Mayor Rick Kriseman’s spokesman on Wednesday struggled to explain a television interview that his boss had given to WFLA Channel 8 a day before about a city engineer’s claim that he had been punished for contradicting Kriseman’s version of a chapter in the city’s sewage crisis.
Steven Marshall said his duties and responsibilities had been reduced following an October 2016 email he sent to city officials disputing Kriseman’s claim that a 2014 consultant report predicting sewage problems if city closed the Albert Whitted sewage plant had been buried. Although the mayor and City Council members never saw the report, Marshall said he emailed it to all the relevant sewer officials, an assertion later backed up by an independent auditor.
Marshall made his claim at a press conference organized by Kriseman’s mayoral opponent, Rick Baker.
Kriseman declined to discuss Marshall’s claims with the Tampa Bay Times.
But he did give an on-air interview to a WFLA reporter in which he referenced a 2015 pay raise as evidence that Marshall hadn’t been targeted.
“I think there’s a lot of employees that if they saw that kind of pay raise, I think they’d have a hard time saying they’ve been targeted,” Kriseman told reporter Ryan Hughes.
But Marshall’s claims he was retaliated against by the Kriseman administration only after his October 2016 email. Marshall was never demoted and received a standard pay raise this year, raising his salary to $109,622, but he was removed from two key roles and reassigned to another department after he spoke out.
The mayor declined comment, but his spokesman Ben Kirby said the mayor knew he was being asked about the 2015 pay raise. And he had been briefed about Marshall’s claim by city Human Resources Director Chris Guella.
“The mayor would agree that what happened in 2015 has nothing to do with what happened in 2016,” Kirby said.
Then why bring up an irrelevant pay raise to suggest that Marshall hadn’t been, as the mayor said, “targeted.”
Kirby said the mayor didn’t know much about the timing of Marshall’s pay raises and didn’t know him. But Kirby said the mayor believed Marshall’s accusations, less than a week before a tight mayoral election on Nov. 7, to be false.
“The whole claim is erroneous. There’s nothing to the claim,” Kirby said.
Marshall said that the city has already acknowledged that his duties were reduced. He said that previous promotions and pay increases were proof that he had been a good employee.