After a week of silence, St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch pushed back on allegations of a hostile work environment made by former Communications Director Janelle Irwin Taylor Thursday while addressing a recent pair of resignations from the office.
Taylor, who is a former reporter and editor for Florida Politics, resigned from the administration last week, announcing her resignation in a public letter in which she stated that Deputy Mayor Stephanie Owens fostered a “culture of bullying” at City Hall. Owens resigned last Friday after being put on leave while the office investigated the claims.
“I am disappointed in the nature of their departures and the allegations made by Ms. Taylor in her letter,” he said. “I am responsible for this organization. From the top of the org chart to the bottom, when problems or issues arise it’s my responsibility to address it.”
But the Mayor made clear that he did not believe the allegations, defending Owens from multiple accusations of bullying from Irwin Taylor as well as former campaign staff.
“First, I do not believe that there is a pervasive, hostile work environment,” Welch said. “In the case of the statement of our former Comms Director and her resignation letter, there were no complaints filed, nor was I informed of a problem until the day before that letter was sent to the city.”
“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 require feedback from our employees, current workplace environment so that our employees feel more empowered to any inappropriate behavior in the workers,” he added.
In response to Welch’s address, Taylor issued the following statement.
“I stand by my letter of resignation and subsequent comments on my departure from my position as communications director. At this point, it is important that I focus on my next career steps, which I will be announcing in the coming days, and move on from the unfortunate circumstances that prompted my resignation. I encourage existing City staff to heed Mayor Welch’s stated goal of providing safe avenues for which to report grievances and hope those channels will provide employees the means to ensure a healthy workplace atmosphere.”
Welch also dismissed the letter from his 2021 campaign team, in which similar allegations against Owens were made. At the time, Owens served as Welch’s Campaign Manager. That letter was hand-delivered to Welch after the 2021 mayoral Primary.
“Over the course of the past four months under her leadership, the campaign internally has devolved into a toxic work environment that has taken form in instances of aggression, rudeness, deception, deep unprofessionalism and a general negativity to people both inside and outside of the campaign,” the letter reads.
In response, Welch said he interviewed staff about it, and did not find any substantial complaints.
“Overall, the complaints ranged from not being recommended for bonus to staffing issues to not being invited to meetings and other complaints that did not rise to the level of a hostile workplace,” he said.
During his address Thursday, the Mayor announced he will be slashing the position of Deputy Mayor from the office.
Editor’s Note: Janelle Irwin Taylor previously contributed to Florida Politics.