A municipal government's public purchases must be done in a manner that is beyond reproach to ensure taxpayers have confidence they are getting responsible service at a reasonable price. For a city that just revamped its procurement policy, Port Richey still hasn't figured this out.
The recent maneuver to ship $5,000 in Community Redevelopment Agency money to an 11-month-old nonprofit, which then passed the funds to a private company co-owned by Vice Mayor Bill Colombo, fails the standard of good government. Colombo and former council member Bill Bennett, partners in B&B of Port Richey, used the public money and other private donations to put on the July 4th fireworks display on the city's waterfront. The charity, Celebrate Port Richey, is headed by another former council member, Jim Priest, and the registered agent is former Mayor Eloise Taylor, who is a corporate officer in another unrelated business venture with Bennett and his wife, Connie.
Any appearance of conflicting interests could have been defused if Colombo had publicly acknowledged his role in B&B during the council's discussions in advance of the show. Instead, he faces a whistle-blower's complaint to the state Ethics Commission that the city laundered the money through the nonprofit to benefit the vice mayor. Colombo denies any impropriety and both he and Bennett said they made no profit on the show.
Still, the perception of favoritism cannot be discounted and it prompted Kevin Hamm to file his complaint with the state. Hamm, a former computer specialist fired by the city last year, previously revealed spending irregularities under former City Manager Ellen Posivach that preceded a critical audit and a council decision to terminate Posivach.
In response to the past problems, Dave Brown, police chief and acting city manager, promised new safeguards that would make the "procurement process as transparent as possible, thereby increasing public confidence.'' That didn't happen here. Brown, the city staff and the council need to work on their definition of transparent, particularly since B&B didn't have a city license to conduct business at the time of the show.
By all accounts, the July 4th show, one of only two commercial fireworks displays in west Pasco and the only one to fall on the Independence Day weekend, was a big hit. However, enjoyable, patriotic entertainment doesn't excuse sloppiness in handling the public purse.
Port Richey's elected and appointed leaders can't allow the rockets' red glare to obscure the promised financial transparency.