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A good promise to break


Published July 12, 2003

The only thing worse than making a bad campaign promise is sticking with it once you get elected. That's why it is good that Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio reversed course and launched a nationwide search for a new police chief.

Choosing the commander of the second-largest police force in America's fourth-largest state is too important to be treated as a patronage bone in exchange for the police union's political support. If Iorio can find the next chief from inside the ranks, great. But her only concern should be hiring the most qualified candidate.

Every mayoral election has its small-town litmus test, and the perennial one in Tampa is whether a new mayor will hire the police and fire chiefs from within the departments. The unions always try to wrangle a commitment to hire home-grown candidates, both to appease their rank-and-file and to flex some muscle early-on with the incoming administration.

Iorio never should have pledged to hire the chief from a pool of internal candidates. A couple of internal candidates on the short list might make a good chief, but a city as large as Tampa needs an exceptional head of public safety.

Knowing the officers does have institutional value, as the local candidates rightly suggest. But outside professionals can bring a fresh perspective, unencumbered by local political baggage. Candidates should be judged on their background, record and life experience, their management skills, their views on policing and public service and their compatibility with Iorio's team and agenda.

The police union has a legitimate interest in the selection, and the union's leadership change two years ago has made it a more credible player. But a chief affects the entire city, not just the Police Department. This is the most important hire Iorio will make, and it shouldn't be reduced to a popularity contest.

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