PORT RICHEY — City Council member Phil Abts disputes a newspaper report that suggests Port Richey Police have retaliated against him because of his efforts to cut costs at the department.
The story begins with Abts' practice of parking his 1978 Chevrolet van on Old Post Road while he jogs with his pit bullterrier, Maggie.
On Monday, an officer saw the empty green van and told Abts he was parked in the roadway.
Abts' exchange with Detective James Ruland on Monday morning led to a Tampa Tribune story on Friday in which Abts is paraphrased as saying that since he was elected, the police department has engaged in political retribution by approaching him three times for parking his van while walking his dog.
"I don't know if it's retaliation or what, but something is going on here," the Tribune quoted Abts. "This is the third time that the police have been onto me since I became an elected official."
On Friday, Abts said he's planning a meeting next week with City Manager Richard Reade, Sgt. Don Young, interim police chief Dave Brown and Mathias Brewi, the outgoing public safety director, to review what he said were inaccuracies in the police report and the Tribune's story.
"It amazes me how me trying to run with my dog is blown out of proportion," Abts said Friday. "It bothers me. They (the Tribune) printed it in a way that said they (the police) were going after me."
Mary McCoy, the Tribune's Pasco County bureau chief, said Friday, "We stand by what the story says."
Here's what happened Monday, according to the police report:
About 11:28 a.m., Ruland was heading north on Old Post Road when he saw a Chevrolet van. The driver's side tires were partially in the roadway, and the van's windows were rolled down. Ruland parked near the van.
Then, a man approached Ruland's patrol car and asked what he was doing. Ruland got out and told the man he was checking on the van. The man said it was his vehicle.
When Ruland asked for the man's driver's license and vehicle information, the man said, "We don't have to do this," and walked toward the van, saying he was going to leave.
Ruland wrote in his report that the man was "displaying suspicious behavior" for failing to give his identification and being in a hurry to leave.
Ruland called Young, his supervisor, and asked him to come. Then, Ruland ran the van's Alabama tag and learned the van belonged to Phil Abts. (Abts said he has since gotten Florida tags on the van and a second vehicle he owns.)
The case was classified in police files as a 'suspicious vehicle' check. Abts wasn't issued a ticket.
Before Monday's incident, Abts said he was approached by officers previously about moving his van while walking Maggie.
Abts said he doesn't see the situation as being political retribution, which the Tribune paraphrased him as saying.
"Phil Abts," he said, "doesn't feel like he's being targeted."