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Furor over inquiries greets mayor

(ran PW, PS editions)

And council members appoint Dr. Dale Massad to fill the remaining term of Bob Leggiere.

Eloise Taylor, welcome to the hot seat.

Taylor's first City Council meeting as mayor was a tumultuous one.

At the meeting Tuesday night, City Council members appointed Dr. Dale Massad to fill the remaining term of former council member Bob Leggiere, who gave up his seat to run for mayor.

Shortly after Massad's appointment, council members considered opening an administrative investigation into city departments based on city employees' and residents' allegations of malfeasance.

Council member Pat Guttman proposed the investigation after Leggiere's farewell speech contained allegations of fraud, deception and the disappearance of public records from city departments.

Council members had been wrangling over the scope of an investigation and the cost of hiring an outside investigator to produce a report for the council.

At the meeting, the departments under a cloud were the building and police agencies. As of late Tuesday, council members had not voted on whether to authorize the investigation.

Council members appeared to be in agreement that an investigation was needed. Earlier in the meeting, however, they clashed sharplyover Massad's appointment.

At the beginning of the council meeting, Guttman was appointed vice mayor. Moments later, Taylor handed her the gavel and nominated former Mayor Eileen Ferdinand for the remaining council position. No council member supported the move, and the nomination failed.

Council member Joe Menicola then nominated Massad, a local physician who serves on the city's zoning board.

Monday Taylor was officially sworn in as mayor before nearly two dozen of her supporters at a ceremony in the City Council chambers.

But something was missing: the rest of the council.

Taylor's supporters took it as a snub. Council members wouldn't speak to a Times reporter Tuesday afternoon.

"I have no comment for the paper," Guttman said. "That's all I am going to say at this time."

The three council members _ Guttman, Menicola and Tom Brown _ and those loyal to Leggiere are clearly angry about his defeat for mayor, the Times coverage and the sequence of events leading up to primary day.

Shortly after Ferdinand resigned to run for County Commission in June, Leggiere was elevated to acting mayor.

Two weeks later, Police Chief William Downs revealed he was investigating allegations about Leggiere and his dealings with a city building official.

That news riled Leggiere's supporters. Leggiere denied any wrongdoing and said letters and calls flooded his office, offering support and votes on primary day.

It also got Taylor into the race. Taylor said she entered the race out of concern that Port Richey was headed back to days of cronyism.

A week before a relatively quiet campaign ended, another Times story angered council members and Leggiere supporters. A Times reporter found council members Brown, Menicola and Leggiere, along with city employees and other city residents, gathered for a post council meeting drink at the Seaside Inn.

Although the officials said they did not discuss any city business, which would be a violation of the state's Government In the Sunshine Law, Taylor said it "gave the appearance of impropriety."

Leggiere supporters called it a "non-story" and incorrectly blamed it, and subsequent editorial, on a tip from Taylor.

At a council meeting last Thursday, Leggiere lashed out at the Times in his farewell speech, saying the newspaper wasn't interested in truth.

On Tuesday, Downs said the investigation of Leggiere is active, even though he is no longer on the council.

_ Matthew Waite can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6247 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6247. His e-mail address is waitesptimes.com.

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