1. Archive

Firing topped changes in Port Richey

The deathwatch began right after polls closed on Election Day in April.

With a new Port Richey City Council in place, it seemed only a matter of time before City Manager Vince Lupo was history. By May, he was. Lupo had been with the city since 1996.

His firing was among the top stories in Port Richey of 2004, followed by the difficult time the council had hiring a replacement. The first two finalists who were offered the job both demanded more money and perks before bowing out.

Finally, in November, the council found a willing candidate in Jerry Calhoun of Ronceverte, W.Va., and he began work Dec. 6.

Lupo was not the only top official to leave Port Richey in 2004. Paul Marino, city attorney for the past decade, quit just before the April election.

"I think he saw the handwriting on the wall," council member Pat Guttman said at the time. She did not run for re-election and ended a 14-year tenure.

In the election, Fred Miller and Greg Ross won City Council seats and formed a new majority with Bill Bennett and Mayor Eloise Taylor. They were frequently opposed by the fifth council member, Phyllis Grae, who was aligned with Guttman and Dale Massad, who lost his re-election bid.

The political division was clear with the Rocky Creek Estates development. Grae supported the plan for 43 homes on an island off Ebbtide Lane, and the other council members wanted the project reduced in scale or scrapped altogether, citing environmental and traffic issues.

The council approved only 13 homes for the development during a meeting in late October that was heavily attended by residents who opposed the project.

That vote triggered lawsuits by real estate investor Marty Rosato, who asked a judge to overturn the City Council's decision and order approval of the full plan. As of late December, the case had not been heard.

The Police Department made news in 2004 as well. A group of residents led by Jim Priest fought for a referendum on the dispatch center. The council voted in 2003 to contract for services from New Port Richey, but that course was reversed during the referendum in April.

Former police Chief Bill Downs had to wait until the new year to learn whether he would get his job back. Fired by Lupo in October 2003, Downs sought to be reinstated, saying his dismissal was politically motivated. An arbitration hearing was scheduled for December but was put off until February at the request of the city's legal team.

While one group was seeking to save city services, another was working to get rid of the municipality. In making the pitch for dissolution of the city, which was incorporated in 1925, proponents pointed to additional taxes and service fees its residents must pay. They also mentioned recent increases in water rates and predicted that repairs to aging water and sewer lines will cost millions. Critics of the dissolution effort say it is led by people who want to eliminate the city's Police Department.

The effort sputtered. Organizers first hoped to place the issue on the April ballot, then said they would try for August. That never happened, due in part to legal issues raised by the city, and committee members faded to the background.

They promise big things in 2005.