ST. PETERSBURG — Janelle Irwin Taylor, the city’s communications director under Mayor Ken Welch since he took office almost seven months ago, resigned Thursday citing a “culture of bullying” by his chief deputy.
The resignation was effective at the close of business Thursday.
In a letter addressed to Welch, Taylor thanked him for the opportunity “to expand my expertise and serve this administration and the city I love.” It goes on to say that Taylor’s supervisor, Deputy Mayor Stephanie Owens, is the reason why her resignation is effective immediately.
“After our discussion on August 30, 2022, I have determined that the disclosed hostile work environment, lack of communication or guidance and overall culture of bullying, all related to my direct supervisor, were not adequately addressed, and thus warrant my immediate departure from this administration,” Taylor wrote.
In a subsequent statement, Taylor thanked the mayor for the opportunity and said her experience in City Hall “has been enlightening and valuable.”
“However, I have made the decision to pursue alternative professional opportunities that afford me the flexibility to further my education and spend more time with my family,” she wrote. “I wish Mayor Welch and the city of St. Petersburg all the best now and into the future.”
In a text sent in response to a phone call and text seeking comment, Owens referred questions to St. Petersburg Police spokesperson Yolanda Fernandez for comment. Fernandez said she was “just now getting word of this issue,” that she was just finishing lunch and needed to make internal phone calls to the city.
“Honestly I haven’t even seen the letter,” Fernandez said. “So I can’t even speak to you.”
Fernandez, who will handle media requests for the city on an interim basis, later provided a statement from Welch’s office. She said he was “just made aware” of the allegations on Tuesday.
“He takes these types of workplace allegations very seriously,” Fernandez wrote. “He is committed to investigating them thoroughly and will take appropriate action if necessary.”
When a reporter asked for an interview with Welch, Fernandez said, “It would not be appropriate for the mayor to comment publicly while the allegations are being investigated.”
“Once the investigation has concluded and the mayor has had time to review all the facts, he may issue a statement at that time,” she wrote in an email, adding that the investigations are being handled internally.
City Council chairperson Gina Driscoll said she got a heads-up from the administration Thursday morning of Taylor’s departure but didn’t learn the reasons why until she saw news reports.
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“I was surprised to read that,” she said. “I’ve developed a great relationship with the deputy mayor and haven’t seen or experienced anything like what was described.”
“I’m certain the mayor will do everything that he can to ensure we have a healthy work environment,” Driscoll added.
Stephanie Owens was Welch’s campaign manager and transition director before he tapped her to serve as deputy mayor and chief of policy. She also served as chairperson of the St. Petersburg Housing Authority governing board.