ST. PETERSBURG — After nearly three days of silence on the subject, Mayor Bill Foster released a statement Wednesday supporting one of his top administrators, Goliath Davis, for attending the funeral of the gunman who killed two St. Petersburg police officers on Jan. 24.
Tampa shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem has blasted Davis for attending Hydra Lacy Jr.'s funeral yet apparently missing the funeral of Sgt. Thomas J. Baitinger and K-9 Officer Jeffrey A. Yaslowitz. Davis has said he went to the Lacy funeral to support the family, which includes his friend, boxer Jeff Lacy. Davis would not say whether he attended the officers' funeral, but said he paid his respects to their families.
Clem called Davis' presence at Lacy's funeral an affront to the slain officers and their families. He also said he had it from high-ranking law enforcement sources that Davis, the city's police chief from 1997 to 2001, missed the officers' funeral.
Others joined in the criticism, including a top police union official and dozens of angry listeners who sent e-mails to Foster demanding that Davis be fired.
Foster responded Wednesday with a 163-word statement that endorsed the job Davis was doing as his senior administrator of community enrichment.
"I will not … sit in judgment of anyone who reaches out to a family in crisis — period," Foster wrote. "If I felt compelled to respond to every radio personality who took issue with the city, that would become all consuming, and there is simply too much work to be done."
"The job of Dr. Davis is to help me do my job, especially in matters of community enrichment, codes, housing and business assistance," Foster said. "As far as I am concerned, all parties involved are performing their jobs at a very high level."
His remarks didn't address questions about Davis' whereabouts, including confirmation that Davis did not attend the officers' funeral or whether Davis was asked to miss the funeral.
In an earlier e-mail, City Administrator Tish Elston said Davis was not required to attend the officers' funeral.
"Not all (top city administrators) attended the services," Elston said. "As with the entire City organization, some assisted directly with the services, while others ensured that the city's routine services were carried out. It was made clear to all staff that the city's service delivery needed to be maintained throughout. Goliath, along with others, ensured that the city was running smoothly."
The ambiguous nature of Foster's response was in keeping with the complicated relationship between the two men who have come to dominate city politics.
They first clashed in 1999 when Foster was on the City Council and Davis was police chief.
Davis released videos that depicted officers making sexist and bigoted comments over the objections of the police union. The union called for a grand jury to investigate whether Davis discriminated against white officers.
Davis said he released the videos after talking with city attorneys and deciding that the media might get unedited copies that would reveal undercover officers' identities.
Foster, in a memo to then Mayor David Fischer, called the release "a department embarrassment" and a "betrayal of trust." He complained that Fischer provided no oversight of Davis and voted for a management review of the chief that was rejected by a majority of the council.
In 2002, when Davis was deputy mayor, he presented a report on Midtown that Foster panned. "As I see it, it's a plan to do more plans," Foster said. "I'm disappointed that's the way it ended up."
When Foster and Kathleen Ford were the final two candidates running for mayor in 2009, there was talk about whether either would retain Davis if elected, and questions about what Davis' exact role in the city entailed.
Davis supported Deveron Gibbons in the race. When Gibbons lost the primary and threw his support to Foster, so did Davis.
Gibbons said no deal was struck requiring Foster to keep Davis as a top administrator. On Wednesday, he noted how slow Foster was in voicing support for his old nemesis.
"If I were mayor, I would have stood up and on camera said, 'Look, this isn't about Go Davis,' " said Gibbons. "I would have said, 'He cares about our community, he has served our community. We need to move on.'"
Council member Jeff Danner also said Foster had been slow to vouch for Davis.
"I'm not sure why there's a silence on the mayor's part," Danner said before Foster released his statement. "He's the mayor. He should defend those actions by his staff members, or take action against them if he disapproves."
Danner and Gibbons said that Foster's relationship to police union members, who strongly supported his mayoral campaign, likely complicated his response. Among those expressing displeasure with Davis was St. Petersburg Detective Mark Marland, president of the Suncoast Police Benevolent Association.
"I believe attending the cop killer's funeral is a slap in the face to the fallen officers and their families," Marland said Monday.
After the release of Foster's statement, Michael Krohn, executive director and attorney for the Suncoast Police Benevolent Association, spoke on behalf of the union.
"At the end of the day I respect the mayor's stance," Krohn said. "I don't think it's the mayor or the chief of police's choice to determine what people should and should not attend on behalf of the city or agency. It boils down to the moral decision of an individual to determine what they should and should not attend."
Clem had this to say about Foster's response: "I call it pathetic and good luck in (the next election) buddy."