Mayor Ken Welch announced Thursday that there would no longer be a deputy mayor in his administration. Instead, the chief of staff will work closely with city administration.
BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Ken Welch addressed the resignations of two key staff members in a press conference on Thursday held at the St. Petersburg Police Department headquarters.
Communications Director Janelle Irwin Taylor resigned Sept. 1, citing a “culture of bullying” by the mayor’s chief deputy. On Sept. 2, Deputy Mayor and Chief of Policy Stephanie Owens announced her resignation in the wake of an investigation.
Mayor Welch said he was disappointed in the nature of their departures and the allegations made by Taylor in her resignation letter, but “the buck stops with me. I am responsible for this organization from the top of the org chart to the bottom.”
“But as mayor, I need to base my decisions on facts and data, not solely on my beliefs. So, I’m taking steps to make sure that we acquire feedback from our employees in the current workplace environment so that our employees feel more empowered to report any inappropriate behavior in the workplace.”
Welch said Taylor had not filed any complaints, nor was he informed of a problem until the day before her resignation letter was received.
“It was during a discussion with Mrs. Taylor in the context of proposed changes in our communication organization that she alleged a hostile workplace environment related to her immediate supervisor, former Deputy Mayor Stephanie Owens. Mrs. Owens disputes that charge.”
Welch said it is important to respect Taylor’s allegation, even without any official complaint. However, it’s also vital to respect the statement of former Deputy Mayor Owens, who refutes those allegations.
In Welch’s administration, the deputy mayor’s primary role was policy development, and Owens only directly supervised or managed nine people out of a workforce of more than 3,600.
“I decided that moving forward, there will not be a deputy mayor position in my administration. I will have a chief of staff with responsibilities for intergovernmental relations, strategic communications and policy initiative reporting to me and working closely with the city administrator.”
He said more planned changes are coming in personnel and the organization.
Welch said Taylor never mentioned any of her concerns to him during the eight months of her employment even though they were in direct contact a few times a week, and there are no complaints filed with human resources.
“I see this as an opportunity to improve our employees’ awareness and processes,” Welch said. “I’ve asked HR to develop an enhanced plan to inform every employee of what to do if they encounter workplace bullying or unprofessional conduct.”
Welch said if a high-ranking employee didn’t have faith in the current process or an understanding of their options, then perhaps other employees don’t either.
He also addressed the letter from some of his campaign team regarding Owen’s conduct as his campaign manager in 2021. That letter has been pointed to by some as evidence of improper management style by Owens during the campaign.
“It is not,” Welch empathically denied.
After receiving the letter on Aug. 27 last year, Welch said he interviewed the staff, those whose names were on the letter and those who were not. The letter was not signed and had the names of three campaign staff members typed in.
“Now, one of those three signatories was not aware that their name was on the letter and said that there was no hostile work environment, only issues of communication, scheduling assignments and the like,” he revealed. “Overall, the complaints ranged from not being recommended for a bonus to staffing issues to not being invited into meetings and other complaints that did not rise to the level of a hostile workplace.”
Welch said he intentionally asked every person if they felt unsafe, harassed, threatened, or uncomfortable working in the campaign.
“All responded ‘no,’ and all members of the team, including the two signatories, remained with the campaign until their election duties were complete, one resigning with the campaign a few days later for the General Election.”
Welch said it’s his responsibility to always review his actions and work daily to be a better leader for this organization.
“The upcoming changes and the changes that we’ve already implemented reflect that approach.”
Welch ended the conference with a list of accomplishments he and his administration have had in his first eight months in office:
- Reissuing the Historic Gas Plant RFP
- Coming into agreements with unions, including police, fire, white and blue collar professional
- Award-winning work in housing, having received two awards from the Florida Housing Coalition last week
“But we can always improve, and that includes me as well,” Welch concluded.