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City manager should see review as way to improve

The Port Richey City Council wants to put the recent turmoil behind it.

Can you blame it? Police and grand jury investigations of the acting mayor running roughshod over the city staff, a pair of vitriolic political campaigns, the resignation of a council member, a recommendation to disband the building department if the city can't run it correctly and acknowledgement of Government-in-the-Sunshine Law violations is a lot for anyone to swallow.

Last month, a council majority declined to add a stronger punitive provision to its City Charter to prevent council members from meddling in city departments. Last week, it placed the onus for charter enforcement squarely on City Manager Vince Lupo.

That might be appropriate if Lupo hadn't been so sullied himself by the investigation of acting Mayor Robert Leggiere. Lupo's tolerance of Leggiere's activities makes him an unlikely candidate to rein in inappropriate behavior by council members in the future, particularly as they are his bosses.

During a performance review of Lupo, a majority of the five council members rated the city manager as doing a poor job of informing the council of administrative developments, enforcing city policies, providing the council with reports concerning matters of importance to the city, and in recruiting and retaining competent personnel for city positions.

Council members ranked his performance in 43 categories separated into nine areas: personal, professional skills, council relations, policy execution, reporting, citizen relations, staffing, supervision and fiscal management. His average score was 2.5, on a scale of 1 (poor) to 4 (excellent).

His lowest scores can be tied to the building department investigation and Lupo's failure to ride herd on Leggiere who butted into the department's operations before losing a mayoral bid in September and again in April.

Lupo's role has been well documented. He initially said the charter prevented council involvement in the city's daily operations then admitted special exceptions were made for Leggiere because of his construction expertise. Lupo tolerated, if not encouraged, the meddling and the unprofessional role to governing. And according to one witness in the investigation, Lupo gave his blessing to circumventing county building codes for temporary city hall offices by annexing the Custom Commerce Center into the city.

That is especially disturbing considering annexations is listed as one of "the finest accomplishments of the city manager this past year." More noteworthy attributes include securing grant money for the city and helping to lure commercial development to the long dormant Towne Centre plaza.

During the review, council member Pat Guttman gushed that Lupo's performance was fantastic. Others were more realistic. "Somebody wasn't doing their job," council member Phyllis Grae said pointedly during a recent interview about the inability to stop Leggiere's activities.

Lupo, to his credit, didn't dispute the findings and promised to work to improve in "those areas where I am obviously deficient."

His acknowledgment, though tardy, is a start. The council is willing to allow Lupo a chance to improve. For the betterment of Port Richey, he needs to take full advantage of it.