If Jim Drumm believes some of the rumors he’s heard, then former Zephyrhills city manager Steve Spina might become the Jay Leno of local government.
The late-night comedian stepped aside from “The Tonight Show” in 2009, but returned to the job a short time later after replacement host Conan O’Brien fell out of favor.
The same might be happening in Zephyrhills, Drumm told the city council last week. Hearing reports that Spina might be looking to return to city management after some time teaching, Drumm said some council members might be hoping they can get Spina to take his old job back.
In fact, it’s one of the few things Drumm says makes sense on why the council would suddenly be talking about letting him go as city manager after three years.
“I have great respect for Dr. Spina,” Drumm said in a prepared letter to the council March 24. “I have not had his long tenure to compete with his knowledge and his many contacts. If it is not the intent of the city council to hire Dr. Spina, then I remain perplexed by the issues that warrant me to not continue working together to improve Zephyrhills.”
Spina, who retired as city manager in 2011, told The Laker after last week’s meeting that he wasn’t commenting on such rumors, except to say that they are not accurate.
Three city council members have expressed a desire to part ways with Drumm, and feel now is the best time since his contract runs out in May. To renew that contract would require a supermajority on the council — four votes — they say, and those votes just aren’t there.
Drumm disagrees with that interpretation of the city’s charter. His contract might have a set beginning and end date, but the charter is clear that it takes four votes to appoint a city manager, and four votes to remove him. And whether Drumm has a contract or not, without those four votes, the council can’t force him out.
“My take is that I would remain a city manager without a contract,” Drumm said, adding that there were times in Spina’s 15-year tenure where he worked without a contract, too, protected by the four-votes clause of the city charter.
Both City Attorney Joe Poblick and outside labor attorney Brian Koji agreed that Drumm has a finite contract with the city. If four council members don’t vote to renew it, then Drumm is out of a job.
Councilman Kenneth Compton, however, doesn’t have a lot of confidence in the track record of the city attorney and lawyers he may consult when it comes to labor issues. Compton, who has pushed for more discussion on Drumm’s employment situation, said the city took heavy financial losses from two recent labor disputes. He fears that forcing Drumm out could result in another legal dispute, one that could be yet another loss for Zephyrhills in front of a judge.
“The contract has a term limit, but the charter doesn’t,” Compton said, adding that the charter would supersede any contract the council writes, since the charter is essentially Zephyrhills’ constitution. “I don’t like ending this, but if we’re going to do it, I want to make sure we are as accurate as possible.”
The battle lines over Drumm have been drawn, it seems, as far as the council is concerned. Lance Smith and Ken Burgess originally recommended cutting Drumm loose, and last week, had Charles Proctor join their side. That leaves just Compton and Jodi Wilkeson in support of Drumm, or at the very least, gathering more information on making sure the city is protected legally.
Wilkeson suggested a third legal opinion be sought, something Mayor Danny Burgess was against.
“How much weight are we going to give this third opinion?” Burgess asked. “We had two attorneys that we paid for opinions who are very qualified and very good at what they do. And here we’re just going with a firm (for a third opinion) based on name recognition.”
Compton and Wilkeson picked out the Tampa firm Fowler White as one they recognized from a list of potential firms Poblick shared at the council meeting, and chose that firm for the third opinion.
Seeking that additional legal counsel does buy Drumm more time as it delayed a decision to the April 14 council meeting. However, that pushes the meeting until after the upcoming municipal election where Wilkeson is defending her seat against former high school football coach Alan Knight.
If Knight wins the election and decides against retaining Drumm, he would be the fourth vote and would likely make any legal questions moot.
Published April 2, 2014
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