Although their tone remained even, the words Charlie Justice and Mike Mikurak exchanged were at times stinging during a forum Wednesday at St. Petersburg College.
At one point, panel members got tangled, asking Mikurak, the challenger, to talk about why he should be re-elected to the Pinellas County Commission.
Justice, the incumbent, quipped, “He can describe my successes.”
Mikurak shot back: “Actually, I can describe some of your non-successes.”
The divide between the two was also highlighted during a discussion of fracking. Asked whether they opposed fracking, Justice said he is and pointed to the county ban.
“This makes me laugh,” Mikurak responded, “because I don’t believe fracking would be done in this county anywhere.”
Mikurak added that since Florida sits on water, it’s unlikely fracking would be done anywhere in the state. For the Pinellas commission to vote against fracking, he said, “is a political ploy.”
But the two really locked horns when it came to the county’s sewer infrastructure even if both seemed at times to be advocating the same thing using different terminology.
Last month, Hurricane Hermine passed several hundred miles off Pinellas as it headed toward landfall in the Big Bend area. For days, the storm dumped rainfall on Pinellas causing flooding and sewer problems for cities and the unincorporated county.
Justice has called for a task force made up of representatives from municipalities and private companies that own sewer systems. The goal of the task force, which will hold its first meeting later this month, is to come up with a plan to solve Pinellas’ sewer woes.
The task force, Justice has said, would get all those affected into one room to begin talking with one another as well as to come up with a countywide solution.
But Mikurak said the real issue is not lack of communication but a failure to maintain infrastructure. The task force, he said, is after the fact.
Justice responded that he understood why Mikurak would blame him, in his first term on the commission, for “years, decades” of neglect. But, he said, a plan is needed to find what’s wrong and where. The county can’t “willy nilly” rush into fixing a pipe here and there.
Mikurak denied he was advocating rushing into repairs “willy nilly.” What’s needed, he said, is a plan.
Justice pointed out that the County Commission has set aside about $1.5 million extra, some of which comes from BP settlement money, to use for the sewers. The money will be used in part for a study, he said.
“I’m tired of studies,” Mikurak said. Just get in there and fix it, he said.
At the end of the debate, they were asked to rate their support for their party’s presidential candidate on a scale of one to 10. Mikurak, the Republican, gave Donald Trump a nine on the support scale. Justice, the Democrat, gave Hillary Clinton a nine on the support scale.
Justice and Mikurak are running for the District 3 at-large seat on the Pinellas County Commission. The race will appear on all Pinellas ballots.