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New Port Richey needs strong council

By TIMES EDITORIAL
Published March 25, 2007


In a local government usually marked by apathetic voters, seven people are seeking a trio of New Port Richey City Council seats. It's an indication of public dissatisfaction with the city's direction, most notably a stalled downtown redevelopment effort in which an empty cinder block shell sits at the gateway with the Pithlachascotee River.

The dormant Main Street Landings residential and retail complex is the key issue on the April 10 ballot. A council majority vote rejecting a proposed special taxing district to finance infrastructure costs for the complex "single-handedly put a halt to economic development in the city," says candidate Ray Rossi who had purchased one of the retail shop spaces for a planned home furnishings business.

Rossi, an insurance adjuster who also owns a business installing docks, is joined on the ballot by incumbents Marilynn deChant, Thomas Lackey, former parks and recreation director Bob Consalvo, who was appointed late last year to fill a council vacancy, former council member Tom Finn, computer business owner Rob Marlowe and college student Samantha Beckman.

The two leading vote-getters earn three-year seats and the third-place finisher will fill a two-year seat vacated last year by Matthew McCaffery.

In this crowded field, Marlowe and Consalvo stand out. The Times strongly recommends both for three-year terms on the Council.

Marlowe, a onetime chairman of the Democratic Executive Committee, took a stronger interest in the City Council decisions after watching the redevelopment plan for his North River Road neighborhood shrink to $10,000 worth of speed bumps.

As a downtown business owner, he has a vested interest in the success of the redevelopment there and promises to work toward that goal. He has significant leadership skills, demonstrated by his work with the political executive committee, his role as the first Pasco director of the Healthy Start Coalition, and his volunteer duties including serving as past chairman of the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce and as district chairman for the Boy Scouts of America. Marlowe's business background and graduate degree in business administration mean he won't be intimidated by a complex city budget.

Consalvo, too, will be strong on the city budget. As a 25-year department head, he understands assembling and maintaining reasonable spending requests.

During his tenure, the city parks and recreation department improved dramatically with a refurbished Sims Park, construction of the Super Playground, development of the riverwalk, acquisition and development of the Grey Preserve, and the riverside pocket park at Grand Boulevard. Consalvo wrote the grant applications that allowed the city to capture significant state dollars to help finance the improvements.

Consalvo also is genuine in his motivations. After a career in public service that allowed him to retire comfortably, he says he owes the residents his best effort to provide a good quality of life within New Port Richey.

The rest of the field is not as clear cut. Council members Lackey and deChant are both finishing two-year terms. Lackey says he is proud of his vote against a community development district proposal for the Main Street Landings.

"I am still 100 percent convinced we did the right thing," Lackey said, saying he believed $4-million from proposed bond sales would have turned into "get out of town money" for the private developers. Give Lackey credit for his convictions, but the stalled development project at the city's downtown entrance is not something of which to be proud. His rhetoric against development interests doesn't bode well for future dealings between the city and the private sector to redevelop downtown.

DeChant, too, voted against the tax district, and was critical of the project afterward for its setbacks and suggested the developers had missed their market. Now, she advocates the same developers finish the retail portion of the complex immediately with the housing element to come later. She also said she supports the proposed Railroad Square pedestrian-friendly district along Nebraska Avenue even though she voted against the $100,000 design contract, but acknowledged she agreed with Lackey's assessment that it should be considered an appropriate investment in a beautification project.

She characterizes her positions as evolving, but it strikes us as convoluted logic from someone who previously worked as director of the predecessor for New Port Richey Main Street.

Rossi is critical of the incumbents' voting record and promises to be a hard-working voice to jumpstart redevelopment. He decided to run after a middle-of-the-night burglary of his occupied home.

We don't doubt his work ethic, but he hasn't demonstrated that he understands the council's role as policymakers while leaving day-to-day operations to the city management. For instance, his crime-fighting ideas include telling officers to rouse people lined up for work at a day-labor service. He also wants city workers to live within the city limits, an unworkable plan that likely would hurt recruitment of future employees.

In addition, court records show an arrest and later a dismissal of a charge of violating a domestic violence injunction during a messy divorce in which Rossi admits everyone could have behaved better. That may be, but it also is indicative of poor judgment inappropriate for public office.

Beckman will be a promising candidate in the future. She is bright and has researched the issues confronting the city. But, at 18, she lacks the life experiences that would make her a more well-rounded choice.

Experience is the strong suit of Finn's candidacy. A six-year council member, he can point to a record of accomplishments including championing improvements to the recreation center, which is about to reopen after a $14-million renovation, and pushing for the creation of the skate park adjoining it.

His time in office, however, also was marked by personality conflicts with other council members and dramatic show-boating when he didn't get his way. We could overlook the peculiar behavior, but we are troubled by Finn's current platform to eliminate city staff positions without adequately researching the size of the city's work force or the current job duties. Finn should do his homework before floating substantial policy changes.

That he at least has ideas to offer gives him an advantage. Finn was on board when New Port Richey began its citywide redevelopment effort and would be an acceptable choice to rejoin the council as it attempts to navigate through difficult times.

The Times recommends Rob Marlowe, Bob Consalvo and Tom Finn for New Port Richey City Council.