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Official draws heat, praise

(ran West edition)

At least three council members support City Manager Jerry Mudd's handling of problems in the police department, in spite of his critics.

In recent days, leadership has been a hot issue in Pinellas Park government.

Some have questioned the leadership of the Police Department, which has been besieged by allegations of sexual, racial and age discrimination.

Finally, the questions became too much and City Manager Jerry Mudd told the police chief he had lost confidence in his leadership. He gave David Milchan five days to explain why he should not be fired. Instead, Milchan resigned. And Mudd appointed a new leader, police Lt. Dorene Thomas, as interim chief.

Now Milchan and others are questioning Mudd's leadership. Most recently, Capt. Bob Hempel, a high-level police official who had been groomed for leadership by Milchan, wrote a memo accusing Mudd of causing many of the department's problems.

Mudd brushes those charges off, saying he's not upset at the attacks.

But what do his five bosses _ the members of the Pinellas Park City Council _ think? That's an important question at any time, but especially on the eve of the council's decision whether to give him a raise. Mudd currently earns $80,000 a year. Is their confidence in his leadership shaken by the charges?

Apparently not. Mudd still has at least three council members who support him and his decisions. It would take a vote of at least three to fire him.

"I think Jerry's leadership is right on," council member Ed Taylor said Tuesday. "I think he's getting it right."

Taylor said Hempel's memo failed to influence him against the city manager.

"This is Bob's take on the events," he said. Other employees would have different views. At the same time, Taylor said, he's glad Hempel wrote the memo.

"That's what having an open workplace is all about." Taylor said. "I think it's refreshing to hear from him."

Mayor Bill Mischler also continues to support Mudd.

The complaints are "isolated to one department," Mischler said. "If I found it in other departments, I could look at there may be something wrong with Jerry's leadership."

Rick Butler made it at least three in agreement.

"I have the utmost faith in the city manager. These are employee-related issues that I'm not going to get involved with," Butler said. "We're proceeding along the right way to go."