Saturday, November 18, 2017
News Roundup

Steve Van Gorden resigns as Zephyrhills mayor

RECOMMENDED READING


ZEPHYRHILLS — Rethinking the fight it would take to keep his largely ceremonial post, Steve Van Gorden resigned Friday as mayor of Zephyrhills.

"Hard-working, taxpaying citizens deserve to have their money put to work on services and in leaders that focus on the improvement of their quality of life," wrote Van Gorden, who could not be reached for comment. "I do not believe it to be in anyone's interest to further debate or distract or divert resources from that single priority."

With Van Gorden's resignation taking effect immediately, the city charter puts the council president, Kenneth Compton, in the mayor's seat until a special election can be held, said City Manager Jim Drumm. That election has to be held within 60 days, so waiting until the regularly scheduled election in April is not an option. Whoever is elected will fill the remainder of Van Gorden's two-year term, which ends in April 2014.

Van Gorden, 37, quit his job as principal of Zephyrhills High School last month in the wake of sexual harassment allegations involving several women at the school. Van Gorden was accused of making unwelcome advances to female co-workers, frequently commenting about a young teacher's breasts and asking one colleague if she would apply "creams or salves" to arouse him. One teacher said she suffered retaliation, becoming a floating teacher with no classroom, when she declined Van Gorden's overtures.

When the school district's report came out, Van Gorden said he didn't agree with all of the details, but that he wouldn't "split hairs" over the accusations.

"The bottom line is, I screwed up," he told the Times last month.

He also resigned as president of the Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce and the Zephyrhills Noon Rotary Club, citing a new job that will require travel and an unreliable schedule.

But as supporters came to Zephyrhills City Council meetings in his defense, Van Gorden said last month he would fight to stay as mayor, a post that pays $4,800 a year. City Council members, who received numerous calls from other residents who didn't want Van Gorden representing the city, voted 4-1 on Nov. 26 to start impeachment proceedings against him.

Council member Jodi Wilkeson voted against the impeachment, saying she believed such a proceeding was too severe. She suggested that residents who wanted Van Gorden out could initiate a recall election.

Council member Lance Smith, who seconded council member Charles Proctor's motion to start impeachment proceedings, said Friday he was glad Van Gorden decided to resign.

"It's the right thing for him to do," said Smith, who added that he likes Van Gorden and wishes him well.

"It puts this behind him and now he can move on."

City Attorney Joseph Poblick warned the council that pursuing an impeachment would be a messy proposition. It would involve a quasi-judicial hearing in which the council would serve as judge and jury; an outside attorney would be hired to act as a prosecutor, making the case for impeachment; and the mayor would be defended by his own lawyer.

Witnesses, presumably the women interviewed by a school district investigator for its report, would be called to testify and be subject to cross examination. Poblick, who has spent numerous hours researching the legal questions stemming from the scandal, said Friday he believed the city had subpoena power to summon those witnesses.

The investigation into Van Gorden started with a sexual harassment complaint filed in September by a female employee of the Pasco County school district. The district put Van Gorden on paid administrative leave during the investigation, and then he resigned as principal the week before the report became public.

At the time, Van Gorden acknowledged behaving improperly and unprofessionally and said he was taking sensitivity training and going to counseling to deal with the behavior. Later, when the council voted to start impeachment proceedings, Van Gorden said he wished he hadn't resigned from his principal post so quickly.

None of the comments he made in response to the allegations were included in the school district's report, he said.

He wanted the chance to defend himself, Van Gorden said. Council members said they saw the hearing as a chance for Van Gorden to do so.

In his resignation letter, Van Gorden expresses his love for the city and how privileged he feels for the opportunity to serve.

"So this decision has been most difficult," he wrote. "But when the consequences of any given action, decision or circumstance present a potentially far more negative impact than any benefit, it may simply be time to move on."

Comments

Possible wrong-way crash on Courtney Campbell Causeway late Friday

TAMPA — A multi-vehicle crash on the Courtney Campbell Causeway late Friday may have been caused by a driver traveling in the wrong direction, Tampa police said.The crash occurred in the eastbound lanes closer to the Tampa side of the causeway, near ...
Updated: 4 hours ago

Region football: Clearwater Central Catholic 37, Calvary Christian 10

CLEARWATER — The ice bath ensued for Clearwater Central Catholic coach Chris Harvey after the Marauders’ 37-10 victory over Calvary Christian in Friday’s Class 3A region final. The win placed the Marauders (11-0) in their fifth state tournament since...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Tampa police investigate drive-by shooting in Seminole Heights

Tampa police investigate drive-by shooting in Seminole Heights

TAMPA — Police took one person into custody late Friday after a drive-by shooting ended in Seminole Heights.The incident, which unfolded about 11 p.m., did not appear to be related to the spate of other recent shootings in Seminole Heights that have ...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Region football: Plant 22, Viera 18

Region football: Plant 22, Viera 18

MELBOURNE — With 1 yard separating Plant from an incredible come-from-behind victory, or a devastating defeat, it all came down to a matter of trust.And for Panthers coach Robert Weiner, there was no one he would put more faith in to get that 1 yard ...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Region football: Armwood 22, Hillsborough 0

Region football: Armwood 22, Hillsborough 0

SEFFNER — Hillsborough conquered one nemesis with last week’s win over Class 6A defending state finalist Lake Gibson, the team that knocked the Terriers out of the playoffs in the first round a year ago.But there was an even bigger stumbling block to...
Updated: 4 hours ago

Region football: Ocala Vanguard 35, Mitchell 31

NEW PORT RICHEY — The start wasn’t quite befitting of a playoff game between undefeated teams, but the end of Friday’s war between Ocala Vanguard and Mitchell certainly was.Like last year’s Class 6A regional semifinal, the Mustangs held a three-point...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Region football: Green Cove Springs Clay 52, Zephyrhills 49

Region football: Green Cove Springs Clay 52, Zephyrhills 49

ZEPHYRHILLS — For Zephyrhills, Friday night’s Class 5A region semifinal against Green Cove Springs Clay was doomed by 12 bad minutes. The Bulldogs led by four points at halftime but allowed 28 unanswered points in the third quarter and were not able ...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Region football: Lakewood 20, Jesuit 7

Region football: Lakewood 20, Jesuit 7

ST. PETERSBURG — Lakewood came into Friday’s playoff game knowing its defense had to help control field position against Jesuit. The Spartans (9-1) left Friday’s game with a ticket to Immokalee for a region final — and six Tigers (6-5) turnovers en r...
Updated: 5 hours ago

Region football: Tampa Bay Tech 42, Palmetto 26

TAMPA — Another Friday night, another offensive explosion.Tampa Bay Tech’s offense continued its torrid pace and quarterback Michael Penix Jr. accounted for five total touchdowns as the Titans rolled past Palmetto 42-26 in a Class 7A, Region 3 semifi...
Updated: 5 hours ago

Region football: Cambridge Christian 50, Indian Rocks Christian 14

TAMPA — The Cambridge Christian offense was clicking, and quarterback Jaylin Jackson couldn’t seem to be stopped. Still, as the second quarter clock dwindled, Indian Rocks Christian was hanging around.So with just more than a minute left in the half,...
Updated: 5 hours ago