At today's Tampa City Council meeting, every member of the board in attendance took shots at the city's electricity provider (Tampa Electric Company) and the Buckhorn administration, both for the handling of the actual incident and the city's way of informing the public and the city council.
"This was a TECO electrical system failure. This was not a water system failure," Brad Baird, the city's water director, informed the council and the public to begin his presentation. Baird repeated what he told the press in recent days about what went wrong — three different events, involving a squirrel chewing through a pipe, a sagging power line, and a burned-out switch that set off the chaos.
Baird said the city received 1,632 calls from the public over the weekend looking for information about the boil water announcement, and that the costs to the city in overtime, parts and materials amounted to over $29,000.
Councilwoman Lisa Montelione immediately questioned that dollar amount, referring to the losses by small business restaurant owners, several of whom closed on both weekend nights, generally their biggest revenue days of the week. Calling it "embarrassing" that such restaurants with thin margins had to take a blow to their businesses, Montelione also labeled "insensitive" Baird's comment that it cost the city $29,000. "I would try to find the learning experience out of this debacle, because that’s what it was," she said.
Later on, Baird said that the city had received "quite a few" claims for losses by local businesses and restaurants. He said they would be gathered and given to the city's risk management staff. But City Attorney Jim Shimberg refused to comment further.
The term "teachable moment" was also frequently invoked by council members.
Regarding the sagging power line, Montelione questioned if city officials had contacted TECO in advance of last Friday to alert them to fix that lurking malady. Baird replied that the water department had contacted TECO about it, though he could not say when that was. Montelione followed up by stating that, "it's disgraceful that we had these types of things happen in a city of our size."
Council member Yolie Capin questioned who had oversight of TECO inspectors? That would be the Public Service Commission. Baird said that TECO will be conducting an after-action review, at which point the water department would consult with them about lessons learned there.
Referring to the sagging electrical line, Council member Mike Suarez suggested putting a camera to inspect such lines. "I think the observational aspects of this have to be sharpened. Maybe TECO has to respond to us a little quicker," he said diplomatically.
City Councilwoman Mary Mulhern was most upset that as an elected lawmaker representing the entire city, she was never directly contacted by anyone about the fact that the city was on a boil water notice for 48 hours beginning Friday afternoon.
The city did attempt to get word out with the Alert Tampa system unveiled in 2011 and promoted last summer in advance of the Republican National Convention, but the fact of the matter is that only 11,000 people out of a city of over 300,000 residents are on that system.
Saying it was "very, very scary," Councilwoman Mulhern commended city officials for being extra cautious in alerting people not to drink tap water. "We're just lucky nobody got sick," she said, while also saying she wanted Mayor Buckhorn to "have a protocol about how to notify the public and also the council."
A few days ago St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster took a dig at Tampa, saying "there's no reason why that should happen … A rodent shouldn't be able to knock out a water system."
Tampa City Councilman Frank Reddick called it a "bold" statement to insinuate that the same type of thing couldn't happen in St. Petersburg, and asked Baird about the comment.
"To make that statement is simply not true," he responded.