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St. Pete’s public works chief Mike Connors retires abruptly

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

St. Pete public works administrator Mike Connors is retiring from his post effective immediately.

“After a weekend of contemplation, I decided to discuss my retirement with Mayor Kriseman this morning. Following our discussion, the mayor and I have mutually agreed to my retirement, effective today,” Connors wrote in a statement. “I look forward to new adventures and challenges, as well as more time with my wife and family. I thank the City for the opportunity to serve for nearly three decades.”

Connors has been with the city nearly three decades.

“Mike Connors has made immeasurable contributions to St. Petersburg in his 28 years of service,” Mayor Rick Kriseman said. “His recent leadership helped to make three of my top priorities a reality: universal curbside recycling, a new police station, and a new pier. I wish him well in the next chapter of his life.”

The move comes after months of controversy surrounding Connors. First, Connors was lambasted by Pier activists for his handling of the Pier Selection Committee he chaired. Connors was criticized for being overly biased and potentially being in bed with the Columbia Restaurant Gonzmart family in connection with the unpopular design, Alma.

Connors very publicly defended the committee’s relevant ignoring of a citywide survey of Pier designs in which the public overwhelmingly supported the design “Destination St. Pete Pier” that would have re-used most of the existing inverted pyramid. Instead, Connors pushed for “Alma,” the least popular design according to survey results.

Later, the city was criticized for its handling of the city’s universal curbside recycling program. Connors oversaw the process. People in traditional neighborhoods where trash is collected in alleys behind homes rather than from the curb account for about 40 percent of the city. Yet the recycling program provided no flexibility for those homes to have recycling collected from the alley.

After mounting criticism was directed toward Connors, Kriseman announced he was removing the recycling program from Connors’ purview. It was an initial indication that Kriseman may be trying to save face by removing Connors from certain positions.

The abrupt retirement draws questions about whether Connors was encouraged to resign. His presence as a top city official has cast a shadow over Kriseman’s sunshine message.

The latest Connors faux pas came as the city dumped millions of gallons of raw sewage into Clam Bayou during an extraordinary rain event.

St. Pete’s director of engineering and capital improvement, Tom Gibson, will assume Connors’ responsibilities as the interim public works administrator. Gibson has worked for the city since 1987.

Sharon Wright, the city’s sustainability coordinator, will also assume additional responsibilities including the mayor’s sustainability initiatives.

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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