Brandi Gabbard, Richie Floyd stuck their noses where they don’t belong

Richie Floyd and Brandi Gabbard
They called for an employee's removal, but that's not their job.

Anytime a person in a position of authority — or any person in any position, really — uses hurtful language or actions, they should be held accountable.

Allegations against St. Petersburg Fire Rescue Chief Jim Large — that he made sexist, racist and homophobic remarks — are serious and Mayor Ken Welch was right to place him on administrative leave while the claims are fully vetted.

But that’s just it, it was Welch’s call.

I have no doubt that City Council Chair Brandi Gabbard and City Council member Richie Floyd’s hearts were in the right place. But both were not only wrong in calling for Large’s removal, they were acting in defiance of the City Charter.

Section 4.05 of the City Charter addressing administrative affairs and Council participation bars Council members from directing or requesting “the appointment or removal of any employee of the City to or from any position with the City.”

It further blocks council from taking part in “the appointment or removal of an employee of the City to or from any position.”

Instead, the Charter leaves that responsibility to the sole discretion of the Mayor or “any of the Mayor’s subordinates.”

Because of the seriousness of the allegations at issue in this case, this may seem a rather trivial offense. Who would blame any City Council member for believing that someone accused of such things — and someone who had previously been recommended for removal over a lack of diversity in leadership roles — should be replaced or at least further investigated.

But by overstepping the boundaries of their authority, Gabbard and Floyd created a slippery slope that, if unchecked, could lead to dysfunction.

Look no further than the city of Tampa as a cautionary tale about what happens when Council gets too big for its britches.

Both St. Pete and Tampa are strong Mayor forms of government, meaning the Mayor acts as chief executive while Council serves in a more legislative capacity. It’s the sort of check and balance on which this nation was formed.

But in Tampa, strife between some members of its City Council and Mayor Jane Castor has bred chaos. The anti-Castor faction, which constitutes a minority of Council, has pushed to diminish Castor’s authority while increasing Council’s. The efforts have caused political infighting, myriad distractions from actual governance and, in some cases, critical inaction.

In St. Pete on the Chief Large situation, the phrase “too many cooks in the kitchen” comes to mind.

Large has served with the city’s fire department for nearly 50 years and he’s been Chief since 2006. That kind of tenure deserves more than a knee jerk reaction from Council members trying to score cheap political points.

Whether Large is ultimately fired should come after a thorough investigation of the allegations against him, including a deeper look at employee sentiment at all levels.

And that is exactly what Welch is doing.

“It is important to underscore our executive team members are held to the highest standards and the administration did not take this decision lightly,” Welch said in a statement. “The City will continue its assessment and evaluation of all circumstances while weighing the facts and information received via the Employee Climate Survey and thereafter.”

City positions are there for the service of all residents. Where the Mayor is elected to consider the needs of the city as a whole, individual City Council members may be more inclined to consider the needs of their constituencies, which may differ from a citywide scope.

While that is unlikely to be the case in this situation, it’s why such a guideline is in place.

It is possible neither Gabbard nor Floyd were aware of this particular bit of fine print and that can be forgiven. But their calls for Large’s removal should stand as an educational moment, to ensure the Council stays in its lane and that the people of St. Petersburg are represented in the most appropriate way.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises Media and is the publisher of, 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.


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