision for TPD and how she worked on crime reduction measures, community policing, client services, mental health and prevention measures. well-being.
“It’s time for Chief O’Connor to be confirmed. I appreciate your upvote,” Sims wrote. Over the phone, Sims reiterated what she said in her email but declined to comment further.
When asked to respond to the councilors’ claims, the city’s director of communications, Adam Smith, said:
“Is this angle of the story real? Welcome to democracy. This is called community participation. Of course, we encouraged people to speak up, just like city council members do all the time. I hope Bill Carlson doesn’t think it’s disrespectful for citizens to communicate with their elected officials.”
In response, Bill Carlson said that communication between the administration and the Castor board was rare and problematic, and that this situation was no different.
“This is another example of how a handful of city employees are working against the council and the concerns of our constituents,” Carlson said. “There is a civil way to handle a situation like this that does not damage the reputation of the city.
Yesterday’s charges come five months after TPD officials were caught driving residents to City Council so they could talk about his controversial crime-free accommodation.