You Paid For It: $25,000 St. Pete city audit seeks answers but what’s the point?

Council Member Charlie Gerdes
Council Member Charlie Gerdes

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – Two years ago the City of St. Petersburg’s Engineering Director Tom Gibson ordered a $92,000 sewage system study that You Paid For. It advised him to keep the Albert Whitted sewage treatment facility open or risk sewage spills into Tampa Bay.

Gibson and fellow Water Resources Director Tom Leavitt apparently chose to ignore that advice and never shared that study with the city council or the Mayor. Now, after several major sewage spills involving millions of gallons of raw and partially treated effluent dumped onto Tampa Bay, the city council wants to spend more money to find out why knew what and why they kept that study a secret.

“We just cannot as a body of public elected officials let this go,” Council Member Ed Montanari said at the end of last Thursday’s marathon council meeting. “We got to get to the bottom of this and we need to hold people responsible.”

That sentiment—and the council’s decision to spend $25,000 more in tax dollars to investigate bad decisions made by middle managers two years ago went largely unreported because Hurricane Matthew was bearing down on the state of Florida while they fretted over the decision.

Council Member Charles Gerdes initially opposed spending more money to probe bad decisions related to the Albert Whitted closure.

Gerdes questioned whether private auditors hired by the city—who don’t have subpoena power– had the authority to pry answers out of Gibson and Leavitt who are currently on unpaid leave.

“How can we make people show up and tell us what happened,” Gerdes told 8 On Your Side Monday.

Gerdes also had another reason for opposing the $25,000 expenditure. “I’m kinda sensitive to spending money on investigations when we might already know what the outcome is,” Gerdes said.

“I’m kinda sensitive to spending money on investigations when we might already know what the outcome is,” Gerdes said.

Last Thursday other council members eventually convinced Gerdes that clearing the air over the city hall intrigue surrounding the sewage treatment plant closure is worth the cost.

Council Member Karl Nurse insisted that if nothing else the council needs to restore public confidence. “I think the trust level is zip as far as I can tell,” Nurse told fellow council members Thursday. “I think it’s worth spending the money and getting some answers.”

“I think the trust level is zip as far as I can tell,” Nurse told fellow council members Thursday. “I think it’s worth spending the money and getting some answers.”

Meanwhile, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission investigators working on behalf of the DEP are conducting their own criminal investigation of the recent sewage spill and what lead up to it.

 

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