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Police chief reprimanded for revelation

City Manager Vince Lupo has issued a forceful reprimand to police Chief Bill Downs for giving a resident records showing the property taxes that members of the City Council pay.

Lupo said he stopped at the written reprimand because of Downs' "long and dedicated" service of a decade to the city and because Downs voluntarily disclosed the action.

"To say I am sadly disappointed in your extreme lack of good judgment and professionalism is truly an understatement," Lupo wrote in the July 2 memo.

"Your actions, particularly now, only serve to cast additional unnecessary "issues' into the ongoing debate concerning the Police Department."

Tuesday night, the matter became a topic of debate during the City Council meeting. Council member Phyllis Grae was particularly vocal, at one point asking the chief questions, which he declined to answer.

"Well, you may have no comment tonight, chief, but trust me, you will have comment," Grae said.

In his letter and in an interview Tuesday, Lupo acknowledged the records are public domain and that legally speaking, Downs did nothing wrong. But Lupo said the action could be construed by some as political.

"He could have (said): "It's public record, why don't you do it.' " Lupo said.

Downs, who has worked for the city since May 1993, declined to comment Tuesday.

Downs gave the tax information to Lisa Vayre, a vocal critic of city government who recently claimed she found city records in the trash at a gas station.

She said she planned to use the tax figures to make a point about proposed cuts to the Police Department.

"Some of the residents pay more taxes than some of the City Council people," Vayre told the Times on Tuesday. "This needs to be a community decision."

Supporters of the department say numerous residents object to the cuts, which include a detective position and the dispatch center.

A consultant's report estimated the city could reduce the current $1.1-million police budget by about $156,000 if it follows the recommendations. Lupo is working to determine the actual amounts, and a vote will occur later this year.

Some people want to see the entire department abolished, and the city contract the services from an outside agency, such as the Pasco County Sheriff's Office or the city of New Port Richey.

That could save $500,000 or more annually. Vayre and others have said they would not object to the more drastic cuts if the money went toward reducing city taxes.

"If they contract with the Sheriff's Office, that money should go back to residents," Vayre said.

Vayre said she had trouble getting the tax information herself. But the subject came up in a conversation with Downs about a month ago and he said he could help.

Property records can easily be obtained using the county property appraiser's Web site, http://appraiser.pascogov.com.

_ Alex Leary covers the city of Port Richey. He can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6247, or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6247. His e-mail address is learysptimes.com.

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