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Boss' former wife roils St. Petersburg's water department

ST. PETERSBURG — She threatened her co-workers and gave them the middle finger. She pushed and yelled at a superior. She came and went as she pleased.

On paper, Kristi Cassady is one of the lowest-ranking employees in the city's water resources department, an environmental specialist with a modest paycheck and little responsibility.

But fellow employees said her special relationship with the boss has allowed her to get away with repeated incidents of insubordination, bullying and misconduct with little more than a slap on the wrist.

Kristi Cassady used to be married to water resources director George Cassady. The couple have two children together, but City Hall administrators don't consider their connection nepotism.

Still, the Cassadys' layered relationship has sparked multiple complaints from other employees, two internal investigations and a staff meeting on "common courtesy." Co-workers said they were too afraid to speak up for themselves because they worried George Cassady would lash out in retaliation. City administrators concluded her behavior was hurting the department.

At a time when dozens of city employees face termination amid budget constraints, some employees have begun to ask: Is this fair?

• • •

Kristi Cassady had just filed for divorce and was still living with her husband in their St. Pete Beach home when City Hall called with a job in 2006.

She told her co-workers all the sordid details of the messy divorce: He didn't want to pay her bills, he wanted custody of their two daughters, he wanted the house, according to court records and complaints from city employees.

He told the court she had anger problems.

It came as a surprise, then, when George Cassady was named the department's new director in June 2008. Kristi Cassady had tipped him to the job, he said in a recent interview.

Internal services administrator Mike Connors said he was initially worried about the pair's history and told George Cassady he shouldn't be involved in any disciplinary actions or evaluations involving his ex-wife. But Connors said he didn't think it was necessary to transfer Kristi Cassady to another department.

At the time, Kristi Cassady already had a history as a problem employee.

She slapped a child while working for Pinellas County schools in 2004 and was singled out for having a bad attitude as a Hillsborough County employee in the mid 1990s.

In St. Petersburg, she gave two employees the middle finger under the table during a meeting. Those employees said it was just a joke, but one superior called it immature.

She regularly punched in late or left early.

After George Cassady became the boss, Kristi Cassady's misconduct increased, according to complaints filed by city employees.

Her division manager said she complained about shift assignments and told him she, too, could "play rough." She threatened that he would have to deal with George Cassady.

In a separate incident, Kristi Cassady bumped into a superior so hard the woman lost her balance, according to statements from at least three employees. The woman told investigators she feared for her safety.

The city launched an internal investigation in January.

The assistant department director warned Kristi Cassady not to discuss the charges against her.

Instead, she told others "nothing was going to happen to her" and that her rivals in the department would be "spanked," according to city records.

Kristi Cassady, who declined to be interviewed for this story, told investigators she never hit anyone. But she admitted to intimidating other employees and added that she often made comments such as, "I will go to George" or "I will talk with George."

Most of the allegations against her were left out of the city's final investigation report, including the physical altercation and middle finger waving. The final report was added to her personnel file, but the detailed allegations were not.

"Ms. Cassady's comments and actions were harmful and disruptive to her organization," the report states. "Her improper remarks unjustifiably discredited the character and reputation of the department director to other employees under his authority."

She was suspended for two weeks without pay.

Soon after, the water resources department changed its late policy to allow for a five-minute grace period. Administrators said this had nothing to do with Kristi Cassady's irregular comings and goings.

In April, Kristi Cassady went on family leave. About the same time, another complaint was filed against her.

Connors said she wasn't required to take time off and declined to go into the new allegations until the investigation is complete.

At least four employees in the department, however, said Kristi Cassady had not stopped making threats. They said they often worried about losing their jobs because of her. The employees spoke on the condition of anonymity because they fear retribution.

Public records also show Kristi Cassady had taken to speeding in her city vehicle. In a two-day period earlier this month, in a brief return to work, she drove faster than 80 mph on city streets five times, according to the city's Global Positioning System reports.

• • •

George Cassady said none of his employees complained to him about his ex-wife's behavior. His department has handled the allegations about Kristi Cassady according to policy, he said.

"It's a difficult situation whether it's Kristi or anybody else," he said. "You want to do the right thing and you want to make sure people are treated fairly."

Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or csilva@sptimes.com.

Boss' former wife roils St. Petersburg's water department 05/30/09 [Last modified: Saturday, May 30, 2009 11:18pm]

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