Ken Welch eliminates St. Petersburg's deputy mayor position after allegations she bullied employees
Communications director Janelle Irwin Taylor quit after accusing Deputy Mayor Stephanie Owens of fostering a culture of bullying and a hostile work environment. Welch defended Owens.
The mayor of St. Petersburg has eliminated the post of deputy mayor after allegations surfaced that she bullied several subordinates.
Ken Welch defended his second-in-command during a Thursday news conference.
Welch addressed the resignation of Deputy Mayor Stephanie Owens after communications director Janelle Irwin Taylor quit, accusing Owens of fostering a culture of bullying and a hostile work environment.
The mayor said he is eliminating Owens' position, and her duties will be parceled to other city officials, including a new chief of staff position.
Welch said he heard of Taylor's concerns only one day before she quit last week. And he said Owens — who has denied the allegations — deserved to be heard.
"I do not believe that there is a pervasive hostile work environment in our city," Welch said. "It’s important to respect Ms. Taylors allegation, even without any official complaint, however it’s also important to respect the statement of Deputy Mayor Owens, who refutes the allegations."
Welch said he will beef up steps to get feedback from city employees so they feel more empowered to report feedback from any inappropriate behavior in the workplace.
"I see this as an opportunity to improve our employees' awareness, and our processes. I’ve asked HR to develop an enhanced plan to inform every employee of what to do if they encounter workplace bullying or noprofessional conduct," Welch said. "If a high-ranking employee didn’t have faith in the current process, or an understanding of their options, then perhaps other employees don’t either. We’ll address that."
Owens' resignation is effective Friday.