1. Pasco

Pivotal moment for Port Richey voters next week

PORT RICHEY — As former Port Richey Mayor Dale Massad sits in jail, voters will get the chance Tuesday to pick the person to temporarily replace him on a City Council gutted by scandal.

The Port Richey City Council has been without a mayor since Massad's February arrest on charges that he shot at Pasco County Sheriff's deputies who raided his home over concerns he was practicing medicine without a license.

Scandal continued to swirl after Massad's replacement as acting mayor, Vice Mayor Terry Rowe, was suspended from his duties by Gov. Ron DeSantis. Rowe was arrested in March on charges of conspiring with Massad against a Port Richey police officer who helped to investigate Massad.

Drugs, guns and politics collided in the small town of Port Richey. Two mayors went to jail.

That left the council with only three of five seats filled.

Tuesday's election results could be followed by more intrigue as one of the candidates for mayor, current City Council member Richard Bloom, will give up his seat no matter the election result.

In April, Bloom, 70, a doctor and lawyer, resigned his seat to run, effective June 18, the day of next week's special election. So win or lose for Bloom, the council will have two open seats that need filling. A special election to fill Bloom's seat is scheduled for Sept. 10.

During a meeting Tuesday, Bloom questioned whether Rowe's seat could be placed on the September election ballot as well, but City Attorney James Mathieu responded that in his opinion that would be illegal because Rowe has not resigned.

All of the uncertainty makes for a pivotal moment for voters Tuesday as Bloom, who did not return a request for comment, faces four candidates who say they are the person to lead the city until a regular mayoral election can be held in April.

One of the candidates, Bill Colombo, 62, is a familiar face in local politics, previously serving on Port Richey City Council as vice mayor, and twice as acting mayor. Colombo said his experience is what the city needs to move forward amid an impending budget season.

"I am the guy who has experience. I will take the drama out of governance and get down to doing the job of running the city responsibly," Colombo said. "This is not the time to drop into the mayor's chair and learn on the job."

Todd Maklary, 42, a commercial real estate project manager, says his background working with cities on building projects and his knowledge of budgets would be a great asset to the city. Maklary said he will bring a new face to a city desperately needing fresh ideas.

"With my background in construction and real estate, I have seen what works and I want to help Port Richey because it is geographically set up for greatness," he said.

Gregory Smithwick, 55, a former radio broadcaster and community activist, began doing a podcast about various local issues, including city operations, which led to concern as to how Massad served as mayor well before his arrest. Smithwick already planned to run against Massad in April 2020, saying his communication skills will be valuable to re-establishing Port Richey's credibility.

"I am an excellent outward communicator who will be able to show through transparency that we are competent and can put one foot in front of the other in the best interest of Port Richey," Smithwick said.

Scott Tremblay, 42, a former state prosecutor in Pasco County now in private practice, said he is running to bring stability in a time of crisis. He said his experience will bring sound judgment to council and a focus on keeping the city financially solid during completion of a budget.

"I want to make the city a better place and help restore its reputation. I am vetted by the Florida Bar on a daily basis so you can take any possible baggage like what we have seen off the table, and I don't have any of the political baggage that I think has been a problem in the city," he said.