Latest sewage crisis twist : St. Pete sewer chief warns staff about using email
Last month, a Tampa Bay Times request for emails from interim Water Resources Director John Palenchar and Public Works Administrator Claude Tankersley yielded a much different version of events than originally related by city officials regarding the courting of a Department of Environmental Protection employee involved in investigating the city's sewage mess.
First, the city said that Michele Duggan had merely been the best applicant who applied after a high-paying job was posted.
A Times public record request uncovered a much different scenario. Tankersley had reached out to Duggan weeks before the job was posted and invited her to his City Hall office to discuss job opportunities.
The next day, Mayor Rick Kriseman vetoed the hiring of Duggan, who has since resigned her state job.
On Dec. 20, sewer officials met in a leadership meeting.
One agenda item? How to keep future embarrassing information out of the public eye. Palenchar laid out the following directive for emails in the besieged Water Resources Department.
From the notes of that meeting obtained Thursday in a public records request.
"Emails – Per John (Palenchar), be mindful of what you put into an email. You probably don’t want to write anything in an email that you wouldn’t want to see in the newspaper. If there is something that needs to be discussed, talk to the person/persons, you shouldn’t be doing all of your back and forth discussions in an email. Yes, we want and need to be transparent, but be careful of what you are putting in writing. An issue and/or concern should be discussed, a decision made and then support of the decision - Discuss, Decide, Support."
The mayor has repeatedly said his administration, currently under a pending state consent decree, a federal lawsuit and an U.S. Environmental Protection Agency probe, wants to be completely tranparent over the city's attempt to fix its broken sewers. Since August 2015, about 200 million gallons have been spilled or dumped.
"The mayor does not support anyone obstructing transparency. Actual or perceived. He will remind management of that," wrote Kriseman spokesman Ben Kirby.
Public Works Administration spokesman Bill Logan said Palenchar's directive was self-explanantory.
"The directive is merely making clear that cooperative and personal collaboration is preferred. Documentation and dissemination of correct and finalized information -- rather than "in process" elements -- is key in furthering the understanding of what is actually being done," Logan wrote in an email.
Check back to this post for updates.