Update: Published reports state that Verne Riggall resigned as the Zephyrhills fire chief on Friday, leaving the city council with the job of appointing an interim chief Monday night.
Zephyrhills Fire Chief Verne Riggall followed his former city manager, Jim Drumm, from High Springs. But he might soon be following him out as well.
Steve Spina, who replaced Drumm on an interim basis as Zephyrhills city manager, wants the city council to remove Riggall from his job as the city’s top firefighter. And that decision could come as early as the council’s meeting Monday night.
“There is a clear lack of coordination and communication in Zephyrhills Fire Rescue, and a lack of support and respect for the chief from the personnel I interviewed,” Spina said in a memo to the council. “This chief is not bringing people together in a way that is critical in ensuring the proper response of emergency personnel, and the provision of timely and adequately equipped rescue vehicles. There is a clear sense of dysfunction and morale issues that impacts the day-to-day operations, and I believe hampers the ability to provide top notch fire rescue services.”
Riggall was named the city’s fire chief in 2012, a year after resigning from a similar job in High Springs after finding his position was being eliminated from the city budget. Drumm had already left his job there as city manager, and moved to Zephyrhills. Riggall followed soon after, first stepping in as an interim, and six months later, offered the job permanently.
That vote in April 2013 had everyone patting each other on the back, according to published reports. A group of firefighters had even attended the council meeting, cheering Riggall on. Then council president Kent Compton said Riggall’s credentials were “decades in the making.”
But a lot has changed in a year. Drumm resigned this past April after learning he would not have enough votes on the council to renew his contract. And before he left, Drumm was starting an investigation of Riggall, who some said had lost the confidence of his firefighters.
Many of those issues were spelled out in Spina’s memo. One of the biggest concerns was how Riggall was staffing fire engines and emergency response vehicles. Some of the staffing records showed that there were not enough personnel on hand to safely respond to necessary calls, and even they didn’t have all the appropriate equipment they would need.
If a problem had arose, Riggall said a backup unit or one from Pasco County could help, but relying on such help was problematic, Spina said.
Another issue involved the hours Riggall worked. His shift would sometimes include late nights and weekends — something he reportedly said was to better accommodate his wife’s schedule.
“Department heads should be available during the day to respond to city council, the public, staff and the city manager and other department heads,” Spina wrote. “Most people will not try to contact the chief at 9 p.m., or on weekends.”
Spina said when he asked Riggall how he would correct these issues, he was told that Riggall would “try to improve communications.”
In a second memo to the council ahead of Monday’s meeting, Spina outlined his investigation, which also included interviews with fire union representative Michael Richards, Lt. Kerry Barnett and City Clerk Linda Boan, along with “several other” fire department employees.
Riggall was placed on paid leave June 2.
Spina is asking the city council to fire Riggall, which only requires three of the five council members to agree. If that does happen, Spina has also recommended an interim fire chief: Daniel Spillman.
Spillman, according to Spina, joined the city’s fire department last September after spending more than a year as fire chief with Escambia County. He received his bachelor’s degree from Florida International University and a master’s degree from City University in Bellevue, Washington, according to his resume.
Monday’s meeting begins at 6 p.m. at Zephyrhills City Hall, 5335 Eighth St.