PORT RICHEY — The referendum is off.
Joined by a new council member who campaigned on keeping the city intact, City Council voted 3-2 Tuesday night to repeal the controversial ordinance for a referendum on dissolving the city.
Bill Colombo, who was elected two weeks ago, joined Mayor Richard Rober and council member Steven O'Neil in repealing the ordinance.
Council members Perry Bean and Phil Abts voted in the minority to press forward with the referendum.
After the vote, Abts made a brief statement from the council dais before walking out of City Hall.
"I will exit this council meeting to protest that vote," Abts said to his fellow council members and about a dozen residents. "You are taking the people's vote away. I do not feel that is proper."
Bean also disagreed with the timing: He said the council should have scheduled a special meeting on the ordinance later this week, so there would be time to notify residents and get their input.
"There wouldn't have been any harm in giving the considerable number of citizens who brought the issue to this point the opportunity to speak," Bean said. "By not giving them that opportunity, we are fanning the flames."
Three residents filed a legal challenge earlier this month about the ordinance that set up the referendum.
The writ of certiorari, filed April 9 by former council members Dale Massad, Jim Priest and resident Ed Ostrand, said the ordinance lacked a detailed plan on how to deal with the city's debt and employees if voters decided to dissolve the city. Former Mayor Eloise Taylor prepared the document, which said the city had not met all conditions required by state law.
Circuit Judge Stanley Mills ordered the city on April 17 to show cause as to why he shouldn't consider the referendum invalid. City Attorney Michael Brannigan, who drafted the ordinance, said he was prepared to defend it.
The council held an hour-long executive session on the legal challenge earlier Tuesday evening. But with the ordinance repealed, the court battle has become a moot point.