Work inside Zephyrhills City Hall proceeds, but additional safety precautions have been instituted among city staffers, in response to threats posed by the coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
Most all city departments and employees have begun working in split shifts, or A-B shifts, to create more separation among each other, Zephyrhills City Manager Billy Poe explained during an April 13 virtual city council meeting.
Poe said city employees have begun a “day on, day off” schedule model — working Monday, Wednesday, and Friday one particular week, then Tuesday and Thursday the following week.
The scheduling change, which affects more than 100 city employees, is expected to continue “for the foreseeable future,” Poe said.
The change won’t really impact the city’s police and fire departments and dispatchers because they already follow a split-shift schedule, Poe said.
The city manager explained the reasoning to cut daily work crews in half, particularly for areas such as the city’s maintenance yard: “We wanted to split those crews basically in half, so that God forbid somebody comes down with it (COVID-19), they don’t infect the entire department, they only potentially affect only half the department, so that we can continue to operate.”
Meantime, most department heads are still working full shifts, Poe said, “because they’re able to be in their office and keep the separation,” though large staff meetings are being held via virtual conference call.
Some city employees have been able to work remotely, accessing desktops and answering phone calls from home. The city’s IT department is trying to issue more laptops and the necessary software for more employees to do so, Poe said.
Other safety measures have been taken, too.
Inside the confines of City Hall, staffers have relocated desks further from one another and set up glass partitions.
Each employee has been provided N95 masks, gloves and their own refillable bottle of hand sanitizer. The fire department, meanwhile, has been issued retrofit respirator masks, gowns and other personal protective equipment, some of which also has been ordered for the city’s police, utility and public works departments.
Aside from scheduling and social distancing changes, various city projects and regular day-to-day operations press forward.
Construction is ongoing at the Sarah Vande Berg Tennis & Wellbeing Center, along with road resurfacing work on Sixth Avenue and 12th Street, for instance.
Other routine maintenance projects, however, are taking “a little bit longer” because of the split shifts, Poe said.
Meanwhile, the city is receiving building constructions plans and issuing permits, and collecting in-person utility payments, though residents are encouraged to pay online or use the drobox as much as possible to limit contact.
“Zephyrhills is still open for business,” the city manager said. “Obviously, we’re trying to take all the precautions we can, to create the separation and safety of all our employees and citizens, but we’re trying to keep as much normalcy as we possibly can.”
No municipal election for Zephyrhills
Municipal elections in Pasco County have been delayed indefinitely, but in Zephyrhills a local election isn’t needed after all.
A city mayoral race was initially set between incumbent Gene Whitfield and Justin Docherty, but Docherty has since dropped out of the race after failing to properly qualify for the local election. The announcement was made during an April 13 regular city council meeting.
Whitfield has held the mayor chair since 2014, when Danny Burgess resigned to run as the area’s state representative in Tallahassee. Whitfield has owned Whitfield Funeral Home in Zephyrhills the past 25 years. He also is former director of The Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce.
The Zephyrhills mayor serves mainly an ambassador’s role, being a presence at many public events, ribbon cuttings and so on. As far as citywide matters, the mayor doesn’t run council meetings, cannot make motions and cannot vote on matters before the council, but does have the ability to veto city ordinances.
Meanwhile, Seat 2 councilman Alan Knight retains his seat after running unopposed. Knight is a retired educator who’s worked mainly in Pasco County Schools as a teacher, coach and administrator. He was first elected to the seat in 2014.
Published April 22, 2020