St. Petersburg mayor Ken Welch announced the results of a city employee Climate Assessment Survey July 28, stating his recommitment to “a positive workplace culture.”
The late-afternoon prepared statement followed a July 19 email to the mayor, Chief of Staff Doyle Walsh and city council members highlighting alleged claims of impropriety inside the city’s fire department. That email, forwarded by an anonymous “concerned citizen” to the Catalyst, included dozens of negative comments purportedly from unnamed St. Petersburg Fire Rescue employees.
The Catalyst filed a public records request for the assessment and survey comments Monday morning. The report and Fire Chief Jim Large – the subject of several disparaging allegations in the anonymous email – were unavailable at press time.
The mayor’s announcement states that city officials conducted the Climate Assessment Survey “in the spirit of inclusion and garnering feedback.” About 44% of nearly 3,600 city employees, or 1,580, participated in the process.
“As with any large employer, we received positive and negative feedback that varied across 35 departments and multiple shifts spanning a 24-hour period, seven days a week,” wrote Welch. “From beginning to end, we applied an equity lens to the survey process.”
In-person and virtual focus groups were conducted in February and March, followed by an online survey open through April. In A statement, city spokesperson Erica Riggins said the administration received the results and recommendations from third-party consulting firm Inclusivity LLC around Independence Day. The city’s “leadership team is still analyzing the 240-page report.”
Inclusivity conducted a similar assessment in 2021. However, the pandemic resulted in low engagement.
This year’s 44% participation rate was nearly four times higher than the previous survey. Creating “inclusive progress” was a key tenet of Welch’s mayoral campaign and is an oft-repeated administrative mantra.
St. Petersburg’s former communications director and deputy mayor resigned in September 2022 following bullying allegations. At the time, Welch said he would develop a citywide assessment for workers to provide confidential workplace feedback.
Subsequently,, Welch said he did not believe “that there is a pervasively hostile work environment in our city. But as mayor, I need to base my decisions on facts and data rather than my beliefs.”
Welch released a video in February encouraging city employees to participate in the assessment. He stressed the importance of collaboration and positive workplace culture and said the feedback would help hold city officials accountable.
Welch also noted that city staff would not receive participants’ names. Riggins stated Monday that steps to ensure anonymity allowed employees to submit multiple comments.
“As mayor of this city, it is important for me to listen to our employees’ thoughts, ideas and concerns at all levels and embrace transparency,” Welch said in the announcement. “Since day one, I made a promise to be intentional with our push for inclusive progress and impactful, innovative changes to enhance the quality of life in St. Petersburg.”
The anonymous July 19 email included several pointed comments regarding discriminatory hiring practices and employee treatment within the fire department. However, not all were negative, with one participant stating that “I have never seen a better team atmosphere anywhere.”
Another said the department was working to increase inclusivity, but not because it was a “genuine concern.”
Some of the alleged issues are not new. When Fire Rescue officials unveiled an updated strategic plan to the city council in March, organizational weaknesses included challenges with cultural changes and a need for more equitable opportunity distribution.
Here are some primary themes from the in-person focus groups, as stated in the news release:
- The value of anonymity.
- The need to engage an increasingly diverse, multigenerational and geographically dispersed workforce.
- A disconnect between pay structure and performance.
Provided sample observations from the online survey include:
- About 78% of participants agree or strongly agree that diversity is vital to the city’s success.
- Middle management more closely reflects the workforce’s ethnic and racial composition.
- Administrators and director positions typically lack minority representation. In middle management, gender identity “skews to males.”
- Gen Z and Y employees comprise nearly half of the city’s workforce.
“We now have good data from our employees to turn insight into action,” Welch said. “Moving forward, we will increase our leadership and job skills training, improve employee relations, boost internal communications and develop more transparent training and promotion processes.
“As we work our way through this feedback, we are developing plans of action at both the citywide and departmental levels to address any issues raised by our employees.”