Fired: City worker who accused Kriseman administration of bullying gets the ax

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ST. PETERSBURG ó A city engineer who went public with allegations of bullying and intimidation by Mayor Rick Krisemanís administration has gotten the ax.

Steven Marshall, who appeared with Krisemanís opponent, Rick Baker, days before the Nov. 7 election to complain about the Kriseman administrationís bullying and intimidation tactics, was terminated Tuesday, said Chris Guella, the cityís human resources director.

Marshallís comments at Bakerís Oct. 31 news conference were a factor in his firing, Guella said.

"His comments showed that he was not happy, not happy with the department, not happy working in this environment," Guella said. "The city does disagree that he was bullied and intimidated."

Marshall also was "combative and antagonistic" with other employees, Guella said.

Marshallís troubles began when he wrote an October 2016 memo questioning Krisemanís account of a 2014 consultantís study that warned of possible sewage spills if the Albert Whitted sewage plant was closed without replacing its capacity.

The mayor had said he had never seen the study and suggested it may have been deliberately buried. Marshallís memo said the study had been widely distributed among sewer officials, an assertion backed up by an independent auditor hired by the City Council later that year.

At the Baker news conference, Marshall said he had been assured by senior city officials that he wouldnít be punished for the memo ó written as a lengthy email to Guella ó but was later stripped of most responsibilities.

Marshall said at the news conference that other city workers had been similarly punished for speaking out.

A week later, Kriseman beat Baker to win a second four-year term.

Marshallís dismissal shouldnít have a chilling effect on city workers expressing discontent with Kriseman or his administration, Guella said.

"Employees have an open door policy to go speak anywhere. We do not have a history of firing employees just because they disagree with a decision or a direction," Guella said.

Marshall said allegations that he couldnít get along with co-workers were untrue. He said he had never been counseled or disciplined for that.

"Those allegations are meant to distract from the real issues. When I wrote that memo in October 2016, I expressed the fear that I would be retaliated against. That is precisely what has happened," Marshall said. "I wasnít an angry employee."

Guella said some emails existed that showed Marshall had problems with colleagues, but didnít provide them to the Tampa Bay Times.

Krisemanís spokesman Ben Kirby said the mayor didnít know in advance about Marshallís termination.

The mayorís office later issued a statement, which also referenced a second high-ranking sewer official who worked his last day on Tuesday.

"Administrators and directors are empowered to make personnel decisions for their departments," it read. "Mayor Kriseman fully supports those decisions. He thanks both Mr. Gibson and Mr. Marshall for their service to our city and wishes them well."

Gibson, who had served as interim public works administrator, will formally retire Jan. 1, although heíll be on leave until then.

Kriseman suspended Gibson for about three months in 2016 for his role in the sewage crisis, during which millions of gallons of sewage were discharged in or near area waterways during heavy summer rain events. The mayor later brought him back with a demotion.

Guella said the city "mutually" decided with Gibson, 60, that he was ready to retire after a 30-year career with the city.

"It had nothing to do with his performance. It just wasnít the best situation from the cityís perspective. It really wasnít a good fit," Guella said.

Gibson, who had also served as engineering director, made $122,152.

Marshall, 55, who had worked for the city for 17Ĺ years, made $109,622.

Contact Charlie Frago at [email protected] or (727)893-8459. [email protected]

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