TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa City Council has voted to confirm Mary O'Connor as the city's 43rd chief of police by a 4 to 2 vote.
O'Connor has been the acting police chief since Tampa Mayor Jane Castor first named her to the position on Feb. 8. However, the appointment was not official until the city council vote came through Thursday.
"For me, law enforcement was a calling, not a job or a profession and 28 years ago I was called to the City of Tampa to serve the citizens. I am not yet done serving. I deeply care about this city, the people that call it home," O'Connor said prior to the vote.
City of Tampa Chief of Staff John Bennett says O'Connor was vetted by more than 100 years of combined law enforcement experience and was introduced to hundreds of community members leading up to Thursday's confirmation.
City Council Chairman Orlando Gudes and Council Member Bill Carlson both voted "no."
Confirming a mayoral appointment is usually a formality, but it's been a complicated process since Castor's announcement.
City council could have voted on O'Connor's appointment on March 3; but the mayor's spokesperson, Adam Smith said they wanted to wait until all of the council members were present. At the time, then-Councilman John Dingfelder was attending virtually for medical reasons, so they decided not to submit the appointment before the council during that meeting.
Dingfelder has since resigned in the wake of a public records lawsuit.
The complicated confirmation process has dragged on for weeks. After Castor's announcement naming O'Connor as top cop, community backlash was swift, and an even earlier council vote to confirm the appointment on Feb. 17 was pushed back.
Why the controversy? One reason is what critics have viewed as a lack of transparency in the hiring process. Some council members complained that the public wasn't involved in the effort.
That disappointment was clearly expressed during Thursday's confirmation with council members saying they felt "disrespected" during the process and sharing that they found it to be "mishandled."
"Today, I think we have a great candidate but I have to set that aside and talk about process, and really it's not just process, this is about democracy. Democracy is at risk in this city and most of the calls I'm getting are not about the candidate, it's about protecting democracy in this city," Carlson said.
"The process was not transparent, it was disrespectful, — not just of council — especially disrespectful of council, but it was disrespectful of the public," he added.
Disdain expressed by council members was met with cheers, clapping and comments by those in attendance. The crowd was reminded more than once to not interject.
O'Connor also acknowledged the concerns shared during the confirmation hearing, adding she believes there needs to continue being a place at the table for community members to offer feedback.
"As representatives of our community members, it is critical for the police chief to work very closely with city council so that together we can ensure that the community has a voice in their police department and how it operates," O'Connor said.
Residents have also expressed disappointment surrounding Ruben "Butch" Delgado, who had been interim chief of police, not being picked to fill the role permanently.
O'Connor, during her address, said that Delgado will continue to play a critical role in the police department's leadership. She also noted that she appreciates all he has done while filling the interim role.
The loudest backlash revolves around the new chief herself — O'Connor (Minter, at the time). She was arrested in May 1995 for battery on a law enforcement officer. O'Connor was a new officer with the Tampa Police Department back then.
That history had been hanging over the confirmation process.
Before Thursday, O'Connor had already been serving as chief of police and getting paid following her initial appointment. Her salary is $192,920, according to Smith.