WEST PALM BEACH — The first African American and first female police chief of West Palm Beach has resigned after nearly three decades in law enforcement.
The departure of Delsa Bush was sudden and very public.
While being filmed on Oct. 6 by a local news station, Bush called City Administrator Ed Mitchell and told him the next day, Oct. 7, would be her last day on the job.
The announcement came as a surprise because Bush had already announced she would leave the job on Jan. 1, 2012. She handed in her letter of resignation to Mayor Jeri Muoio on Oct. 4, reportedly over a dispute involving a new police radio system. Leaving in January was supposed to give the city time to find a qualified applicant to fill the position.
But it was evident she was under pressure to depart as soon as possible. Mitchell said he talked to her about leaving in November. In making her Oct. 6 announcement, she complained about lack of trust involving Mitchell and other city officials. She also expressed frustration at being asked to leave earlier than expected.
Bush said many of her concerns began with a mayoral debate earlier this year when Muoio was running for the office, along with Molly Douglas and Paula Ryan, all of whom left little doubt they wanted her gone. At the time, she said a new mayor would not have to fire her because if asked to leave, she would do so. But she also said that she would like to stay on as chief, noting a 40 percent drop in crime during her tenure.
Bush has been at odds with Muoio recently over the OpenSky radio system in which the city has invested $5 million. Reportedly, the city was working on plans to implement the system with a consortium of municipalities before Muoio’s predecessor Lois Frankel was elected in 2003.
Complaints of potential glitches, such as poor reception in high-rises and concerns about the costs for the radio system surfaced in recent months.
Muoio has said she plans to recommend that the city pull out of the OpenSky deal which also includes Palm Beach Gardens and Palm Beach. Bush has maintained the system is still viable.
Community activist Edith Bush — no relation to Delsa Bush — said the former chief was treated unfairly since the mayoral race in March and especially concerning the radio system.
“I wish she had (resigned) during the mayoral election process when they brought her name up,” Edith Bush said. “(City officials) should have studied the effectiveness of the police equipment.”
She said the former chief has a proven track record that should be recognized. “Consider her effectiveness as a police chief first. Don’t just look at her as some kind of personality,” she said. “Delsa Bush is highly qualified. Maybe the position should be an elected position.”
Delsa Bush, who joined the West Palm Beach police department in 1983, has a doctorate and a master’s degree in criminal justice administration from Lynn University and worked her way to the top.
Her supporters include Mayor Thomas Masters of Riviera Beach. “Delsa Bush came up through the ranks and worked hard to get to the head of the department,” Masters said. “She is very educated but did not allow her education to be a barrier with ordinary people.”
Masters said a mayor and a police chief have to walk a fine line in order to have an amicable and efficient work relationship. “Everyone needs to understand their lane,” he said. “I’m not a police officer and they are not the mayor. There has to be a separation of circles of government, the echelons of government.”
Muoio called a press conference a half-hour after Bush quit on-air and announced that Capt. Brian Kummerlen and Capt. Mary Santos-Olsen would be interim assistant chiefs for the department.
Muoio said she and Bush had agreed on many issues and differed on some and the former chief was a woman of integrity who gave 28 outstanding years of service and should be proud of her accomplishments.
Photo: Delsa Bush