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O'Neill's nonarrest chips away at public trust

I've watched the video several times now. I guess we should all be glad that Tom O'Neill didn't kill anybody.

But that doesn't mean there aren't casualties. Public trust took a big hit.

Details of the Port Richey city manager's episode with police two weeks ago leave us with a number of questions, but we know the most obvious answers.

What would happen if the police found any of us asleep in our car on a residential street around midnight with the motor running?

What would they do to us if we smelled like alcohol and couldn't even perform the most simple of field sobriety tests?

Like I said, we know.

But Tom O'Neill, the retired New Port Richey city manager who two years ago took over running the smaller city across the river, didn't get arrested.

New Port Richey police determined anybody so wasted might have a medical condition, and so they called an ambulance to take him to a hospital — but not before a videocamera mounted on a cruiser captured images that ought to scare the devil out of anyone who cares about O'Neill or shares the road with him.

Drunk or medically distressed, his condition was frightening.

As officers tended to the addled O'Neill, his friend David Brown, the Port Richey police chief, left his home and went to the scene. A few hours later, he drove O'Neill home from the hospital.

Now Brown is indignant that anyone might suggest he influenced the decision not to charge. He should have stayed home.

Over in New Port Richey, a small town where something like this would naturally generate a lot of conversation, interim police Chief Kim Bogart apparently didn't think much about it. In retrospect, he now must be kicking himself.

As often happens in such cases, somebody called this newspaper. On Friday, reporter Alex Orlando gathered documents from the July 13 incident and discussed it with Bogart, a former Pasco sheriff's major who ran unsuccessfully twice to lead that office. Bogart backed his officer's decisions.

But a few days later, when Bogart got a look at the video apparently for the first time, he had second thoughts.

What does this say about Bogart, who fully expects the "interim'' to be removed from his title soon? He's the leader of the police department, but nobody told him about O'Neill until that Monday? And once he did learn about it, wouldn't you think he might aggressively seek out every detail?

It is incredible that he didn't see the video until after the story broke.

The best course in a case like this is to get out front, tell the people what happened and that you're looking into it. Don't let two weeks go by. Don't let it become a headline before you act.

O'Neill's reluctance to talk about it now or release any health records might be a reasonable legal strategy, but it sure doesn't inspire confidence.

That said, his bosses on the Port Richey council haven't exactly hoisted any red flags.

Over the years, the two cities have often been at odds. They have celebrated their differences.

Now the man who has run the day-to-day business of both has given them something in common. It isn't pretty.

O'Neill's nonarrest chips away at public trust 07/30/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 30, 2013 8:33pm]

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