Two weeks after voters had their say, the work begins today for newly elected public officials in a pair of Pasco cities trying to answer significant financial questions.
In Port Richey, Phil Abts and Perry Bean join a council that has a dawdling residential canal dredging project as the citizens' primary concern. Obtaining appropriate government permits and devising a realistic financing plan for what could be a multimillion-dollar project are high on the agenda.
First, however, the council must consider the fate of City Attorney James Mathieu. Council member Mark Hashim, elected in 2007, is seeking to fire Mathieu, saying he shouldn't have been hired in 2006 because of personal conflicts. Mathieu is the live-in boyfriend of Nancy Britton who just lost her bid to be re-elected to the council.
Mathieu demonstrated poor judgment in his handling of a concern from a longtime city employee over perceived racist language from a police chief applicant and the ensuing inability to find the public record documenting the conversation. A greater concern, however, is Mathieu's decision, after he became city attorney, to join then-Council member Dale Massad in a business venture as owners of residential investment property.
The entanglement prohibited Massad from voting on extending Mathieu's duties to interim city manager. It was a vote Massad said he didn't consider sitting out until questioned by a Times reporter. As city attorney, shouldn't Mathieu have offered that legal advice? More appropriately, Mathieu should have been astute enough to decline the business offer from Massad in the first place.
If council members don't trust their attorney's judgment, there is little reason to retain him.
There is no pressing personnel matter in Dade City. The city recently hired a new police chief and city manager and by early evening it should have a new mayor. A new commissioner, Curtis Beebe, sits for his first meeting today and the panel as a whole must elect a new mayor following the departure of Hutch Brock, who did not seek re-election.
The politics of personal acquaintances, which dominated the campaign, now must be put aside for more pressing matters at hand. As is the case with most local governments, budgetary concerns are at the forefront. The city is facing a potential revenue cut of $300,000, a significant sum in Dade City's relatively austere budget. During the campaign, candidates offered few specifics on how to close the budget gap. Beebe and others advocated town hall public forums to measure the public's preferences for making ends meet.
With the end of the state legislative session approaching rapidly, and preliminary tax roll numbers already in the public domain, the commission would be wise to begin preparing for those forums. Getting public input in the spring could help ease budget-writing decisions over the summer and fall.