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Could the Times be celebrating Mike Connors’ slash in responsibility?

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The Tampa Bay Times posted a scathing story about St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman’s scaling back of a key staffer’s role. Public Works Administrator Mike Connors will oversee 200 fewer employees as a result of a staffing change that removes him from power over the city’s sanitation department, which includes its newly rolled out recycling program. He also is being removed as the head of the city’s purchasing department, which oversaw the purchase of seven recycling pickup trucks.

Despite the reduction in responsibility, Connors will continue to collect his full $152,028 annual salary.

The Times provides a straightforward analysis of problems tied to Connors that have been plaguing the Kriseman administration. That includes what the Times describes as a “botched” rollout of universal curbside recycling and the controversial Pier Park process.

Connors has been criticized for jumping to conclusions for telling City Council demolition of the inverted pyramid could begin right away. His assertion was quickly disproven by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

While the Connors piece in the Times is not a column or editorial, it’s sprinkled with enough colorful language to suggest maybe the area’s biggest daily thinks it was a wise move by Kriseman.

The Times piece calls Connors “one of the shrewdest bureaucrats in town.” They call attention to racial tension in departments he oversaw that led to the “KKK incident” in which a white supervisor allegedly smeared the letters “KKK” onto a black worker’s safety vest. They quoted frustrated City Council members.

Despite the obvious correlation drawn by Times reporter Kameel Stanley in her Monday story, the Kriseman administration claims the move had nothing to do with Connors’ performance on key city projects.

“Sanitation is truly a neighborhood issue, as they already work closely with our Neighborhood Affairs team, especially Codes Compliance,” Kriseman wrote in a memo referring to moving Sanitation from Connors’ purview to the Neighborhood Affairs Administration. “With this change, I believe the future is even brighter for our neighborhoods in the Sunshine City.”

And Kriseman’s chief of staff, Kevin King, told the Times it had nothing to do with tension.

But the Times leaves readers to make their own inferences about whether or not Connors’ change in leadership had anything to do with recent glitches in city projects.

Let’s take that a step further. The same paper’s editorial board has lambasted the city’s recycling rollout amid concerns that residents with alley trash pickup weren’t being considered. After all, that is 40 percent of the city’s homes. They’ve called on Kriseman, and by proxy, Connors, to be flexible. So far that hasn’t happened.

They can say all day long the move had nothing to do with politics and everything to do with logic, but at the end of the day, Kriseman is still going to come out appeasing recycling critics for removing the tree branch standing in the way of alley pickup. And that could also earn him back a few brownie points with the Times.

Kriseman has essentially taken a key staffer, a holdover from the days of David Fischer, Rick Baker and Bill Foster, and shoved him in a corner. Maybe Connors will be the scapegoat for projects gone awry, maybe he won’t. Either way, seems like a pretty smart move if you’re looking down the barrel toward re-election.

As for Connors, the dude just kept his awesome salary despite being told he doesn’t have to work as hard. Sweet deal, man.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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