‘A city in chaos’: Tampa City Council at odds with Mayor over new Police Chief
Image via City of Tampa.

Mary O'Connor
'It's not a Black issue. You've got rich white folks that are calling up saying they don't understand the process.'

Tampa City Council Chair Orlando Gudes said he wasn’t going to play politics or pull any punches when discussing Mayor Jane Castor’s newly appointed police chief.

“We can’t sugarcoat what it is,” Gudes, a former Tampa Police officer said. “We have a city in chaos right now.”

Nearly all of the city’s seven Council members have expressed concern over the selection of Mary O’Connor as chief. Council member Joe Citro has gone so far as to say he won’t vote to confirm O’Connor.

The 22-year Tampa Police veteran has spent the last five years as a law enforcement consultant and received accolades during her second stint with TPD.

But her first stint nearly landed her in prison. In her first year with TPD (after serving two with Madeira Beach Police) O’Connor was arrested for battering a law enforcement officer in the same city where she is now the top cop. Despite the charge being a felony, the judge in the case withheld adjudication and ordered her to write a letter of apology.

Gudes said he believes in second chances. O’Connor said the same when her appointment was announced earlier this month. But Gudes and other Council members said they’ve been getting calls from people they never expected to hear from. Gudes said he has even received calls from powerful people he has never met, shedding light not just on the opposition to the Mayor’s choice but how the city’s leaders value different voices from different members of the community.

Gudes said he got many calls before he was able to leave his chair for lunch.

“I got a call from a powerful man in the city. A philanthropist who does a lot of stuff in the city. A lot,” Gudes said. “I’ve never even really talked to this man before, but somehow he had my number to call me. I’ve never even met this man before. It’s not a Black issue with the selection this time. Be honest with yourself, gentleman. It’s not a Black issue. You’ve got rich white folks that are calling up saying they don’t understand the process. Again, I believe in second chances.”

Gudes called on Castor’s chief of staff, John Bennett — himself a former assistant chief at TPD — and City Attorney Gina Grimes to discuss the selection and the public pushback. In addition to O’Connor’s arrest, community members expressed concern that she had a prominent role in the agency during some of its darkest and most controversial days, like when the “biking while Black” policy was in place. Others were shocked that Tampa native Ruben “Butch” Delgado, who served as interim chief between Brian Dugan’s resignation and O’Connor’s appointment, was not selected. Even Tampa’s local police union supported Delgado during the selection process.

“The community, the Republicans and Democrats, they want Butch and they don’t want this applicant,” Council member Bill Carlson said. “I don’t have any bias either way. I like both of them. But the community is jumping up and down and telling us. Very powerful people are contacting us. And most importantly, police officers are contacting us.”

Under Tampa’s charter, the Mayor is able to select the Police Chief, then has 90 days to submit the candidate to the Council for approval. If the Council doesn’t approve the choice, the Mayor can keep bringing the candidate back, setting up a possible stalemate if a new applicant isn’t presented. In the meantime, the applicant — O’Connor in this case — continues to run the Police Department.

Citro asked for a vote during Thursday’s City Council meeting, but other Council members preferred to wait until next week to vote on approving Castor’s choice. They said they wanted to give O’Connor more time to address issues within the community. However, all but Council member Charlie Miranda indicated they would be hesitant to vote in favor of O’Connor.

Bennett said if the City Council does vote her down, he’s not sure if she would be brought back for reconsideration.

“Mayor Castor’s pick for somebody who is accountable and responsible for the safety of this city is Mary O’Connor,” Bennett said. “And when we bring Mary O’Connor forward, if it doesn’t get confirmed then we’ll have to have that discussion at that time. We all want the best for the city.”

But Carlson said the Mayor’s office shouldn’t try to sell the public on someone they don’t want and should maybe pick a new candidate.

“I would not like to vote down somebody. I would like to vote for somebody,” he said. “So I encourage you to listen to the public and bring a candidate the public supports.”

Daniel Figueroa IV

Bronx, NY —> St. Pete, Fla. Just your friendly, neighborhood journo junkie with a penchant for motorcycles and Star Wars. Daniel has spent the last decade covering Tampa Bay and Florida for the Ledger of Lakeland, Tampa Bay Times, and WMNF. You can reach Daniel Figueroa IV at [email protected]


3 comments

  • Barton Bonbrest

    February 18, 2022 at 10:19 am

    I find this decision, to nominate a police officer with such a grievous record disrespectful to the community and the Tampa Police Department. Below see the link to her arrest, it was serious and became escalated when she refused to cooperate. I seriously question her nomination.

    https://www.tampabay.com/archive/1995/05/27/officer-jailed-on-dui-charge/

  • ed〰️in

    February 18, 2022 at 10:18 pm

    O’Connor in this case — continues to run the Police Department.

    How in the he** can O’Conor be running the Tampa Police Department if she has not being confirmed? Its like getting paid without being officially hired for the job. SMH

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