City council confronts Kriseman about sewage crisis

Aaron Mesmer reports

- The blow-back from St. Petersburg's sewage spill crisis brought Mayor Rick Kriseman in front of city council Thursday, where he addressed what happened while hearing a lot of criticism from council members.

Kriseman admitted communication within the Public Works Department and to the public hasn't been sufficient as the sewage spill has gotten worse; since August 2015, million of gallons of sewage have spilled into Tampa Bay, much of it following Hurricane Hermine.

"There will continue to be accountability; I demand no less to me, to you and to our citizens," Kriseman said, reading from a prepared statement. "We need to better engage the public in the press. We need to capitalize on the public paying right now to get them even more interested in how this all works and what it all means."

The mayor's office and Public Work Department, which has already received continuous public backlash since Hermine, faced some harsh words from Council. One council members threatened to call a special attorney to investigate what happened if the mayor's office didn't improve transparency.

Also addressed was a 2014 study that recently came to light because of a employee-turnd-whistleblower revealed it; the report warned of potential environmental problems if the Albert Whitted Wastewater Plant were to be closed down. The plant was shuttered in 2015. Shortly after, many of the sewage problems began.

"If the quickest thing to do is to reopen Albert Whitted, I support it being reopened," Kriseman said.

Kriseman seemed to put much of the blame on two public works employees who were recently placed on unpaid leave and the former Public Works administrator. He and current department head, Claude Tankersley said workers can go from a five- to a seven-day work week if necessary to fix the problem.

"We are looking at every solution possible, short-term, out-of-the box crazy ideas to try to deal with it both in the short-term and the long-term," Tankersley said.

This comes as Congressman David Jolly called for a state law enforcement agency to open a criminal investigation into what happened.

Following the meeting, Mayor Kriseman was unavailable to answer reporters' questions, even though several waited outside his office for at least 20 minutes. His spokesperson later said on Twitter the mayor left quickly because he had a family function to attend and promised he'd be available Friday. The spokesperson also dismissed Congressman Jolly's calling for a criminal investigation as politics.

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