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Museum may get state boost

A dying effort to bring a science museum into the city's downtown received renewed life Tuesday night when council members said they would consider transferring more than $200,000 in state funds to the museum organization.

Council members voted 4-1 to ask the State Division of Cultural Affairs for an extension on using a state grant the council received for the museum.

That way, the council can look into transferring the money to Pasco Hands On Inc. and a third party, thereby keeping the money in the community rather than returning it to state coffers, said council member Debra Prewitt.

"This is our due diligence that any of you would have expected us to do," she said. "This our last ditch, our last hurrah. Either it works or it doesn't."

Tuesday night's special meeting was at the request of Mayor Peter Altman, who decided that some good had to come out of the city's three-year effort into the museum project. He likened the obstacles the museum has faced to the story of the optimistic boy who came down Christmas morning and found manure under his tree. The boy kept shoveling the manure, convinced there had to be a pony somewhere.

Altman said he had been shoveling and thought he found his own pony in the form of a letter from "Great Explorations, The Hands On Museum" in St. Petersburg. In the letter, organizers expressed an interest in helping the Pasco Hands On Inc. create a similar museum in New Port Richey.

"We sincerely hope that the city of New Port Richey, after spending a great deal of time, money and resources, will not abandon this project," the letter stated.

But Altman's request was almost sidetracked by a procedural problem. Council member Willie Partridge said Roberts Rules of Order, which govern council meetings, prohibited Altman from calling the meeting. Altman had been on the losing side of a vote a week ago that in effect, yanked the city's involvement in the museum project. The only way the item could be reconsidered was if it were brought up by one of the winning voters, Partridge said.

Not so, said City Attorney Lisa Bennett. While it was true the council would be reconsidering a part of the motion, namely whether or not to send the money back, the item of transferring the money was new and Altman, as mayor, has the right to call special meetings on new items.

"It is not inappropriate to call this meeting," Bennett said. "But in order to assure compliance a majority member needs to make the motion" to reconsider what to do with the funds.

Others in the audience questioned the necessity of the meeting. City Manager Gerald Seeber's memo pointed out that the Division of Cultural Affairs has never effected such a transfer of funds between entities. The museum group would have to undergo the same scrutiny as the city, and it might not stand up to such a look. There is no reason for the city to continue with the project, said resident George Henry.

"I think the matter should have already been dropped," he said.

But Steve Rowswell, Pasco Hands On Inc. chairman, said the decision to look into the transfer is simply part of his group's fund-raising effort, which the council urged him last week to continue despite the withdrawal of their support. And enlisting the help of Great Explorations will give the Pasco group more of a fighting chance, he said.

"I don't know what the state scrutiny is," Rowswell said after the meeting. "But rather than (go it alone) we need to find someone right and appropriate."