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In return run, city manager vows to move Port Richey forward

PORT RICHEY — Once again, Vince Lupo is at the helm of Port Richey city government, and opinions vary as to how it will go for the city manager, who was fired from the same position more than a decade ago.

The Port Richey City Council rehired Lupo, 75, during a special meeting in late August after the council debated and the public weighed in with various takes on the man, who will make $77,500 a year after beating out two out-of-state finalists.

During the council's interview with Lupo, council member Will Dittmer, recently elected to his seat, said he was flooded with input from the public regarding Lupo. Dittmer said it was an even mix of positive and negative feedback.

"You are a polarizing figure in the community," he told Lupo. "Right now you are running about 50/50."

Dittmer's observation was reflected by commentary from his colleagues on the council and the public.

Mayor Dale Massad: "He's the only one I will vote for, and it's not because he is a friend. It's because he can hit the ground running and knows a lot of the employees."

Council member Nancy Britton: "I have personal experience with Vince Lupo. I've lived here 30 years. They're not good ones. He is not somebody that I have trust in and would always get true answers from."

Resident and City Board of Adjustment Chairman Philip Franco: "I think (Lupo's first tenure) was the most prosperous time this city has ever had."

Resident and former council member Jim Priest: "That gentleman oversaw this city during its darkest days. … I simply cannot fathom why you would look to go down that road again."

Lupo's first run as city manager was a long one: 1996 to 2004. The council dismissed him after he hired a building official who lacked the proper state license, among other grievances listed in a resolution approved by the council. But Lupo has been praised by the council during discussions on his rehiring for previously building a new City Hall and police headquarters, raking in grant money for the city and building up city coffers well into the black.

During an interview with the Tampa Bay Times this week, Lupo discussed the past and the future. He admitted to the mistake of hiring a building official without the proper licensing, based on the person's promise that the license was in place. He said it happened during a time when the building department was without a building official and was being flooded with requests for permits.

Lupo also chalked up his firing to a major political shift on the council after an election. And, he admitted to an overly "aggressive" style at times that might have rubbed some people the wrong way. "I almost took as personal what I perceived as any affront to the reputation and progress we were making in the city," he said.

"I have changed over 12 years. I have progressed and mellowed. My plan is to focus on providing the best recommendations I can to council, and I believe the people will come to understand my attempt with respect to moving the city forward."

Lupo said he "has a desk full of issues" he is working on, including, ironically, the need to hire a building official and a police chief. He said he plans to run a transparent and fiscally conservative City Hall.

The new city manager has some winning over of council members to do as well. His selection came in a split 3-2 vote, with Britton and Dittmer voting against the hiring.

Dittmer called Lupo an excellent candidate after the council interviewed him, but said he viewed his election to the council as a mandate from voters for change. "Maybe we need a fresh look completely," Dittmer said.

Council member Jennifer Sorrell, who won election along with Dittmer in April, said Lupo was the best qualified candidate for the job, despite any past mistakes he might have made, a sentiment echoed by Vice Mayor Terry Rowe.

And as Massad reiterated throughout the selection process, Lupo has a friend in the mayor, who said the city manager was fired 12 years ago for "no reason." Massad was a member of the City Council during part of Lupo's previous run as city manager.

Massad, however, is a friend who dropped an ominous warning during a recent council meeting concerning the resurfacing of a movement to dissolve the city.

"Make no doubt, there is a motion coming to dissolve the city. It's coming," Massad said. "We better get something done. The fact remains, Mr. Lupo will get it going fast."