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Politics

Council dispute getting louder

One council member says the mayor may have been influenced into changing a vote.

By CAMILLE C. SPENCER
Published January 26, 2007


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PORT RICHEY - Even by Port Richey standards, Tuesday's City Council meeting was getting testy.

"You are a liar," council member Phyllis Grae told the mayor.

"You can't call people liars," Mayor Mark Abbott replied.

"I don't know what color the sun on your planet is," interjected council member Dale Massad.

At issue is when Abbott - who cast the swing vote a few months ago on holding a referendum to dissolve the city - received a petition supporting such a vote.

On Nov. 14, Abbott voted against holding the nonbinding referendum. Then, two weeks later, he cast his vote in favor of it.

Voters will head to the polls in April.

Grae questions Abbott's change of heart and wonders whether he was influenced. She said she saw Abbott receive a petition at the Nov. 14 meeting from Amy Scott, who supports holding a referendum on the dissolution issue.

"She stopped him during a break in the meeting, and my recollection is, that is when she handed it to him," Grae said Thursday. "As he walked, he was looking through them and came up to his seat."

But Abbott said he already had a copy of the petition before the meeting even began.

Grae called him a liar. She says a tape of the meeting proves she's right.

A videotape of the meeting, viewed Thursday by a Times reporter, shows Abbott holding papers while sitting in his chair after the break.

"I've got one petition here with less than 100 names," Abbott said during the meeting. "That's it. It's the only thing I've ever been given."

But the break wasn't videotaped, so it's unclear where - or when - Abbott got the petition.

Abbott said Thursday he asked Scott for a petition the week before the Nov. 14 meeting. He won't say why he changed his vote.

"I definitely did not get it at a meeting," Abbott said. "I got it from Amy Scott."

Scott said Thursday that Abbott contacted her to see who had signed the petition.

"He (Abbott) didn't divulge to me that he was going to change his vote," Scott said. "He asked me to educate him on how many people we had signatures from."

The petitions have added to the controversy over the referendum to dissolve the city of 3,200. That's because there are two petitions with different wording but identical signatures.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating.

At Grae's request, the tape of the Nov. 14 meeting will be viewed at the next City Council meeting on Feb. 13.

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

[Last modified January 26, 2007, 07:33:13]


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