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Port Richey mayor Richard Rober exits, destroying the public's trust

Fulfilling personal tax obligations is a prerequisite for elected officeholders determining how to spend public money. That wasn't the case in the city of Port Richey where Richard Rober hastily quit his position as mayor March 28 after learning federal authorities were investigating him for tax evasion.

In announcing his resignation, Rober admitted under-reporting his income and said he and his wife took responsibility for their actions. This spin would be easier to digest had the new-found accountability surfaced before the Internal Revenue Service came calling.

The Robers' legal troubles — his attorney said he expects criminal charges to be filed shortly — stem from the sale of their former business, Gator Water and Wastewater Management Inc., after his election to office in 2007. Two years after the sale, Rober and the buyer, Florida Utility Group Holdings Inc., ended up in litigation with the new owners contending Rober had funneled more than $500,000 of company money into personal accounts he kept secret from accountants, the IRS and the buyers.

In a sworn deposition, Rober acknowledged he had skimmed an estimated $5,000 a month into a clandestine account and avoided paying taxes on it between 2000 and 2007. Rober and his wife, Averill, spent the money on, among other things, a Hummer, boat repairs, rent, car detailing, a weekly stipend for Rober's mother, tools, a deposit on a hotel resort during a conference and a loan to a former employee charged with drunken driving.

"We fully trusted Richard Rober,'' Florida Utility's chief financial officer told the Times in a 2010. "There was no doubt as to his credibility. He was the mayor. Why wouldn't you trust him?''

It's a question the public needs to consider as well. Historically, credibility and Port Richey haven't gone hand in hand. Still, Rober was re-elected twice with no opposition. The public approved — or didn't care — that his five-year mayoral tenure that featured a resolve to maintain the municipal government, also included the departure of three city managers, an inability to progress on a residential canal dredge, and Rober's own heavy-handed decision to eliminate public comment from non-city residents during council meetings.

Rober's soft-spoken style earned him fans who had tired of the boisterous and unprofessional behavior of some of his council predecessors. But serving the public takes more than good manners. The requirement for strong ethical behavior extends beyond the mayoral gavel and Rober, by his own admission, failed that mandate.

Port Richey mayor Richard Rober exits, destroying the public's trust 04/10/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 10, 2012 5:59pm]
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