St. Pete storm water employee Robin Wynn was suspended without pay for five days based on a comment made on social media during a City Council meeting Thursday night.
According to a St. Pete chapter SEIU steward and chapter chair, Brian “Cricket” Brehm, Wynn reportedly referred to St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman as a “clown” on a Facebook post. Details of the content are not immediately available because Wynn took her Facebook page down after being informed of the pending suspension.
Wynn met with department heads at 3:30 Friday afternoon. Union chief of staff Rick Smith confirmed she was suspended. He and Brehm attended the meeting with Wynn as union representatives.
After reviewing the St. Pete’s employee code of conduct, there is no specific mention of employee conduct on personal social media sites.
However, there are several vague provisions pertaining to harassment and antagonistic language in the workplace.
One section calls for employee dismissal for “unlawful or improper conduct either on or off the job, which would tend to affect the employee’s relationship to the job, fellow workers, reputation, or goodwill in the community.”
According to St. Pete’s Human Resources Director, Chris Guella, that is the provision that was used in determining disciplinary action against Wynn.
The provision of the city’s code of conduct is listed under a “group 3” infraction and calls for immediate dismissal of an employee. However, the city took into consideration the severity of the infraction and Wynn’s past track record as a city employee.
Wynn Spoke along with several city employees at a City Council meeting Thursday night to urge City Council not to approve a budget containing a loss of city employees’ long-held step increases. The mayor’s budget included a three-percent pay raise for employees, but would have cut the step increases that can go into double digits for some employees reaching employment milestones.
According to Smith, that would affect about 50 city employees immediately.
The union is set to meet for further negotiations next week even though City Council unanimously approved the budget Thursday night. Whether step increases will continue for city employees will depend on results of ongoing negotiations between the union and the city. City Council does not play a role in those proceedings, but merely signed off on a budget.
However, the post in question was made on a promotional social media post for an interview Kriseman conducted earlier this month on an internet radio show called Homemade Broadcast.
Reaction to this story includes those who argue it is Wynn’s right to express opinions about an elected leader publicly. The agreement between the city and the union even provides guarantees for union members to conduct union conversations and associated redress without fear of retribution.
However, Guella said her comment contained no contextual indication that she was arguing for employment-related consideration or in coordination with other union members or leaders. Had that been the case, Guella said this would have been protected under the First Amendment, but the comment instead seemed like a “pot shot.”
The suspension of a city employee over statements made on social media is likely to reignite union concerns that the city is monitoring employees’ personal statements made via social media.
A previous incident led to an employee being fired after the city found a review for a book called “Cooking with Marijuana” on his Facebook page.
Guella said the city does not have the resource to monitor such activity and instead the post was brought to the department’s attention by a concerned employee.