Joe Henderson: St. Pete Mayor Ken Welch has a real credibility problem now


Let’s say something up front about the turmoil at City Hall in St. Petersburg.

Mayor Ken Welch should understand that Janelle Irwin Taylor, his former Communications Director, now has much more credibility than he does.

You can bet your last dollar that when Irwin Taylor said that if there was a “toxic work environment” in the Mayor’s office, it was the truth. She pointed the accusing finger at Deputy Mayor Stephanie Owens for creating that mess, along with a “culture of bullying.”

Owens quickly resigned, but the story didn’t end there. It’s just beginning.

If Welch knew that Owens was toxic and bullying but did nothing about it, that would be either neglect or cowardice. He could pay a steep political price for that.

But if Welch, as he tried to imply, was unaware of how bad things had gotten, that’s worse. How could he not know that his top assistant, whose office was close to his, created a place where people didn’t want to come to work?

Certainly, Irwin Taylor tried to tell him, as her resignation letter made plain.

“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,” she wrote.

I’ve known Janelle for several years, and she was often my editor here at Florida Politics. She is wicked smart, insightful, and has a 24-carat heart of caring. Her integrity is above reproach, and she is on a short list of the best editors I’ve worked with over a nearly five-decade career in this business.

There’s something else you should know, though: the girl don’t take no crap. Janelle is one of the toughest people I know.

She is a hockey mom, and before that, she was a soccer and softball player.

Owens discovered that hockey moms don’t back down from a fight if they believe it’s righteous. And I have to believe that when Janelle penned her explosive resignation letter, she believed she was speaking for more than just herself.

I mean, would anyone believe Owens only treated Janelle badly? Now that Owens is out the door, even Inspector Clouseau could uncover many folks willing to share their stories.

Janelle used precise words for maximum effect and not because she wanted to burn the house down on her way out. Janelle loves St. Petersburg and wanted to help make a difference.

Welch actually should thank her for bluntly saying what up to then had been an open secret about Owens’ management style.

He began his term as Mayor vowing to bring unity to the city. Yeah, I get the irony that it took an explosive event like this, pushing Owens out the door, to make that possible. As bad as it is, this gives Welch a chance to get his administration back on course.

Yes, Mr. Mayor, you have a real problem on your hands. Any solution begins by being honest with yourself.

You’re going to need complete transparency about how things got this bad. Anything less than complete honesty would turn a horrible situation into something untenable.

What did you know? When did you know it?

And, most important, why didn’t you do something about it before it came to this?

Bullying. Toxic work environment.

Those words can be career-killers if left to fester.

If the Mayor doesn’t grasp that, maybe someone should tell him.

Oh, wait, somebody did.

It was Janelle.

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