Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn is set to recommend the hiring of a new police chief on Tuesday night – a move that could draw the ire of at least two City Council members.
Guinn told councilmembers during a Nov. 3 meeting that he planned to recommend Interim Chief Mike Balken to replace the late Greg Graham, who was killed in a plane crash near Dunnellon on Oct. 25. Guinn said Balken had done a great job of leading the shocked department in the days after Graham’s death.
“Mike Balken is my choice,” said Guinn, who as mayor oversees the city’s police department.
Guinn’s plan drew concern from the City Council’s newest member, Ire Bethea Sr., who suggested the mayor wait a month in honor of Graham before making a recommendation. He also brought up some issues with performance reviews for the agency’s senior staff, including Maj. Corey Taylor, who serves as commander of the multi-agency Drug Enforcement Strike Team and in February was honored during a ceremony in Washington, D.C. as Outstanding Task Force Commander of the Year.
Bethea said he didn’t have anything against Balken but suggested that maybe others in the department needed to be considered for the chief’s position. He said staff “should be evaluated” and there “should be some documentation.”
Council President Pro Tem Justin Grabelle also said he thought the mayor’s recommendation was coming too quickly. He said he hadn’t had an opportunity to get to know Balken very well and looked forward to talking with him and hearing his thoughts about the future of the city.
Those concerns didn’t deter Guinn, who made it quite clear that Balken was his choice. He pointed out that Graham had been grooming Balken as deputy chief to someday take on the top job in a police department.
Guinn also reminded the councilmembers that the city charter calls for the mayor to select the police chief and bring that recommendation forward. He said the charter makes it clear that Council members “shall” appoint the nomination brought forth by the mayor.
“Shall means shall,” Guinn said, adding that he had spoken with attorneys about the issue and “shall” has a much different meaning than “may,” a word that wasn’t used in the charter language.
The City Council meeting is scheduled for Tuesday at 5 p.m. at City Hall in the second-floor Council Chambers. City Hall is located at 110 S.E. Watula Ave. and the meeting agenda can be viewed by clicking HERE.