There is a familiar refrain around New Port Richey's municipal election season. Unresolved issues have dominated the city for a decade: stalled and/or absent private sector investment in downtown; the need to redevelop the former Community Hospital site and neighborhoods that need refreshing and a boost in owner occupancy. Now, revitalizing the city is exacerbated by falling property values and a debt-laden redevelopment budget that will need subsidizing from the general fund.
Against that backdrop, voters head to the polls April 10 to choose from among three candidates for two seats on the City Council. (Council member Ginny Miller is not seeking re-election.) Under city election rules, the top two vote-getters in the three-person race will win the two council seats. The Times recommends Bill Phillips and Eric Rhodes.
The third candidate is incumbent council member Judy DeBella Thomas, 60. She is an energetic advocate for the city, particularly its downtown, but it is most troubling that she continues to mix her personal and public careers. Her involvement in a zoning dispute on behalf of her employer and the use of her city title while recruiting private-sector clients demonstrates incredibly poor judgment. The conflicts of interest can't be ignored, and voters should act accordingly.
Rhodes, 85, who sits on the city's Land Development Review Board, retired in 2004 after a lengthy career consulting for schools, colleges, and state and local governments. He developed the master plan for Virginia's community college system, which features 22 schools on 35 sites. He holds a doctorate degree in education and has served as a teacher, an adjunct college professor and a collegiate vice chancellor. He became familiar with this area in the 1970s while consulting for the Pasco school district on labor relations and eventually purchased his home in the city in 1980.
He will bring valuable expertise in planning and finance to the council and wants to help redevelop the hospital site, make the recreation center more self-supporting and divest New Port Richey of vacant city-owned property.
Former council member Bill Phillips, 55, a national account manager for a Lakeland-based roofing company, is seeking to return to elected office after moving back within the city's boundaries a few years ago. Phillips served two years on the City Council but departed in 1994 and made an unsuccessful run for the state Legislature. He was one of the leaders of the citizens committee that pushed for the Penny for Pasco in 2004 and served as chairman of the county's impact fee review committee for a dozen years.
Much of his platform is parallel to Rhodes', but he also advocates sprucing up neighborhoods and encouraging economic development plans for individual business zones. Phillips was a solid council member in his past tenure, and voters should allow him the opportunity serve again.