Bowen: Dale Massad channels Phil Connors in a Port Richey version of 'Groundhog Day'

Published March 31 2016
Updated March 31 2016

Dale Massad had a cinematic flashback.

"I think I'm in Groundhog Day somehow,'' the Port Richey mayor said during a March 22 City Council debate over grant funding for a pipe to carry reclaimed water. The same topic had dominated the council discussion two weeks earlier.

Massad was right about the repetition, but missed on his context.

Anybody who attended in person or watched the digital feed may have thought this Port Richey City Council meeting had played out multiple times previously, starting around the turn of the century.

The session was noisy, combative and rude. It was Port Richey City Hall from a bygone era.

For instance, during public comment, there stood Tom Brown, a frequent critic, chastising the performance of departing City Manager Tom O'Neill.

"The city manager's reign has not been good,'' said Brown.

But Brown is a bit player — think Ned Ryerson — in this production compared to Massad's self-proclaimed personification of Phil Connors, the Punxsutawney-trapped weather forecaster.

Among other things, Massad, a two-time former council member elected in October to fill the mayoral vacancy after the death of Eloise Taylor, reminded the council audience last week that he used to be an emergency room physician. He also used "Doc'' as his nickname on the election ballot and portrayed himself as a "retired'' doctor during the campaign.

More precisely, he surrendered his license to practice medicine in 1992 after he was accused of negligence after the death of one of his patients — a 3-year-old girl. The chairman of the Florida Board of Medicine called Massad "a serious threat to the public.''

He made headlines again when, a day after filing his candidacy papers, police were summoned to his house to answer an unfounded complaint that homeless voyeurs were living in Massad's air-conditioning vents watching him have sex with his cocaine-tooting girlfriend.

"If I was you I would think I am crazy, too," Massad told officers when they asked him to put down his firearm.

Later, his campaign strategy included producing and distributing what he called "The Weekly Doc,'' a mock newspaper filled with his diatribes that put nicknames on public figures, including "Chubby Dancer'' for former City Manager Vince Lupo; "Witch of the South'' for the late mayor (just three weeks after her death); "Pom Pom Nanc'' and "Empty Oneil'' for council members Nancy Britton and Steve O'Neil, and "Nerdy newsman'' for yours truly.

At least there were no references to pants wetting or hand size, but Massad's erratic behavior and juvenility won out. With 40 percent of the vote, he earned the mayor's seat in a three-way race and now holds the gavel.

These campaign fliers also became a meeting topic last week when, during public comment, former council member Phyllis Grae read a letter penned to Massad by Arthur Giammarino of Sand Pebble Pointe. In it, Giammarino criticized the "pink'' fliers as insulting, inaccurate, condescending and disrespectful to the late mayor. He said the mayor ridiculed council members, denigrated both the city manager and the police chief and opposed any project that might benefit the residents of Sand Pebble.

"That is the biggest load of garbage and erroneous crap I have ever heard,'' Massad answered.

Clearly, decorum escapes him.

Then came this exchange:

Did you trash everybody on council except Terry Rowe? Giammarino asked.

"Pretty much,'' Massad said.

Did you trash the late mayor?

"Yes, I sure did.''

Giammarino, incidentally, said his "pink'' reference was to the colored paper on which the fliers were printed.

Massad said he thought Giammarino was calling him a Communist.

Honest.

"You're in a fog,'' Giammarino told Massad. "You're definitely in a fog.''

Phil Connors had to figure out how to serve other people of the community instead of being guided by his own self-indulgences to get out of his Groundhog Day fog.

We'll see if Massad comes to the same realization.

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