The challenges facing the city of New Port Richey are many. Over the past six months, the municipal government lost its top manager, its police chief and its redevelopment partner for the Hacienda Hotel. The council adopted an austerity budget that raised property taxes and fees while cutting services. It debuted a new volunteer animal control unit that has been controversial and unaccountable. It heard complaints of rising crime and dwindling property values. And it saw little progress on community redevelopment, the budget for which is upside down and being subsidized from other accounts.
Now add one more caveat. The council is about to lose one of its most thoughtful and level-headed members with the departure of Rob Marlowe, who declined to seek re-election after two terms in office.
Against that backdrop, voters head to the polls April 9 to choose from among seven candidates vying for two council seats. The top two vote-getters win three-year terms. It is a strong field of candidates, but two, Chopper Davis and Rose M. Mohr, are preferable because of their fresh ideas, life experiences and community commitment.
Davis, 65, a sales associate for a financial transaction service, was an advertising account executive for the Times in 2008-09. He is a longtime community volunteer whose resume of charitable efforts was recognized via his selection to carry the Olympic torch in Florida in 2001. He is a member of the city's firefighters pension board and is a strong proponent of maintaining municipal public safety departments. If elected, he should be more flexible in that position and would be wise to seek a cost-benefit analysis of the departments in this financially constrained city.
Like several of the candidates, he is concerned about neighborhood crime and wants to develop community watch programs. He also suggested improving the city by tapping the expertise of outside agencies such as Habitat for Humanity to help rehabilitate residential property and the state Department of Transportation for help beautifying U.S. 19.
Mohr, 65, is the owner of the Market off Main, a downtown eatery and fresh produce stand that exemplifies an issue about which other candidates can only talk. Mohr has actually invested in downtown New Port Richey, having moved her produce stand from Massachusetts Avenue to Main Street and then to Lincoln Street where she has expanded to include a restaurant, ice cream stand and even kayak rentals on the Pithlachascotee River. Her seven-day-a-week work ethic is admirable and she possesses first-hand knowledge of the challenges facing downtown merchants. It is a perspective voters should value because it will be absent from the council when Marlowe, also a downtown business owner, departs.
Mohr also connects to those worried about crime. Between her business and home, she's been burglarized six times and she advocates community-oriented policing in which officers walk the beat and patrol neighborhoods on a proactive basis. As a member of the city's Environmental Committee, she championed the recently adopted community garden ordinance that allows empty lots to be farmed for fresh produce.
The other first-time candidates cannot match that portfolio of work.
Michael Malterer, 24, is branch manager for a truck leasing company. He wants to eliminate red-light cameras and the money they bring to the budget and also cut the property tax rate. Yet, he also advocates investing in the city development duties to spur more business activity downtown. It's a contradictory platform that can only be accomplished by significant budget cuts elsewhere that he fails to specify.
Jonathan Tietz, 24, a self-employed photographer and videographer, is thoughtful and a sound researcher. He didn't wait for the election to begin organizing a neighborhood watch program because of the criminal activity he observed on his own street. Jeff Starkey, 38, owner of Great Florida Insurance, lists public safety as his top priority. He favors maintaining city police and fire departments, but also would support a cost-benefit analysis of joining the county's public safety services.
Tietz and Starkey offer credible candidacies and we encourage both to remain active in city affairs via New Port Richey's advisory boards in anticipation of future runs for elected office.
The rest of the field includes the familiar names of Bob Langford and Ginny Miller. Langford, 70, a nine-year council member, announced his retirement then recanted saying he wanted to be a part of the city's turn-around. Miller, 54, a school teacher, has 12 years of council experience and is running again after a one-year hiatus. She served during most of the city's early and aggressive redevelopment efforts. Her focus now is the state of the neighborhoods and she wants to restore redevelopment grants previously available for sprucing up residential properties. She, too, believes the city should study consolidation of its public safety departments with Pasco County's services.
Re-electing Langford and/or returning Miller to council is an inoffensive endorsement of the status quo that would capitalize on government experience and ensure stability. But a city facing such a lengthy to-do list will be better served by a new perspective provided by Chopper Davis and Rose M. Mohr. The Times recommends their candidacies in the April 9 nonpartisan city election.