The Pasco Metropolitan Planning Organization’s board delivered the City of Port Richey a clear message earlier this month: Start showing up consistently or get booted from the board.
Complaints about the city’s absence at MPO meetings have been growing louder, and last month, the board asked the organization’s new executive director, Carl Mikyska, to find out if the board had the latitude to change its composition.
The Pasco MPO — which is the lead transportation planning agency for the Pasco region — is made up of the Pasco County Commission and representatives from the cities of Zephyrhills, Dade City, New Port Richey and Port Richey.
Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore said he’s been voicing his concerns for years about Port Richey’s lack of attendance at the meetings. If the city isn’t going to be there, Moore has said, the seat should be filled by someone who will.
Port Richey Mayor Scott Tremblay showed up at the MPO board’s June 10 meeting to address the issue.
Pasco MPO board chairman Lance Smith welcomed him, warmly.
“I’m happy that you’re here today. We want the input of Port Richey. I feel like it’s very much needed. I think we’re all in this together,” said Smith, who represents the City of Zephyrhills.
Tremblay said he’s not sure the MPO board’s absenteeism records are accurate regarding Port Richey’s attendance. He said there have been occasions during remote meetings when the city’s vice mayor was virtually present, but wasn’t able to be recognized because his microphone was muted.
Tremblay also said he would appreciate receiving the agenda materials at least 15 days in advance of an MPO meeting, so the entire Port Richey council could have the opportunity to weigh in on issues.
He said he feels uncomfortable voting on substantive issues as just one representative of Port Richey’s five-member council. He also noted that’s not an issue for the Pasco County Commission, because the entire county board sits on the MPO board.
Tremblay also mentioned concerns that voting solo on issues involving the entire city might constitute a violation of the Port Richey city charter.
Pasco County Commissioner Jack Mariano then said: “Let me ask the city of New Port Richey, Zephyrhills and Dade City: How is your charter set up where you can actually sit here and make a decision that you think is best for your city? Do they empower you to do that, is something in your charter different than Port Richey, do you know?”
Chairman Smith responded: “I don’t even know that our charter, our particular charter, considers that. At every reorganization, we delegate responsibilities, as a body, to certain individuals to sit on different boards.”
Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey told Mariano: “Jack, every board that we sit on, I sit on TBARTA (Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority), Tampa Bay Water — I am the authorized person from my board to make that decision for the board.”
Moore said that’s the way it works all over the county. “It’s nothing new. It’s nothing out of the ordinary.”
David Goldstein, Pasco’s chief assistant county attorney, agreed: “It’s done through delegated authority.”
Moore also told Tremblay that he doesn’t support the mayor’s request to get MPO agenda materials two weeks early.
“For us to make special exceptions because this is the way you want to do it, I’m sorry, that’s not how it’s going to work,” Moore said.
Goldstein also told Tremblay that he wouldn’t be at liberty to pick and choose which items he would vote on. “If you attend this meeting, you do have to vote,” Goldstein said, unless there’s a conflict of interest.
The attorney also noted that any item requiring a financial commitment from Port Richey would have to be taken back to that respective city council to authorize the expenditure.
Board chairman Smith and Dade City Mayor Camille Hernandez voiced support for Port Richey’s participation.
Hernandez put it like this: “I do understand the importance and significance of the small cities being part of this board and understanding all of the transportation needs. It is important to have them on here.”
Smith told Tremblay that decisions have been made in Port Richey’s absence that have affected the city.
“So, you need to be here, to have input on it,” Smith said.
He told Tremblay: “I am looking forward to your continued attendance.”
Port Richey mayor offers assurances
The Port Richey mayor assured the MPO board: “We do want to make it clear that we do have an interest in this board. We have an interest in working not only with the county, but with the cities, especially our sister city, New Port Richey, which is right next to us. We do have some overlapping projects.”
Moore, however, expressed skepticism.
“My only fear, and I’m being honest here … is that we end up having this same discussion six months down the road, or a year down the road. People show up for a while and then they don’t show up for months.”
Pasco County Commissioner Christina Fitzpatrick also weighed in: “I feel it’s important for all of our municipalities to have a voice on this board, but I do also think that attendance is extremely important.
“Attendance needs to be accounted for.”
Goldstein offered this suggestion: “The MPO board has to go through reapportionment next year, after the decennial census, anyway.
“What I recommend you do is direct staff to start keeping track of attendance between now and the time that you reapportion.
“If you find that it’s (Port Richey’s attendance) a continual problem, when you reapportion next year, you can then look at eliminating that seat, or multiple seats, if you want to,” Goldstein said.
The MPO board members reached a consensus to proceed with that approach.
Published June 23, 2021