NEW PORT RICHEY – “We just wanted a fair shake. We got it.”
Those were the words of Port Richey Mayor Scott Tremblay moments after the Pasco Legislative Delegation voted unanimously to table the bill that would have dissolved the city he has led for only a short period of time.
In the end, the city’s new leadership team may have turned the tide on the dissolution bill, which was proposed by State Rep. Amber Mariano. After several of her legislative colleagues suggested Port Richey might have turned a corner, Mariano moved to table her bill pending an audit of the city.
The legislative delegation discussed Mariano’s bill during its annual meeting, held Oct. 11 at Pasco-Hernando State College West Campus.
Mariano, R-New Port Richey, the chair of the Pasco delegation, turned over the gavel at the meeting to state Sen. Wilton Simpson as she began a Power Point presentation outlining the proposed bill’s recipe for how the county would take control of what is now within the boundaries of the city of Port Richey.
“This is not something I do rashly or lightly,” Mariano said. “But, the city has been plagued with scandal after scandal after scandal and I believe we have an ethical obligation and public duty to protect the voters of the city and the Florida taxpayers.”
At this point, Mariano said the bill was designed to allow “a vote of the citizens to decide whether to dissolve their city.” That statement came as a surprise to some in the audience, who reacted with an obvious and vocal disbelief causing Simpson, R-Trilby, to call for order in the room.
“This is just the first step of a discussion,” Mariano said at the start of her presentation.
While there were no major disruptions during that presentation, Mariano’s comments on the fate of city employees if the city of Port Richey were dissolve and came under the jurisdiction of Pasco County were met with laughter.
State Sen. Ed Hooper, R-Palm Harbor, asked Mariano to clarify Section 7 of the bill, which speaks of a referendum vote by Port Richey residents. The meaning for that section is not clear, said Hooper.
The bill would give residents of Port Richey, if the city’s charter were revoked by the Legislature, the right to vote yes or no on being annexed by the city of New Port Richey.
In response to Hooper, Mariano said, “I’m not sure of your question,” which was met with another laugh from the audience.
Simpson, who is in line to be the Florida Senate president in 2021 and 2022, said Mariano’s bill had gone through several drafts and he had not had time to give the version the delegation was considering close scrutiny.
“I’m not trying to put anyone on the spot,” Simpson said. “I’m trying to understand what we are asking the county to do in the interim and what we would be asking the former city of Port Richey to consider if the city of New Port Richey sought to annex.”
Simpson said he had not heard any persons connected with the county government “say we agree with this plan, we can comply with this plan, or we don’t understand this plan.”
When Simpson said the fate of Port Richey was a “big deal” to its residents, cheers erupted from the audience.
Simpson then asked Tremblay to come to the podium and listed some of the incidents during the year that had made Port Richey “an embarrassment to the state of Florida.” The list included the arrest of former Mayor Dale Massad and former Councilman Terrence Rowe on criminal charges and their subsequent suspension from office by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the inability of the three remaining City Council members to conduct city business.
The election of Tremblay, a former assistant state attorney who is now a criminal defense attorney, could help the city put those problems behind it, Simpson said.
“So, mayor, if you were not standing here as mayor I would be supporting dissolving the city of Port Richey in a heartbeat, 100 percent today,” Simpson told Tremblay.
Simpson commended the mayor and new City Council members Todd Maklary and Tom Kinsella for the steps they have taken to “right that ship.”
The residents of Port Richey, Simpson said, deserve a “fair election” to decide the city’s fate.
“I’m putting all the pressure on you to make sure Port Richey does not become another embarrassment and I believe you will do it,” Simpson told Tremblay.
State Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, asked Tremblay if the city is facing any crises that would require quick legislative action. Trembley said the city “is in good financial shape” and is not in crisis.
In response, Lee suggested conducting the audit of the city and consider the disincorporation bill again, if needed, once its findings are known.
New Port Richey Mayor Rob Marlowe, who attended the Oct. 11 legislative delegation meeting, told the state lawmakers his city has “no designs” on Port Richey such as annexation. He also praised Tremblay’s “vision” for the future of Port Richey.