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PR manager gets unpaid suspension after DUI charge

Published:   |   Updated: September 5, 2013 at 10:33 AM

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PORT RICHEY — Instead of accepting his offer to retire, the Port Richey City Council voted Wednesday to place City Manager Tom O’Neill on a month’s unpaid leave and make him undergo counseling following his recent DUI charge.

The suspension begins Nov. 4. O’Neill said he will soon enroll in private substance abuse counseling.

“Just for your information,” O’Neill told the council after accepting the suspension, “I have already pursued my health insurance information and beginning next week, I have an appointment late on Monday.”

He declined further comment after the meeting.

The special meeting was called after the Pasco-Pinellas State Attorney’s Office charged O’Neill on Aug. 29 with DUI. The charge was the result of a incident just before midnight on July 13 in which O’Neill was found in New Port Richey unresponsive behind the wheel of his SUV with the engine running.

Instead of being arrested, O’Neill was taken to Morton Plant North Bay Hospital, in New Port Richey, for medical treatment and the incident was classified as a “welfare check.” Port Richey Police Chief Dave Brown, who is O’Neill’s employee and also describes himself as a close friend, followed the ambulance to the hospital and later gave O’Neill a ride home.

Pasco-Pinellas State Attorney Bernie McCabe subpoenaed O’Neill’s medical records from that night; blood tests taken at the hospital showed O’Neill had a blood alcohol level of 0.367. A driver is considered impaired at 0.08, according to Florida law.

The DUI charge came 47 days later.

“This is a tough decision for the city,” Port Richey Mayor Eloise Taylor said. “It’s a very agonizing period for us to go through because we have been so full of pride at how we’ve progressed as a city and to move forward from past periods of issues of disruption and controversy.”

Before the meeting, O’Neill placed a memorandum at the desk of each council member, submitting his retirement. The note served as a 45-day notice, as stipulated in his contract. The council, however, rejected that offer.

Terrance Rowe was the only council member to vote against the 30-day suspension and requirement for counseling, saying O’Neill was getting special treatment. “We have to set a precedent that lets our staff, our workers and the citizens of the city know that we do the same thing to city managers — if they did something wrong — as we do to other staffers.”

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