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Port Richey's year filled with political turmoil, controversy

PORT RICHEY — In the past year, this city of 3,200 kept its reputation as a political war zone plagued with controversy.

By the end of the year, the City Council ousted its city manager after one year of service, fired and rehired a veteran officer and even came up with a new slogan: "The Little City by the River" is now "Pasco's Gateway to the Gulf."

The city's most notable events of the year began in April, when political newcomers Phil Abts and Perry Bean won seats on City Council, replacing incumbents Nancy Britton and Dale Massad. Steven O'Neill won a second term, joining Mayor Richard Rober and Vice Mayor Mark Hashim behind the dais.

A few weeks after the election, the new council ousted City Attorney James Mathieu because of his personal ties with live-in girlfriend Britton and Massad, whom he owns an investment property with.

In September, veteran patrolman and former police Chief Bill Sager was fired after being accused of sending a gag letter to city employees. An investigation, which began two weeks after his firing, cleared Sager of wrongdoing, and he was rehired.

A divided council in December then booted City Manager Richard Reade, saying he had made progress during his one-year tenure but had been mistreated by city residents who had unfairly criticized him. Some residents complained about Reade's management style.

The city also stirred controversy in November, when Vice Mayor Mark Hashim proposed a $7.50-per-person fee to board the casino and sightseeing boats. Boat owners said they would be forced to go out of business if they asked customers to pay the fee, which Hashim said would be used for waterfront redevelopment and city amenities.

The council is expected to vote on the proposal in January.

The city also launched its red light ticket program in the three northbound lanes of U.S. 19 at Ridge Road. Since the program began in May, the city has raked in thousands of dollars in revenue.

But in August, American Traffic Solutions, the Arizona-based company that installed the camera, backed out of its contract, saying it ran into problems with the state Department of Transportation over installing additional cameras.

At year's end, the city was still in search of a company to replace ATS, which agreed to stay on board until a new company is hired.

As of December, the program brought in $109,565 in revenue, yet the city still found itself in a state of financial emergency in September.

City officials said the culprit was a major hit the city took in its utility fund after discovering last year that it was losing millions of gallons of water. The result was a net deficit of $147,115 at the end of fiscal year 2007.

At year's end, the city was working with officials in Tallahassee to fix the fiscal problem.

Camille C. Spencer can be reached at cspencer@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6229.

In

Phil Abts and Perry Bean: These two dredging champions joined City Council, unseating Nancy Britton and Dale Massad.

Out

James Mathieu: The city attorney was booted for his personal connections to two officials.

Richard Reade: Criticized for his management style, the city manager was shown the door.

Full circle

Bill Sager: The longtime police officer and former chief was fired, then rehired over a dubious gag.

Port Richey's year filled with political turmoil, controversy 12/26/08 [Last modified: Monday, December 29, 2008 11:52am]
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