A week after he fired the city's most visible black employee, Mayor Bill Foster sought to schedule a pair of closed-door meetings today and Friday with area pastors, primarily from churches with African-American congregations.
"We're just going to get together and talk about where to go from here," Foster said Wednesday. "We're not looking at the past."
Foster said he wanted to meet with the pastors because "I need the faith-based community to step up." He said he wanted the people who attend "to come with a heart full of prayer."
Foster said he asked "a couple of people" to arrange the meetings, so he wasn't sure who would be there. Reporters aren't invited.
"I didn't want to make this a press thing," the mayor said. "I didn't want to generate a story."
Former City Council member Rene Flowers organized today's 5 p.m. meeting at the Allstate Center at St. Petersburg College, which she called "neutral" ground. She said she didn't plan to attend herself, but invited the area's black pastors to share their thoughts about how the city should move forward in the wake of the mayor's dismissal of Goliath Davis III.
Flowers called the meeting an unscripted, free-flowing exchange — an "I'm here, here's what's on my mind" event.
"I think that's when you get the best outcome, because it's what's on your heart," she said.
The Rev. Manuel Sykes organized Friday's meeting, which was initially scheduled to be at his church, Bethel Community Baptist, but then was moved to City Hall.
"We're just trying to come together and share our information, so we're on the same page about what we're trying to accomplish," Sykes, who is president of the local NAACP, said Wednesday afternoon.
Then, Wednesday night, Sykes said he planned to cancel his event because he learned of the one being organized by Flowers.
"I don't want to duplicate and I don't want to be divided," said Sykes, whose meeting included black pastors along with members of the NAACP, the Urban League and Agenda 2010, a civic group organized by local magazine publisher Gypsy Gallardo.
"There's no sense in having two meetings doing the same thing," he said. "I think it sends the wrong message, two separate groups of pastors."
Sykes said Wednesday night that he had not yet told the mayor of his intention to cancel Friday's event.
The key difference between the two events, Sykes said, was a further discussion of Davis' firing at the Allstate meeting. His event would have focused on moving forward, he said.
One topic on his agenda, according to an e-mail sent by Gallardo, was to call for "the mayor to break the old mold of having one top black leader, and to adopt a strategy of diversity and inclusion throughout the Cabinet and top leadership of the city." Gallardo, editor and publisher of Power Broker magazine, could not be reached for comment.
Of the city's 3,119 employees, 27 percent are black. Of those, 23 are in positions counted as either officials or administrators. Roughly 22 percent of the city's population is black, according to the most recent U.S. Census figures.
Until last Friday, the most senior city employee who was African-American was Davis, whose $152,735-a-year job was senior administrator of community enrichment. He was also perceived as City Hall's unofficial liaison to the black community.
However, when Davis, a former police chief, did not attend the funeral of an officer slain in the line of duty, despite an order from Foster, the mayor fired him.
Flowers said the purpose of the meeting tonight is to make sure "there's still a focus and a concentration for services in the Midtown community … just like there'd be for any place that was struggling."
She said she thought there was room to hold two events, and viewed Sykes' event as more of a civic and community meeting given the inclusion of people other than pastors.