NPR Council fills seat vacated by Jeff Starkey

Former Deputy Mayor Jeff Starkey vacated his New Port Richey City Council seat effective Nov. 1. The board voted for his temporary replacement last week.

NEW PORT RICHEY — The City Council won’t be shorthanded for long.

The board voted unanimously, 4-0, to appoint Mike Peters to fill the seat vacated by Jeff Starkey. The former deputy mayor submitted his resignation effective Nov. 1 as a result of his family moving outside of city limits. Starkey’s decision came in the middle of this third three-year term, after being re-elected in April 2019.

The council, sitting as a four-person board without Starkey for the first time at its Nov. 4 regular meeting, selected Peters over three other candidates. Five individuals submitted letters of interest, but former Deputy Mayor Bill Phillips pulled out of the running. The three other candidates were Joan Nelson Hook, George Romagnoli and Bob Smallwood — all familiar faces around City Hall and the community.

“I’d like to thank all five … for stepping up and caring about the city as an individual,” Councilman Chopper Davis said to the candidates seated in Council Chambers.

“I think everybody that has filed their intent would be great additions to the City Council, and it wasn’t easy thinking about who that one person would be,” Councilman Matt Murphy said, agreeing with Davis’ sentiments. “I thank all of you for putting your name in and taking that leap.”

Murphy submitted a motion to select Hook for the seat, but it failed for lack of a second.

“For my pick, Joan Nelson Hook, I really think that she’s really involved and does a great job,” Murphy said. “And there’s always April.”

Davis followed with a motion to nominate Peters. Councilman Peter Altman provided the second and the board voted unanimously in favor.

“Having talked to Mr. Peters, I realize he came from another very successful, small downtown, has a degree in accounting, and has the accounting skills that I think can really come in handy on the economic development of the downtown,” Altman said.

According to City Attorney Jeff Driscoll, Peters will be sworn in at the next meeting Nov. 17. Peters will serve in a temporary replacement capacity until the next municipal election April 14.

Mayor Rob Marlowe pointed out that Peters and the other three candidates are all eligible to file for that election. Three City Council seats will be up for grabs come April. The race to fill Starkey’s seat is for a one-year term, whereas the two other races are for normal three-year stints. The council made the decision recently that races be staggered and not have three seats be up for election every three years.

“You’re good, quality people and I hope you will stay involved in the city and there is an opportunity in future years to consider running,” Marlowe said of the candidates.

Council members gave their sendoff to Starkey at the end of the previous meeting Oct. 20 and the deputy mayor opened with a statement of his own.

“There are some great things that have happened in the city the last seven years,” Starkey said while fighting back emotions. “We have great leadership with (City Manager) Ms. Manns and our department heads and we’ve got a great City Council. It’s been an honor to work with all of you and past council members I’ve worked with. It’s been a learning experience. I’ve done my best since day one and it’s been an honor to serve the city.”

The other four council members, Driscoll and Manns took turns praising Starkey and saying their goodbyes.

“People in general long for leaders that can stand up,” Manns said. “They also long for leaders that can make a government stand out. I have had the benefit of working in local government management for over 30 years and, in reality, many leaders walk through the door for the last time without having made a difference. That just is not the case with Deputy Mayor Starkey, who has left an indelible footprint, in my opinion, on this community and it’s a result of his distinctive vision, his integrity, his passion, his great ability to not only be a leader, but to be a member of a leadership team.

“I would like to say that his resolve as an elected official is something that will resonate in this community for many years to come because his drive for New Port Richey and making New Port Richey the best it can be is contagious.”

“I’ve worked with lots of council members over my 30-plus years of doing this and I find you to be one of the most articulate and well-spoken of all the members I’ve worked with,” Driscoll said. “While you don’t always like the advice that I give you, you accept it with humility and move onto the project and you’ve come up with some really great ideas for things we can do here in the city.”

Marlowe added, “I couldn’t ask for a better deputy mayor. You’ve been great. It’s been my pleasure to sit up here next to you. I hate to see you go because you’re going to have some big shoes to fill by somebody here in a few weeks.”