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Jockeying council member needs to be reined in


© St. Petersburg Times, published July 21, 2000

Virginia Miller outmuscled Tom Finn.


Even more amazing? Finn owned up to his weakness at a New Port Richey City Council meeting Tuesday night.

Miller flexed her forearms on the city's mural committee of all places. It's hardly the hotbed of political influence and certainly not the place to jump-start a career in public service.

But Miller, best described as petite, shooed Finn away from a committee meeting some time ago since both are sitting council members. She feared a potential Government in the Sunshine Law violation. Smart move on her part.

Finn hasn't forgotten, particularly since there has never been a mural painted anywhere downtown, despite Miller's committee. Tuesday night, Finn labeled Miller a failure.

It was just one part of a colorful commentary that left you believing these people have way too much time on their hands.

Mayor Wendy Brenner spent so much time talking about playing as a team, she sounded like Tony Dungy. Finn, obviously energetic, keeps going long while the rest of the team is still in the huddle calling the play.

Council member Jack Van Keuren showed the most sense. He kept seeking to adjourn.

Finn took umbrage Tuesday because Miller penned a July 14 memorandum to the council about the planned relocation of the building formerly housing Our Lady Queen of Peace Roman Catholic Church. Miller is secretary of the West Pasco Historical Society, the group she proposed to be the lead agency in fundraising duties tied to moving the former church to a site next to the society's museum in Sims Park.

Finn also has shown interest in the project, having approached the church pastor and others about donations to help pay for the move and to bring the building up to code as a public meeting room.

He perceived the memo as a way to cool his involvement. He probably developed that perception from this part of Miller's memorandum: "I further request that individual fundraising efforts by council members be discussed with the council before any individual takes action. As in other recent incidents, it appears that the council is being represented when in fact it is one individual's actions. This conveys a confusing picture to those involved and does not promote confidence in a unified effort."

The unwritten message: Hey, Tom, butt out. Any attempt to promote unity eroded immediately.

Finn said he would support designating the society as the lead agency if Miller would take a temporary leave from her post as secretary. Her presence meant potential Sunshine Law violations if he became involved. That's also when he alluded to the failed efforts on murals and said he didn't want a repeat of the church move.

Here's a thought for council to ponder: Who cares?

At a time the city is facing difficult budget choices, construction of a police station that is now 40 percent higher than expected, and a delay of promised capital projects to benefit youths, its elected leaders are acting like children.

It is hard to miss the chip on Finn's shoulder. It's roughly the size of 4-million gallons of water a day.

Finn's discontent began when the council supported Brenner as its representative on the Tampa Bay Water Board. Finn had sought the position, continues to remain active on water matters, and said he was embarrassed by Brenner's recent vote to authorize pumping an additional 4-million gallons of water per day from a wellfield here.

Finn drew a council rebuke two weeks ago for writing a letter to Gov. Jeb Bush on water issues. Council members said the letter left the impression he was speaking for the council as a whole instead of as an individual. Finn was still steaming over that criticism when he read Miller's memorandum on the church.

The question now is whether Finn has done irreparable harm to himself. Picking on Miller, who has the public disposition of June Cleaver, was ill-advised. Finn seems to have forgotten the favor she did after he lost the water board appointment to Brenner in April. At that same meeting, Miller graciously stepped aside from the Metropolitan Planning Organization -- the county's road planning body -- so Finn could succeed her and pursue a more regionalized agenda.

It looks like he paid her back by behaving like Eddie Haskell.

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