On Monday, the candidate for St. Pete’s City Council announced he will not support any taxpayer money to construct a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays until the city’s wastewater systems are “fully repaired and functional, without the threat of any future spills.”
It was Harless’ first position statement in the District 2 race, where he is facing Brandi Gabbard, a former president of the Pinellas Realtor Organization. The seat, now held by term-limited Jim Kennedy, covers most of Northeast St. Petersburg.
“Our city must focus on priority projects first,” Harless said in a statement. “Ensuring that our waste water systems are functioning properly is a core responsibility of city government, and we must devote the entirety of our resources to that cause until the threat of future sewage spills has been totally eliminated.
“As a fifth generation Floridian, I care about our environment. Our bay must remain an asset and not become a liability,” he added.
Until the city fully updates the wastewater system, Harless vows he will not vote to spend “a single dime of taxpayer money” on a new Rays stadium, adding that families and small-business owners in many neighborhoods have echoed his opinion.
A 200-million-gallon wastewater spill from rains in 2016 — highlighted by city’s aging infrastructure as well as indifference and errors from officials — is emerging as the key issue in races for both City Council and mayor.
In 2015, Mayor Rick Kriseman’s administration accepted recommendations to shut down the Albert Whitted Water Reclamation Facility but did not reopen the plant during rains the following summer, which worsened the problem.
A newly released assessment from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, first reported by the Tampa Bay Times, put much of the blame for the long-standing sewage issue on decades of city leadership and neglect of St. Pete’s infrastructure. The report did not name Kriseman or his staff.
Nevertheless, wastewater has become one of the major talking points in municipal elections, particularly in the mayoral race between Kriseman and his leading opponent, former two-term Mayor Rick Baker.
“St. Pete is a major league city, not just because of our baseball team, but because we always meet our greatest challenges, head on,” Harless continued. “The coming years will undoubtedly bring new and unexpected obstacles, and we need council members who will keep their eye on the ball and remain focused on the issues that matter most.”
A fifth-generation Floridian, Harless has been involved in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors. After graduating from the University of South Florida in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in history, he went to work in the Midtown area of St. Petersburg for State Representative Darryl Rouson during the height of the economic recession.
Harless has served on the board of R’Club Childcare, Inc., is a member of Equality Florida’s advisory board for the Competitive Workforce Act and has been on the Louise Graham Center for Regeneration board for three and half years. He also served as the state policy chair in the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce and on grant boards for the Suncoast United Way.
Primaries for the City of St. Petersburg municipal races are Aug. 29; general election at-large voting is Nov. 7.