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A Times Editorial

Coin flip won't solve council's problems

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 24, 2001

Tonight, the city of Port Richey will combine two of its more noteworthy contributions to the area's social fabric: goofball government and games of chance.

After a caustic campaign played out against a grand jury investigation of the city's building department, the race for a one-year term on the City Council ended in a tie. Challenger Bill Bennett and Dale Massad, appointed to fill the unexpired term left by Bob Leggiere's resignation in September, each received 369 votes, or 25.86 percent, in the April 10 election.

Initial tallies showed Massad with a one-vote victory, but the automatic recount added a vote to Bennett's total. Followup machine and manual recounts did not change the outcome. So, this evening Bennett and a stand-in for the vacationing Massad will flip a coin with the winner drawing one of two sealed envelopes from a container. One of the envelopes will hold a sheet of paper designated as "winner."

It is a testament to the discord surrounding City Hall that it takes two games of chance to determine this election. It will reduce the likelihood of someone crying foul, as Leggiere did after losing the mayoral race to Eloise Taylor by nine votes.

It's not the first mix of gambling and politicking. Part of Leggiere's complaint, dismissed by the Pasco County Elections Canvassing Board because it lacked jurisdiction, centered upon voting by the owners and employees of Paradise of Port Richey. Also election day, we should note, was the same day the president and CEO of Stardancer Casino Cruises, Paradise's new competitor, pledged to bring 150 jobs to the area and contribute to public works projects in Port Richey.

Dealing with the looming capital projects in the city including construction of a new City Hall and proposed waterfront dredging is just one task that awaits tonight's winner.

The council as a whole will need to put aside the junior-high-school antics and work to begin healing the rifts remaining from the campaign. Though the recommendations in the grand jury report remain sealed for nearly 30 days, the police investigative material already is public record. The council needs to end the practice of allowing elected officials to interfere in daily city operations, and it must respect Florida's Government-in-the-Sunshine Law that prohibits private discussions of public business. The police files contained evidence of both.

And for the sake of their constituents, the council needs to overcome the existing personality conflicts that too-often dictate policy decisions. A more professionally run government shouldn't rely on the luck of the draw.

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