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Port Richey dissolution issue back on the ballot

After a few sputters, the effort to dissolve this city of 3,200 is once again rolling forward.

At the request of a sharply divided City Council, City Attorney James Mathieu is drafting language for a nonbinding referendum, possibly for the spring election, to gauge whether residents want to dissolve the city. The City Council will consider the proposed language at its next meeting in December.

The swing vote came from Mayor Mark Abbott, who previously voted against holding the straw poll. On Tuesday night, he voted for it.

The other council members held firm: Dale Massad and Steven O'Neill supported holding the straw poll, while Nancy Britton and Phyllis Grae opposed it.

"I am tired of being on a city (council) that fights constantly," Massad said. "If you know (the residents) want to keep the city, which I think I know, it costs citizens nothing to find it out and end this."

In the meantime, Mathieu has asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate a controversy over some pro- dissolution petitions.

The first petitions began circulating in 2004. Resident Amy Scott submitted a second set to Abbott on Nov. 14, during a break in a City Council meeting.

The old and new petitions have different language at the top, but identical signatures below.

Officials suspect the language at the top was changed after people signed the petitions.

The 2004 petition asks the City Council to adopt an ordinance dissolving the city within 30 days of being presented with the petition.

The new petition asks the City Council to adopt the ordinance at its next regularly scheduled meeting.

"That was amateur night in Dixie, that's what this first petition was," Grae said.

"What happened was, this petition given to us two weeks ago was cut and pasted from the original. If you don't realize, that's illegal ... so wherever this second petition came from, with cut and paste of the original, you didn't do a good job."

Camille C. Spencer can be reached at (727) 869-6229 or cspencer@sptimes.com.

FAST FACTS

In other council business

- Jeffrey Kay, a Port Richey police officer who was fired in 2004 and reinstated in May on paid administrative leave, was granted a voluntary resignation by the City Council. On Tuesday, Kay, who said he was wrongly fired and sued the city, was granted one year's pay, $35,000, and must vacate his post as an officer.

- City Manager Jerry Calhoun was asked to gather more information on his proposed plan to combine the city's police and fire departments, creating a public safety department. Calhoun's plan would decrease positions in the top-heavy police and fire departments and save $75,000 over three years through early retirement payouts for three employees.

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