Jim Drumm likely saw the first cracks in his tenure as Zephyrhills city manager last July when councilmen Lance Smith and Ken Burgess both gave him low marks on their evaluations of his job performance.
Drumm had communications issues, according to the evaluations, especially when it came to city employees and the public as a whole. He wasn’t getting out to meet enough people. The city’s relationship with Pasco County was troubled, at best.
Yet Drumm wasn’t worried about his job. While he knew there was room for improvement in his own job performance, he received high marks from the three other council members. And as far as Drumm was concerned, there were nowhere near the four votes required to remove him, if that’s what Smith and Burgess were aiming for.
That all changed, however, in March, when Drumm found himself fighting for his job — the voices of two councilmen suddenly gaining the power of the majority.
Despite three legal opinions against him, Drumm maintains his position that no matter what his contract says, the city’s charter — the constitution of the local government — requires four votes to remove him.
The security of that belief encouraged Drumm to move his family to Zephyrhills in the first place, where he spent $185,000 on a home in Silver Oaks. That was despite still owning a house he bought for $135,000 at the height of the housing boom in 2005 in his former town of High Springs.
“I came here with a commitment,” Drumm told reporters after a special council meeting last week. “I wanted to do a good job, and apparently I did. The issues are not very clear, and I’m just surprised. What I’m getting is, ‘We don’t want to terminate you. We just don’t want to renew you.’”
During that same meeting, called to negotiate a severance package for Drumm, only Councilman Kenneth Compton seemed willing to stand up for the embattled city manager. And that had obviously become an unpopular position, especially after Compton watched the one other council member who agreed with him, Jodi Wilkeson, lose re-election, most likely because of her support of Drumm.
Wilkeson quietly supported Compton’s efforts last week, except this time from the audience instead of the dais.
“We are looking at numbers, and to me, the numbers should reflect what has happened over the tenure of the city manager,” Compton said. “When the city manager walked in here, he walked into a million-dollar shortfall in the budget, and within a matter of months, he turned it into a surplus.”
The city at the time was looking at layoffs to make up the budget shortfall in 2011, but instead Drumm filled the city’s contingency funds, not to the $300,000 or $500,000 it once contained, but instead to $1.5 million — and kept it there.
“This is a separation, and it’s not a happy thing,” Compton said. “Something didn’t work out, but my suggestion is the numbers be looked at.”
Alan Knight, the former high school football coach and educator who beat Wilkeson for his council seat, wasn’t focused on numbers. Instead, it was the three-year contract Drumm signed in 2011 set to expire May 18.
“Looking back at my experience, when I was a school principal and given a two-year contract, that was it,” he said. “If I didn’t get renewed, I didn’t get all these other things.”
Those things Drumm asked for included 20 weeks of severance pay, money for nearly 400 hours of “comp time” — hours worked above and beyond a standard work week without any pay — and for the city to continue paying premiums on the health insurance for an additional five months.
The council balked on the 20 weeks of severance last week, offering just 13 instead. Yet, 20 weeks is a standard for city and county managers, the maximum set by state law, said Lynn Tipton, executive director of the Florida City and County Management Association, the state’s professional organization for municipal managers like Drumm.
“It is recommended in light of the many costs a manager incurs in transition,” she said. In best-case scenarios, the hiring process for a city manager from the time an ad is placed for the job to signing the contract is four months. But that can sometimes go six months or even longer.
“However, this is greatly complicated by election cycles,” Tipton said, adding that some municipalities might just hire an interim until after the next election.
Drumm said he would likely seek unemployment insurance, but $275 a week is a far cry from $1,730 weekly. But he could have other income opportunities as well while he waits to find a new city manager job.
“Some managers are fortunate to find interim work, teaching and consulting while they await the next management position,” Tipton said. “Others take part-time work where available.”
The severance package proposed by the council last week would cost the city $54,000, but only a portion of that would actually represent cash in Drumm’s pocket. The rest are taxes and other costs the city would have to pay to part ways with him.
Drumm was expected to step down from his position April 25 if he agreed to the lower separation terms offered by the city. He resigned on Friday, after reportedly agreeing to the severance package.
The council approved the revised severance package 4-1, with Compton voting no. Just before the vote, Drumm did suggest that the lower payout may not be enough of an incentive for him to sign any agreement not to sue the city over the debacle, but the council voted their package in anyway.
Published April 30, 2014