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Kriseman cuts back duties for administrator who oversaw recycling

Mike Connors, Pier Selection Committee Chairman, front, said during the St. Petersburg City Council meeting in May, "I see myself going to this Pier Park time and time again." [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
Published Jul. 21, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG — The man behind the city's botched rollout of universal curbside recycling will no longer supervise the sanitation department that launched the program last month.

Public Works Administrator Mike Connors also won't oversee the city's purchasing department, which bought new recycling trucks that can't fit through back alleys, a drawback that's triggered a backlash from residents who don't want bins in the streets.

Mayor Rick Kriseman "announced Monday." that he was taking these duties away from the 61-year-old Connors, a City Hall fixture for nearly 30 years who is widely regarded as one of the shrewdest bureaucrats in town.

The timing of the cut back in Connors' role, which will go into effect in August, comes after a series of controversies, including recycling, that are dogging Kriseman's administration.

But Kriseman said the personnel move has nothing to do with Connors' performance and won't reduce his $152,028 salary, even though he will be directly supervising about 200 fewer employees.

"I'm constantly evaluating the structure and performance of the city and government, and going to continue that during my term," Kriseman said. "These were two opportunities I thought, based on what I've seen in last year and a half, to make a change to allow better functionality of those departments."

Chief of staff Kevin King said Connors' relationship with the Mayor's Office is strong and free of tension.

"He's got some huge projects on his plate that involve the mayors office and we work together on everything," King said.

In addition to recycling, Connors also oversees departments whose workers have complained often and loudly about racial discord, including an incident shortly before Kriseman took office in 2013 involving a white supervisor who was suspended instead of fired for what has become known as the "KKK incident."

And it was Connors who oversees the high-profile Pier Park project. Earlier this month, he assured council members there were no permitting issues associated with the demolition of the inverted pyramid, an assertion quickly contradicted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which subsequently delayed the project.

Some City Council members said that while they have an overall a good relationship with Connors, they've been frustrated at times.

Wengay Newton called Connors' assurances about the Pier permits "misleading." Steve Kornell said he didn't appreciate how Connors left out details in a presentation about a sewer treatment plant that has residents in his district upset.

"In Mike's role as a public servant and an operations manager, authenticity and humility, as well as being a good listener and communicator, are so important," said Darden Rice. "People don't want to feel managed. What we want are straight answers and real collaboration. Mike is used to doing things his own way, and that approach has not produced the best outcomes."

Connors did not return requests for comment Monday.

He came to the city in 1987 as engineer director and rose up the ladder. He's served in top public works positions for the city's first four strong mayors, David Fischer, Rick Baker, Bill Foster and Kriseman. He's had prominent roles in high profile projects, such as the Pier, recycling and the construction of a new police station.

The mayor noted that Connors had a dual role, serving also as a sustainability director with additional duties. But Kriseman said that workload wasn't the chief reason for the shuffle.

"It wasn't any one thing that triggered this," Kriseman said when asked what specifically prompted his decision.

The mayor said the recycling has been a team effort and its rollout was never going to be perfect. He said the Pier permitting issues are not a failure. And he said cultural issues in the departments under Connors, along with other administrators, are being addressed.

Newton said council members often must field criticism because of decisions made by city staffers like Connors.

"These people are unelected," Newton said. "They don't have to face the voters or the taxpayers paying their salary."

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Contact Kameel Stanley at kstanley@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8643. Follow @cornandpotatoes.

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