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New rules silence frequent critic of Port Richey City Council

PORT RICHEY — Port Richey's most consistent critic was silenced Tuesday night by a little-known portion of the city's charter.

Before former city computer specialist Kevin Hamm could address the City Council as he had done week after week, Mayor Richard Rober announced he would be strictly adhering to the charter that says anyone addressing the council must be a city resident or a party to an issue on the agenda.

Hamm, 47, lives outside the city. Since being fired last year, he has taken three minutes each meeting to decry the city's handling of various issues from city purchases to the handling of his public record requests.

Rober informed Hamm before Tuesday's meeting he could not speak to the council due to the new rules, but Hamm stayed for the meeting and vowed to continue challenging city policies.

"There are other ways to get information out to the public," Hamm told Rober.

"Good luck with that, sir," Rober said, walking away.

After the meeting, Rober said in recent days he has been inundated with complaints about the public speaking portion of meetings. Rober has long allowed anyone to speak for three minutes at council meetings prior to the regular agenda, but the outcry has caused him to change the policy.

"When enough people come to me, I need to take notice," Rober said.

Rober said Hamm's scrutiny of a recent fireworks show upset many people in the city who enjoyed the show.

Hamm's latest address to the council came on July 26 when he announced he had filed an ethics complaint with the state against Vice Mayor Bill Colombo stemming from a Waterfront Park July Fourth fireworks show paid for by the city.

Colombo and former council member Bill Bennett own B&B of Port Richey, a fireworks company that put on the show. The city issued a $5,000 check to a local non-profit, Celebrate Port Richey, which then gave the money to B&B.

Hamm stated in his complaint Colombo should have revealed his involvement in B&B during discussions of the fireworks show, and he also found B&B did not have a city occupational license at the time of the display.

Bennett and Colombo both said they spent all the money on the show, and Colombo said he would have recused himself from any vote on funding the fireworks show. There was no vote as interim City Manager Dave Brown, who is also the police chief, gave Celebrate Port Richey the funds.

Hamm also filed an ethics complaint against Brown for his handling of the fireworks funding, but the chief has not commented on it. Brown did not attend the council meeting Tuesday because he was sick, according to city finance director Pam Zeigler.

Did the mayor enact the new policy to prevent Hamm speaking during meetings?

"No," he said. "This is going to affect a lot of people, including Mr. Hamm, who are used to talking to us."

Hamm, who had planned to again discuss the fireworks display at Tuesday's meeting, sees it another way: a direct attempt to "quash" his First Amendment rights.

"It's amazing,'' he said. "For as long as I can remember, citizens have been able to speak to the council about their concerns — until you say something they don't like."

New rules silence frequent critic of Port Richey City Council 08/10/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 10, 2011 7:34pm]
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