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Ocoee commissioner wants citizens to “chime in” on police chief candidates

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Norine Dworkin

Founding Editor

Wednesday, April 21, 2021


Norine Dworkin/VoxPopuli

Commissioner George Oliver: "Every citizen should have the ability to look at who’s going to be protecting our city.”

Ocoee City Commissioner George Oliver suggested that Ocoee citizens become more active in the city’s search for a police chief at Tuesday night’s city commission meeting.

Ocoee has been without an official Chief of Police since Charles Brown retired in late January 2020. The Florida Police Chiefs Association has been tasked with conducting the search for a new chief, according to Ocoee City Manager Robert Frank.

Currently there are two candidates under consideration: Acting Chief Saima Placencia, 57, and Deputy Chief Vincent Ogburn, 53.

Placencia, who joined the Ocoee Police Department in 2016 after 30 years with the Miami-Dade Police Department, would be the city’s first female chief. Ogburn, who joined Ocoee’s force in 2020 after 23 years with the Orlando Police Department, would be the city’s first Black chief — a move that would have some restorative justice behind it.

In 1920, a deputized white lynch mob drove Ocoee’s Black citizenry from town and torched their property in what became known as The Ocoee Massacre. Black people only began returning to Ocoee in the 1970s. The city is now 20 percent Black.

“I’m hoping that the citizens will chime in on this, do a records request and look at the information that’s out there and make a recommendation,” said Oliver, who represents District 4. “I know some citizens have had personal interactions with both candidates. It would be an excellent opportunity for them to talk about their experiences with the candidates and weigh in on how they feel about public safety with those candidates taking on that role.”

Commissioner Rosemary Wilsen immediately pushed back. She said it was not the public’s place, nor the commission’s to dictate, to the city manager who to hire.

“I’m sorry to interrupt you, but I’m really offended by this,” said Wilsen who represents District 2. “Our charter says that we, as the commission, have given this man [the city manager] the responsibility for doing this. This is this man’s job. We pay him to do this. I don’t believe as commissioners we should get into personnel issues.”

Oliver, who said he could “agree to disagree without being disagreeable,” stuck to his point.

“If you read the charter, it says we have the right to chime in on this decision,” he maintained.

In fact, the Ocoee City Charter makes clear that all city-related hiring and firing decisions are the sole purview of the city manager, Robert Frank. That was reiterated by city attorney Scott Cookson.

“There is nothing in the charter that says citizens have a right to chime in and make a recommendation on the hiring of that position,” Cookson said. “There’s nothing in the charter that says the citizens have input or that the city manager has to listen to citizens’ input.

Wilsen continued to defend the city manager’s autonomy. “I don’t have any right to come in and tell him who to hire for any department. As a resident I can write all the letters I want. I can do all the public records I want, but I’m getting annoyed that we’re talking about this up here because I think it should be going to him to handle. It is his responsibility.”

Frank kept mum during the discussion. But in response to a request for comment sent to his office, Frank emailed this statement: 

The subject of police chief recruitment has come up at several commission meetings over the last few months. The City Charter assigns all responsibility for hiring employees of the city to the city manager. There has been much discussion about this, and it has been reiterated to the commissioners by the city attorney, mayor, other individual commissioners and myself that this responsibility lies with me, the city manager.

In the interest of selecting the best candidate from the internal qualified employees, the decision was made to have the Florida Police Chief's Association perform an assessment center of the candidates absent any influence from parties with no standing in the selection. The panel of seven retired chiefs will review resumes, review practical assignments related to police management, interview all candidates in person and provide a recommendation of who they believe to be the most qualified for the position.

I feel this process will result in the best candidate being selected based on experience, education and an an in-depth assessment of their skills and abilities.

In a follow-up email, Frank estimated the process would be done within the next two weeks. 

Oliver, who backtracked on his comments about the city charter in a later phone conversation with VoxPopuli, insisted that he wasn’t seeking to micromanage the police chief hiring process.

“This is about making the process more transparent,” Oliver told VoxPopuli. “The public has a right to know how the position is being filled.”

Oliver encouraged Ocoee citizens to request the candidates’ files from the city clerk, read the letters of recommendation, the police surveys and then write letters or email the city manager with their thoughts.

“In all fairness,” said Oliver, “every citizen should have the ability to look at who’s going to be protecting our city.”

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