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Harry Cohen - Tampa City Council

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Rampant racism, misconduct and favoritism outlined in Tampa solid waste allegation

The complainant alleges supervisors called employees “stupid a** cracker.”

Tampa City Council Member Harry Cohen received a seven-page letter in the mail late last week from a former city of Tampa employee alleging favoritism, nepotism, racism and overall dysfunction within the city’s solid waste department.

The letter, allegedly sent by former employee James Clark, details troubling statements he heard while working for the department for an unknown amount of time. Florida Politics requested Clark’s personnel file. That request is pending.

Clark claims supervisors and management staff called employees names like “stupid a** cracker” and dismissed employees’ competency saying things like, “you couldn’t understand.” He claims such statements were most often directed at “Caucasian and Spanish” workers.

Cohen referred the letter to city administration after receiving it. The move came shortly after mayoral candidate David Straz, who has made references to “graft and corruption” within an unnamed city department during campaign forums, detailed a letter he saw that fit the description of Straz’s claims.

Jarrod Holbrook, a spokesman for the Straz campaign, confirmed the letter Cohen received is the same they had already seen, but Straz did not receive the first page containing the complainant’s name.

During an interview with the Tampa Bay Times editorial board last week, Straz reportedly said he was in possession of a five-page, single-spaced letter outlining allegations, but declined to provide any further details saying he was protecting his source, according to the Times.

Cohen questioned whether the allegations rose to the level of scandal Straz described.

“In a seven-page, single-spaced letter, there is a lot in there,” Cohen said. “Most of it doesn’t fall under graft and corruption though. It falls more under favoritism and racism.”

Holbrook said that, if elected, Straz would conduct a full audit of the solid waste department to weed out what he still sees as corruption.

The letter David received outlined poor business practices in one city department that, if true, would be robbing the taxpayers of the efficient use of their tax dollars. Wasting the taxpayers’ money is a form of corruption which will be discovered in the full audit of city government,” Holbrook said.

In addition to allegedly racist comments, Clark’s letter claims some workers were paid less for similar work unfairly and that some people were excluded from department events like a group lottery, football pools, training and after-hours gatherings.

He also claims nepotism within the department, noting some employees were promoted after “only short periods of employment” and that some favored employees’ misconduct was frequently overlooked.

The letter also alleges wasteful spending and mismanagement.

Clark’s letter goes on for six long pages detailing a series of events he claims to either have witnessed or heard about through other employees. Florida Politics is leaving out the names provided (and specific allegations levied) because they are unconfirmed, but the individual stories support Clark’s overall claims of broader racism and favoritism.

Some of the allegations include drivers who attempted to bribe vehicle owners to avoid disciplinary action after damaging their property and another claiming several employees without completed college degrees were hired for positions that required them.

Clark also claims to have witnessed sexual harassment including one incident in which a male employee grabbed another female employee from behind “and kissed her neck without consent.”

This isn’t the first time a city department has faced sexual harassment or discrimination allegations. 

A jury awarded Tampa firefighter Tanja Vidovic nearly $250,000 in damages finding she was discriminated against during pregnancy and then faced retaliation when she complained.

Florida Politics attempted to reach Clark at the number provided in the letter, but the phone number was disconnected or no longer in service.

A spokesperson for the city did not immediately respond to questions, but previously told the Tampa Bay Times the claim would be investigated like any other.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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