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Sunday, Sep 23, 2018
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Rick Kriseman’s administration sacks engineer who accused mayor of bullying tactics

Steven Marshall, the city engineer who went public with allegations about bullying and intimidation in Mayor Rick Kriseman's administration,  has gotten the ax.

Marshall, who appeared with Kriseman's opponent, Rick Baker, days before the Nov. 7 election to complain about the Kriseman administration's bullying and intimidation tactics, was terminated Tuesday, said Chris Guella, the city's human resources director.

Guella said Marshall's comments at an Oct. 31 news conference at Baker's campaign headquarters were a factor in his firing.

“His comments showed that he was not happy, not happy with the department, not happy working in this environment. The city does disagree that he was bullied and intimidated,” Guella said.

But Marshall was also "combative and anatagonistic" with other employees, Guella said.

Marshall's troubles began when he wrote an October 2016 memo questioning Kriseman's account of a 2014 consultant's study which warned of possible sewage spills if the Albert Whitted sewage plant was closed without replacing its capacity.

The mayor said he had never seen the study and suggested it had been deliberately buried.  Marshall's memo said the study had been widely distributed among sewer officials, an assertion backed up by an independent auditor hired by City Council later that year.

At the Baker press conference, Marshall said he had been assured by senior city officials that he wouldn't be punished for writing the memo—a lengthy email to Guella that the Tampa Bay Times wrote about—-but was later stripped of most of his responsibilities.

Marshall said other city workers had been similarly punished for speaking out.

"I'm hoping my presence here today, in some form or fashion, will stop this, this cannot stand," Marshall said at the press conference.

A week later, Kriseman beat Baker to win reelection to second four-year term.

Guella said Marshall's dismissal shouldn't be taken as a chilling effect on city workers expressing discontent with Kriseman or his administration.

"Employees have an open door policy to go speak anywhere. We do not have a history of firing employees just because they disagree with a decision or  a direction," Guella said.

Marshall said allegations that he couldn't get along with co-workers were untrue. He said he had never been counseled or disciplined for that issue.

"Those allegations are meant to distract t from the real issues. When I wrote that memo in October 2016, I expressed the fear that I would be retaliated against. That is precisely what has happened," Marshall said. "I wasn't an angry employee."

Guella said some emails existed that showed Marshall had problems with colleagues, but didn't immediately provide them to the Times.

Kriseman's spokesman Ben Kirby said the mayor didn't know in advance about Marshall's termination.

The mayor's office later issued a statement:

"Administrators and directors are empowered  to make personnel decisions for their departments. Mayor Kriseman fully supports those decisions. He thanks both Mr. Gibson and Mr. Marshall for their service to our city and wishes them well."

Kriseman's reference was  to Tom Gibson, another high-ranking sewer official worked his last day for the city Tuesday.

Gibson, who had served as interim Public Works Administrator, will formally retire Jan.1, although he'll be on leave until then.

Kriseman suspended Gibson for about three months in 2016 for his role in the sewage crisis, later bringing him back with a demotion.

Guella said the city "mutually" decided that Gibson, 60, was ready to retire after a 30-year career with the city.

"It had nothing to do with his performance. It just wasn't the best situation from the city's perspective. It really wasn't a good fit," Guella said.

Gibson, who had also served as engineering director, made $122,152.

Marshall, 55, who had worked for the city for 17.5 years, made $109,622.

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