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Investigator finds only building official's pluses

(ran PW, PS editions)

Michael Quill, the first man to interview for the job of investigating Port Richey's Building Department, told City Council members Tuesday night that he already has looked at the current building official and found only positives.

"I couldn't find anything that he did wrong," Quill said. "And I looked."

The question of whether to investigate Building Official Bill Sanders has divided the council for weeks. Quill said that when he was hired in May by city administrators to look into allegations of misdeeds in the Building Department, he investigated Sanders. Tuesday night, Quill was interviewing for the job of being the council's investigator.

However, when council member Dale Massad asked if he wanted to continue his work, Quill paused.

"Part of me says I want to take the ball and run with it," he said. "Another part of me says something doesn't seem right."

Quill didn't elaborate, and he said he had never shied away from an investigation before, "but I'd have to think about it. But I'd like to keep the door open."

Also preventing him from accepting the job is his recent rotator cuff surgery. He said he won't have the use of his right arm for six weeks. He said if he's hired, the council will have to wait.

Since June, when Quill's original report was released, the council has wanted to do its own investigation, and members have scarcely found agreement on what to do.

In one way or another, council members have agreed that they needed to look at past actions in the Building Department. Allegations have included homes built in violation of building codes, city projects completed with unlicensed contractors and missing public records.

But extending that inquiry to the present divided the council 3-2, with Mayor Eloise Taylor and council member Bill Bennett supporting a look at the current staff.

The only solid agreement the council has been able to muster so far was to invite Quill, a former Gulfport police investigator, and Roger Leff of Fed-Tech Investigations Inc. of Tampa to come for interviews. Leff is expected to come before the council on Aug. 13.

When and if chosen, one of the men will look into the Building Department. The council hasn't agreed yet if it would be an investigation or an administrative review.

Quill said that with the material from his original report, he thought he had only another six or eight interviews _ taking two months at most _ to complete his investigation for the council. His rate is $50 an hour.

Quill also said his original report was a blueprint for any other investigator to come in and use the information he gathered.

As of press time Tuesday night, the council had not discussed a proposed increase of the city's tax rate, which would set the tentative millage rate at 6.5 mills, a raise of 0.68 mills.

Earlier Tuesday:

The council unanimously, and without discussion gave first-round approval to a change in the city's hedge ordinance that had angered some residents.

The change raises the maximum height of a hedge to 4 feet and keeps grandfathering provisions in place, meaning hedges planted before the law goes into effect don't have to conform.

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