PORT RICHEY — The city won't have a Fourth of July fireworks show after all.
The nonprofit Celebrate Port Richey ran out of time to plan this year's event because of a lingering controversy over how city funds were spent on last year's fireworks show at Waterfront Park.
"It's with a heavy heart that I tell you this," Celebrate Port Richey leader Jim Priest, a former council member, told City Council on Tuesday evening.
He told the Times the plans for this year stalled while several sponsors waited to see the results of an ethics complaint involving last year's event.
Kevin Hamm, a former contract employee who became a regular critic of Port Richey officials, filed the state ethics complaint last year questioning the way the city provided $5,000 to Celebrate Port Richey for the show.
Celebrate Port Richey then turned the funds over to a fireworks company, B&B of Port Richey, co-owned by then-Vice Mayor Bill Colombo, who is currently serving as acting mayor, and former council member Bill Bennett.
In complaints against Colombo and police Chief David Brown, who then served as interim city manager, Hamm accused the city of attempting "to hide the financial transaction" and failing to seek competitive bids for the fireworks show. Colombo and Bennett said they received no financial gain from the show, spending all of the money on fireworks.
Now, almost a year later, the state ethics commission has cleared both Colombo and Brown of any wrongdoing in this case. "It came back the way I expected it to come back," Colombo told the Times.
But the news didn't come in time to get this year's show on track.
Council members lamented the city wouldn't have its own fireworks show this Fourth of July. But they suggested Celebrate Port Richey — which has received another $15,000 this year from the city for special events — could plan a fireworks show for the city's upcoming anniversary or for Labor Day.
"I'm saddened that we can't bring this forward," said council member Steve O'Neill. "But I don't think we are going to miss next year."
In an interview with the Times after the meeting Tuesday, Priest criticized Hamm for bringing the complaint when the only motive of city officials and Celebrate Port Richey was to show residents a good time.
"I guess he just wanted to get his chunk of flesh out of the city," Priest said. "We thought we did everything right and we now know we did."
Reached for comment Wednesday, Hamm questioned the ruling by the state ethics commission. He said it troubled him that the panel found nothing wrong with city funds being used to hire a sitting council member's company.
"If they had gone about it properly, put it out to bid, they would not have had a problem doing something this year, next year, or any other year," Hamm said of the city.