St. Pete City Council members weigh in on the process of hiring a new chief

Five of the eight members of St. Pete City Council were on hand at Tuesday's press conference to hear Mayor Rick Kriseman introduce former Clearwater Police Chief Anthony Holloway, concluding a process that City Council Chair Bill Dudley derided as “weird” and “bizarre.” 

“I will tell you that over the last three to four days, the calls I've gotten from constituents are very concerned about if this type of process will take place with other decisions as well,” said Councilmember Amy Foster, specifically referring to the public meetings taking place across town re a possible new Pier. 

But Councilmember Wengay Newton says that Foster and her constituents need not worry about that. “That's a little different,” he admonished, referring to the city's charter. “Council can vote not to fund it [the Pier]. Council can vote not to approve the program. The mayor can't do any projects without any money, but we control the money.” But, Newton says, with the strong-mayor form of governance in St. Pete, “The mayor controls the hiring of staff.”

The concern, of course, was that after a highly publicized public vetting of the candidates for the job, Kriseman ultimately decided to blow off the time and expense taken to choose the final four: St. Petersburg Assistant Chief Melanie Bevan, retired New Haven (Conn.) Assistant Chief Thaddeus Reddish, Montgomery County (Maryland) Police Department captain Terrence Pierce, and Goodyear, Arizona police chief Jerry Geier.

With Bevan the popular local candidate, significant disappointment was expressed in some quarters when word came down on Saturday morning that she was out of the running. The Tampa Bay Times' Kameel Stanley used the verbs “stunned” and “stung” to describe the feeling among some locals.

“They wanted Melanie,” Foster admits, “but the reality is that once people got to read a little more information [about Holloway], they seemed a little more comfortable. There is concern that there are still hurdles and challenges he has to face, and some internal strife that will have to be quelled, but the process is what I'm hearing most about.”

Councilman Charlie Gerdes said it was a “shame” that the process was getting so much attention. He called Kriseman's selection of Holloway "courageous." He says his initial reaction to the hiring of Holloway was that the mayor was "going to catch a lot of flak," but said that was inevitable no matter whom he chose. “I think what's important is that he has to look himself in the mirror every day...and say I did the right thing for the city, and I think it was a courageous move.”

In regards to their expectations, Wengay Newton says he believes Holloway will bring to the police department what is needed with regards to dealing with wayward youth, specifically. “We have a systemic problem here in St. Pete where we're arresting a lot of kids, and they end up with permanent records, some of which are ruining their lives, which turns them into adult criminals. So if you don't address that, those chickens are coming home to roost.”

Councilmember Amy Foster says juvenile issues are a big concern, as are drug houses.

Council Chair Dudley says he thinks it's a duty for those in elected position to support the choice and says that his own investigation into Holloway's background gives him high hopes. “He's a true professional,” adding, “I'm enthusiastic about it. We can't spend this time licking our wounds and all that crap.”

For the next few weeks Holloway will transition out of his duties as Clearwater's top cop before fully coming on board in St. Petersburg by mid-August.