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Port Richey critic files ethics complaint over money for July Fourth fireworks show

PORT RICHEY — A regular critic of Port Richey's top brass has filed an ethics complaint with the state questioning how $5,000 of city funds ended up paying for a July Fourth fireworks show performed by a company co-owned by Vice Mayor Bill Colombo.

Kevin Hamm, a former computer specialist fired by the city last year, said Colombo should have disclosed his role in B&B of Port Richey — a fireworks company he owns with former Port Richey City Council member Bill Bennett — during discussions over possible funding of the display.

Hamm, 47, included acting city manager/police Chief Dave Brown in his complaint to the Florida Commission on Ethics. Hamm noted that Brown dispersed the $5,000 to a local nonprofit, which then gave the money to B&B. It "was an effort to hide the financial transaction," Hamm wrote.

In addressing the City Council last week, Hamm also questioned why B&B didn't have an occupational license in place before and during the fireworks display. Bennett acknowledged on Friday that Hamm was right about the license and said he paid the city $100 for one this week.

But Colombo and Bennett scoffed at any suggestion of impropriety over the funding of the fireworks display.

Bennett said the city donated the $5,000 to a nonprofit called Celebrate Port Richey, which is operated by former Mayor Eloise Taylor and former City Council member Jim Priest. The nonprofit then paid B&B for the fireworks show. Another $2,000 came from donations from Hooter's and SunCruz Casino, Bennett said.

Bennett and Colombo are fireworks technicians licensed by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and received permission from fire officials for the display, according to Port Richey fire Chief Tim Fussell.

Brown did not return phone calls for comment.

B&B spent all the money, fired off 300 pounds of fireworks from a barge in a bayou, and received praise from the community and council members for a job well done, Bennett said.

"Everything was done on the up and up,'' he said. "No one profited from this. It was just a good thing we wanted to do for the city."

Colombo said he received no money from the event, and his only role was setting up and helping to conduct the show. Bennett and Colombo said they enjoy fireworks and are not looking to profit from their business.

Colombo also addressed a complaint by Hamm that the show should have been put out to bid. The vice mayor said if such a vote did come to the council, he would have recused himself. "He is just throwing mud at the wall to see what sticks," Colombo said of Hamm.

Bennett called Hamm a "disgruntled" former employee still angered over his firing. Hamm contends he was fired for making complaints about city officials over poor purchasing standards while working for Port Richey, and it's a mission he still believes is worthy.

"They are still playing fast and loose," Hamm said.

None of the council members commented during the public meeting on Hamm's accusation. After the meeting, council member Steve O'Neill didn't expect the issue to go away.

"I don't think it's dead," he said. "But it was a nice show, though."

Port Richey critic files ethics complaint over money for July Fourth fireworks show 07/30/11 [Last modified: Saturday, July 30, 2011 1:33pm]
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