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Small cities all about political transparency

Welcome to the fishbowl, Phil Abts. The Port Richey Council member, elected just six weeks ago, is finding his actions and statements are open for scrutiny particularly in a fractious community dominated by the politics of personal acquaintances.

In Abts' case, his van, with out-of-state license plates, was parked on a public right of way along Old Post Road.

The van's tires were partially on the road and that drew the attention of a Port Richey police detective on patrol last week. Abts was away from the vehicle walking his dog but returned to talk to the officer.

According to the report by Detective James Ruland, Abts did not provide his driver's license and vehicle registration, instead saying, "We don't have to do this,'' and walked toward the van. Ruland's report characterized Abts' behavior as suspicious because he declined to supply the requested identification and was in a hurry to leave.

Police issued no tickets even though state law requires new residents to change their motor vehicle registration in a timely manner. Abts moved to Port Richey 12 years ago.

By the end of the episode, however, Abts contended both the police report and a newspaper story about the encounter were inaccurate. We have a hard time believing that everyone who conversed with Abts during and after the incident got it wrong. More likely, Abts retreated from conspiratorial suspicions voiced in the Tampa Tribune after realizing the department acted professionally.

Still, Abts told Times staff writer Camille C. Spencer he planned to meet with the city manager, acting police chief, a sergeant and the outgoing public safety director about what he contended were inaccuracies in the police version of the encounter. By Monday, Abts had a change of heart and said there would be no meeting.

That is smart. Why bother wasting everyone's time? Unless, of course, he wanted to apologize to the department for suggesting he had been targeted for police scrutiny because of his political positions.

Abts, according to the Tribune, wondered if he was singled out for retribution because he is pushing cost-cutting measures that will affect the Police Department. He did not repeat that contention in an interview with the Times and by Monday afternoon, Abts was regretful and a man of few words.

"It's time to move forward to running the city like a business and move forward with my campaign promises and make this issue a thing of the past.

"All disputes have been corrected and there's no reason to take the city's time, my time, the Police Department's time or your time as a reporter to discuss this further.''

Abts would be wise to consider his own behavior as well. He drove a vehicle with Alabama license tags even though he purchased a house in Port Richey in 1996. He parked his van improperly and then ignored a police officer's request for proper identification.

Instead of second-guessing police, Abts should appreciate that one of the city's officers was astute enough to investigate what could have been an abandoned van from another state.

Abts has gone from anonymous citizen to public servant since his successful campaign for the City Council and he should remember his new position comes with increased responsibility and accountability. He is now in the public eye and even walking the dog takes on new meaning in Port Richey.

Small cities all about political transparency 05/19/08 [Last modified: Monday, May 26, 2008 11:26am]
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