Port Richey's dredging shapes this voting season

Two newcomers challenge three council incumbents.

By Camille C. Spencer, Times Staff Writer
Published February 20, 2008

PORT RICHEY - One issue taking the forefront in this year's City Council election is dredging.

Stalled progress on the project has prompted two newcomers to take on three incumbents in the race for three City Council seats.

With the hopes of securing permits and grants for the 29-canal project, Phil Abts and Perry Bean are running against incumbents Dale Massad, Steven O'Neill and Nancy Britton.

The three incumbents were elected two years ago on the platform of providing citizens with the option of dissolving the city. But a vote last year by city residents to keep the city intact put the dissolution issue to rest.

Tuesday was the last day to qualify for the April 8 election. Here's a look at this year's candidates, seeking two-year terms:

- Phil Abts, 42, is an insurance agent who has lived in the city for 12 years. Originally from Birmingham, Ala., Abts has been vocal at council meetings about the council's decisionmaking on the dredging project. He said he wants to provide city committees, which make recommendations to the council, with a voice.

- Perry Bean, 42, is a stay-at-home dad who has lived in the city for four years. The former manufacturing firm executive is from Atlanta. He is a member of the city's Port Authority Committee and was part of a selection committee that picked engineering firms to replace the city's dredging consultant, the LPA Group. Bean also said he wants the council, known for contentious meetings, to "operate in a way people can be proud of."

- Steven O'Neill, 46, has lived in the city for seven years. O'Neill is a nuclear medicine technician at the Florida Cancer Institute. O'Neill was a newcomer to politics when he was elected in 2006. He said the recent addition of City Manager Richard Reade, whom O'Neill touts as an energetic hard worker, prompted him to seek a second term.

- Dale Massad, 57, is seeking a third term on the council. Massad is from Oklahoma and has lived in the city for eight years. He lost a coin toss against Bill Bennett for a council seat after a 2001 election left them tied. Massad was elected to a two-year term in 2002, but lost a re-election bid in 2004. He regained a council seat in 2006. Massad, who attends dredging meetings with the LPA Group and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, has been critical of the consulting firm's pace in acquiring permits for the project. Last year, he recommended that a law firm evaluate the LPA Group's progress on the project.

- Nancy Britton, 49, has lived in the city for 22 years. Her live-in-boyfriend is City Attorney James Mathieu. Britton is a marketing director for Peninsula Health Care and Rehabilitation in Tarpon Springs. Like O'Neill, Britton was new to city politics when she was elected two years ago. Britton led the charge to purchase a blighted mobile home park on the city's east side last year, but her revitalization plans stalled when the city couldn't reach an agreement with the property's seller.

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