Friday, June 22, 2018
Politics

City engineer says Mayor Rick Kriseman retaliated against him

ST. PETERSBURG— A city engineer says Mayor Rick Kriseman’s administration punished him for speaking out at the height of last year’s sewage crisis.

Engineer Steven Marshall spoke out about the incident at a Tuesday news conference organized by former Mayor Rick Baker, who is challenging Kriseman in the mayoral election.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Another St. Petersburg official says he fears ‘retaliation’ for sewage crisis (Oct. 13, 2016)

It all goes back to the 2014 consultant’s memo warning that closing the Albert Whitted sewage plant could cause major problems for the sewer system. The plant was closed in 2015 (per a City Council vote years before) and the sewage spills began soon afterward. During the crisis, Kriseman and council members said they never saw the consultant’s warning.

Marshall wrote an October 2016 email saying that even if elected officials never saw the report, plenty of top sewer officials did.

Before he wrote the memo, Marshall said senior city officials assured him that he would not be punished. But soon afterward, the engineer said Tuesday, he was stripped of his responsibilities and projects.

"I’m here because mine is not a unique situation," Marshall said. "There are many people in the city that are currently undergoing the same type of reprisals and they’re worried about their careers because they’ve been told to stay quiet.

"I’m hoping my presence here today, in some form or fashion, will stop this, this cannot stand."

However, Human Resources Director Chris Guella said Marshall wasn’t demoted and his pay was never cut. Marshall, 55, has worked for the city since 2000 and now makes $109,622. He received his standard pay raise, Guella said.

"This administration does not insert itself," Guella said. "Not Kriseman, or senior staff, is going to get involved and start bullying workers."

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: No criminal charges in St. Pete’s 1 billion gallon sewage crisis (Oct. 27, 2017)

Guella did confirm that Marshall was removed from a supervisory role over maintenance of sewage plant and lift station days after his email. And he was removed as project manager of the city’s $65 million project to convert sewage byproducts into energy and fertilizer at the city’s Southwest sewage plant in April. He was transferred from the Water Resources Department to the Engineering Department in June.

Baker urged others to come forward if they had been mistreated by the mayor or his administration

"No one has the political or moral authority to bully or intimidate people for political gain. No one," Baker said. "So today I am publicly calling on others who have been bullied or intimidated by the Kriseman administration to step forward and be heard."

Several Kriseman supporters outside the Gateway office building where Baker staged the news conference waved signs reading "Boxcutter Baker" and "Baker the Bully," a reference to a 2007 incident where police officers slashed homeless tents while Baker was mayor.

When asked to comment on Marshall’s allegations, Kriseman campaign spokesman Jacob Smith instead referred back to the 2007 incident.

Kriseman wasn’t available for comment, but his spokesman Ben Kirby noted that there are three levels of management between Marshall and the mayor.

The news conference was also attended by three prominent Baker supporters who have complained in the past that Kriseman has retaliated against them: St. Petersburg College trustee Deveron Gibbons, who said Kriseman complained to the college’s president after he criticized the police department; City Council member Jim Kennedy, who said he was removed from regional boards and barred from speaking with city staff after disagreeing with the mayor’s plans to let the Tampa Bay Rays look outside the city for a new ballpark; and Chris Eaton, who serves on the city’s Arts Advisory Board, who said he was verbally rebuked by Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin and chief of staff Kevin King after declining to contribute to Kriseman’s reelection campaign.

None of the three men spoke at the news conference.

How the Kriseman administration handles dissent by city employees also became an issue in 2016. An administrative policy was implemented allowing workers to be fired if they spoke to the media without the permission of the mayor’s office. Kriseman soon changed the policy back to an older, less punitive one created during the Baker administration from 2001-10.

Two whistleblowers emerged from the 2015-16 sewage crisis. Craven Askew and Kyle Soriano both sought legal protection for speaking to the media about the city’s sewer problems, saying they feared for their jobs. Neither Askew nor Soriano have been punished in any way, Guella said.

"We’re not hiding anything," the city’s human resources director said.

Contact Charlie Frago at [email protected] or (727)893-8459. [email protected]

TAMPA BAY TIMES COVERAGE: ST. PETERSBURG SEWAGE WOES

Rick vs. Rick: Closing Albert Whitted sewage plant could impact St. Petersburg mayor’s race (May 29, 2017)

St. Pete sewage crisis ends with no charges, $326 million bill (July 21, 2017)

Rick Kriseman’s administration lashed in St. Pete sewage report (July 22, 2017)

Email warning ignored before St. Pete started spewing sewage (July 24, 2017)

Comments
Six candidates waltz into their seats as qualifying ends. The rest still have a fight

Six candidates waltz into their seats as qualifying ends. The rest still have a fight

Six local candidates across Tampa Bay — all county commissioners and city council members — effectively won their elections Friday by default: No one qualified to run against them.The rest still have a fight.Some will square off in an Aug. 28 primary...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Former Tampa police corporal qualifies as Democrat to run for Hillsborough sheriff

Former Tampa police corporal qualifies as Democrat to run for Hillsborough sheriff

TAMPA — A Democrat has officially joined the race for Hillsborough County sheriff.Gary Pruitt, a 50-year-old former Tampa police corporal who now works as director of security at a local mall, qualified Friday to challenge Republican Sheriff Chad Chr...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Carlton: Could anything be more partisan than going nonpartisan?

Carlton: Could anything be more partisan than going nonpartisan?

So Hillsborough County commissioners — most of them, anyway — want voters to consider dropping political parties from certain elections, making those races nonpartisan instead.This would mean when you go to vote in those elections, you won’t know if ...
Published: 06/22/18
Hotel renovator approved by council to restore New Port Richey’s Hacienda Hotel

Hotel renovator approved by council to restore New Port Richey’s Hacienda Hotel

NEW PORT RICHEY — A seasoned historic hotel renovator and operator is going to take a crack at getting New Port Richey’s city-owned Hacienda Hotel back into action. New Port Richey City Council members, acting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, u...
Published: 06/20/18
Pope Francis criticizes Trump’s family-separation policy on migrants, says ‘populism is not the solution’

Pope Francis criticizes Trump’s family-separation policy on migrants, says ‘populism is not the solution’

VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis stepped into a growing controversy over President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, criticizing the separation of migrant families at the U.S.-Mexican border and saying that "populism" and "creating psychosis" are not t...
Published: 06/20/18
Raburn out in State House 57 race. Now who’s in?

Raburn out in State House 57 race. Now who’s in?

Well, that didn’t last long.U.S. Army veteran Michael Sean McCoy filed to run as the Republican candidate in the State House, District 57 race just hours after incumbent State Rep. Jake Raburn, R-Lithia, announced he was stepping down.McCoy, who live...
Published: 06/19/18
Updated: 06/21/18
Romano: A Tampa Bay ‘superstar’ caught in the crosshairs of Trump’s border policy

Romano: A Tampa Bay ‘superstar’ caught in the crosshairs of Trump’s border policy

At this moment, she is Tampa Bay’s most influential export. A smart, accomplished and powerful attorney making life-altering decisions on an international stage.But what of tomorrow? And the day after?When the story of President Donald Trump’s border...
Published: 06/19/18
‘Don’t leave me, Mom’: Detainee tells of separation from son

‘Don’t leave me, Mom’: Detainee tells of separation from son

SEATTLE — The call came at mealtime — an anonymous threat demanding $5,000 or her son’s life. So Blanca Orantes-Lopez, her 8-year-old boy and his father packed up and left the Pacific surfing town of Puerto La Libertad in El Salvador and headed for t...
Published: 06/19/18
Trump defiant as border crisis escalates, prepares to lobby House GOP on immigration bills

Trump defiant as border crisis escalates, prepares to lobby House GOP on immigration bills

WASHINGTON - As he prepared to visit Capitol Hill, President Donald Trump on Tuesday continued to insist that Congress produce comprehensive immigration legislation, while anxious Republicans explored a narrower fix to the administration policy of se...
Published: 06/19/18
Trump, GOP to huddle as outrage builds over border policy

Trump, GOP to huddle as outrage builds over border policy

WASHINGTON (AP) — Calls are mounting on Capitol Hill for the Trump administration to end the separation of families at the southern border ahead of a visit from President Donald Trump to discuss legislation.Trump’s meeting late Tuesday afternoon with...
Published: 06/19/18