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Politics

Council okays 'straw ballot'

By CAMILLE C. SPENCER
Published January 11, 2007


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PORT RICHEY - For council member Phyllis Grae, sometimes perception is as telling as proof.

That's her reason for asking Mayor Mark Abbott on Tuesday to recuse himself from a vote that could lead to dissolving the city.

During the meeting, the City Council voted 3-2 in favor of language for a nonbinding referendum to appear on the ballot in the spring election. Grae and council member Nancy Britton dissented.

But Abbott didn't recuse himself. He was among those to vote in favor of the referendum language, although he had previously voted against it.

Grae accused him of being influenced by local dentist and dissolution supporter Robert Goluba.

But she has no proof. She said she was led to her assumptions by a comment Abbott made at a November council meeting regarding Goluba.

During the meeting, Abbott said Goluba "has been very good to my family," as Grae remembers it.

"Does that mean he has been sympathetic, a good neighbor, or has he helped you out and said, 'I put you up there and this is what you do?' " Grae said Wednesday. "I have no proof of it being financial ... but I think he was influenced."

State law says recusal can only occur if a public official's vote results in financial gain.

On Wednesday, Abbott denied the accusations.

"I'm not influenced in any way," he said. "I voted the way I did because the majority has the right to vote."

After the accusations died down, controversy over the cost of dissolution rolled on for another hour.

Residents and the City Council were concerned that a ballpark figure of "approximately $250,000" for property appraisals, bond debt and other costs associated with dissolving the city wasn't precise enough.

Finally, council member Steven O'Neill suggested "$250,000 or more," halting the debate.

In other council business, ratification of the Police Benevolent Association union's contract was stalled, leading city officials and union representatives back to the negotiations table.

Under the proposed three-year contract, the union, which already represents police officers, would include dispatchers.

Other changes between the current and proposed contracts were minimal: A 3 percent pay raise for both police officers and dispatchers, a $600 reduction in each police officer's clothing allowance which includes dry cleaning costs and a "take home" program that would allow officers to drive the department's 12 marked vehicles home for the first time.

Council member Dale Massad refused to vote in favor of ratifying the contract. Massad cited a lack of clarity on grievance procedures to terminate an officer and said he disagreed with policies that allow officers to be paid for up to 70 hours of rolled over sick days when they leave the department.

The contract was tabled until City Manager Jerry Calhoun addresses the concerns with representatives of the union who were absent from the meeting.

"This is kind of a surprise," said Jim Diamond of the PBA, "and it's a setback."

Camille C. Spencer can be reached at (727) 869-6229 or cspencer@sptimes.com.

What voters will see on the ballot

Here's a copy of the title and ballot for the referendum on dissolving the city. Voters will head to the polls during the general election April 10.

"Straw ballot for expending funds to dissolve the city of Port Richey:

"Should the city of Port Richey spend $250,000 or more to develop a plan to dissolve the city of Port Richey by ordinance subject to approval by referendum, which will include provisions for its creditors, vested pension rights of its employees, bond indebtedness and the financial impact to the citizens of the city of Port Richey if it is dissolved? ... This is a nonbinding opinion poll."

[Last modified January 10, 2007, 21:58:21]


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