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Republicans to rebuke city official

The Pasco County Republican Party is sending a letter to Port Richey City Council member Joe Menicola condemning his behavior last year when he became irate with the city's police chief after Menicola's son got a speeding ticket.

The Pasco GOP executive committee met Saturday in Land O'Lakes and voted 37-16 in favor of sending the letter to Menicola and to the Pasco Times, making the letter public. The letter would also include an apology from Republicans for Menicola, the onetime vice chairman of the committee.

State Committeewoman Lona O'Reilly said Monday that making the letter public bothered some on the committee, but that "a private letter doesn't do a lot of good for constituents."

"This was extremely inappropriate conduct and language," O'Reilly said.

Menicola couldn't be reached for comment Monday, but on Friday, when the subject of some kind of sanction from the party came up, Menicola said: "To jeach their own. What can I tell you? . . . She (O'Reilly) has no right to make a comment like that. That's absurd."

According to a file released to the Times last week, Port Richey police opened a "corruption by threats against a public official" investigation that ended without charges being filed after a heated exchange between the City Council member and police Chief Bill Downs last year.

On Nov. 23, 2000, Menicola's son was snared in a speed trap on Washington Street. According to police affidavits, Menicola swore at officers, and said, "You guys are out here all the time. I'm calling the chief."

Menicola then called Downs, who was on vacation in California. According to Downs, Menicola threatened his job and Downs hung up on him. Menicola has denied threatening Downs.

Menicola then called City Manager Vince Lupo and left a profanity-filled tirade on his answering machine, a taped copy of which ended up in the police file. On it, Menicola said, "And I'm telling you Vince, I f------ declared war on the Police Department right now."

Downs and Menicola have since put the issue behind them.

Menicola's elected position on the City Council is nonpartisan, but he is a registered Republican. A few years ago he had a leadership position with the Pasco GOP, serving as the vice chairman of the Republican Executive Committee.

Executive Committee Chairman Hugh Townsend on Monday said he will write the letter in the next few days. He said the committee was taking the extraordinary step of making its disapproval public because Menicola makes it well-known that he's a Republican.

"We want our elected officials . . . to hold to a higher standard," he said.

O'Reilly said she hopes the letter will make Menicola think twice about his future actions, but she isn't counting on it.

"It's not going to do us a lot of good to reprimand Mr. Menicola," O'Reilly said. "I don't think he'd take it under consideration."

_ Staff writer Matthew Waite can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6247 or 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6247. His e-mail address is waitesptimes.com.

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