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A Times Editorial

Council should request Marino's resignation

© St. Petersburg Times
published March 23, 2003

The embarrassment surrounding commercial bingo should end in Port Richey Tuesday with expected rescission of an ordinance the city never needed.

The embarrassment surrounding the city's professional staff is another story. For too long, City Attorney Paul Marino has escaped accountability for his actions.

Marino, in a recent e-mail to the Times, characterized the current City Council as "the most intellectual group to manage the city in recent years." Council members should authenticate Marino's assessment and ask for his resignation.

Even some of his former supporters are dubious. Council member Phyllis Grae said in an interview last week she had no faith in Marino to defend the city against a potential lawsuit over the bingo dispute. Grae said she will await that legal fallout from the bingo debate before deciding on a course of action. That would be imprudent. If a council majority has no faith in the city attorney, then it is time for his departure.

Grae's criticism is not unfair. In conjunction with lobbyist and ex-mayor Jimmy Carter, Marino drafted a local law that opened Port Richey to seven-day-a-week commercial bingo under the guise of charity. Except this wasn't a sincere attempt to aid the community.

The beneficiary is a for-profit company started by the Kolokithas family, which also runs the floating casinos operating from the city's waterfront.

Had the council done nothing, Pasco County's strict bingo rules would still apply within the city as they have for a dozen years. The county prohibits marathon bingo games and requires stringent bookkeeping to ensure proceeds benefit charities instead of enriching for-profit bingo corporations.

The county rules came into place in 1991 after small bingo operators complained large halls and their nearly nonstop games lured away customers and gave only token donations to sponsoring charities.

As a result of the county rules, commercial halls closed up shop, leaving 70 registered bingo halls that raise more than $1-million annually for charity.

Marino would have better served the council and the city had he explained five months ago that doing nothing was a viable option. City Manager Vince Lupo must share the blame.

Though not the legal counsel, Lupo left the council with the impression an ordinance was needed because the city had no regulations to govern commercial bingo halls that wanted to locate in the city.

Lupo, too, knew the ordinance request came from Carter, a Kolokithas employee. He should have shared that information with council members and with the public. Some council members said they didn't know the ordinance was originated by a special interest until after their final vote.

Changing city managers requires a four-fifths vote. Not so with the city attorney who serves at the pleasure of a three-person council majority. Until recently, Marino enjoyed a secure working relationship with council members Grae, Dale Massad and Pat Guttman.

But the bingo fiasco is the second time Grae said she has been let down by Marino's performance.

During the long, acrimonious debate over the future of the city's police department, Grae said Marino never informed council members of the need for a repealer ordinance if the council wanted to yank a police referendum from the April ballot.

Because it did not have time to schedule requisite public hearings on the matter, the council abandoned the idea of seeking voter input this year.

Past council members have expressed their own frustration with Marino. Three years ago, in killing a proposed deal for the city to acquire a private utility at an inflated price, an angry Ron Barnett said Marino needed to do a better job at following council instructions.

Former Council member Michael Winton paid a fine from the state Ethics Commission after Marino failed to tell him voting on something that directly benefitted Winton's employer was a conflict of interest.

In each instance, Marino has offered excuses for his poor performance. But, there is no acceptable excuse from a council attorney who cannot protect the members from their own missteps, can't follow directions on controversial matters, and now facilitates the cause of private interests over the public's.

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