Port Richey voters have an opportunity for a significant upgrade to their municipal government next week. They can say no to cronyism, fiscal irresponsibility, conflicting interests, poor judgment, mismanaged capital spending and willy-nilly community redevelopment.
Or, they can re-elect Dale Massad and Nancy Britton to the Port Richey City Council. The choice is clear. Voters need to elect challengers Perry Bean and Phil Abts to the Council. The status quo is unacceptable. Here's what it has brought:
• A dawdling residential canal dredging project that has cost $465,000 in consulting fees and brought no serious discussion about how to pay for the dredging if the permits are obtained. However, Massad did talk the Council into paying $5,000 to a Tampa law firm to rationalize his defense of a consultant that has since been fired. Taxpayers should ask Massad to repay the $5,000, which amounted to nothing more than an in-kind campaign contribution.
• An attempt, championed by Britton, to pay more than the asking price for a rundown, vacant mobile home park east of U.S. 19 even though the city had no plans for how to use the land and could have taken advantage of code enforcement and the court system to clean up the site. Massad, always quick with a dim justification, said the city needed no vision for the land. If we had a vision, we'd be a developer, he told a Council audience.
• Hiring Britton's live-in boyfriend, James Mathieu, as city attorney. Britton, at least, abstained. Massad supported the hiring, then went into business with Mathieu on an investment property. He saw no conflict until quizzed by the Times. The entanglements prevented Massad and Britton from doing their jobs of representing the public. Both recused themselves when the Council voted to extend Mathieu's authority during the search for a city manager.
Prior to Britton joining the Council two years ago, Massad managed to become embroiled in similar behavior by inviting a former city manager to join his nonprofit agency supposedly interested in charity work in South Africa. The charity dissolved after the city manager's successful hunting safaris.
Likewise, Massad was the only Council member to defend trying to open Port Richey to marathon bingo games backed by the corporation operating gambling boats from the city's waterfront. The company donated $10,000 to Massad's pet cause of canal dredging after he voted in favor of their position.
He has no shame. Port Richey voters shouldn't tolerate such behavior. They deserve a Council that will act in the public's best interests, not a Council guided by self-interests. Toward that end, voters should elect Bean and Abts. Both decided to run for office after watching the city, led by Massad, mismanage the permit applications for dredging residential canals.
Bean served on the city's Port Authority Committee and was on the special selection committee to interview new consultant applicants. He correctly notes that a current council majority has "demonstrated a lack of vision, creativity, business acumen and common sense required to move the city forward.''
He and his family moved to Port Richey four years ago from Georgia because of his wife's career. A military veteran, Bean previously was the managing partner of a business that designed and marketed electronic security equipment. He has been a stay-at-home father to three children since the family relocated. He promises to be a full-time councilor rather than someone who opens the agenda packet for the first time prior to a meeting.
Abts sells health insurance benefit packages to employers. A 12-year city resident, he, too, is critical of the pace of the dredging project and wasteful spending. He became part of the Port Authority and formed the citizens group Citizens for Proper Dredge. He believes the Council should empower its citizen committees by listening to rather than ignoring the residents' recommendations. He promises transparency and accountability, two things sorely lacking among the current Council majority.
The Times strongly recommends Abts and Bean for the Port Richey Council. They will bring a common-sense approach and astute judgment to city governing at an imperative time. Council has retained an experienced and energetic city manager in Richard Reade. Port Richey now needs a Council that will develop a vision for the city, set policy and then get out of the way and allow the city manager to implement it.
This year's election features five candidates seeking three seats. The top three vote-getters win two-year terms. The third incumbent is Steven O'Neill. His voting record matches the dismal performance of Massad and Britton. He is bereft of ideas and demonstrates little passion for public service.
His saving grace is that he isn't living with or a business partner of the city attorney. That puts him a notch above the other incumbents.