Tampa City Councilmen suggest mayor's staff is behind pressure campaign for 'yes' vote on police chief

Council is set to either confirm or deny Mary O'Connor as TPD police chief on March 17.

click to enlarge Jane Castor announces Mary O'Connor as her police chief pick in February. - City of Tampa/Twitter
City of Tampa/Twitter
Jane Castor announces Mary O'Connor as her police chief pick in February.
With a fast approaching March 17 vote to approve or deny Tampa Mayor Jane Castor's selection for police chief, members of city council are now suggesting that her administration is behind a pressure campaign to sway the vote.

On March 3, city council officially scheduled the date for the vote on Mary O'Connor.  The decision to set the date came after nearly two months of controversy surrounding  O'Connor.

Multiple councilmen have said the process was disrespectful to council, because they didn't know Mayor Castor had chosen O'Connor until a Feb. 8 press conference, when she announced the pick to the community at large.

At that press conference, Castor told reporters that she didn't know when O'Connor would start. But nine days later, the mayor's Chief of Staff John Bennett later told council that O'Connor had started on the day of the press conference, also to council's surprise.

O'Connor's selection has been controversial in light of her past felony arrest for assault on a fellow law enforcement officer. She and Castor were also among officers who oversaw the controversial policing program "Biking while Black." O'Connor was also a high ranking officer at TPD during a crime-free multi housing program, which disproportionately evicted Black renters.
During Thursday's meeting, councilman Bill Carlson claimed that Castor's administration has been getting local business people and other influential figures in the area to pressure council to vote yes on O'Connor.

Carlson referenced a ramp-up in emails from people in the business community this week, who wrote in support of O'Connor.

"It seems like we have a campaign being run by somebody within the administration, that is at best disrespectful of city council and the public," Carlson said during the meeting.

Other councilmen supported his claims on Friday to Creative Loafing Tampa Bay.

Luis Viera confirmed that he's also seen an uptick in support emails from influential people in the community this week.

“I think it’s a reasonable assumption that there’s a coordinated effort by the administration on her [O'Connor's] behalf, given the amount of negative feedback she got initially," Viera told CL.

Viera, along with other councilmen who spoke to CL, said that feedback about O'Connor's confirmation has mostly been against confirming her, despite the emails they've received this week.

Chairman Orlando Gudes said that he's also been receiving extra emails in support of Castor's pick.

"I'm not going to make accusations," Gudes said. "I just think that it's odd and strange that influential people who usually don't get in contact with us are contacting us this week."

Councilman  Guido Maniscalco has noticed similarities in the messaging of recent emails, but said he's not sure if the emails are part of a campaign from the administration. "Maybe it's all legitimate, you know, and they just happen to look the same. I mean, like anything, if there's public pushback, the administration, or whoever it is, is gonna try to get positive feedback from it," Mansicalco said.

Viera offered to send CL the emails he's received both in support and against O'Connor over the past few weeks via his assistant. But his assistant then contacted CL to say that a city attorney got involved and wanted the request to go through a formal public records request process, which will take days to weeks to fulfill.

But Carlson forwarded CL a couple of the emails, saying that they were the emails he could easily find, and that the public records request should fulfill the rest.

One email was from Marie E. Chinnici-Everitt, Managing Director and Chief Marketing Officer for Depository Trust and Clearing Corporation (DTCC), a financial market infrastructure company.

In her email in support of O'Connor, Chinnici-Everitt wrote, "I respect the concerns you have raised, however, it is important to note that Mayor Jane Castor has consistently demonstrated sound judgment in her role as Mayor and before that as Police Chief. She served the City of Tampa with honor and dedication, bringing more than 30 years of experience to her role as Mayor. I trust her judgment in selecting Chief O'Connor, and I believe she deserves the support of City Council and our community."

She went on to say that "it's time to put aside our differences and come together to support our Mayor and the new police chief."

When this CL reporter called to ask Chinnici-Everitt about her email and her knowledge of O'Connor's tenure at the police department, she declined to comment on the record.

Chinnici-Everitt is a colleague of Castor's. They both served on University of Tampa's Board of Trustees in 2019, and also both served on the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation when it underwent a controversial name change to "Tampa Bay EDC".

Another email, sent from Kelley Sims, Chief Development Officer at Feeding Tampa Bay, echoed Chinnici-Everitt's praise for Castor and support for O'Connor.

"Mayor Castor chose Chief O’Connor to be Chief of Police given her qualifications and local and national experience," Sims wrote. "Our Mayor is uniquely qualified to make this selection given her long career at TPD and her role as Chief of Police. She followed the same search process that many other Mayors around the Country do."

That search process, however, has been mostly private, with city officials telling CL that the mayor relied on her connections within law enforcement to conduct the search, which so far has produced minimal public records. Castor's approach was much different than a very public search conducted search by her predecessor Bob Buckhorn.

Sims went on to write that she met with O’Connor and heard her vision for TPD and how she work on crime reduction measures, community policing, customer services,  mental health, and wellness measures.

"It’s time for Chief O’Connor to be confirmed. I appreciate your favorable vote," Sims wrote. On the phone, Sims reiterated what she said in her email but declined to comment further.

When asked to respond to the claims made by the councilmen, the city's communication director Adam Smith had this to say:

"Is this story angle for real? Welcome to democracy. It’s called community participation. Of course we’ve encouraged people to speak up, just as city council members do all the time. I hope Bill Carlson doesn’t think it’s disrespectful for citizens to communicate with their elected representatives."

In response, Bill Carlson said that communication between Castor's administration and council has been sparse and problematic, and that this situation is no different.

"This is another example of how a handful of city staff are working against council and the concerns of our constituents," Carlson said. "There is a civil way to handle a situation like this that doesn't harm the reputation of the city."

Yesterday's accusations come five months after reps for TPD were caught driving residents to city council so they might speak of its controversial crime-free housing.

About The Author

Justin Garcia

Justin Garcia has written for The Nation, Investigative Reporters & Editors Journal, the USA Today Network and various other news outlets. When he's not writing, Justin likes to make music, read, play basketball and spend time with loved ones. 

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