Zephyrhills council, Drumm disagree on severance package

They struggled over the difference between employees who are paid by the hour, and those who work on salary. They at times seemed confused about why they were negotiating a settlement in the first place. And they even started to replace someone before he even had a chance to offer his resignation.

But one thing that seemed quite clear from Wednesday night’s special meeting of the Zephyrhills City Council is that both elected officials and embattled city manager Jim Drumm are likely miles apart from negotiating a separation agreement.

Drumm, dressed in a shirt sporting the official Zephyrhills logo, took on what he later described as an emotionally difficult task of presenting his proposal to resign from the job he’s held for the last three years. He asked for 20 weeks of severance pay at a cost of $35,000, all wages earned through his last day on the job — including nearly 400 extra hours, or “comp time” he never redeemed — reimbursement of his accrued vacation days and 20 percent of his sick days, and for the city’s continued payment of its share of his family’s health insurance premium for the next five months.

Instead, the council offered 13 weeks of severance pay, all his wages through his last day on the job, just 40 hours of comp time, his accrued vacation and 20 percent of his sick days, and the city’s commitment to pay its share of Drumm’s health insurance for the next three months. In return, they wanted Drumm’s agreement to not take the city to court over what he has suggested could be a wrongful termination, based on interpretation of the state’s contract laws and the Zephyrhills city charter.

In all, the total package would cost the city a little more than $54,000 to part ways with Drumm, only a portion of that money as cash for Drumm, but possibly not enough to get the city manager to agree.

“I’m being asked to sign a release for $6,000,” Drumm told the council, citing the difference between what the city offered and what he says his existing contract would give him if he simply resigned and walked away, while still reserving the right to sue the city in the future.

Although Drumm said he would need time to review the city’s offer before he could resign, new council president Charlie Proctor jumped into a discussion about who would replace Drumm as an interim city manager. However, Proctor was stopped cold after City Clerk Linda Boan shouted out that Drumm hadn’t even resigned yet.

One of the major sticking points of Drumm’s proposal was his request to be paid for all his accrued comp time. Salaried employees are not paid by the hour, and thus do not accrue overtime. However, they are still compensated for their extra hours, typically with time off that wouldn’t cost them vacation or sick time.

Under the city’s policy, however, hourly employees can accrue comp time up to just 40 hours. After that, they have to be paid for extra hours worked, typically at a wage 50 percent higher than normal. That way, said city finance director Stacie Poppell, if the employee does leave his or her job, the city is not stuck with a large comp bill to reimburse all at one time.

Drumm should be held to the same standard, newly elected councilman Alan Knight said, despite the city manager’s protest he was not an hourly employee, and had not been compensated for any extra time.

“I know that we are all struggling with this, but my initial feelings are there should be no comp time,” Knight said, adding that if the city just allowed the contract to expire next month, there wouldn’t even be a severance package outside of unused vacation time.

Knight also questioned why Drumm chose 20 weeks of extra reimbursement instead of the 13 called for in his contract. The city manager cited his belief when he signed the contract in 2011 that while 20 weeks was the standard for people in his position, he agreed to the lower amount because he believed it would take four votes to remove him from his job.

Once it appeared only two votes could remove him, Drumm said he deserved the extra weeks when what he was led to believe was true was indeed not true.

Councilman Lance Smith suggested Drumm didn’t need the extra weeks of severance pay, especially since he was paid well.

“I understand that (city manager jobs) are hard jobs to find,” Smith said. “But last year, you made over $90,000. And that is a good wage.”

Drumm, however, said it takes municipalities months to go through the process of hiring a city manager, and even if he started that process immediately after leaving Zephyrhills with some other city, his severance would run out long before he could be hired.

“I don’t just go to another job,” Drumm said. “I have to pick up my entire household and move to another community.  I’m not in any position to change my whole career.”

Drumm could have the option of collecting unemployment, but even then, he would struggle to pay bills as his income would drop from a gross of $1,730 a week to about $270.

The council wants Drumm to resign by Friday, but that would depend on both sides agreeing to a severance package. Drumm was non-committal to what the city offered Wednesday night, but said he would have it reviewed by an attorney right away.

The final vote on the severance package was 4-1, with Councilman Kenneth Compton voting against.

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