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Mayor Bill Foster plans to fill void left by Go Davis' departure

As St. Petersburg's highest-ranking African-American employee, Goliath Davis III had a job that wasn't listed on the city's organizational chart. The former police chief turned senior administrator of community enrichment was perceived as City Hall's unofficial liaison to St. Petersburg's black community.

But last week Mayor Bill Foster fired Davis and announced he would reorganize the departments that once answered to him. Asked this week if he knew who would help connect City Hall with the black community, Foster had a simple answer:

"Yeah, me."

There is no need for any city employee to take charge of dealing with the needs of the black community, explained Foster, who is white.

"I intend to be the mayor for the entire community," he said. "I intend to be very accessible and open as we go forward."

That was news to council member Wengay Newton, whose district is predominantly made up of black voters. He said Foster had not consulted with him or kept him informed about that.

"Well, sounds like he's got a plan," said Newton, the city's only African-American council member. "I don't know what's going down."

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.

With Davis' departure, the city's most senior black employee is now Clarence Scott III, who is paid $124,900 a year to oversee leisure and community services. Scott, who has worked for the city off and on since 1980, is in charge of everything from libraries and parks to housing and community services.

But don't call him Davis' successor.

"I'm not the new Goliath Davis," said Scott, who regarded Davis as both a mentor and a friend. "I'm still Clarence Scott."

As far as he's concerned, Davis never really held that liaison position — at least, not by himself.

"I believe in a community of this size, with an African-American population this size, you have more than one liaison," said Scott, a St. Petersburg native who got his start helping relocate residents from his old Gas Plant neighborhood to make room for Tropicana Field.

To think otherwise is to regard St. Petersburg's black community as one monolithic entity, and that's not the case, he said. "We are much broader and more diverse than that."

That's the way council member Karl Nurse sees it, too.

Nurse, a white council member whose district includes neighborhoods south of downtown, said he thinks the time of having one city employee talking to the black community is over.

"I would hope we've moved on and now have more than one person involved in that," he said.

Davis, who was paid $152,735 a year, had another unofficial title that led to his ouster: "lightning rod." He and Foster clashed repeatedly while Foster was on the City Council and Davis served as police chief.

Davis retired in 2001, but then-Mayor Rick Baker asked him to stay on as deputy mayor. At City Hall, his supporters praised him for being a troubleshooter who gave black residents a voice. His detractors said they weren't sure what his work entailed.

At a news conference Friday, Davis said Foster fired him because he did not attend the funeral for the third officer killed in the city in 28 days. Yet the former police chief did go to the funeral of the convict who killed the first two officers.

Foster said he "lost confidence" in Davis to perform his duties, which included overseeing Midtown, the business assistance center and community development. Davis ignoring Foster's order to attend Officer David S. Crawford's funeral was "a straw," Foster said.

Davis said he went to the convict's funeral because he was close friends with Hydra Lacy Jr.'s family — not to pay respects to the killer. Davis acknowledged ignoring the mayor's order, saying he paid his respects at the officers' wakes.

Craig Pittman can be reached at craig@sptimes.com. This story has been changed to reflect the following correction: The St. Petersburg neighborhood whose residents were relocated to make room for what is now Tropicana Field was known as the Gas Plant. Another neighborhood was mistakenly named.

Mayor Bill Foster plans to fill void left by Go Davis' departure 03/08/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 9, 2011 7:14pm]
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