An open seat on the Port Richey City Council will determine if voters prefer to continue City Hall's progress toward more professional governing or whether the electorate wants a return to the cronyism and ethical challenges of the not-so-distant past.
Four candidates, including two incumbents, are seeking three seats on the City Council in the April 13 election. Council members Perry Bean and Steven O'Neill are seeking re-election while Phil Abts declined to run again after a single two-year term. Challengers are Terry Rowe, a first-time candidate for elected office who has served as chairman of the Port Authority Committee and vice chairman of the Port Authority Board, and former Council member Nancy Britton who lost a re-election bid two years ago.
The top three finishers in the four-person race win the council seats, but only two candidates stand out — Bean and Rowe.
Bean joined the council two years ago and pointed to the cost-efficient cleanup of a blighted mobile home park as his top accomplishment. A past council wanted to buy the run-down park at an inflated price to curb criminal activity there. Instead, the city condemned the dilapidated housing, knocked it down and was reimbursed the expense by the bank that controlled the property.
Coinciding with Bean's election, the council has made substantial progress on obtaining permits to dredge 30 residential canals, a project the city has been working on for at least a dozen years. The city is now seeking a site for the spoils, including the land vacated by the trailer park.
Talk about the dredging with some city residents and they complain about their inability to boat. Talk to Bean about it and he points out that better water quality and desirable waterfront property are the keys to the municipality's long-term economic survival via improved property values and an ability to attract high-end redeveloped housing. His intellect, ability to articulate a vision for Port Richey and commitment to do the hard work to make it a reality are substantial attributes that need to be retained on Council.
Rowe also sees the dredging as a top priority. As a volunteer member of city boards, he, too, has invested substantial time in this project and acknowledges a special tax assessment will be needed to finance the multimillion-dollar endeavor. Such an admission used to be taboo on the council, but a transparent discussion on devising a realistic financing plan is welcome.
Personal entanglements and a lack of transparency marred Britton's two years on council that ended in 2008. She did not object when the council hired James Mathieu, her live-in boyfriend, as city attorney and members later gave him additional responsibility as acting city manager. Likewise, she uttered not a peep after the public learned Mathieu had become a real estate partner with another of his bosses — then Council member Dale Massad.
Now, she said, in a written statement, her main objective is "to convince the voters that my sole purpose in seeking office is to better our community, not for any personal gain.'' Sorry, but Britton flunked that litmus test already. She need not be given a chance to repeat it.
O'Neill's judgment isn't much better. Since his 2008 re-election, he voted to retain Mathieu as city attorney even after the conflicts had been exposed. His personal choices reflect little concern for public safety. He pleaded no contest and was convicted of misdemeanor drunken driving after deputies stopped him in May 2008 for speeding on U.S. 19. Breath tests showed his blood-alcohol level to be more than twice the level at which a person is considered legally intoxicated.
O'Neill, despite his shortcomings, should be re-elected. At least he wasn't living with a subordinate who was earning tens of thousands of dollars in public money. Britton can make no such claim.
The Times recommends voters select Perry Bean, Terry Rowe and Steve O'Neill in the April 13 Port Richey City Council election.
Also on the ballot are two proposed charter amendments. One extends the terms in office for the mayor and council from two years to three. The other requires a super majority vote of the council to schedule a referendum on dissolution of the city.
Though we have supported dissolving this city of 3,000 residents in the past, both of the amendments should be approved. This does not preclude residents from petitioning their council for a referendum, but both longer terms in office and reducing the threat of disbanding the city should provide more stability and continuity in a municipal government that historically has lacked both.
The Times editorial board recommended candidates for election in the April 13 Port Richey election after reviewing the individuals' platforms, backgrounds and performance in office and after inviting each for a personal interview.
The candidate not recommended may respond to this editorial by noon Tuesday. The response, limited to 250 words, should be sent to the attention of Pasco editor of editorials C.T. Bowen at email@example.com or sent via fax to 727-869-6233 or by U.S. mail to 11321 U.S. 10, Port Richey, FL 34668.