The majority of Gulfport City Council members believe they reached a compromise Tuesday night regarding any decisions about outsourcing the Gulfport Police Department in the future.
Several months ago Ward 4 Councilor Dan Liedtke asked elected officials to discuss and consider making the Gulfport Police Department a "chartered department," basically making it mandatory for the public to vote on any changes within the department - including contracting services or dissolving the Gulfport Police Department.
Since then, council members scaled back the move and instead discussed increasing the city council vote needed to make changes.
During Tuesday night's regular council meeting, three members voted yes, during second reading, to require a unanimous vote to make changes, such as dissolving the Gulfport Police Department and contracting law enforcement services. Mayor Mike Yakes was not present and Council member Barbara Banno disagreed with the new requirement - she voted no.
“I do not want to ever get rid of the City of Gulfport Police Department. However, I think it's important that we really look at this," Banno said.
Banno tried to amend the ordinance and come to a compromise by asking to change the unanimous vote to a simple majority.
“I feel that this 5 out of 5 vote really handcuffs the council and it handcuffs our city employees. I think we would be doing an injustice to the city,” she said.
Banno said her goal was to allow citizens to make the final decision about outsourcing the department.
"I'm not sure if Jim will ever have to be faced with this, I'm not sure that any of us will have to be faced with this, but this ordinance really handcuffs the city," Banno
"We're saying if you ever have to change this ordinance, you have to have a 5 to 5 vote," Banno said.
Council member Jennifer Salmon voted in favor of requiring a unanimous vote.
"I feel much more comfortable . . . we initially talked about putting it as part of the charter and would be forced to go to a vote," Jennifer Salmon said.
Salmon added, "If we put all hard decisions out for a vote, you don't always get the outcome that's best for the city. . . . I'm very comfortable with the 5 out of 5."
City of Gulfport Andy Salzman clarified that council can still send an issue to referendum with a simple majority vote.
Here's what the changes mean:
- Instead of having decisions, such as outsourcing, be automatically sent to referendum - if the department were "chartered", city council can make changes with a unanimous vote.
- Council can still send the issue to a public vote with a simple majority vote.
"None of us wants to dismantle our police department. When Barbara and I made the hard decision last time to move our dispatch to (the) Sheriff's Office. That was something that made sense . . . but because of that, the police department made that big change. The point wasn't to then become the standard operating procedure, that we were going to just start contractng out our services," Jennifer Salmon said.
Barbara Banno, "This is an injustice to you, I would rather it go to referendum than for it to be a 5 all vote," Banno.
Council member Dan Liedtke replied, "Well, this is farthest thing from an injustic to the citizens of Gulfport. What we have here in front of us is already a compromise versus a referendum. . . That's what we talked about first was taking it to vote, then we said no, let's back off . . .
The citizens I serve, they want community policing. They don't want our services to be outsourced. The police I've talked to, when they heard it was 5 out of 5 they were happy.
It's already a compromise, it gives protection for our police force, it doesn't tie anybody's hands," Liedtke added.
"For 2 years I've listend to people who are concerned about us losing our police department. They see what's happened in St. Pete Beach, it went out to referendum and the council followed what the voters wanted to do," Vice Mayor Sam Henderson said.
Henderson added that he also felt comfortable with making a mandatory unanimous vote needed for the council to decide to outsource the Gulfport Police Department and make any other changes to police services.
"It's the fair thing to do," he said.