PORT RICHEY – “After Friday, it’s over for the city.”
That was the dire warning given by City Attorney James Mathieu during a press conference at City Hall concerning the move by Rep. Amber Mariano to introduce a bill that would dissolve the city of Port Richey.
Mariano, R-New Port Richey, has announced her plans to ask the Legislative Delegation to approve that bill for introduction to the state legislature, during a meeting Oct. 11 at the Performing Arts Center at the Pasco-Hernando State College West Campus, on Ridge Road, scheduled to begin at 8 a.m.
It would take a majority vote of the six-member legislative delegation, of which Rep. Mariano is the chairman, for the bill to be submitted in the state capitol.
Mathieu said if the Pasco delegation backs introducing Mariano’s disincorporation bill in the House and a companion measure in the Senate, abolishing the city is a near certainty.
“No one in Daytona is going to care what happens in Pasco,” Mathieu said. “It will pass. Most local bills requiring no funding are passed perfunctory.”
Mathieu did cite the potential of a legal challenge to any action that might be taken at Friday’s meeting.
He cited an advertisement placed in the legal section of the Tampa Bay Times on Sept. 29 that has the heading, “Notice of Intent to Seek Legislation.”
While the ad makes no mention of the meeting, it details the intent to apply to the 2020 Florida Legislature for an act “relating to the dissolving the City of Port Richey and providing provisions relating to transition of authority to Pasco County.”
Mathieu said the city would look at the possibility that the notice, whose purchaser’s identity remains unknown to the city, does not meet the standards of public notices set by the state which could mean any action taken at Friday’s session could be declared void.
Mathieu said the city would take no action until seeing the results of Friday’s legislative delegation meeting.
Concerning Mariano’s criminal complaint against the city, Mathieu said the city takes the position the representative “filed a frivolous criminal complaint” against the city.
“Rep. Mariano was aware no action was to be taken on the filed complaint and only now seeks the dissolution of the city by the state legislature,” Mathieu said.
On Oct. 4, the city announced it was asking the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate Mariano for filing a false complaint against the city. Mariano said to the city’s request that the FDLE investigate her was “absolute nonsense.”
At Tuesday’s city news conference, Mathieu said he found it hard to believe Amber Mariano and her father, Pasco County Commissioner Jack Mariano, were not aware of each other’s actions.
“Frivolous attacks on the city’s bonds and CRA funds are solely due to further the ambitions of the county, and not the citizens of Port Richey,” Mathieu said adding the word “county” he used was interchangeable with the name “Jack Mariano.”
“This is a legislative end-around,” Mathieu said.
“Port Richey’s citizens have voted this down on numerous occasions,” he added, referring to referendum elections in the past in which city residents have rejected disincorporating the city.
Mayor Scott Tremblay, an attorney, said having the Legislature decide the city’s fate would be a denial of the rights of the city’s residents.
He said he had talked on the phone twice with the vice chairman of the Pasco delegation, state Sen. Ed Hooper, R-Palm Harbor, who is expected to introduce the Senate version of the Port Richey disincorporation, and had a discussion on speakerphone with Amber Mariano “as it relates to Sen. Simpson.”
Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, another Pasco delegation member, is in line to be the president of the Florida Senate in 2021 and 2022.
“We have reached out to the other members that may vote on this, just furnishing information about the city to make sure they have accurate figures and numbers to work with,” Tremblay said, adding the lawmakers who represent Pasco are responding by saying “they just want to get this right.”
City Manager Vincent Lupo called the legislative attempt to abolish Port Richey “unconscionable.”
All three encouraged the pubic to attend tonight’s council meeting at City Hall beginning at 7:30 p.m.