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Three challengers want city dissolved

(ran East edition)

The race has begun for three seats on the City Council.

By Tuesday's filing deadline, six people had turned in qualifying papers for the April 11 election: Dale Massad, Nancy Britton, Steven O'Neill, Jim Priest, Bill Bennett and Fred Miller.

Adding Massad (a former council member), Britton or O'Neill to the City Council could cause a shakeup because all three signed a petition to have the city dissolved.

Although the council is plagued by marathon meetings involving sometimes bitter debates in a city divided by the dissolution issue, council member Phyllis Grae said she doubts the presence of a petition signer will negatively affect the way the city is run.

"I think it will be a positive change to have a different perspective and different thinking, because I believe in my heart that council is going to change," she said. "I can't believe for one minute they will regain all three seats. It only takes one person to change the balance, and I think that person, whoever it will be, will work together for the whole city."

With prospects of an 80-acre park, the hunt for a city architect to bring focus to the waterfront and development plans sprouting on U.S. 19, officials said Port Richey is on the verge of changing its image.

But if Massad, O'Neill or Britton are elected to the council, an ordinance could be formed to create referendum to dissolve the city, Bennett said.

Although Bennett, 61, considered not running for a council seat, the city's recent progress changed his mind.

"I think it's whatever the public is going to choose, but I hope they see through it if the citizens want the city," Bennett said.

"I am sad these people are running who want to dissolve the city. I was considering not running, but I can't let this happen. I fought five years for where we are."

Massad, O'Neill and Britton did not return phone calls seeking comment Tuesday.

Massad, 48, lost a re-election bid in 2004. He also lost a coin toss against Bennett for a council seat after a 2001 election left them tied.

O'Neill, 44, a newcomer to city politics, is a certified radiologic technologist, according to the Florida Department of Health.

Britton, 47, is a nurse at Peninsula Health Care in Tarpon Springs. She and John Albert Britton of New Port Richey divorced in January after 20 years of marriage, according to court records.

In 2003, John Britton filed a domestic violence injunction against Nancy Britton that was dismissed in 2004, records show.

Incumbents Priest, Bennett and Miller's two-year terms are up.

Miller, 63, who has lung cancer, got a clean bill of health from his doctor. Priest, 48, made an unsuccessful run for the council against Grae in 2001 but was appointed to a council seat a day after Greg Ross vacated.

Camille C. Spencer can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6229 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6229. Her e-mail address is cspencer@sptimes.com.

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