Bowen: Dissolve Port Richey? Not so fast

Disbanding the city of Port Richey would require public hearings, a local bill and legislative approval in Tallahassee
Published April 16
Updated April 16

Somebody might want to check with state Sen. Ed Hooper before they try to fold Port Richey’s tent.

Yes, Port Richey is a circus, and perhaps Hooper should be construed as the stereotypical lion tamer, armed with a gun and a whip, trying to control the unruly behavior of others.

Hooper, R-Palm Harbor, is chairman of the Pasco legislative delegation. Dissolving the city of Port Richey, an idea Pasco Commissioner Jack Mariano floated last week, would require action in Tallahassee.

Not so fast, says the lion tamer.

“We don’t need to hurry,’’ Hooper said when told of Mariano’s suggestion.

Mariano started thinking out loud because the five-member Port Richey City Council is down to three after the arrests of now ex-Mayor Dale Massad and his successor, acting Mayor Terrence Rowe. Massad resigned after being charged in February with practicing medicine without a license and attempted murder after he was accused of firing two shots at deputies trying to serve a warrant at his house.

Rowe and Massad are both charged with conspiring to intimidate a witness after authorities said their recorded telephone conversation showed they were targeting a city police officer for retribution. Rowe has not resigned, but Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended him from office.

A special election for the mayor’s seat is scheduled for June 18. In the meantime, the council has been unable to agree on appointing someone to fill Massad’s vacancy. The tomfoolery of council members putting personal politics ahead of stabilizing the municipal government did not go unnoticed.

“Obviously, the city keeps shooting themselves in the foot, and the way things are going, they might have aimed higher,’’ said Hooper, whose 16th District includes the city of Port Richey.

This coastal city of fewer than 3,000 people also sits within House District 36, which is represented by Commissioner Mariano’s daughter, Rep. Amber Mariano, R-Hudson. She expressed her own thoughts after Rowe’s March 14 arrest.

“It is time to dissolve the city of Port Richey,’’ she said via Twitter.

She has not filed legislation to do so. Neither has Hooper. He said nobody has asked him to.

And while the activities in Port Richey drew scrutiny in Tallahassee, the people in Port Richey took note of exactly which county commissioner wanted to do away with their municipality.

Commissioner Mariano and Massad “are joined at the hip,’’ City Manager Vince Lupo told Tampa Bay Times staff writers Rebecca Woolington and Justin Trombly.

Massad has contributed to the past election campaigns of both the commissioner and his daughter. Massad also dropped the commissioner’s name in his recorded telephone conversation with Rowe, saying the commissioner helped get a price of $155,000 for a public works project on Quist Drive. Massad also said that Mariano, on an upcoming trip to Washington, D.C., would lobby on Port Richey’s behalf to extend the federal permit for dredging canals in the city.

Mariano declined comment on Massad’s statements.

“I don’t have any comments or anything to do with Port Richey at this time,’’ he said in a text message.

Hooper, meanwhile, said much work would need to be done before legislators could consider dissolving the city. The Pasco delegation would have to approve a local bill after public hearings in the community.

What it really requires is a lot of aspirin because the process is one giant headache. The 1997 public hearing on this same topic was a cantankerous affair that featured rude, boorish behavior, intimidating threats and unsubstantiated conspiracy theories offered by the audience.

Still, if the process continues, people would need to know the value or obligations of disbanding the city. There would have to be considerations of debt, income and physical assets. Property owners would see an immediate financial break because the city’s annual tax rate would disappear. But, so, too, would money that is earmarked specifically for the city’s discretionary use -- Penny for Pasco sales tax dollars and the annual Community Redevelopment Agency payments from the county.

Resident Laurie B. Simpson already started collecting data and sharing it on social media. She didn’t have far to look. She pulled the information compiled during the two most recent public debates over disbanding the city -- 2006 and 1997.

This topic also was kicked around in 1989, 1980, 1978 and 1976. Which means, if this process continues in 2019, it will mark the seventh time since America’s Bicentennial that people wondered if the city of Port Richey should remain in existence.

“The only people who want to dissolve the city don’t live here or are people who have an ulterior motive,’’ said Simpson.

Hooper acknowledged that the city likely is an embarrassment to Pasco County, but he wondered if there is an alternative,

“Maybe,’’ he said, “they’ll sign a blood oath they’ll get their act together.’’

Contact C.T. Bowen at [email protected] or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2.

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