PORT RICHEY – The Port Richey City Council voted Tuesday to begin the process of ousting former Vice Mayor Terry Rowe from office on the same day a jury convicted former Mayor Dale Massad of obstructing justice, stemming from a jailhouse phone call with Rowe.
Newly elected Mayor Scott Tremblay took the gavel to preside over his first meeting Tuesday as City Hall buzzed with talk of Massad's conviction earlier in the day.
Several hours after a jury found Massad guilty of felony obstruction of justice and unlawful use of a two-way communication device, the Port Richey Council set its sights on Rowe, who faces the same charges as Massad. Authorities say that during a jailhouse phone call between Massad and Rowe after Massad's arrest in February, the two conspired against a Port Richey police officer who helped investigate Massad.
Authorities say the phone call took place after the Pasco County Sheriff's Office said Massad shot at deputies as they executed a search warrant stemming from an investigation into allegations that Massad was practicing medicine without a license, for which he has been charged. Massad remains in jail and also faces attempted murder charges.
Rowe's charges are still pending, but he has refused to resign following his suspension from office by Gov. Ron DeSantis. That left the City Council with two choices to fill the void: obtain a majority vote to forfeit Rowe's seat or await the outcome of his court cases. As of Tuesday, Rowe had not resigned.
Prior to a special mayoral election that Tremblay won June 18, a three-person council with two empty seats could not reach a majority vote on Rowe. Then-Council member Richard Bloom said Rowe deserved his day in court first. But Bloom resigned to run for mayor and lost to Tremblay, coming in fourth in a five-person race.
On Tuesday, the council voted 3-0 to authorize City Attorney Jim Mathieu to draft a resolution to forfeit Rowe's seat. That is the beginning of a lengthy process, however, as Rowe will be given a chance to request a hearing before the council to contest the resolution if it passes another council vote in two weeks. If Rowe loses there, he has 30 days to appeal the decision in court, Mathieu said.
Part of City Council member Will Dittmer's motion to move forward with the resolution included one more offer to Rowe, through a letter from the city, to resign. Dittmer said Massad's conviction may change Rowe's decision to continue in office and hopefully save more expense to the city.
Following the vote, laughter aired out a room filled with frustration in recent weeks. After the three council members' "aye" votes on the resolution, a chorus of "aye" came from the audience of a couple dozen people.
"I think it passed," City Council member Jennie Sorrell said with a grin after the meeting.
Dittmer also made a successful motion to nominate Todd Maklary to fill Bloom's former seat until a Sept. 10 special election. Maklary, 42, a commercial real estate property manager, ran for mayor and came in third.
Dittmer said he was impressed by the race for mayor and wanted to pick from that pool of candidates. Maklary fielded handshakes all around including from his former opponent, Tremblay, who praised the Maklary pick and a solid first meeting.
"We had a packed agenda and really moved forward tonight," Tremblay told the Tampa Bay Times.
Maklary agreed, and said he is excited for the opportunity.
"I think the city has really turned a page from Dale Massad," he said.
Longtime Port Richey resident and City Council meeting regular Sandra Spaldi put it another way: "The headline is: Port Richey is getting its act together."