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Port Richey Council term limits may be decided by straws

PORT RICHEY — An election in Port Richey may come down to drawing straws.

In a late-night emergency meeting Tuesday, the City Council crafted a referendum to address how long three council members will serve.

Steve O'Neill, Nancy Britton and Terry Rowe were re-elected without opposition, but officials realized voters will still have to determine which of them will serve three-year terms and which will serve a one-year term.

Mayor Richard Rober said the problem needed to be addressed immediately because the city is running the risk of having the results of the election voided. That would leave the council without a majority vote and the city at a standstill.

"We have a very significant technical snag," Rober said as he opened the meeting at 9:15 p.m.

The city's code was previously changed after a charter review board recommended all council seats be increased to three year terms. In order to do that, the 2012 election was selected for one council member to be assigned a one-year term in order for the entire council to get on the same term lengths.

This year, with three seats open, the winning candidate with the fewest votes was to earn the one-year term, while the two other winners would serve three-year terms.

But the charter has no language spelling out who will be assigned the one-year term in the event the election went uncontested. Voters will be asked to decide that on April 10.

The initial remedy: place the three candidates on the ballot and the one with the least votes would get the one-year term.

But that fell by the wayside Tuesday evening as City Attorney Joseph Poblick told the council that state law prohibits an unopposed candidate's name on the ballot because it is assumed that a candidate voted for him or herself. So Poblick then turned to crafting the referendum to a method of assigning the term limits without the candidates' names on the ballot.

That method, which the council approved 4-1, will ask voters whether they will accept either a volunteer to take the one-year term, or if that does not occur, allow drawing of straws for a one-year term.

The dissenting vote came from Rowe who did not like the idea of a term coming down to drawing straws.

"Drawing straws is not going to be the will of the people," Rowe said. "That's chance."

Rowe said that if it came to drawing straws to pick term limits the council would catch "flak" from the public. But leaving it up to chance is the only way to avoid any perception of bias, said Vice Mayor Bill Colombo.

"The only real option available to us is random chance," Colombo said.

Poblick drafted language for the referendum on the spot.

But what if the referendum doesn't pass?

"That's the big can of worms we don't have an answer to," Poblick said.

Port Richey has always been known for heated and active political discourse, so nobody expected an election without opposition.

"I feel somewhat responsible, for that I apologize," former charter review board chair Brian Roberts told the council Tuesday. "I'm not taking all the blame, but it's an unfortunate situation."

Rober told Roberts he understood how it did not come up. Prior to the meeting he pondered Port Richey elections history.

"I can't remember a time when we had a seat go unopposed," he said.

The cost of an election solely to hold a vote on the referendum is estimated to cost $2,500, according to Pasco Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley. He said Port Richey has around 1,800 voters and one precinct.

Corley said in his five years as elections supervisor he has not seen a situation like the one facing Port Richey.

"It's unique," he said.

Port Richey Council term limits may be decided by straws 02/22/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 22, 2012 7:07pm]

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