Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

25-year run ends for St. Petersburg city administrator

Jan. 1 will be the last day at City Hall for Tish Elston, 65.

DIRK SHADD | Times (2009)

Jan. 1 will be the last day at City Hall for Tish Elston, 65.

ST. PETERSBURG — With Mayor-elect Rick Kriseman taking over Jan. 2, City Administrator Tish Elston is leaving after serving taxpayers for 25 years.

Mayor Bill Foster fired Elston. Her last day is Jan. 1.

Elston, who earns about $157,000 a year, will walk away with a payout of about $125,000. That includes six months of severance pay worth $78,000 and about $54,000 in unused vacation and sick hours.

Politics factored into Elston's departure. Kriseman has hired nine high-paid aides to join him at City Hall, including long-time human resources director Gary Cornwell, who was promoted Monday to replace Elston on an interim basis.

"In order for Mayor-elect Kriseman to begin his term with a leadership team of his own choosing. I am releasing you from your duties," Foster wrote in a letter to Elston that was copied to the City Council and City Attorney John Wolfe on Monday.

The move allows Elston to collect the severance pay. The separation agreement was signed under former Mayor Rick Baker, Foster wrote.

When asked to respond the to the move, Foster replied: "This is common with mayoral transitions. This frees the new administration up to assemble his own team."

While that happens in other cities, turnover has been rare in the top jobs at St. Petersburg City Hall. Most administrators have served Florida's fourth-largest city for decades.

Kriseman also is bringing in a deputy mayor and a chief off staff, two roles not in the Foster administration. Cornwell earns about $120,000 a year; it was unclear Monday how much he will earn in his new job.

Elston could not be immediately reached for comment.

When Elston walks out of City Hall next week, decades of insider knowledge will leave with her.

She has been the city administrator since October 1999 and oversees finance, billing and collections, budget and management, human resources and information services.

Foster called Elston, 65, an "incredible resource" and an even better friend.

"Her passion for the citizens and staff and her knowledge of the city will be solely missed," he said. "St. Petersburg is a better place because of Tish."

As soon as Kriseman unseated Foster in the November election, speculation swirled over whether Elston would remain at City Hall.

Although Kriseman hired nine top aides, none can match Elston's experience at keeping services flowing to residents.

Baker praised Elston for being a hard worker who adhered to the highest-ethical standards.

"She was a huge asset for the city," Baker said. "She was the engineer who kept the trains running."

Elston moved to the city in 1973 but worked across the bay. She oversaw fiscal services in Hillsborough County government for 14 years before coming to St. Petersburg city government, where she served her first 10 years as budget director.

Earlier, she worked at the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council and at Indiana University, her alma mater.

During her tenure, Elston spent thousands of hours sitting at the dais listening to City Council members debate ordinances or other important matters. When council members stumped staffers with questions, they often turned to their right.

Elston knew the answers.

"She served the city well," outgoing council member Leslie Curran said. "I wish her the best. She has done a good job."

Contact Mark Puente at or (727) 893-8459. Follow on Twitter @ markpuente.

25-year run ends for St. Petersburg city administrator 12/23/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 24, 2013 10:17am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Gators rally past Kentucky, streak hits 31


    LEXINGTON, Ky. — For the second week in a row, Florida found itself storming the field in a game that came down to the last second. A 57-yard field-goal attempt by Kentucky kicker Austin MacGinnis came just a few feet short of making history and snapping a 30-year losing streak, as the No. 20 Gators escaped a …

    Florida wide receiver Brandon Powell (4) scores a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Kentucky, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, in Lexington, Ky.
  2. Pen makes it way too interesting as Rays hang on for 9-6 win


    A couple of home runs provided the news pegs of the night for the Rays, but it was more topical to talk about what nearly happened as they hung on for a 9-6 win over the Orioles.

    Lucas Duda's three-run homer in the third inning was the Rays' record-breaking 217th of the season, as well as his …

  3. An attempt to project what Rays will look like in 2018

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — We know what the Rays look like this year: a team that had enough talent but too many flaws, in construction and performance, and in the next few days will be officially eliminated from a wild-card race it had a chance to win but let slip away.

    Adeiny Hechavarria, high-fiving Lucas Duda, seems likely to be brought back.
  4. Trump fallout: Bucs' DeSean Jackson to make 'statement' Sunday


    Bucs receiver DeSean Jackson said Saturday that he will make a "statement" before today's game against the Vikings in response to President Donald Trump's comment that owners should "fire" players who kneel in protest during the national anthem.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver DeSean Jackson (11) makes a catch during the first half of an NFL game between the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017.
  5. Kriseman invites Steph Curry to St. Pete on Twitter


    Mayor Rick Kriseman is no stranger to tweaking President Donald Trump on social media.

    Mayor Rick Kriseman took to Twitter Saturday evening to wade into President Donald Trump's latest social media scuffle