Port Richey cancels council meeting last-minute

Port Richey City Manager Vincent Lupo speaks to members of the media after Tuesday's regular meeting was cancelled.

PORT RICHEY – The plan was to fill at least one of two vacant City Council seats Tuesday night but Port Richey will have to try again at a later date.

Council member Richard Bloom called City Manager Vincent Lupo at 7:11 p.m., 19 minutes prior to the meeting’s scheduled start time, and said he was unable to attend because of food poisoning.

Bloom’s inability to attend left the five-member City Council with just two members present: William Dittmer and Jennie Sorrell. Without a quorum, council is unable to call a meeting and conduct city business.

Lupo delivered the news to a disappointed standing-room-only crowd from council chambers before speaking to a sizable contingent of media members in attendance.

The City Council has been reduced to members after former Mayor Dale Massad and former Councilman Terrence Rowe, who as vice mayor served briefly as acting mayor between Massad's arrest and his own arrest, was the acting mayor. Massad and Rowe were suspended from office by Gov. Ron DeSantis following their arrests.

The highlight of the abortive March 26 council meeting was to be the appointment of a city resident as a city council member. The meeting was called when the City Council had a lone vacancy resulting from Massad's arrest on charges of practicing medicine without a license and attempted murder.

The latter charge was the result of Massad firing two shots down the second-floor hallway of his house in response to the sound of the Pasco SWAT team attempting to force entrance into his residence. In a interview following his arrest, Massad said he fired the two shots from the handgun he kept in his bedroom thinking Port Richey police officers were trying to break into his house, according to Pasco sheriff's detectives.

The charge of practicing medicine without a license was the result of an investigation of Massad by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. 

In a recorded telephone conversation from the Pasco County Detention Center between Massad and Rowe, Massad said a Port Richey police officer had aided the state's investigation of allegations of illegal medical practice by Massad, a former physician who is no longer licensed.

Rowe, according to an account of the phone conversation in a Sheriff's Office arrest affidavit, responded to Massad's complaint about the Port Richey officer's supposed involvement in the FDLE investigation by declaring, "I'm on it." 

To that, according to the arrest affidavit, Massad told Rowe: "OK. So, anything you can do is good."

Rowe was arrested March 13 on charges of obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice and the unlawful use of a two-way communications device. Following Rowe's arrest, conspiracy to obstruct justice and the unlawful use of a two-way communications device were added to the charges against Massad.

Qualifications listed on the March 26 meeting’s agenda included candidates being registered voters in Pasco County and residing within city limits for 12 months immediately preceding qualifying. Candidates deprived of voting rights “through conviction for committing a crime involving a felony or moral turpitude” are not qualified to hold office.

Interested residents had to be present at a meeting to qualify and will be able to address city council members for three minutes.

Updates to this story to come.