New questions arise for Ken Welch as several staffers get axed
Image via AP.

Ken Welch AP
The city gave no explanation for firing several high-level employees.

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. 

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises Media and is the publisher of FloridaPolitics.com, INFLUENCE Magazine, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Previous to his publishing efforts, Peter was a political consultant to dozens of congressional and state campaigns, as well as several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella. Follow Peter on Twitter @PeterSchorschFL.


13 comments

  • tom palmer

    December 12, 2022 at 6:47 pm

    you’re right. the public deserves some sort of explanation. I cannot recall anything comparable. it makes you wonder if he was oversold.

    • Verniquwa

      December 13, 2022 at 2:20 pm

      I would just like to know why do you feel like he owes you or anyone else explanation ?

      • tom palmer

        December 13, 2022 at 9:31 pm

        elected officials should be accountable for their actions

      • just sayin

        December 14, 2022 at 9:36 am

        Because he’s elected and paid for by the people who elected him. Do you really not understand this?

        • tom palmer

          December 14, 2022 at 7:22 pm

          be interested to see how the payoffs you mention pan out. You talking about a criminal investigation or something else? Since there has been no explanation for the changes the whole affair is mysterious.,

  • Janice B. Hill

    December 13, 2022 at 7:53 am

    Still have high hopes for St Pete – equity is a good goal.

    • T P

      December 13, 2022 at 4:00 pm

      Oh stop with the equity trash.

  • Jonathan A Ginsberg

    December 13, 2022 at 8:34 am

    1) New Mayor elected
    2) New Mayor takes office, and evaluates staff from previous administration
    3) New Mayor makes staff changes

    Where is the story, here? What is unexpected?

  • tom palmer

    December 13, 2022 at 3:35 pm

    We don’t know why any of this occurred, for one. How did these actions benefit the public? Also, you might want to look at the political connections of the successors. Was this about competency or something else?

  • T P

    December 13, 2022 at 4:00 pm

    Elections have consequences.

    • tom palmer

      December 14, 2022 at 7:23 pm

      that was trite enough.

  • Layne B

    December 15, 2022 at 6:05 pm

    As usual, the people grifting on identity politics are lousy at building, leading or uniting. So it’s no wonder Welch turns out to be a joke at being a leader.
    “Equity” is a toxic substitute for actual equality and will do nothing to help citizens of St Pete.

  • tom palmer

    December 15, 2022 at 6:19 pm

    The silence so far at the Tampa Bay Times is interesting

Comments are closed.


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