ST. PETERSBURG — The Police Department has opened an inquiry into the propriety of a shirt worn Saturday by mayoral candidate Bill Foster when he stopped by a Suncoast Police Benevolent Association July 4 barbecue.
Foster dropped in and helped flip some burgers to be delivered to the men and women stuck working the holiday.
The thing is, Foster was wearing a campaign shirt.
Now, the department has begun an internal affairs inquiry to see if there needs to be a formal investigation into whether any city rules governing employees and political campaigning were broken.
What rules could have possibly been broken? Rule No. 1 states that "no city employee shall take active part in political campaigns or other political activities while on active pay status."
Now the union is fired up. Executive director Michael Krohn said it was just three off-duty officers grilling burgers for their on-duty colleagues.
They were doing it off city property, and he said there were no active-duty officers around when Foster showed up and ended up helping flip a few burgers.
The three officers have since been questioned.
"Now you have officers sitting there wondering, 'Am I going to be disciplined? Am I in trouble? My word isn't good enough?' " Krohn said.
Foster's response: "I hope they're not spending a lot of taxpayer money on this inquiry."
The candidate said he was on his way to Albert Whitted Airport to hang out and watch fireworks when he stopped by police headquarters to thank officers working the holiday.
He said he thanked a few on- and off-duty officers. But then there was trouble at the grill.
"One guy was sweating bullets," Foster said. "I grabbed the spatula, and then I couldn't talk to anybody."
Foster emphasized, though, that "it wasn't a campaign stop. I say thank you to the police all the time."
Did he get to eat anything?
"I ate a lonely charred burger," he said, noting they had run out of buns by that time. "It was one I didn't feel comfortable serving."