PORT RICHEY — Political newcomers Phil Abts and Perry Bean captured seats on the City Council on Tuesday, ousting incumbents Nancy Britton and Dale Massad.
Steven O'Neill, an incumbent running for a second term, kept his seat by capturing nearly 24 percent of the vote.
Abts and Bean each snagged 21 percent of the vote in the five-way race, with seats going to the top three vote-getters. Massad received 18 percent and Britton received 16 percent.
Abts said he hopes the election of Bean and himself will help prompt change in the city.
"This is what we wanted," Abts said Tuesday. "Now, we have a clean slate. This is going to be the best thing that ever happened to the city of Port Richey. I am very happy."
Bean said running a similar campaign as Abts — with both men hoping to spur along the city's dredging project — could explain why they received the same number of votes.
"Our campaigns were run very closely together, so every time either one of us spoke, we talked about the other," he said. "I think we got the best possible council we could have asked for. It was the ideal combination in my mind, and in a lot of the voters' minds."
O'Neill did not return a call seeking comment.
Massad, who was seeking a third term, said he's going to make use of his newfound free time by fishing.
"I think I have just been lifted out of hell," he said. "I dedicated myself to trying to finish the dredging project. I told them if they didn't fire me, I wouldn't quit. They fired me."
The council seats are two-year terms. Abts, Bean and O'Neill will work alongside Mayor Richard Rober and council member Mark Hashim.
On Tuesday, candidates set up shop under tents in the parking lot at the Knights of Columbus Hall, the city's sole polling location.
A steady stream of residents stopped by to cast their ballots, prompting a 30 percent voter turnout — the highest among the four Pasco cities with elections Tuesday. Port Richey has 1,914 registered voters among its 3,200 residents.
Abts and Bean ran with the hopes of securing permits to dredge the city's 29 canals by allowing new engineering firm PBS&J to take the reins on the project. The city has spent $464,000 and has yet to get a permit.
The three incumbents were elected two years ago on the platform of providing residents with the option of dissolving the city.
While the issue was put to rest a year later when residents voted in a referendum to keep the city intact, a controversial vote Britton took last year took center stage during a recent debate at Sand Pebble Townhomes.
Britton signed a petition in favor of giving residents the right to vote to dissolve the city, but later voted against holding the referendum.
During the April 2 debate, Britton was asked why she voted against the "straw vote," or referendum.
Britton's reply, according to a taped recording of that debate: "I never said I would give the right to vote. I said I believed in the right to vote."
Some say Britton's comments may have affected her ability to secure a second term Tuesday.
"I find it shocking that someone would admit that people have the right to vote, then say 'I'm not giving it to you,' " said Alene Burke, a resident. "I think that's really shocking."
But Britton said her comments during the debate didn't affect her results on Tuesday. She wouldn't elaborate, but said she hopes the new council will use redevelopment money wisely.
"I guess dredging was a big deal," she said. "I hope they use our (redevelopment) dollars for the blighted areas, too."
Tonight's council meeting will be the last one for Britton and Massad as council members. It will be held at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 6333 Ridge Road.
Camille C. Spencer can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6229.