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Council meeting lacks fireworks

Political partisans went to City Hall to see a hockey fight, but a city government meeting broke out.

The forecast had called for screaming and political infighting over reports of council member Joe Menicola "declaring war" on the police department last year. Two uniformed police officers waited in the back of the meeting room _ filled with more than 30 people on opposing sides of the city's political divide _ in case things got really unruly.

But after two hours of dry government business Tuesday night, there was only short-lived discussion about what Menicola called "a lot of things in the paper recently."

Menicola himself said little. But what he did say was that the city should revive an investigation the council wanted to start last year when the State Attorney's Office was reviewing former council member Bob Leggiere's interference in the building department.

"If we do have problems within our own city departments, if there is any overtones of any type of corruption or any type of mismanagement, I think we need to start cleaning house," Menicola said. "We clean our own house and this way we won't have problems with the newspapers anymore."

As he made a motion to start the investigation, someone in the back laughed. Menicola said he wanted to know what was "so funny."

"Let the chips fall where they may," Menicola said. "I have no objection to that. Any other member of the council hiding something that they wouldn't vote for an investigation to look into our own departments and see if we have any problems? I certainly wouldn't."

Met with silence, Menicola said, "I guess that will die for lack of a second too."

Menicola made headlines last week after the Times learned about a Port Richey police "corruption by threats against a public official" investigation that ended without charges being filed after a heated exchange between Menicola and police Chief Bill Downs last year.

On Nov. 23, according to police affidavits, Menicola swore at officers who had stopped his son on a traffic charge and said, "You guys are out here all the time. I'm calling the chief."

Menicola then called Downs, who later said Menicola threatened his job. Menicola then called City Manager Vince Lupo and left a message on his answering machine that 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. But now it's fodder for the city's warring political factions, five months ahead of the next city election.

Lupo has said he would investigate who released the "long dormant document" and find out if it was a political ploy by a city worker. At Tuesday's meeting, Mayor Eloise Taylor said she thought that Lupo's inquiry was "misguided" and would have a chilling effect on whistleblowers.

Jim Priest, a Taylor ally, said "I find it odd that you're more concerned with a long dormant document than the actions of a council member."

Before the discussion, former mayor James Carter, a political ally of Menicola and Leggiere, compared the police department to Hitler and the Gestapo, saying he served in World War II to fight them.

"If you want, council, you can make changes."

On Tuesday afternoon, the Pasco Republican Party delivered on its promise to send Menicola a letter from executive committee chairman Hugh Townsend, who wrote that Menicola "should be held to a higher standard."

"Based on the transcripts published by the Times your actions were not in keeping with the high standards our committee holds for our elected officials," the letter read. It later said: "If we fall short, we must acknowledge, apologize and correct the shortfall."

In other city council business:

A zoning change requested by Joe Licari, a man once so connected with the city that many thought he had special rights, was voted down Tuesday night. Taylor and council members Bill Bennett and Phyllis Grae voted against a request to allow restaurants in industrial areas, a request made by Licari.

Licari was a controversial figure five years ago, when critics accused him of using his friendship with city officials to get a lucrative zoning change to waterfront property he owned and properties annexed into the city to avoid county code enforcement.

_ 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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