The 30-day suspension of Port Richey City Manager Tom O'Neill only addresses half of the city's administrative shortcomings stemming from O'Neill's drunken driving charge and the original police decision to treat the case as a medical emergency instead of a crime.
The city of Port Richey also must address the role of its police chief, David Brown, who helped create the perception of favoritism by coming to the scene in another municipality and running interference for the city manager by telling responding officers O'Neill was on medication.
O'Neill temporarily avoided a criminal charge because New Port Richey police Cpl. William Phillips didn't complete a DUI investigation even though his report noted the city manager smelled of alcohol and couldn't walk without assistance. Instead, authorities sent the city manager to a hospital by ambulance and drove his vehicle to his house. Brown chauffeured O'Neill home after his discharge. Brown "didn't give direction to my officer to handle the case any differently. But just the (Port Richey) chief's presence there, I believe, was a degree of an influence," New Port Richey police Chief Kim Bogart said later.
No kidding. Brown was outside his jurisdiction, but tried to revive O'Neill and relayed the medication information to emergency medical workers. Brown served as enabler, helping O'Neill avoid accountability for his dangerous behavior. That changed after Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe ordered his own investigation after reading accounts of O'Neill's encounter with police in the Tampa Bay Times. O'Neill now has been charged with misdemeanor drunken driving after medical records showed his blood-alcohol content measured .367 percent, more than four times the level at which Florida law presumes a motorist is impaired. Last week, Port Richey City Council declined to accept O'Neill's retirement papers, but voted 4-1 to suspend him for 30 days and ordered him to undergo substance abuse counseling. Only council member Terry Rowe grasped the gravity of O'Neill's missteps, saying his deceitful story — blaming his stupor on a medical condition, rather than excessive drinking — undermined O'Neill's credibility to serve the city.
Left unresolved is Brown's behavior. He, too, damaged his credibility and that of the department he leads. Unfortunately, Brown answers to O'Neill. City Council members should be wondering how O'Neill is supposed to adequately manage an employee who brought discredit to Port Richey by trying to do the city manager a favor. Council should demand that O'Neill delegate that management responsibility to the city attorney. The chief, too, should answer for his actions. Looking the other way while the boss is passed out behind the wheel of his vehicle is not an effective way to keep roads safe from suspected drunken drivers.