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Both sides in Port Richey city dissolution referendum wait on judge's ruling

PORT RICHEY — First it was on.

Now, the controversial dissolution referendum is on hold while City Attorney Michael Brannigan makes his case to Circuit Judge Stanley Mills that the ordinance laying the framework for the referendum to dissolve the city is legal.

Mills ordered the city on April 17 to show cause as to why he shouldn't consider the referendum invalid. Brannigan, who wrote the ordinance, has 15 days from that date to reply on the city's behalf.

"My response will be to say that the ordinance is fine," Brannigan said.

Residents began scrutinizing the ordinance earlier this month.

On April 9, resident Ed Ostrand and former City Council members Jim Priest and Dale Massad filed a petition in court that challenged the validity of the ordinance. The writ of certiorari was drafted by former Mayor Eloise Taylor, an attorney.

The three men say the city has not met two of three conditions that state law requires before a city can dissolve.

Those include coming up with a plan to pay off the city's debts and settle matters with city employees.

Priest's goal is to halt the referendum on dissolution. A similar, nonbinding measure in 2007 was rejected by 54 percent of the voters.

"We have demonstrated time and time again that this is not what the majority of the city wants," Priest said. "I can't see spending more and more tax dollars for an issue we know has been turned down and failed time and time again."

Taylor has 10 days to respond after Brannigan replies to Mills.

Meanwhile, Taylor on Friday filed an emergency motion for a judicial order to stop the city from moving forward with the dissolution vote, which was scheduled for the spring.

But the judge denied the request, court records show.

City Council members have scheduled a closed-door meeting prior to their regular council meeting tonight to decide how to proceed. That meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall, 6333 Ridge Road, prior to the 7:30 p.m. council meeting.

A divided council has voted along 3-2 lines over the past few months to put the dissolution question before voters. But earlier this month, one member of that majority was replaced by Bill Colombo, a new council member elected on a platform of keeping the city intact.

"I think the council will talk to Mr. Brannigan about defending the writ, because it's our obligation, and about where we can go from here," said Mayor Richard Rober. "We'll figure out what our choices are."

The council plans to proceed with a dissolution workshop on May 5.

Camille C. Spencer can be reached at (727) 992-5203 or cspencer@sptimes.com.

Both sides in Port Richey city dissolution referendum wait on judge's ruling 04/27/09 [Last modified: Monday, April 27, 2009 8:12pm]
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