ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman announced Thursday that News Channel 8 TV reporter Yolanda Fernandez will become the St. Petersburg Police Department spokesperson and community awareness manager.
"Through her time at News Channel 8, Yolanda Fernandez is well-known to the people of St. Petersburg and the Tampa Bay community," Kriseman said in a statement. "Every day, the men and women of our Police Department do extraordinary things to keep our residents and visitors safe. I look forward to Yolanda leading the way in telling those stories."
Kriseman's spokesman Ben Kirby said interim Chief Dave DeKay "worked closely" with the mayor on the selection process, but it's clear that the mayor spearheaded the effort to hire her.
Around the time of long-serving spokesman Bill Proffitt's retirement this spring, Kriseman approached Fernandez about the opening, she said.
Though Fernandez, 51, does not have a background in law enforcement, she has covered the department as a reporter for decades.
"Clearly, I have a lot to learn about law enforcement, but as we look around, most of the law enforcement offices in the area have turned to professional media people," she said. "I think I have a good perspective of what the media is looking for."
In the mayor's news release, DeKay said: "Community engagement through effective communication is an important service we provide. Having someone with the experience and skills of Ms. Fernandez will be a great enhancement to our staff."
Fernandez, who will make $90,000 in her new position, has spent 30 years in the media, 25 in the Tampa Bay area covering stories for News Channel 8, according to the statement from the mayor's office. She grew up in the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area and lives here now with her family.
George Lofton, a member of the department and the senior vice president of the Suncoast Police Benevolent Association, supported the mayor's choice and lauded Fernandez's experience.
He also noted that the communications department will still have spokesman Mike Puetz, who has an extensive background in law enforcement.
Fluent in Spanish and English, Fernandez graduated summa cum laude from Troy State University in Alabama, where she studied broadcast journalism, music and modern language.
According to her Ch. 8 profile page, she was named Miss Alabama in 1982 and was third runnerup to Miss America.
She begins work June 23.