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Familiar foes face off in Port Richey

ON THE ISSUES: Dredging and redevelopment have risen to the forefront in the Port Richey race.

By MATTHEW WAITE

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 8, 2001


PORT RICHEY -- For the four candidates for Port Richey City Council, the devil is in the details.

At public forums and in interviews, the candidates agree on broad issues, and then go on to disagree on how to go about it.

Take redevelopment of the neighborhoods east of U.S. 19 near the Pithlachascotee River as an example. All four candidates for two City Council seats agree that area needs to be redeveloped.

But that's where the agreement ends.

Dale Massad floated the idea that the city should, through legal proceedings, acquire a run-down mobile home park that dominates the area. Jim Priest and Bill Bennett advocate drawing up and following a plan for the area. Phyllis Grae said she wants the mobile home park shut down, because "I will not have people living like that."

Other areas of agreement and disagreement include dredging of the river and canals. All agree that the canals need to be dredged, but Priest and Bennett want to look at the environmental impact.

They also don't agree on whether they are running on a slate of candidates. Bennett and Priest say they are on Mayor Eloise Taylor's ticket. Grae says she's on her own, as does Massad.

Bennett, 56, was born and raised in Port Richey, and said he wants to bring his experience as a building contractor to the City Council to help make development decisions. He owns Alpha Contractors, and has run that business for 10 years.

Bennett said he is running because he wants to bring more professionalism to Port Richey government. Despite his lengthy tenure in the city, Bennett said he hasn't been active in government, and voted only twice in local elections in the past 25 years.

But he said recent problems with a controversial restaurant in his neighborhood near the south side of the Cotee River, an attempt to add more commercial zoning near his home and problems in the building department got him interested.

Grae, 66, is making her second run for the City Council. She narrowly missed being elected in 2000 in a four-candidate, three-seat race.

Grae, who was appointed to fill the vacancy created when former council member Tom Brown quit in October, said she's running again because she wants to help the city. She said one of her strengths is that she does her homework, and is often loaded with questions about issues coming up before the council. She also said that in the wake of controversy and investigations in the city government, she wants to bring integrity to city. Grae's involvement in the city started with her appointment to the Planning and Zoning Board in 1997. She later served as chairwoman of the board. Massad, 50, has just one clear plank to his platform: dredging the city's waterways. Massad, who serves on the city's Port Authority Committee, got behind the effort earlier this year and has spent hours at City Hall researching it.

Massad retired to Port Richey two years ago, and was appointed to the City Council in September.

That appointment, however, wasn't without controversy. Massad was appointed after a brief attempt to have former Mayor Eileen Ferdinand appointed to the spot.

After the meeting, Massad was left answering questions about his past, which included losing his medical license in 1992 after the death of a young girl and a series of bad business deals that one Pinellas County judge called "bizarre."

But Massad said he just wants to help the city, and said since he's retired, it can be his full-time job.

Another candidate that has had to answer questions about his past is Priest. Priest said his several run-ins with the law, a bad business partner, a bankruptcy brought on by bad advice and late payment on taxes has taught him some of life's lessons.

Priest, who moved to Port Richey in 1995, most recently has served as the chairman of the city's Code Enforcement Board. He said he wants to bring more professionalism to city government.

Priest, however, isn't concentrating on city politics at the moment. His son, James Priest III, was seriously injured in a car accident on Monday.

The election is Tuesday. New council members will be sworn in on April 16.

-- Staff writer Matthew Waite can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6247 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6247. His e-mail address is waite@sptimes.com.

The job

Port Richey City Council members are elected at-large in a non-partisan race. This election, there are two seats open for four candidates. The top vote getter will fill a full two-year term. The second place candidate will fill the remaining one year of the term of a council member who resigned. Council members make $2,160.

Bill Bennett

BACKGROUND: He was born and raised in Port Richey, attending both elementary and high school in west Pasco County. He became a licensed funeral home director after graduating from Miami-Dade Junior College in 1970. He became a licensed building contractor in 1979 and has owned Alpha Contractors for the past 10 years. He is married to Constance Bennett and has two children

ASSETS: home, business, stocks, bonds

LIABILITIES: loans

SOURCE OF INCOME: business income

Phyllis Grae

AGE: 66

BACKGROUND: She was born in Staten Island, N.Y., and graduated with a bachelor's degree in fine arts from the University of Arizona in Tucson in 1955. She moved to Port Richey in 1987, the same year she started her business, Greek Unique, near the University of South Florida campus in Tampa. Grae was appointed to the Planning and Zoning Board in 1997 and served as chairwoman before being appointed to the City Council in October. Grae ran for a council seat last year, but was the fourth place candidate in a three seat race. She is married and has two daughters.

ASSETS: business, condo

LIABILITIES: loans

SOURCE OF INCOME: business income

Dale Massad

AGE: 50

BACKGROUND: He was born in Oklahoma, attending both undergraduate and medical school at the University of Oklahoma at Norman and graduating in 1976. He came to Florida and served as a coroner and as medical director for Pinellas County Emergency Medical Services. He ran a walk-in clinic in Palm Harbor until 1992, when he surrendered his medical license after the death of a young patient. Massad moved to Port Richey in 1998, served on the Planning and Zoning Board briefly before being appointed to the City Council in September.

ASSETS: three pieces of property

LIABILITIES: loans

SOURCE OF INCOME: annuity, rent from medical office

Jim Priest

AGE: 43

BACKGROUND: He was born in Michigan and attended elementary and high school in Plantation. He spent a number of years in the 1970s and 1980s working in and owning construction and excavation companies, and later started working in finance in 1988. That work included education and business in Europe. He moved to Port Richey in 1995, served briefly on the Planning and Zoning Board and is now the chairman of the city's Code Enforcement Board. He has been married for 20 years and has two children.

ASSETS: home, business, land

LIABILITIES: none listed

SOURCE OF INCOME: business income

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