The gloves came off during a Gulfport City Council meeting Tuesday evening after City Council woman Yolanda Roman proposed a resolution calling for an action plan on continued testing and monitoring of water quality in Clam Bayou.
The issue has been a hot button topic in the small city neighboring St. Pete since August when St. Pete diverted millions of gallons of sewage into the water body.
Roman’s call for a resolution began innocent enough with City Council member Dan Liedtke asking questions about legal costs associated with her ask. But after a couple of minutes Mayor Sam Henderson chimed in noting that the first thing her resolution required was sitting down with St. Pete officials.
According to Henderson, that’s something that has happened not just once, but several times.
“That is a bald-faced lie,” he scolded.
Roman did not take kindly to being called a liar shouting first that she was leaving the meeting and then that she was going to file a formal complaint with the City attorney over the accusation.
The final two minutes of the meeting consisted of a back and forth shouting match between the two with Henderson clearly on the offensive.
“You’re going to listen to me now for a minute,” he barked at Roman.
Someone in the gallery shouted “bully” and Henderson replied that “bullying is a different thing when you’re standing up for yourself.”
He claimed that Roman was taking credit for work on the Clam Bayou sewage dump that was undertaken by other members of the council. But Roman seemed to take his accusations as a defense of St. Petersburg.
“You work for Gulfport not the City of St. Petersburg,” Roman said.
The meeting ended abruptly when another council member moved to adjourn the meeting and Roman seconded it.
Both officials took to Facebook following the meeting to address the unusual outburst.
“Defending yourself against bullies does not make one a bully. In fact, I think we are obligated to stand up to bullies,” Henderson wrote on his Facebook re-election page. “Tonight I had enough, and for better or worse I defended myself and my council against our Ward 3 Councilperson and her relentless spin of our August sewage tragedy to support her political agenda.”
Henderson went on to link Roman’s actions to the candidate running against him for Mayor in the upcoming March 15 election, Barbara Banno, writing that they have “shamelessly used our sewage misfortune from St. Petersburg as political campaign fodder.”
While Banno was in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting, she said she didn’t appreciate being drawn into the conversation because it had nothing to do with it. She said she was disappointed the debate escalated the way it did.
“I go back to the idea of leadership,” Banno said. “You need to be able to maintain your composure.
Henderson’s post went on to defend his outburst by highlighting a pattern of what he claims are lies spread by Roman.
“I have heard such gross misinformation from this camp regarding the August sewage discharge that I have found myself on numerous occasions having to publicly correct the myths that they are spreading. We have watched as they ignore environmental experts, circumvent a collaborative council that seeks to resolve the problem, and grand stand regarding solutions that they have yet to disclose,” Henderson wrote.
And Henderson reiterated his claim that Roman lied during the council meeting reminding that he has conferred with St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman and St. Pete City Council “in formal meetings, in person and by phone.”
“I said no to the self-serving baloney that has been dished out since last August. We are still diligently working to protect Gulfport from future incidents, and to better understand the nature of our water concerns in a very urban environment, and we will continue to do so as a team, not as pawns in someone else’s divisive game of political bluster,” Henderson continued.
Roman invited constituents to meet with her during office hours Monday beginning at 11:30 a.m.
“You will have the opportunity, as well as my utmost respect, to form your own opinion on my work,” she wrote.
She said she will bring with her all Clam Bayou notes, call logs, research, binders, council minutes and documents to share and also reminded that citizens are also able to file public records requests for applicable information.
Video of the full council meeting is here. The quarrel between Henderson and Roman occurred in the final five minutes of the meeting.