Port Richey councilor must learn from past

Published August 30, 2007

Several months before Dale Massad joined the Port Richey City Council, a Pinellas Circuit Court judge overseeing a civil lawsuit said Massad showed an "absolutely bizarre lack of business judgment."

It hasn't gotten any better in the seven years since.

Port Richey council member Massad's recent foray into a business arrangement with the Port Richey city attorney indicates an inability to learn from experience. Mixing personal business with a publicly paid worker prevented Massad from performing his council duties this week when he could not cast a vote on naming an interim city manager.

Neither could council member Nancy Britton, whose live-in boyfriend, part-time city attorney James Mathieu, was named interim city manager Tuesday evening on a 2-1 vote. Only council member Mark Hashim correctly identified the personal entanglements as a reason to stop the expansion of Mathieu's duties and compensation.

Mathieu, for his part, should have recognized the potential for conflicting interests for his bosses and declined to participate in the housing venture with Massad. We also wonder whether Mathieu considered that his fate as city attorney can now be determined by a two-vote majority since Britton and Massad are now on record with personal conflicts.

As Times staff writer Jodie Tillman reported this week, Massad and Mathieu jointly own a waterfront home they intend to rehabilitate and sell for a profit. The transaction closed in June after Massad's previous partner succumbed to cancer and Massad said he could not carry the financial obligation on his own.

Sadly, Massad is unable to see the conflict. He did not ask for a state Ethics Commission recommendation on whether he could vote for Mathieu's appointment until contacted by Tillman on Monday afternoon. Tuesday evening, he said, he had not received a response to his inquiry even though the Ethics Commission's staff attorney responded around 1:30 p.m. with an e-mail suggesting Massad recuse himself because of the business enterprise with Mathieu.

We have come to expect poor judgment from Massad. After he was appointed to the council in 2000 to fill an open seat, he invited the then-city manager to join the board of Massad's Africare Enviro-Med, a nonprofit organization with the stated purpose of providing health care to the poor of South Africa. Former City Manager Vince Lupo resigned from the board in 2002 - after a couple of successful hunting safaris to South Africa - saying the relationship with the organization could be used unfairly as a campaign issue against Massad.

Massad left Africare a year later for publicly stated reasoning that now contradicts his business association with Mathieu. In 2003, Massad said he could not fairly consider an controversial bingo ordinance that could have benefitted some local charities if he had his own personal ties to a nonprofit.

Massad should revisit that logic and dissolve the partnership with Mathieu. If avoiding potential conflicts applies to supposed charity work, it certainly should hold true for personal for-profit ventures.