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Rick Kriseman suspends two city directors in wake of sewer tangle

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by
Rick Kriseman
Rick Kriseman

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has placed two mid-level city employees on unpaid leave in the wake of allegations that city officials knew that closing the Albert Whitted sewer facility could cause flooding.

Kriseman said he plans to address the City Council on Thursday about the status of an independent review, the management study of the water resources department, and the plan for the two directors.

Kriseman made the announcement in a short release Wednesday:

“Mayor Rick Kriseman has placed water resources director Steve Leavitt on unpaid administrative leave. Public Works Administrator Claude Tankersley has named John Palenchar the interim water resources director.

“Mayor Kriseman has also placed engineering director Tom Gibson on unpaid administrative leave. Public Works Administrator Claude Tankersley has named Brejesh Prayman the interim engineering director.”

Kriseman’s actions come a day after he was called on the carpet and sharply criticized by members of the Pinellas Legislative Delegation for three incidents this summer when the city’s sewer system was unable to handle torrential rains. Millions of gallons of raw overflow from manholes mixed with rainwater and partially treated sewage were dumped in Tampa Bay.

Legislators slammed Kriseman for the decision to close the Albert Whitted sewage plant and divert that wastewater to the Southwest plant. A whistleblower has claimed that a study in 2014 indicated that the Southwest plant did not have the capacity to take care of the additional sewage. Craven Askew said city officials knew that the capacity was insufficient to handle heavy rain events.

Kriseman said neither he nor St. Petersburg council members had ever been informed of that study. He called for an independent review into the management of the water resources department.

Palenchar, a Dunedin resident, has worked as an environmental control supervisor with the city of Largo since April 2013. He served there as the interim environmental manager from June through October 2015. He has both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in environmental engineering from the University of Florida.

Prayman, a Tampa resident, has worked for St. Petersburg since 2004, most recently as a senior professional engineer. He holds a bachelor’s in civil engineering from the University of South Florida.

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