Most Bradenton City Council members said they would support a review of the city charter to address question about oversight of the Bradenton Police Department.
The discussion at a workshop Wednesday was in response to allegations about the police made by the head of the local NAACP.
No votes were taken, but most council members indicated they would be in favor of a charter review and not a citizens review board for the police.
“I want to make sure we have a city that’s going to be moving in positive direction,” said Councilman Harold Byrd, Jr. who said he would favor both a police review board and a charter review. “I understand the necessity for looking at our charter codes and ordinances in relationship to the direction we want to govern, but I also think that’s a process that’s going to take a little time.”
A consistent advocate of a charter review, Councilman Patrick Roff said the provisions currently in the charter are in tune with 1903, when the charter was adopted, not 2020.
Councilmen Gene Gallo and Bill Sanders also indicated they would be for a charter review.
“I think we’ve decided we have to move forward with a charter review. I know we can’t take a vote in a workshop but I feel that’s a direction we need to get moving on,” Byrd said.
Should council officially vote to do a charter review, that process would take months, at least.
Councilman Gene Brown noted they should consider the cost factor and time frame a charter review would take.
Police Chief Melanie Bevan said she still struggled to understand what the problem was that would prompt a citizens review board. She said the department embraces oversight and is a transparent organization, pointing out the department’s annual report which is not mandated and available online.
Within that report, Bevan noted, is a section on the department’s Internal Affairs investigations of complaints against officers.
Bevan went on to gently offer the consideration of a survey of the public, to gauge citizen perception.
“As a chief, I am concerned I have folks in city that don’t have confidence in the police department and I want to address those issues,” Bevan said.
Citizens review board sees less support
Byrd said he didn’t feel there was enough council support for a police review board.
Sanders suggested looking at city ordinances to clarify council’s possible oversight of police.
Byrd didn’t see a problem with using ordinances for that purpose because citizens could come to council and address concerns. However, he continued to reiterate his support for a citizens review board.
But there was some question over exactly what oversight the council was looking for.
City attorney Scott Rudacille said his staff is looking at whether council has oversight of police department according to the current charter, but said at this point, he’s not sure council will get a clear answer. He asked council to consider exactly what oversight means.
Depending on what their definition of oversight, that could be the determination if the process would in fact be looking at the charter or ordinances.
Mayor Wayne Poston said he’s been told by attorneys in the past and it’s his understanding that he, or the mayor’s position, has oversight of the police department.
Byrd disagreed, and said he believes the council as a whole has the oversight. He’s looking for clarification on that. Gallo agreed with Byrd, and added that if he gets a complaint about the police, he goes straight to the police chief for answers, not the mayor.
Roff said he felt that though city council controls the police department’s budget, he feels there’s a disconnect with the oversight. Sanders noted that he does not feel council currently has a say in the oversight of police.
Repeating a stance he has previously held on the issue, Councilman Gallo said he would not support a citizens review board solely focused on police. He would prefer it address all city departments rather than single one out.
“I think we’re pushing a panic button for a citizens review board that does not need to be pushed,” Gallo said.
Brown agreed with Gallo, saying he gets more complaints about other city departments than the police department.
The apparent lack of support for citizens review board disappointed Rodney Jones, president of the Manatee County chapter of the NAACP.
“In a perfect world, wished it would have turned out better but I knew what it would be,” Jones said after the meeting.
Jones said he believes the city is denying problems that exist. He has previously voiced multiple complaints against Bradenton Police Department.
However, a charter review, he said, is a “must,” and called for the community to be involved in the process.
“With the charter review process, a lot of the things, the smaller inequalities we see, they can be thoroughly cleaned up with good policy and procedure and tightened up into a way that you’ll actually have a better government. You’ll have a more responsive government, a more transparent government you’ll have clear lines of authority. So a full review is a win for everyone,” Jones said.