County Commission applauds his approach to handling problems within that department
On a unanimous vote on Aug. 27, the Sarasota County Commission approved a request by County Administrator Jonathan Lewis to confirm Mike Mylett as director of the county’s Public Utilities Department.
Mylett had been serving as interim leader of that department since April, Lewis pointed out last week, during the board’s budget workshop.
Because of a County Code amendment in the 1990s, Lewis told the commissioners on Aug. 27, “The only [department] director that requires confirmation by the board is the Utilities director.”
After Public Utilities Director Scott Schroyer left county employment this spring, Lewis said staff conducted a nationwide search for a new leader of that department. “With the work Mr. Mylett’s done since taking over in a very difficult situation this past year, I’m looking for the board’s confirmation and support,” Lewis added.
Schroyer’s departure followed the filing of a federal lawsuit against the county, alleging that the county has violated the U.S. Clean Water Act through illegal discharges of hundreds of millions of gallons of raw sewage, partially treated sewage and treated reclaimed water into county watersheds, which are tributaries of Sarasota Bay, Roberts Bay, Dona Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
Beginning in late January, staff started working with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to implement short- and long-term measures to stop those discharges, especially those from the Bee Ridge Water Reclamation Facility. The board also voted unanimously on Aug. 27 to approve the resulting Consent Order that staff and FDEP representatives had negotiated. (See the related article in this issue.)
As of 7:31 a.m. on Aug. 28, 59.891 million gallons of treated water had spilled from a storage pond on the grounds of the Bee Ridge facility since Aug. 15, as a result of “continuous rains and flooding conditions in the area …” The latter language has been included in all the formal FDEP reports on those spills.
The pond can hold 145.2 million gallons of water, which is used for irrigation of lawns and golf courses.
The water has been flowing from the pond through an emergency spillway into the watershed.
Mylett has appeared before the commissioners several times in past months to discuss staff’s proposals for improvements to the county’s water and wastewater systems.
After Lewis requested Mylett’s confirmation on Aug. 27, Commissioner Alan Maio made the motion to approve it. Commissioner Michael Moran seconded it.
Mylett’s salary has risen from $104,790.40 to $126,724.40, county Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester responded to a Sarasota News Leader request for that information.
Praise for the new director
After making the Aug. 27 motion, Maio referenced an update about the continuing Bee Ridge discharges, which Maio and other commissioners indicated Mylett had provided them in individual meetings the previous day.
Maio told Mylett, “Your reports are what happened, when it happened, the result, what pollution occurred, what we did to fix it [and] is there a temporary solution.”
Maio added that he had complimented Mylett on his handling of the problems. “Thank you for all you are doing,” Maio told Mylett.
“I just look at [this] as an opportunity to say, ‘Thanks,’” Moran said to Mylett.
“Nothing’s more important than water quality and air quality in today’s environment,” Commissioner Nancy Detert pointed out. Addressing Mylett, she continued, “You have inherited a category that is fraught with previous problems. I think you’ve really stepped up to work on those.”
Detert added that Lewis is “fairly new” in his position. (He was confirmed as county administrator in January 2018.) “You’re new,” she told Mylett. “So there’s an opportunity for greatness here.”
Continuing her comments to Mylett, Detert said, “As we review what went wrong [within the Public Utilities Department], I feel that the role of our staff, including the administrator — who’s been very good in this category — and your job is to inform us of any problems early on so that we can fix them. … It costs hundreds of millions of dollars to fix [those problems], so that would be a reason why maybe some previous staffers didn’t want to bring [them] up, or previous staffers presumed we would not deal with [them] …”
Detert added to Mylett, “You’ve made us all aware of the problems. You’ve made us all aware of the solutions. … Feel free to share bad news, and we’ll do our best to deal with it.”
During their Aug. 21 budget workshop, Detert and her fellow commissioners discussed at length their frustrations about not having been apprised about the Public Utilities problems until the three environmental nonprofit organizations were preparing to file the federal lawsuit. As required by law, those nonprofits had to notify county staff of their intent.
“I’ve been kind of hard on you at some points because I get so frustrated with these spills, and that’s going to continue,” Commissioner Christian Ziegler told Mylett.
Mylett has helped educate him about the county problems, Ziegler added.
Addressing Mylett, Chair Charles Hines said he was happy to hear the consistency of his colleagues’ views about Mylett’s approach to issues, based on Mylett’s one-on-one discussions with them.
(Because of the state Sunshine Law, staff has to brief the board members individually. The only occasions the commissioners can discuss topics among themselves are public meetings.)
“I said I want information and the truth,” Hines noted of his private discussion with Mylett. “I support your willingness not to take things personal,” Hines told Mylett. “Really appreciate you [being] willing to step up and take on this challenge.”
A history of expertise with utilities issues
Mylett has been with Sarasota County Government since 2000, a county news release said. He has served in a variety of roles within the Public Utilities Department, the release added.
Mylett was manager of the Water and Wastewater Division from October 2018 until his appointment to interim director in April, his resume notes.
From April 2013 until October 2018, the resume says, he was manager of the Utility Operations Division. In that capacity, the resume points out, he coordinated construction of a Utilities Emergency Response Center at the Bee Ridge Water Reclamation Facility, which allows for a “unified response effort for the entire County water distribution system and wastewater collection system during a storm event …”
When he joined the county, Mylett’s resume says, he served as an environmental specialist focused on pollution control. Part of his job entailed inspections of the county’s wastewater treatment facilities and investigation of “noncompliance issues,” as well as preparation and submission of case reports to “senior enforcement specialist.”
Mylett earned a bachelor’s degree in public health and administration from Indiana University and his master’s degree in business administration from Webster University in Sarasota, the release notes.
For Mylett, being selected as the new Public Utilities director is not only an honor, the release added, but also “an important opportunity to address water quality and utility infrastructure.”
“I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue serving our community and leading the knowledgeable staff within all divisions of public utilities,” Mylett said in the release.