Sunday, September 11, 2022

Mayor Ken Welch…Not Quite Ready for Prime Time


Opinion by:  
E. Eugene Webb PhD

Here is a quote from former Saint Petersburg Mayor David Fisher following his reelection after the passing of the Saint Petersburg charter change adopting the strong mayor form of government instead of the council manager form of government that had been in place for decades in Saint Petersburg.

 Quote, “If I'd have known that the resolution was going to pass, I probably would not have run for mayor.”

What that change did was effectively change the role of the Saint Petersburg Mayor from a largely ceremonial responsibility/policy maker to a role responsible as a chief executive officer for a major corporation.

I didn't think Ken Welch was going to make a particularly good mayor for Saint Petersburg, and you can follow my line of thought by checking the two links below.

Ken Welch - Why Does He Want to Be Mayor of Saint Petersburg?

Mayor Ken Welch - Now the Work Begins

The reality of Welch’s ability to effectively lead an organization the size of the city of Saint Petersburg began to become apparent with the recent resignation of Janelle Irwin Taylor the city's communications director.

Irwin cited bullying on the part of Welch’s appointed Deputy Mayor Stephanie Owens.

The whole messy little incident unfolded, and you can follow the progress in the reporting below from the Saint Petersburg Times.

St. Petersburg city communications director resigns immediately, citing ‘bullying’

St. Petersburg deputy mayor resigns amid ‘hostile work environment’ allegations

Mayor Ken Welch defends former Deputy Mayor Stephanie Owens amid allegations

St. Pete Mayor Ken Welch should air out details of in-house bullying scandal | Editorial

In politically correct form, Deputy Mayor Owens offered her resignation effective almost immediately.

Welch fumbled and bumbled his way through the event. You can follow the progress in the last link just above, managing to frustrate almost everyone involved and including most of the employees of the City of Saint Petersburg not to mention the editorial board of the Saint Petersburg Times.

Welch’s ultimate solution at this point is to eliminate the Deputy Mayor position and replace it with a Chief of Staff.

The mayor currently has a City Administrator to handle day-to-day operations of the city, which, by the way, are supposed to be handled by the mayor, and now apparently, he's putting this chief of staff between the mayor’s office and those who work for him.

All of this is just a reflection on how ill-prepared Ken Welch was to be Mayor of the city of Saint Petersburg and a strong mayor form of government.

As a retail politician at the County Commission, Welch, who followed most of the rules except those he didn't like(term limits), was in a policymaking role where he bore little if any responsibility for the implementation of the things he dreamed up.

He woke up the day after the election probably not yet realizing that he was the chief executive officer of an organization with a multimillion-dollar budget and over 2000 employees.

Under the old form of government as a ceremonial mayor Welch would have been a great choice. He's very good at politicking, glad handing, schmoozing, and pontificating when he doesn't have any direct responsibility for making anything happen.

As the new mayor, he is literally the place where the buck stops. All his administrators, department heads, chiefs of fire and police look to him and report to him as their direct report and their leader.

Selecting a campaign operative to place in a key role is a classic example of not knowing what you're doing.

If this new chief of staff turns out to be a Welch crony, a cultural pick, a lackey or some other non-experienced political misfit, this whole unfortunate series of events will just repeat itself.

If Welch is going to hire a true chief of staff, he needs to do a nationwide professional recruit, find somebody who's experienced in managing a government, and the staff related to the size of or maybe just slightly larger than the city of Saint Petersburg put them in place and let them do their job.

Welch is just trying to set himself up in the position to be the ceremonial mayor and have a group of unfortunate individuals whom he can blame every time something goes wrong.

I spent 24 years, most of it in the management team, working for the city of Saint Petersburg. It's a great team of people. They do a good job of managing and taking care of a wonderful city when they have a competent leader.

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