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Nature, public officials dominate 2008 in Zephyrhills

Former Zephyrhills resident Kent Viles, left, talks to William F. Joiner of the Public Works Department outside the flooded Fire Station No. 2 in January.

MIKE PEASE | Times

Former Zephyrhills resident Kent Viles, left, talks to William F. Joiner of the Public Works Department outside the flooded Fire Station No. 2 in January.

ZEPHYRHILLS — The year got off to a soggy start in Zephyrhills.

In January, heavy rains passed through Pasco County, dumping enough water to flood Zephyrhills' streets, yards and buildings, including City Hall and nearby Fire Station 2, which was left uninhabitable.

Fire officials didn't have enough warning to protect the building with sandbags, their usual storm protocol.

Since the storm, city firefighters have worked out of temporary facilities in the Zephyrhills World War II Barracks Museum. There is also another station on Dairy Road.

The city is considering a $716,251 plan to rehabilitate the 1960s-era building.

If eventually approved, the renovations would be funded with local option sales tax money and the fire rescue portion of the public safety impact fee revenue account.

In the April municipal elections, city voters had to make only one decision.

No one stepped up to run against Mayor Cliff McDuffie or council member Luis Lopez.

Faye "Jodi" Wilkeson captured 50 percent of the vote in the four-way race for the City Council seat held by outgoing member Celia Graham.

Wilkeson edged out Bob White — not the sheriff, but the retired owner of Bob White Painting, who captured a quarter of the vote — while newcomers Sean Fernandez and Michael Payne received 13 and nearly 12 percent, respectively.

She is one of only nine women in the city's history to fill a council seat.

In July, Daniel Burgess Jr., the youngest member ever elected to the Zephyrhills council, announced he would leave the council early to attend Barry School of Law in Orlando.

Voters elected Manny Funes, a longtime law officer, former teacher and a real estate agent, to take Burgess' place.

August brought big changes to the Zephyrhills Police Department.

Chief Russell Barnes left after accusations he created a "flex time" policy that allowed employees to receive time off instead of overtime pay for extra hours worked. The policy violated city ordinances and, possibly, the Fair Labor Standards Act.

According to an internal affairs investigation, Barnes falsified records and manufactured a so-called flex time sheet after Sgt. Rob Perrault was accused of collecting city pay at the same time he was off duty and teaching classes at Pasco-Hernando Community College. Amid the investigation, Perrault resigned to accept a position as a public school teacher.

In October, the Zephyrhills City Council unanimously approved City Manager Steve Spina's recommendation that Capt. David Shears, a 16-year veteran of the Zephyrhills Police Department who served as interim chief, take on the position permanently.

The year wrapped up nicely with the announcement that Zephyrhills From A to Z, a city history book started in 1999, was finally complete.

Helen Anne Travis can be reached at htravis@sptimes.com or (813) 435-7312.

Nature, public officials dominate 2008 in Zephyrhills 12/28/08 [Last modified: Sunday, December 28, 2008 9:10pm]
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