The Florida Commission on Ethics has dismissed a nepotism complaint against Mayor Ken Welch, an accusation filed by a former political rival.
Last August, former mayoral hopeful Vince Nowicki filed a complaint after publicly accusing Welch of appointing his cousin, James Corbett, as city development administrator. A public report released Wednesday by the statewide commission dismissed that complaint.
“No probable cause was found to believe Ken Welch , city of St. Petersburg Mayor, misused his position or violated the anti-nepotism law regarding the hiring of his relative to a position within the city,” read an ethics commission news release also issued Wednesday.
Welch posted a copy of the commission on ethics’ public report to his personal Facebook page with a comment: “Facts are Stubborn Things.”
“While thankful for the thorough Ethics Commission review, it’s a shame that such an expensive exercise had to (be) undertaken, at taxpayer expense, based on false claims and political agendas,” Welch wrote, going on to complete President John Adams’ famous quote: “And whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”
The public report said no probable cause was found based on a preliminary investigation of the complaint and a recommendation of the commission’s advocate, Elizabeth A. Miller. The public report was signed by Glen Gilzean Jr., a former appointed Pinellas County School Board member.
St. Petersburg City Hall visitor logs show an ethics investigator named Brian Durham met with Corbett and the city’s human resources director, Chris Guella, on Jan. 23. The next day, Durham met with Welch and City Administrator Rob Gerdes, who recommended Corbett to the job last year.
Welch told City Council members in a memo last year that Corbett is not his first cousin, but his first cousin’s stepson until 30 years ago, when the cousin’s marriage was dissolved. There were 32 people, including three internal candidates, who applied for the job but Corbett was not among them. None of those candidates was granted an interview.
Nowicki, who said he attended the April 21 commission on ethics’ meeting in Tallahassee, said he respected the commissions’ opinion and its judgment.
“I think they brought valuable transparency on the matter that we didn’t get from City Hall,” he said. “I believe that it’s still a shame that, out of the 30-plus applicants or candidates, not a single person got an interview. That’s really not a way to lead the city.”
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Nowicki withdrew from the St. Petersburg mayor’s race in 2021 before the primary election, which Welch handily won. Since then, Nowicki has accused former City Council member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman of not living in the district she represented. She subsequently resigned. He also filed an IRS complaint against Allendale United Methodist Church for being involved in political campaigns and excessive lobbying.