PORT RICHEY, Florida - When told by 10News that an upcoming investigation would expose concerning problems in the city's police department and city hall, Port Richey Councilman Terrence Rowe suggested - without specifics of the investigation - it was "fake news."
Rowe was responding to a 10Investigates request to brief him on recently-discovered problems at the Port Richey Police Department, prior to their publishing. But Rowe was not the only councilmember to - sight unseen - try to discredit the investigation into missing discipline and internal affairs documents.
Councilwoman Jennie Sorrell also sent an email to 10Investigates suggested the report was "sensationalism" prior to seeing it. And after reading Monday's report, she sent an even longer email questioning 10Investigates' credibility.
"The present news atmosphere has lost some of its reputation because journalism is more about sensationalism and meeting a press dead line before the rest of your profession does," Sorrell wrote in response to 10Investigates' offer to brief her on its findings prior to release. "I am sure journalism is a highly competitive field and the story must be something that grabs both the editor and the public. Truth in reporting no longer appears to be a priority in todays journalism."
City Manager Vince Lupo also told a reporter over the phone that there was "a great deal of misinformation" in the investigation, but did not provide specifics.
Meanwhile, there are new calls for the FBI or Florida Department of Law Enforcement to conduct an outside investigation into the police department's handling of important records and the lack of accountability when they went missing.
"It smacks to me of a cover-up," said Jim Diamond, Director of Operations for the West Central Florida Police Benevolent Association, which represents Port Richey police officers. "FDLE or the FBI needs to come in and do a complete audit and an investigation because apparently, that department is not competent enough to investigate their own."
Diamond's call for an outside investigation echoes that of former Port Richey Police Chief Rob Lovering, who told 10Investigates, "Either (the current administration) was involved or they have knowledge of what happened with these records.”
When Chief DeCanio saw the 10Investigates camera at Port Richey city hall Tuesday, he simply said, "no comment."
Port Richey Mayor Dale Massad, who hired DeCanio, has not returned numerous calls and emails requesting comment. A man who answered Massad's door Tuesday morning said he was not available for comment.
Lupo said he didn't have time for a quick interview - at any point - with 10Investigates Tuesday, but he found time to comment on a Port Richey-related Facebook post.
City councilwoman Nancy Britton, who was the lone dissenting vote on DeCanio's hiring last year, said Tuesday she had great concern after seeing 10Investigates' story and would bring the issue up at next week's city council meeting.
Diamond, the officers' union rep, said it's up to city leaders to do the right thing and request an outside investigation. He also defended the whistleblowers who came forward to 10Investigates with the initial tips, as Sorrell and Lupo try to discredit their motives.
"That tells me you have (people) with high ethical and moral standards that (noticed) something was being done improperly and they wanted to reach out in the only manner they could. Because apparently, they don’t have any trust in the leadership in the police department or the leadership of the city."