Despite City Manager Bob Bartolotta’s push to hire an outside consultant, the Sarasota City Commission on Monday voted to use a local panel of volunteers to investigate the Sarasota Police Department.
Bartolotta suggested spending $65,000 to hire a consulting firm to conduct a systematic review of the department following the videotaped kicking of a handcuffed suspect in June.
However, some members of the City Commission, led by Vice Mayor Kelly Kirschner, questioned spending that money when four local volunteers were willing to do the job.
“I find it hard to believe we don’t want to use local community members,” Kirschner said.
The four locals include anti-corruption consultant Peter Graham, Selby foundation President and CEO Dr. Sarah Pappas and USF criminology professors Dr. Earnest Scott and Dr. James Unnever. They all are part of the Blue Ribbon Citizens Panel the commission created to repair what it considered a dysfunctional relationship between the police department and many community members, especially minorities. (See box.)
Kirschner’s recommendation met resistance from Commissioner Terry Turner, who argued it was unwise to second-guess Bartolotta’s recommendation.
“I think we should hold the city manager accountable for results — not micromanage him,” he said. “We need to quit revisiting every issue.”
Kirschner responded by reminded the commission that the city spent $70,000 18 months ago to hire Matrix Consulting Group to perform a different evaluation for the police department. Many of the Matrix’s suggestions from that investigation still have not been put into action, he said.
“The Matrix work will probably sit on a shelf and not be implemented,” Kirschner said, suggesting that the volunteers would be more effective.
Bartolotta countered that the consultant to whom Kirschner was referring was hired to advise the city on how best to deal with budget cuts in the police department — not a review of its procedures.
However, Kirschner’s arguments were too strong, and he garnered enough votes to kill the proposal to hire a consultant. Both Commissioner Fredd Atkins and Mayor Dick Clapp chose to go with the local panel.
“If that doesn’t work, we can come back and hire the consultant,” Clapp said.
The City Commission appointed 11 members to a Blue Ribbon Citizens Panel, which commissioners created to provide input into how the police department interacts with the community.
The panel members include: Susan Chapman, former chairwoman of the Coalition of City Neighborhoods Association; Adam Tebrugge, former assistant public defender; Father Celestino Gutierrez, pastor of St. Jude Church; Manuel Chepote, of Chepote Insurance Inc.; Dan Bailey, attorney; Ed James, executive producer of Black Almanac; John McGruder, board member of Sarasota United for Responsibility and Equity; Captain Wayne Genther, board chairman of WSLR; Stewart Stearns, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County; Maria Gelinas, president of the Central Cocoanut Neighborhood Association; and Barbara Langston, liaison for the Amaryllis Park Neighborhood Association.
When it was time to nominate an African-American member to the Blue Ribbon Citizens Panel, Commissioner Terry Turner nominated Pastor William Hild, of First Baptist Church.
City staff had mistakenly put Hild on the list of African-American nominees. Hild is white.
Commissioner Fredd Atkins had a laugh at that and said: “He’s the pastor of First Baptist Church. They wouldn’t have an African-American there yet.”
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