New Zephyrhills manager reshaping city from inside out

ZEPHYRHILLS — In his first six months on the job, City Manager Jim Drumm has worked with staff to conquer a nearly $1 million budgetary shortfall, pushed the City Council to finally move forward with the library expansion project and reorganized the council's meeting agenda so it's much more efficient. But perhaps his greatest challenge yet is to convince the majority of his new neighbors they should become taxpaying residents of the city.

In mid June, Drumm became the new city manager, moving into the modest office in City Hall that Steve Spina occupied for 15 years. Quickly, Drumm started to settle in — albeit in a hotel after hours, until he recently moved into his new home — and he began making a name for himself on the job while maintaining Spina's open-door approach.

"I am very pleased," said Mayor Cliff McDuffie.

As a requirement of his job, Drumm must live in the city. After months of searching for a house he could call home with his wife and toddler son, he found one — just outside city limits on Fountain Road, off Eiland Boulevard. Because it borders the city, he can easily annex his property alone into city limits by a petition and council vote. But Drumm has a more ambitious plan to act on his goal to start cleaning up the city's "Swiss cheese" borders. Pockets and enclaves of unincorporated properties dot the city, making it confusing when residents call for emergency responders — should Pasco EMTs or Zephyrhills paramedics respond? — or simply need to arrange for garbage service.

Drumm's idea is to annex those awkward areas into the city to lessen the confusion, in part, and offer better service. Drumm figured since he had to annex his home, why not take the neighborhood with him?

Opponents spoke loudly during an information meeting he held in early December, many worrying that moving into the city would change their county way of life. Drumm says, of course, his intent isn't to ruffle feathers, it's simply to make things better for area residents. Ultimately, if the idea gets council's approval it will go to a referendum for those affected homeowners. A majority vote would determine whether the proposed area would be annexed.

"He kind of walked into a fire," Council President Jodi Wilkeson said recently, pointing out that most residents in the area like to take things slowly, especially change. "That was a real polarizing issue."

But, she said, Drumm will come out strong no matter what happens with his neighbors. All in all, Drumm has had rave reviews. People are most impressed with the knowledge of the city he's gained in such a short time. At council meetings he confidently answers questions thrown at him. At social gatherings and events in and outside of City Hall, he call employees by name.

"I think one of the biggest accomplishments is getting to know who works for him, and that's important," McDuffie said.

The business community appears to be pleased, too. At Drumm's urging in September, the council created an Economic Development Task Force to help lure new business to the area.

"I think he's asserted some positive changes, said Vonnie Mikkelsen, executive director of the Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce, adding that she's excited about the possibilities.

Looking back on his first six months, Drumm is satisfied on the headway that's been made.

"I think they've been very productive, and I think we've worked hard to build a good team with both departments and the City Council," he said, adding that he's still working to hit his stride.

Those who hired him agree.

"For the most part, I've seen a very smooth transition. … I think he definitely has a good handle on the city," Wilkeson said. "Am I surprised? No. I think he is highly motivated."

New Zephyrhills manager reshaping city from inside out 12/30/11 [Last modified: Friday, December 30, 2011 7:11pm]

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