A fired spokesperson for the Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office claimed to be the victim of an “illegal firing.” The move made headlines days after the controversial suspension of State Attorney Andrew Warren. But files in her personnel folder suggest Melanie Snow-Waxler’s performance had come under scrutiny months before Warren’s departure.
A memo by Warren’s Chief of Staff, Gary Weisman, details concerns dating back to June, just a month after her hiring, and had resulted in the State Attorney’s Office relying on outside communications consultants during her tenure.
That’s a different picture than one Snow-Waxler painted after her termination in August, when she issued a statement characterizing her “illegal firing” as “part of a troubling pattern of retaliation.” In a statement to WTSP, she described being told to report to a new supervisor following Warren’s suspension, and shortly after that, was given an ultimatum to resign or be fired.
“I had only begun my job with the State Attorney’s Office in May. This was an exciting opportunity for me as I have always believed in criminal justice reform,” Snow-Waxler told the news outlet.
“My goal was ensuring that the residents of Hillsborough County received timely, truthful information about the actions of the State Attorney to keep our community safe and pursue justice. I will continue to provide truthful information to the public. I will fight for justice.”
The Weisman memo, though, asserts continued problems with Snow-Waxler keeping up with developments in major cases and understanding legal terminology.
It also states that immediately after Snow-Waxler started work on May 9, Warren asked her to develop a strategic communications plan for the agency and to develop a familiarity with prosecution work. But by June 10, concerns arose about her job performance.
“State Attorney Warren expressed significant frustration that Ms. Snow-Waxler had not provided a strategic communications plan nor was she familiarizing herself with the basic concepts and terminology of prosecution such that she could provide meaningful information to media on cases,” Weisman wrote.
“I followed up with Chief Assistant State Attorney (Kimberly) Hindman and Chief Assistant State Attorney (Renee) Muratti and determined that Ms. Snow-Waxler had no meaningful interaction with either of them regarding the workflow of the office, the basic principles of prosecutorial work, or the terminology of criminal law. This information was shared with State Attorney Warren per his request.”
The memo signed by Weisman appears to have been written following Snow-Waxler’s termination and details issues right up to the publication of news articles where the former communications professional trashed the State Attorney’s Office.
In notes an Aug. 15 news article “appeared indicating that Ms. Snow-Waxler felt she was ‘unlawfully terminated’ and a press release was communicated from Ms. Snow-Waxler with that information.”
“The agency has not received any direct communication to that effect,” Weisman wrote.
The memo otherwise details concerns voiced by Warren and other leadership within the State Attorney’s Office during the less-than-four-month tenure for Snow-Waxler.
Those seemed to bubble over on July 20, when Warren attended a Safety and Justice Task Force meeting in Orlando, and had hoped to have media attend a meeting late in the day. Only two news outlets RSVP’d, so the event was canceled. When one of the outlets showed up anyway, Snow-Waxler was apparently rude to them. Weisman detailed Warren’s account of the incident.
“State Attorney Warren indicated he had to step into the conversation to help smooth things over,” the memo states.
“Ultimately, State Attorney Warren arranged for the interview with him and another member of the task force. He called me on his drive back to indicate he was disappointed at the way she interacted with the media. He indicated that she was unwilling to accommodate media members from whom he was seeking media coverage and instead treated them poorly.”
Through her tenure, the memo states Snow-Waxler failed to take initiative on announcing awards won by prosecutors in the office. But more concerning, she failed to keep up with legal developments even in major cases.
Warren, the same day as his suspension, ended up holding a press conference on his prosecutors solving the 1983 murder of Barbara Gram. But he hired outside consultant Grayson Kamm to organize that event.
It raised budget concerns, Weisman wrote, to bring a consultant on in addition to Snow-Waxler’s position, who earned a $115,000 annual salary according to other portions of the file. But a day after the decision to hire Kamm, Warren told Weisman he had come to believe Snow-Waxler “may not have the requested skills to help the agency with communications.”
The concerns prompted a meeting with Snow-Waxler on July 25, where she told Warren, “Don’t give up on me yet.” Kamm met with staff the next day and, according to Weisman, “hit the ground running.”
By the eve of the Gram press conference, Warren voiced “significant frustration” at how much more work Kamm had done for the event than Snow-Waxler. The following day, Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Warren, and Kamm continued working with Warren on the event and the ousted State Attorney’s other communications.
After DeSantis installed Susan Lopez as the new State Attorney, Weisman said he was authorized to bring on a new consultant, and hired Fred Piccolo, a former spokesperson for DeSantis.
“At State Attorney Lopez’s direction, I instructed Ms. Snow-Waxler that she was not to provide any on the record comments to media until further instructed,” Weisman wrote.
It also states Lopez had offered direction that any articles about the internal operations of the State Attorney’s Office ought to focus on the work of prosecutors and not Lopez. But a Tampa Bay Times article quoted Snow-Waxler stating: “State Attorney Lopez is acclimating to her new role, having been sworn into office yesterday, and will be addressing the media in a more formal manner next week.”
After that, Weisman wrote only Piccolo would handle communications. On Aug. 12, Weisman informed Snow-Waxler of her termination. She was offered the opportunity to resign to protect “her professional standing in the media community,” but shortly after sent an email saying only “not resigning.”
Snow-Waxler did not respond to a request for comment. An hour and a half after requesting comment on Facebook, a reporter was blocked from viewing her page. A call for comment has also been placed to her attorney.