Tampa City Council lashes out regarding neglect at East Tampa pool

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Both Williams Park Pool and Interbay in Culbreath Isles were closed down three years ago when they could not meet a federal anti-drowning law requiring drain covers. But recently, the city came up with the money to reopen Interbay, with Mayor Buckhorn saying at the time that "Having our young people in a structured and healthy environment is far better than being unattended and unsupervised."

Mayor Bob Buckhorn's chief-of-staff, Santiago Corrada, told Elisabeth Parker of the St. Pete Times on Sunday that he understood why people in East Tampa were upset that their their pool was closed. But he said the two pools had" very different issues and the Interbay pool was an easier fix."

Contract Administration Director David Vaughn told the council that there are serious structural issues with not just the pool, but the entire facility at Williams Park, and he said because of that, the city is not certain whether they should repair or rebuild the entire pool. "This is not a band-aid situation," he explained.

He also said that a consultant's report still was ongoing, and nothing substantively would happen regarding the pool until the first part of 2012.

At the conclusion of his presentation, council member Mike Suarez blew up at him, saying it was exactly the same report that Parks & Recreation Director Karen Palus had previously gave to the council a short time ago. He then asked Vaughn if there was a problem with the consultant on the project. Vaughn said no. Suarez then asked if there was anything specific to Williams Park that was the cause of the fact that it has been shut down for over two years. He followed up saying, "Since 2009 we still haven't figured out what the hell has gone at this pool," adding that "we can't do our job until we know exactly what the problem is."

Then it was Council woman Mary Mulhern's turn to get exasperated upon hearing Vaughn's responses, as she asked for an itemized estimate. That led Steve Dagnault, the city's Public Works Director, to get out of his seat and try to provide some relief for Vaughn. He told Mulhern a detailed estimate wouldn't be available until the city staff reviewed that consultant's report about what needed to be done.

After Dagnault replied that "We're not going to get quotes", Mulhern quickly cut him off, saying she was asking for an estimate, not a request for proposal.

Council member Frank Reddick, who represents District 5, which encompasses East Tampa, finally spoke, saying, "Every time somebody from the city comes up here, I get a migraine headache because I'm tired of all these different stories."

He then demanded to know if the $1.5-$2 million estimated to rebuild Williams Park was in the budget booklet the mayor distributed to council members earlier in the day. He mentioned the allocation of money for the Interbay pool, but not for East Tampa. "Something is wrong, " he scolded.

"Something is wrong, " Reddick said scoldingly. He then warned, "Y'all better tell the mayor to put that $1.5 million into that budget. I know the Parks Director, and I know she is watching "(Karen Paulus was in council chambers for the mayor's budget presentation earlier in the day, but was absent during the whole discussion about the swimming pools).

"I know the mayor is watching," Reddick continued. "I know the chief of staff is watching. Someone need to put $1.5 million into that budget if they want my vote. I will not support that budget."

But Public Works Director Steve Dagnault said that he could not make that promise, since such decisions were above his pay grade.

Earlier in the day during the public hearing portion of the meeting, Sam Kinsey, who has served as a neighborhood liason to the city, said he didn't want there to be a controversy. He said the people who use Interbay deserved to have their pool open, and ended his three minutes he was allotted during the public hearing portion of the meeting to remain optimistic, saying, "I think the (Buckhorn) administration will come on board."

Gloria Taylor is from the Northeast Hills Civic Association. She said that though she had sent an e-mail about the Williams Park Pool situation, she had heard back only from Mulhern and Reddick. She said, "We know we don't have a million dollars donated...so we're asking you to search some other place to find the money to repair the pool."

At the end of the discussion, one thing was clear. The majority of the 5 members of the council (Charlie Miranda and Lisa Montelione were not present) want the Buckhorn administration to do something about this situation, or it will continue to be an ongoing issue.

  • Frank Reddick

In the four months since Bob Buckhorn was elected Mayor of Tampa, he's avoided controversy of any sort, exemplified by his smooth presentation to the City Council on his new budget earlier Thursday morning.

But the bonhomie between the council and the mayor - or at least his staff - took a break after two staff members attempted to explain why a swimming pool located in East Tampa has been shut down for over two years, with no immediate plans offered on when it will be repaired.

Adding to the controversy is the fact that the city recently re-opened one swimming pool in South Tampa that was shut down at the same time as Williams Park Pool. Yet the facility in a much more economically challenged part of town remains closed.

Several council members lashed out at David Vaughn, the city's Contract Administration Director, after he told the council that a consultant's report on what to do with the pool was not completed. His comments led one member on the board, Frank Reddick, to say if the Buckhorn administration didn't find the $1.5-$2 million estimated to rebuild the pool in the mayor's new budget presented to the council earlier in the day, he wouldn't vote for it when it comes up for approval.

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