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Sarasota Thursday, Jul. 22, 2010 7 years ago

Mayor, city manager spar

by: Robin Roy City Editor

Mayor Kelly Kirschner and City Manager Bob Bartolotta got into a heated exchange at a public meeting July 19, during a debate over the Police Advisory Panel’s recommendations.

“Don’t set us up for failure,” Bartolotta told Kirschner.

The mayor shot back: “If you’re concerned about setting yourself up for failure, perhaps we need someone else in management.”

The back-and-forth came while city staff members presented their response to the 111 recommendations and sub-recommendations the Police Advisory Panel said would improve the Sarasota Police Department.

Staff’s interpretation of the panel’s report suggested adopting 93 of the panel’s recommendations. They added that 40 of the measures had already been adopted or completed.

But panel members expected all of their recommendations to be fully adopted.

“I (am) strongly disappointed,” said James Unnever, a USF professor who served as a panel adviser. “I am bewildered there wasn’t an acknowledgement of an issue of trust between the people of Newtown and the police department.”

Because of budget constraints, union contracts and other concerns, city staff did not support 14 of the recommendations, including:

• Creating a permanent Police Advisory Panel.

• Deleting language that would make it difficult to prosecute people who make false accusations against police officers.

• Revising the Early Intervention Program, which helps identify problem officers.

• Allocating money to help the department recruit minority officers.

• Providing housing to officers living in high-crime areas.

• Conducting a $40,000 to $80,000 citizens survey to gauge the success of the police-department changes.

A police department and staff analysis of the panel’s recommendations concluded implementing all the suggested changes would cost the city more than $500,000. That estimate sparked the argument between the mayor and city manager.

The panel members said they believed something such as the permanent police panel could be achieved at no cost.

The city manager disagreed.

“If you want to rely on your staff to estimate cost, that’s one way, or if you want to rely on this panel for estimates of cost,” Bartolotta said to Kirschner. “But don’t tell us to implement this for no cost and then when we’re unable to do it, hold us accountable for failure.”

Bartolotta took exception to the fact that the police panel members assumed each of their recommendations would be automatically adopted into practice.

“This was not intended to be an implementation plan,” he said. “You assigned the panel to get recommendations. You received 111. You referred (the recommendations) to staff for comment. We had one month to come up with (our) recommendations. If you say implement something, we’ll figure it out.”

Kirschner, who was instrumental in creating the police panel, said he was bothered by a disconnect between panel members and city management.

“That’s what’s particularly troublesome,” the mayor said. “I took particular issue that you spent a month-and-a-half in a vacuum, and you’re telling us don’t worry about how it’s done. We’re talking to technical experts who are paid to consult all around the world.”

Commissioner Terry Turner then came to the defense of the city manager and his staff.

“Do you represent that you’re experts in the cost of these plans?” Turner asked the panel’s advisers. “Are you experts in budget analysis?”

When adviser Peter Graham replied that he was not, Turner cut him off with a “thank you.”

Police Chief Mikel Hollaway then weighed in, asking that the commission allow the police department to properly staff a recommended Complaints Against Police Office that would field all citizen complaints against Sarasota’s police officers.

“If we are going to do this CAPO, let us staff it correctly,” he said. “If we are not going to staff it correctly, let it remain as it is, and we’ll make adjustments.”

Hollaway then defended his officers against charges from some panel and community members that Sarasota police practice unfair treatment of minorities.

“The young men and women in this uniform have given their lives to serve this community,” said Hollaway. “Those who question our integrity and how hard we work, I’m very upset with that. We are the ones risking our lives. You pay us to protect you, and we do it. We have a lot of Monday morning quarterbacks who wish to tell us how to do it.”

Police Panel Chairwoman Susan Chapman suggested conducting a separate workshop to try to come to a consensus on adopting the recommendations.

Three commissioners — Kirschner, Vice Mayor Fredd Atkins and Commissioner Dick Clapp — supported Chapman’s suggestion.

“I want to be as careful as possible to make sure this process takes place,” said Atkins. “We can’t lose this opportunity.”

Commissioners Turner and Suzanne Atwell did not agree. Turner said it was a small group of people who were complaining about police treatment. He cited a small turnout at two forums in the minority community, in which citizens were asked to take part in the process.

“All due respect to Commissioner Atkins, he’s in that group of people who feel we have a huge problem,” said Turner. “I feel we have a small problem. I don’t know how the commission can assert disparate treatment (of minorities) when we didn’t talk to a white focus group.”

With a majority of the commission in support of a workshop, it was approved and will be scheduled at a future date.

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