PALMETTO — A police chief who hooked his dad’s police night stick to his belt to play cops and robbers as a boy announced his retirement at a hastily held press conference Wednesday at Palmetto City Hall.
Palmetto Police Chief Garry Lowe, 48, will retire effective Sept. 3, according to Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover-Bryant.
She said Lowe first approached her about retiring in 2009.
“He obviously had a lot of reservations about retirement since he was committed to serving the full term of his four-year commitment, coinciding with my term,” she said to an audience of press members, Lowe’s family, several officers and city staff members. “After a great deal of consideration, Chief Lowe has decided now is the time he would like to make that change.”
Groover-Bryant credited Lowe for his strong ties to the community and said he helped her in the selection process for his successor, looking at candidates inside and outside the department.
The retirement announcement comes amid scrutiny about the department’s high number of unsolved murders, as well as Lowe’s thousands of dollars in unpaid property taxes.
Pending approval by the Palmetto City Commission, Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Rick Wells, the son of former Manatee County Sheriff Charlie Wells, will be named the city’s next police chief, she said.
Lowe was named the city’s first black police chief nine years ago when former Chief Kenny Bright was placed on administrative leave after Manatee sheriff’s investigators cited the department had issues with racial jokes, horseplay and a lack of disciplinary action, according to Herald archives.
Lowe began working at the department as a teenager when he was 19 years old and is known throughout the community for his gregarious and easy going personality.
Initially just an interim chief, Lowe stayed on at the city’s request and worked to get the department back on track by starting diversity training.
The department became accredited under Lowe and a citizen’s police academy was started.
“I love the city of Palmetto. I think we got a lot accomplished,” said Lowe, clad in a grey suit and red tie. “I met a lot of friends over the years. ... It’s not very often that a young recruit would get an opportunity to go from the bottom to the top. I thank God for that opportunity.”
In an interview with the Herald when he first became chief, Lowe said, “I’m not the chief by coincidence. I have worked for this my entire life.”
Lowe was once wounded while working an off-duty security detail in 1989 when he was inside of a bar, A Touch of Class, and tried to halt a brawl. A woman sliced a razor blade down the right side of his face gouging him from the top of his head to his cheek, according to Herald archives.
Lowe declined to state what factors led him to retire.
When asked, he said, “It’s a great opportunity. I think I served the city well.”
When Lowe was asked if he had any plans, he said outside City Hall, “Just chilling. I’m going to Disneyland.”
Recent issues raised
Lowe’s retirement comes less than a month after the Herald ran a story on the Palmetto Police Department’s inability to make an arrest in any of the city’s seven homicide cases since 2002.
And this past year, Lowe, who owns several properties with his wife, Paula Scott Lowe, failed to pay property taxes on 10 properties they own, dating back to 2008 tax years in some cases.
As of Wednesday night, Lowe owed a delinquent tax bill of $33,845, according to the Tax Collector’s website.
Lowe makes a gross annual salary of $94,135, according to city records.
Groover-Bryant said Lowe’s retirement was not forced and had nothing to do with the number of open homicide cases in the city or the fact that his taxes on some city parcels remain unpaid. She said she never received a lot of feedback from residents on either issue.
“Even on taxes, one would think there might be more concern,” she said. “A lot of big developers use that as a tool for financing, though.”
Wells needs approval
It’s unclear what the city will pay Wells.
Groover-Bryant said salary negotiations were still underway pending commission approval.
Commission members will take a vote on Wells becoming the next chief at a July 19 meeting.
“It is the depth and breadth of this individual’s experience that instills great confidence in his ability to assume command of the Palmetto Police Department,” Groover-Bryant said as she introduced Wells.
Wells declined to comment at Groover-Bryant’s request since he is not yet approved.
Wells has worked in law enforcement for 26 years, holding numerous positions with Florida Highway Patrol. He left as a sergeant and was named a lieutenant at Manatee County Sheriff’s Office about three years ago.
Groover-Bryant said she is recommending Wells for a two-and-a-half-year term as chief to coincide with her current term as mayor. Four out of five commission members must approve Wells, she said.
During the past year, Wells has trained in various areas of the sheriff’s office, held the title of assistant to executive management and worked on projects, said Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube.
“I can tell you he is a great communicator and that will help him in the city of Palmetto with the diverse community they have over there,” Steube said. “I think he’s able to work and talk with anybody.”