Sweetwater’s City Commission has rejected the mayor’s nomination for police chief — for the third time in the last year — underscoring tensions between the board and the city’s chief executive.
Earlier this month, the commission rejected Mayor Orlando Lopez’ nomination of Manny Saavedra, 38, by a 7-0 vote. Members said they were given no information about his qualifications. Saavedra has been a Sweetwater officer for four years and currently serves as neighborhood resource officer.
The vote against Saavedra followed rejections of Maj. Aquilles Carmona and of interim chief Placido Diaz.
Diaz, whose nomination was rejected in June 2015, remains the city’s interim police chief. He did not return requests for comment. Saavedra declined to answer further questions regarding his nomination, and Carmona could not be reached.
Sweetwater spokeswoman Claudia Miro said that according to the city charter the only requirement the mayor has for submitting nominations is to provide a name.
“The mayor is acting well within the charter requirements,” she said.
When Carmona was nominated for the top cop position last fall, he was serving as chief of investigations for the department, making the promotion a logical step, Lopez said.
Confusion started almost immediately.
In May, Commissioner Jose Diaz said Carmona withdrew this application shortly after being nominated.
Lopez, however, said Carmona did not withdraw his application and never gave the impression he wanted to do so. He added that the council waited eight months — until May of this year — to discuss and make the final decision on Carmona, far past the stated 60-day probationary period.
Commissioner Jose Bergouignan acknowledged the commission had not officially voted on the issue, but said that was because he believed Carmona had withdrawn. The May vote — 7-0 against giving Carmona the permanent position — was a housekeeping move, he said.
“We did not have a resume. He did not appear that day and the mayor did not appear that day. We were just given a name. All that we are asking is for us to know who these people are,” said Bergoiugnan, explaining his decision.
The search for this department head began the day before Lopez took office back in May 2015, when then-Police Chief Jesse Menocal resigned along with his entire command staff.
Lopez brought Diaz and Carmona to Sweetwater to re-establish a command staff. Although Diaz and Carmona have held their positions in Sweetwater for only a year, each has about 30 years of police work experience.
During the year that Diaz has been acting chief, he has made major changes, including bringing the department’s codes, guidelines and rules up to the standards set by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. The department has now applied for accreditation.
In Sweetwater, the mayor nominates department heads and the commission has the power to approve or reject them. Lopez said it has been a struggle to get any of his choices confirmed.
“Several times, several commissioners have publicly said that they would not ratify any chief of police I nominate,” Lopez said in an interview.
Lopez said the commission’s blatant opposition to him is obvious.
“Any positive change I want to make, I get resistance. Anything I propose, the council will vote against it,” he said.
But Commissioner Idania Llano says Lopez’s claim is false. She said the commission wants to ensure it appoints someone who has the experience and knowledge for the position.
“It’s like a joke to just throw a name out there,” she added.Sweetwater’s City Commission has rejected the mayor’s nomination for police chief — for the third time in the last year — underscoring tensions between the board and the city’s chief executive.
Nadia Davis is a reporter for the South Florida News Service at Florida International University.