Police Captain Has To Resign To Run For Mayor

A Tampa, Florida ordinance provides that a police officer “must resign” if seeking an elected position that is “currently held by an officer who has authority to appoint, employ, promote, or otherwise supervise that person and who has qualified as a candidate for reelection to that office.”

Marion Lewis was a captain with the Tampa Police Department. Lewis decided to run for mayor, seeking to challenge the incumbent, Pam Iorio. Shortly afterwards, the City ousted Lewis from his position as police captain and filed a lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment that the ordinance required Lewis to resign prior to running against Iorio.

The thrust of Lewis’ argument was that the mayor did not supervise him, and left control of the Police Department to the Police Chief. When this argument prevailed in a trial court, the City appealed to the Florida Court of Appeals. The Appeals Court sided with the City, and ruled that Lewis was required to resign. The Court reasoned that “as a matter of law, Mayor Iorio, at a minimum, had the authority to supervise Mr. Lewis. The City Charter emphasizes that the Police Chief shall be under the control and supervision of the mayor and shall manage the Department with the advice and consent of the mayor.”

The Court observed that another provision in the Charter gave “sweeping control and supervisory functions to the mayor over all City departments,” including “the appointment and removal and the fixing of the compensation of all officers and employees.”

The Court concluded that “based on the broad powers given to the mayor by the Charter, we cannot accept the proposition that her control and supervision of the Department was limited to oversight of only the Police Chief. The mayor’s direct control and supervision extends over all departments; nothing in the Charter limits that authority to department heads.”

City of Tampa v. Lewis, 2008 WL 4367453 (Fla.App. 2008).

NOTE: Lewis did not raise any constitutional questions concerning Tampa’s “resign to run” ordinance. Where such constitutional claims have been raised in other cases, they have been uniformly rejected. Morial v. Judiciary Commission of Louisiana, 565 F.2d 295 (5th Cir. 1977).

This article appears in the January 2009 issue