PORT RICHEY — Good-natured laughs, smiling faces, rounds of applause — after weeks of storm and stress and negative media attention, the City Council took on a whole new look and feel last week.
And more changes are coming, too.
The June 25 regular meeting was council’s first with Scott Tremblay taking the mayor’s seat. He was sworn in the day before at City Hall after winning the June 18 special election by eight votes over four other candidates.
Because former Councilman Richard Bloom resigned his seat to run for mayor, the five-member council remained two short of capacity. Bloom’s vacated seat will be filled during another special election, scheduled for Sept. 10. Last week, however, the council successfully selected a city resident to take over the vacated council seat on an interim basis until the election.
When council was two members short, following the arrests and suspension by Gov. Ron DeSantis of former Mayor Dale Massad and former-Councilman Terrance Rowe, Bloom and the other two council members, Jennie Sorrrell and William Dittmer, could never agree to second a person to temporarily fill Massad’s seat.
The new-look council made quick work of filling Bloom’s seat with a temporary selection, opting to nominate and approve one of the four losing June 18 mayoral candidates, Todd Maklary. “My thoughts on it is we had a great mayoral race and there were some really good candidates,” Dittmer said.
“I agree with you 100 percent that we should go with the people’s choice and the people’s choice was made pretty clear,” Sorrell said before seconding Dittmer’s nomination.
Maklary placed third in the mayoral election, gaining 125 of 565 casted votes. Former Councilman Bill Colombo placed second with 148 votes and Bloom placed fourth with 90.
Maklary will be sworn in prior to the next council meeting July 9. By nominating Maklary as interim councilman, Tremblay wanted to clarify that he could still become a candidate during the Sept. 10 special election if he so chooses.
“I’ve had lengthy conversations with the supervisor of elections about that,” City Attorney James Mathieu said. “It would not preclude him from running for that seat.”
After council voted 3-0 to approve Maklary, many of those in attendance applauded and the nominee briefly stood to say he accepted the temporary position.
It was the second such good-natured applause in about 10 minutes.
Prior giving the nod to Maklary, council unanimously voted to move forward with removing Rowe, who briefly was acting mayor after Massad was arrested in February. Unlike Massad, Rowe refused to resign his council seat after being suspended from office by DeSantis .
“The council has a right to forfeit the seat of any other council member,” Mathieu said while explaining the situation and options. “If council decides they want to do that, we’ve done substantial research on the matter, you can do that.”
If the city were to proceed, council would have to bring a charge against Rowe and present it to Mathieu. The city attorney would then draft a resolution that would be served to Rowe. The suspended councilman would then have time to enter a defense before a quasi-judicial hearing would take place. That would require the city to retain an outside attorney because Mathieu would not be eligible to prosecute the case.
Dittmer suggested the city draft and send a letter to Rowe requesting his resignation since he had not yet offered it. However, hours prior to last Tuesday’s meeting, Massad was found guilty of conspiracy to obstruct justice. That charge involved a jailhouse phone call with Rowe that resulted in Rowe’s arrest.
Massad, a former physician, was first arrested on charges of practicing medicine without a license, the result of an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. He was also charged with attempted murder after firing shots inside his house while the Pasco SWAT team was assisting the FDLE in serving a search warrant on Massad.
“It probably changes his whole outlook on this and possibly we give him one more shot by letter with a few days to resign,” Dittmer said. “If that’s not the case I would like to move forward with the motion to follow up with the resolution based on what the FDLE and the governor have said for malfeasance and misfeasance for that crime.”
Tremblay, an attorney with an office in New Port Richey, noted that moving forward with a quasi-judicial hearing to oust Rowe could be a significant unbudgeted expense to the city and there’s no guarantee it would produce the desired result, Rowe’s removal. If council directed him to move forward with a quasi-judicial hearing, Mathieu said it’s unlikely Rowe would come out on top.
“I’m very confident that he would lose that trial here, I would think,” Mathieu said, adding that Rowe would have 30 days to appeal any result of the hearing.
Dittmer moved for city staff to draft a letter requesting Rowe’s resignation and for Mathieu to begin drafting a resolution that could be served to Rowe in the event he declines stepping down. Sorrell seconded the motion and it passed 3-0 before receiving numerous “ayes” from residents in attendance.