PORT RICHEY — City Council was never able to move forward with filling a vacancy with a volunteer resident, but council is guaranteed to experience a shift June 18.
That’s the date of the city’s special election, which will select a mayor from among a five-candidate field to replace ousted former Mayor Dale Massad.
For residents eager to get the ballot process completed, early voting that opened on June 8 remains available until June 15. Early voting can be accomplished at Port Richey City Hall or the Central Pasco Government Center, 4111 Land O’ Lakes Blvd.
Mail-in ballots were already being accepted prior to early voting on June 8 and as of the end of the day on June 6, the Pasco County Supervisor of Elections office received 9,368 ballots. Of those, 201 came from Precinct 23, Port Richey’s sector.
Port Richey is down to just three active City Council members after the arrests of Massad and former Councilman Terrance Rowe. Councilman William Dittmer became acting mayor after Rowe’s arrest and will relinquish that position after the June 18 election but remain on council.
Massad was arrested on charges of practicing medicine without a license and attempted murder in February. He stands accused of firing shots at Pasco SWAT team members who were trying to assist the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which had been investigating Massad for allegedly practicing medicine without a license, serve a search warrant on Massad, a physician who lost his license in 1992.
During a news conference following Massad’s arrest, Sheriff Chris Nocco said the FDLE asked for assistance from the SWAT team because the mayor was a known drug user who had firearms in his house.
In mid-March, Rowe, who became acting mayor after Massad’s arrest, was charged by the FDLE with obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice. During the call, which was monitored by the Pasco Sheriff’s Office, Massad and
Rowe discussed ways to interfere with the investigation of Massad, according to the FDLE.
Massad was charged with conspiring to obstruct justice in connection with the phone conversation with Rowe.
No matter who wins the June 18 mayoral election, City Council will remain a three-person board for a few more months. It could also look exactly the same as it does right now. That’s because Councilman Richard Bloom decided to resign his current seat and run for mayor.
If Bloom defeats his four other opponents, the council will still consist of him, Dittmer and Councilwoman Jennie Sorrell. If Bloom does win the mayor’s seat, Dittmer and Sorrell will be joined by either Bill Colombo, Todd Maklary, Gregory Smithwick or Scott Tremblay.
Council will likely remain a triumvirate until another special election set for Sept. 10. That vote will fill the seat vacated by Bloom and get Council up to four.
Getting back up to a full, five-member board is going to be a process. While Gov. Ron DeSantis signed executive orders to suspend Massad and Rowe from their duties as mayor and acting mayor, respectively, only Massad has resigned from council.
A petition effort to have Rowe recalled began in April. Petitioners succeeded in collecting verified signatures from 10 percent of the city’s registered voting roll and now must submit signatures from 15 percent of registered voters to election officials by July 19.
Rowe submitted a statement of defense following the first round of signatures:
“These petitions claim that I wrongfully exercised my lawful authority, and as an official, committed misconduct via the misuse of confidential information. The statements in this petition have not been proven in a court of law; they are accusations and therefore have no merit.”
Port Richey residents interested in early voting must arrive with a photo and signature ID. Voters who need to update their voter registration address are encouraged to call the elections’ office prior to voting at 800-851-8754.