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City Commission Proposes Making Police Chief a Charter Officer

Since the Nov. 19 city commission meeting, officials have been examining a proposal to move the chief of police from answering to the city manager to answering directly to the city commission. So far, no determination has been made to whom the chief reports.

Gainesville City Commissioner Craig Carter said the police chief presently reports to the city manager. If the commission were to move him to a charter officer, he or she would answer to the city commission directly.

Carter made this proposal citing the fact that "there have been numerous meetings where the commission has been told things for the very first time." These things the commission isn't told generally revolves around tools the police department needs to do their jobs.

Charter officers are six city officials who answer to the commission, but are not a part of the commission, including the commission clerk, city attorney, city auditor and city manager.

Carter said one of the highest priorities in the City of Gainesville is public safety, and the commission wants to be able better fund it. However, he said, that can’t happen without awareness of what is needed.

Carter isn’t the only member of the city commission who is interested in this potential switch.  Gainesville Mayor Ed Braddy noted at the meeting that he has done preliminary work to see the feasibility of making this move.

“I’ve talked to the city attorney about it, also, and there are many complications with creating a charter-level position for the chief of police," Braddy said. "It would involve a vote of the same discussion we’re having; it’s complicated.”

Ultimately, the decision to have the police chief report to the commission wouldn’t come down to just Braddy or the city commission. Carter said if it were to be moved from its proposal stage, six to seven commissioners would want to add a referendum and put the decision to a citywide vote.

According to Carter, if they were going to do that, they would want to educate people about why they’re doing it. He also noted one of his major issues is the lack of communication between the police department, the interim city manager and the city commission.

"If that could be solved with some administrative movements — as far as our policy now is that the commission has this, and there won’t be any recourse to the police chief for bringing this to our attention in a public venue — great. That’s where we need to be,” Carter said.

The city is seeking a new city manager after Russ Blackburn resigned Nov. 5.

Braddy and Carter said they know complications could come up, and Carter is aware many residents would ask, "Do you really want the police office politicized?"

Carter said he is confident the interim city manager and any city manager after him would know of the importance of hearing the information, such as necessary resources, from the police department and believes they should have that freedom. Braddy agreed.

“I do think what several of us are interested in is a greater flow of information to the city commission about the good, the bad and the ugly,” Braddy said.

Carter gave high praise to the police department and the work it does on a daily basis and said the commission doesn't want to manage what the department is doing, but rather equip it to do its best.

“We have great staff over there, and we’re very proactive, and I want to make sure we give them all the tools to continue that,” Carter said. “At the end of the day, our police department, they rock."

Interim City Manager Anthony Lyons wouldn't comment, and all questions were directed to Carter.

Chief of Police Tony Jones could not be reached for comment.

Joseph is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.