TARPON SPRINGS — City Commissioner Rea Sieber says the arrest of her daughter on felony animal abuse charges has left her distraught, although she understands the significance of her daughter’s action.
Video of Michelle Sieber, 26, kicking her dog and then lifting the animal off the ground by the dog’s leash went viral and became an international social media sensation.
The younger Sieber was arrested on Sept. 20.
According to her mother, Michelle Sieber has been rendered scarred by emotional and physical trauma and is in need of treatment. At the end of the Sept. 24 City Commission meeting, Sieber read a statement expressing her thoughts about the situation.
“It is with great regret that I make this statement,” Sieber said. “My daughter, Michelle, has been shown in a video on the news and social media mistreating one of her dogs. I’ve had the opportunity to review this video and I understand its significance.”
Stating she is “quite distraught” by her daughter’s behavior, Sieber added: “But she is my daughter, and I will support her getting the help she needs for her illness. She was raised better than that and is now suffering the consequences of her behavior in the Pinellas County Jail.”
Sieber, who owns a wine shop at the Sponge Docks, where the arrest occurred, also spoke about the impact the incident has had on her life.
“My family, my business, my political career and I have been furiously attacked for actions that were not mine, nor did I have any control over them,” Sieber said. “I have no involvement in the proceedings of Michelle’s arrest, processing or pending charges.”
Sieber concluded by saying: “For those of you who know me, and have reached out to me, I truly appreciate your support and I am very grateful. To my fellow commissioners and residents, please excuse the interruption of this unfortunate event as we must focus on our city, as I have been committed to doing for many years. Thank you.”
Sieber was elected to the City Commission in 2014 and won a second three-year term in 2017 without opposition. The controversy surrounding her daughter’s arrest spread like wildfire, picked up by local, state and national news outlets including CNN, People magazine and others.
“I have never seen anything like this,” Sieber said in an interview. “I mean it’s worldwide. I understand she didn’t do the right thing. What she did was wrong. But to me, the reaction has been unbelievable.
“I don’t understand how people have been so hateful to me and tried to ruin my personal, professional and political career over this. I am a good commissioner, I do my job, and I’ve always been committed to doing the best for Tarpon Springs. I don’t condone my daughter’s behavior. But what’s become of this is beyond me.”
Sieber became emotional when asked to explain her remark about Michelle getting help for her illness. Her daughter has suffered several severe traumas in the last decade that left her emotionally and physically scarred, including the suicide of a boyfriend as a freshman in college and a pair of serious car accidents that left her with multiple severe injuries and “metal all over her body,” as well as post-traumatic stress disorder and head trauma.
“Michelle was brought up right,” Sieber said. “She’s very smart, and she knows right from wrong. She’s not a vagrant, and she’s not an animal hater by any means. She loves animals — we’ve had them her whole life.
“Hopefully, she can get the help she needs and turns her life around because she’s an adult and I can’t force her to.”
Asked if the backlash over the incident, which she said has included text, email and telephone threats sent to her home, shop and City Hall, ever caused her to consider resigning her City Commission seat, her response was adamant.
“Absolutely not,” she said of any plans to step down, adding, “People who know me know who I am, that I care about the city, the businesses and the residents. I haven’t done anything wrong, why should I step down? I want to finish my term as commissioner to help the city, as I’ve done for the past six years.”
Her current term on the City Commission ends in March 2020 and she is barred from seeking a third consecutive term on the City Commission by the city charter.