As determined by a 4-3 vote in a June 19 council meeting, Oro Valley Police Chief Danny Sharp will continue to report to council as opposed to Town Manager Greg Caton.
Though the structure is unlike that of surrounding communities, the majority of the council, including Mayor Satish Hiremath, Vice Mayor Lou Waters, and council members Joe Hornat and Mary Snider say the town’s unique structure is sound and proven.
The minority vote of council members Brendan Burns, Mike Zinkin and Bill Garner, continue to argue the structure is not only ineffective, but encourages the police department to become politicized.
The debate now is whether or not the council is involved enough in Sharp’s routine to serve as effective bosses.
Sharp’s performance is reviewed once per year, and is rated based on how well the department adheres to the town’s general plan and strategic plan.
The annual review is held in an executive session with the council, which is not open to the public.
In a June 19 council meeting, Burns went so far as to say that council oversees the department so poorly that it could be considered “criminally negligent.”
“We really don’t review anything or discuss policy,” said Burns in a follow-up interview. “We meet with him once a year, and we don’t dig into the day-to-day operations.
“Chief Sharp has never come to (council) asking for permission to do anything, and I see that as problematic,” Burns continued. “We are his direct line of supervisors. I have nothing but confidence in him, and council does as well… but I feel the chief should report to the town manager.”
When asked if he thought more frequent meetings would be beneficial, Sharp said his door is always open.
“I’m accessible to anybody in town – especially mayor and council,” said Sharp. “If he (Burns) wants to find out the operations of the police department, I’m willing. As far as how the department is run, a lot of the discussion would be operational, but really council has set policy with the strategic and general plans that voters approved.”
On that basis, Hiremath believes the council’s oversight is effective.
“The bottom line is that if there is a concern with the police chief, we all have the ability to walk over and ask him about policy, and tell him your viewpoint,” said Hiremath. “None of those guys (Burns, Garner, Zinkin) have done that.”
Another problem Burns sees is the fact that the chief could receive mixed input as a result of having multiple council members overseeing his work.
“He has seven bosses,” said Burns. “My main concern is helping the department and officers have an effective management and make sure we are running as best as we can.”
Hiremath disagrees with Burns’ assessment, saying the necessity for council to be involved in day-to-day operations is “nonsense.”
“We set policy,” he said. “I don’t buy into the statement that we have to manage day-to-day operations. The administrative duties are worked out in consultation with the town manager. We set the policy that says we want to have a safe community, and we let Chief Sharp go out and make that happen.”
Hiremath says in a similar example, Sharp’s police budget is submitted to the town manager, and not to council.
While Burns said in the past Sharp expressed interest in reporting entirely to the town manager, Sharp said he doesn’t recall saying that.
“I may have said I was willing to have a conversation about it,” he said. “I may have said something to the effect if that is the council’s wishes I would do it.”
In the June 18 meeting, Hiremath said the issue comes down to the fact that the minority of council did not get their way when it came to the passing of the police budget.
Burns, who voted in favor of the budget, said he takes exception to the comment.
In Oro Valley, the chief of police has reported to council since it was incorporated in 1974, except for a brief transition in 2007 when council decided the chief should report to the town manager.
That decision was reversed soon thereafter.