PORT RICHEY — Four City Hall regulars will compete for three spots on the City Council in Tuesday's election.
Voters will decide among second-term council member Steven O'Neill, first-term member Perry Bean, former member Nancy Britton and newcomer Terry Rowe. Three seats are up for grabs, including one being vacated by council member Phil Abts.
Two amendments — one lengthening the council's terms, the other making dissolution more difficult — will round out the ballot in Pasco County's sole city election.
The candidates show few differences on contentious issues like dredging (all support it) and dissolution (all, except Bean, oppose its consideration). One issue, though, seemed to mobilize some more than others: an end to council arguments.
"The bickering is a big no-no," Rowe said. "It wastes a lot of time, gets us nowhere and just fans people's egos. I'm really disgusted with that."
Rowe, 55, an eight-year resident active with the city's Port Authority, said he was encouraged to undertake his first campaign by others who see him often at City Hall.
The out-of-work furniture repairman said he has "walked the entire city and knocked on every door," finding that residents want drainage fixes and progress on the long-anticipated dredge.
Britton, 51, agreed that much of the city's disruptions came from the dais, including during her single council term ending in 2008.
"We need to stop the bickering, stop the vengeful governing and move forward," Britton said. "I just desire that city we used to have. ... I want a more peaceful Port Richey."
Yet while railing against the city's notoriety for top-down turmoil, Britton threw a barb at Bean, who she said was trying to take credit for work she did on cleaning up a seedy mobile home park once known as "The Web."
"I'm the one who had drug addicts spit in my face. I was the one beating down doors," Britton said. "That's just disgraceful that someone would take credit for that when they didn't do anything about it."
Britton also denounced criticism that, during her previous council term, her romantic involvement with then-City Attorney James Mathieu constituted a potential conflict of interest.
"Last time I checked I'm an adult, and last time I checked Jim's an adult," Britton said. "What we do in our private life should have no bearing on whether or not I can do my job as a council person."
Britton, a 24-year resident, mother of two and account executive with Amedisys Home Health Care, said she would also like to discuss a compromise between residents and restaurateurs regarding noise complaints from the city's eateries.
Bean, 44, said city successes like a utility fund turnaround, employee raises and the purchase of new fire equipment were reasons for his reelection.
A stay-at-home father and software engineer, Bean said further work toward the beginning of the dredge project would continue during his term. The estimated $9-million cost for the project, he said, would be better spread across all city homeowners instead of solely burdening those on the waterfront. He argued that dredging would bring benefits to the entire city, as improved water quality will help increase property values and attract higher-end housing.
Bean also repeated his support of voters' right to choose whether the city is dissolved.
O'Neill, 48, has voted against measures toward dissolution during his four years in office. A quiet presence on the council, he was convicted last year of driving under the influence after a Pasco County Sheriff's Office saw him speeding and weaving across U.S. 19 in 2008.
Three messages left for O'Neill over the last week were not returned.
Voters will also decide two amendments. One would extend council terms from two to three years, an idea that Rowe and Bean support and Britton opposes.
Another would require a four-fifths majority of the council to put forward a referendum to dissolve the city.
Last year, the council voted to repeal an ordinance that would have let residents vote on dissolving. Bean, Abts and hundreds of petitioners wanted to bring the question to ballot, as the city saw during an unsuccessful bid in 2007, but O'Neill, Mayor Richard Rober and council member Bill Colombo agreed with a legal challenge and struck it down.
Rowe and Britton said the change could curb further disruptions among city heads and relieve city employees who fear they would lose their jobs.
"The harder it is to dissolve the city," Britton said, "the better."
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Drew Harwell can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6244.