Oro Valley Police Chief Daniel Sharp will continue to report to town council after a 4-3 vote on June 19 rejected placing him under the direct supervision of Town Manager Greg Caton.
Early into what became a somewhat heated debate, councilman Mike Zinkin questioned why Oro Valley’s current structure varies from the common practice of so many other communities in which the chief answers to the town manager.
Zinkin, who alongside councilmen Brendan Burns and Bill Garner would vote against the town’s current reporting structure, said efficiency is a key consideration.
“I don’t have the time – none of us really have the time, to be the chief’s boss,” said Zinkin. “We hire a gentleman to do that… Greg Caton is more than capable of doing that, so I would propose the seven of us get out of the business of supervising the chief of police.”
But what other communities do is a moot point according to Councilman Joe Hornat, who says the system – which has “only seen complaints from a select few on council,” – is running smoothly as is.
“I don’t remember getting emails from the chief or from our town manager suggesting we had a terrible system, it wasn’t working, there were problems, there were issues, people were leaving the town, fires are burning, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera,” he said.
Councilmember Mary Snider pointed out that Oro Valley has historically maintained the practice it still uses.
“Since the town incorporated in 1974, and for the next 33 years, any person who has occupied the office of the chief of police has reported directly to council,” she said.
The structure was temporarily changed in 2007 under a previous council, but was reverted soon thereafter due to policy issues, added Snider.
Vice Mayor Lou Waters looked to make an early motion to maintain the current reporting structure, but further discussion would delay that for some time.
Councilman Burns reignited the conversation when he said that council does “an absolute awful job explaining and managing the police department.”
“Chief Sharp reports directly to us,” he said. “When’s the last time this council had a study session? When’s the last time a (police department) issue has not been on a consent agenda? We are ill equipped for management. We’re a part-time legislative body that meets once every two weeks.”
Mayor Satish Hiremath accused Burns of hypocrisy because he has questioned certain operational methods of the police department while calling for a dismissal of the council as the managing body.
According to Hiremath, the issue on the table had less to do with finding an improved reporting structure than it does with a political agenda.
“I think that because the police department budget didn’t happen in certain council members’ way, that’s why this is being brought up,” he said. “Let’s just call a spade a spade. If the budget went (their way), I don’t think we would be having this conversation.”
Zinkin and councilman Garner voted against the budget after advocating for potential cuts to the police department.
Garner said the police department has become too politicized amongst council, and for that reason, he wants to see the chief report to the town manager. As it sits though, Garner said it is council’s job – as the manager of Sharp – to ask questions related to the police department. That includes budget questions, he argues.
“I’m trying to move the monkey off the council’s back, which becomes a political football,” Garner continued. “Once and for all, we put the police chief under the manager where 99.9 percent of the jurisdictions do – because we have faith in our leadership team, and get the political nonsense out of it.”
While Caton and Sharp were asked their opinions on the current structure, both declined to comment. Caton said the matter is a policy decision and contractual issue between council and a colleague. Sharp, who commented only briefly on operational questions, withheld his opinion on the reporting structure, citing the advice of the town attorney.
That left council to answer a question that the would-be majority felt there was already an answer to: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Hiremath, Hornat, Snider, and Waters voted to maintain the current structure.