Two directors were fired from the city of St. Petersburg this month, another resigned without notice and a manager was also fired.
It’s the latest staffing shake-up at City Hall that leaves those watching wondering what’s going on behind closed doors.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, Real Estate and Property Management Director Alfred Wendler, Pavement and Traffic Operations Director Diana Rawleigh and Pavement and Traffic Manager Blair Barnhardt all were fired. Marketing Director Nina Mahmoudi, who led the city’s marketing department for eight years, resigned Dec. 2, effective immediately.
On all of the staffing changes, the city refused to comment, citing internal personnel decisions.
That’s a pretty standard line, especially in government offices, but it leaves open to interpretation a City Hall that has been in flux since at least September when former Communications Director Janelle Irwin Taylor abruptly resigned, citing a hostile work environment stemming from her immediate supervisor, then-Deputy Mayor Stephanie Owens. Owens resigned a couple days later.
The high-profile personnel moves, and the nature of allegations about the culture within City Hall, prompted Welch to eliminate the Deputy Mayor position, elevate Senior Advisor Doyle Walsh to the newly created Chief of Staff position and replace Irwin Taylor with two hires running comms.
With the latest firings, and Mahmoudi’s immediate resignation, questions are again revived about the internal workings at City Hall under Welch’s tenure.
Sources with knowledge of the administration previously hinted Mahmoudi’s job was in jeopardy and speculated she might be being forced out. The nature of her resignation seems to support such speculation. Mahmoudi was considered a rising star in the city under Welch’s predecessor, former Mayor Rick Kriseman, where she worked closely with then-Deputy Mayor and City Administrator Kanika Tomalin.
Those fired all were hired under the Kriseman administration.
For the city to fire two directors, a top leadership title within the organization, and a manager is a big deal. To do so without giving even a canned explanation sends the wrong message.
Leadership is right to not elaborate, and doing so often is unfair to those dismissed. However, constituents living and working under city leadership underscored by what has appeared to be at least some level of dysfunction deserve to know at least some modicum of reasoning behind the shake-up.
Certainly an explanation is possible without undermining any needed confidentiality.
Based on what little is known about Welch’s at times tumultuous first year, one could be forgiven for making assumptions. And assumptions are the last thing a Mayor whose top appointed staff resigned just eight months after assuming office — both seemingly under varying degrees of distress (Irwin Taylor under discontent and Owens under fire for creating a hostile work environment.)
Welch came to office with a strong agenda, focused largely on establishing equity, particularly in communities that have long struggled to thrive. It’s an important goal and everyone in the city should be rooting for his success.
But these distractions take away from his agenda, especially when question marks loom about the rationale. Those in political circles had hoped progress would follow Owens’ resignation and that once healed from the immediate blowback, the Welch administration would be able to forge forward with renewed focus.
But now, just over two months later, it appears the internal tumult continues.