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Funes blasts 'buyout' for Zephyrhills firm in shelved project

ZEPHYRHILLS — It's no secret former City Council member Manny Funes has not been a fan of a public-private project to build a spec building near the airport — an effort involving the business of a current council member.

And now that the project has been abandoned, Funes is furious the city is "buying out" the partner company for work already done.

City Manager Jim Drumm asked the council on Monday night to dissolve the city's partnership with CLS Zephyrhills Inc., which had a contract to design and construct the 50,000-square-foot building. The city wanted to have a facility that could house new businesses, but shelved the idea when the economy tanked and it appeared unlikely there would be any tenants for it.

About $94,400 was spent on a site plan, building plans and an engineer. As part of the proposal Monday night, the city would reimburse CLS for half of those costs. Both sides would walk away from the project, although the city would keep the plans in case it wanted to pursue it in the future.

As he has in the past, council member Lance Smith recused himself from the discussion. He is an owner of CLS Zephyrhills, although the contract for the spec building was approved before he was elected to the City Council.

Council member Charlie Proctor made a motion Monday evening to dissolve the partnership with CLS and split the costs. It was seconded by council vice president Kent Compton.

That's when Funes got up to speak and started grilling Proctor and Ken Burgess, the two newest council members, on their knowledge of the project and its owners. Both men conceded they don't have a long history of involvement with the project.

Then Funes blasted the council, saying the city shouldn't approve buying out CLS because the company lost the city money. Again, council members and staff said it was the economy that caused the bottom to fall out of the project, not CLS.

Council member Jodi Wilkeson said, however, that the city is getting something for its money: the building plans to use in the future.

"I think it's a bargain," she said.

At one point, Smith briefly disappeared from the council chambers and returned with a stack of papers and large rolled plans to show what the city was getting for its money.

Wilkeson kept pushing Funes to pinpoint what his concerns were about the partnership being dissolved and the buyout. Funes switched gears.

"The real concern tonight is that these two gentlemen were going to vote on this having no knowledge," Funes said, and added that the council should table the matter until Proctor and Burgess were up to speed.

Burgess, however, pointed out he didn't need to know who the company's owners were to make a decision on what was best for the city.

Compton jumped in when it appeared Funes was going to ask more questions.

"I don't think it's appropriate for the council be questioned," he said.

Smith addressed the council as a representative of CLS.

"I'm not surprised at Mr. Funes' attack on me, but I'm disappointed," he said.

Funes had asked that the item be tabled, but since the motion and a second were already on the table, council members were required to vote. The proposal passed 4-0 to dissolve the partnership and buy out the CLS's share of the project, about $47,200.

Funes told the Times on Tuesday he's disappointed and thinks members of council should be provided with a cost accounting of what was spent for the project — something staff and Smith say is available as part of the public record.

"They should've tabled it and audited and made a decision," Funes said Tuesday. "What was the urgency?"

Funes blasts 'buyout' for Zephyrhills firm in shelved project 11/29/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 29, 2011 8:11pm]

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