A change has been made at St. Petersburg City Hall and the change is at the top. It's not a personnel change, but in the message.
Mayor Rick Kriseman is talking one-on-one with 10Investigates. We have asked questions before but now Kriseman is talking openly and candidly – mostly about the hottest issue facing the city and his administration.
“This has been horrible!” That’s how Kriseman describes the sewage spills and dumping in Tampa Bay. It is a serious problem that has dogged his administration for more than a year.
“I'll be the first to say, I haven’t slept so badly as Mayor since this has first happened,” Kriseman said.
Kriseman has had a contentious relationship at times with multiple outlets that have reported critical stories. 10Investigates has reported several stories that weren't flattering to the Mayor. Kriseman admits that he hasn't handled the situation well and vows to change.
“I made some mistakes. We did some things very poorly,” he said. 10Investigates reminded him of an exchange at Clam Bayou as something people point to all the time in regard to not handling the situation well.
Kriseman replied, “Yes, I can't allow my being frustrated interfere with how I communicate.”
“You must know that some people say you were thin-skinned and did not take criticism well and you certainly got plenty from 10Investigates,” we told the mayor.
“I can understand why people say that I think I let my frustrations get the better of me and was frustrated by the whole situation,” Kriseman said.
The mayor is talking about top city water officials hiding a 2014 consultant report. This report warned the city that shutting down the Albert Whitted sewage treatment plant without adding new treatment capacity would lead to the sewage crisis the city is facing now.
Kriseman said, “That report which said there could be an issue if you shut it down was never shared with us.”
But sharing blame for the current sewage crisis with former Mayors Rick Baker and Bill Foster is something Baker and Foster say is unfair.
10Investigates explained that previous mayors have said they are tired of Kriseman saying it is their fault, when it happened on Kriseman's watch.
The mayor says, “I'm dealing with it, figuring out what happened and fixing it.”
10Investigates asked, “And taking responsibility?”
“Yeah, we've said we've got to deal with the situation, we're responsible for what happens in the city,” Kriseman told us.
10Investigates also reminded Kriseman that at the Department of Environmental Protection meeting a few weeks ago, the first thing Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos said was he wanted to apologize. 10Investigates told Kriseman, we haven't heard that from him.
“We do we apologize for our lack of communication; the way we communicated not being as clear on things,” Kriseman said.
And as the mayor tries to plug this sewage leak, he seems to have a changed attitude in dealing with the public, City Council and the media. Is it a real epiphany or the fact that he is up for re-election next year?
Kriseman firmly explained: “I think too many politicians are getting re-elected instead of doing a good job. I had a job before I did this. I can go back to practicing law. I'm doing this because I want to make a difference and make this a better city than it was.”
Now the true test of how the mayor has changed will be the next time there is an issue in the city and how Kriseman will handle it.