ZEPHYRHILLS — As Steve Spina's long career as city manager nears an end, six finalists for the job will go before the City Council today for interviews.
The interviews are set to begin at 9 a.m. at City Hall with each candidate having about a half-hour. The two finalists will then be invited back in the next couple of weeks for a second interview before the council decides.
The finalists include five seasoned city manager professionals, including one who served in Pasco — former Port Richey City Manager Richard Reade. The lone candidate without city manager experience, Dianne Morris, has worked her entire career in local government positions, including serving for a decade as community development manager for Pasco County.
The other candidates are James F. Coleman, James D. Drumm, James P. Gleason and Edward Smyth Jr.
The city received 30 applications for the position that will pay between $70,000 and $105,000 annually. A three-person committee composed of Cliff McDuffie and two impartial outsiders, a former master municipal clerk and retired city manager, whittled down the applicants to a final seven. The seventh candidate recently took another job.
Reade, 40, served as city manager in Port Richey from 2007 until the council there voted 3-2 in December 2008 not to renew his contract. The four-hour special meeting included boos from some angry residents who said he didn't live up to expectations and those who said he was "impeccably honest" and had a "great work ethic." After the vote, Reade immediately left City Hall and never returned to work.
Reade quickly found work in Delray Beach in January 2009, serving as public information and sustainability officer. In his current position, he oversees the community's green initiatives and is responsible for citywide communications to residents and the media. Additionally, he developed a team responsible for securing grants and works closely with the city manager and assistant city managers.
He is particularly drawn to Zephyrhills for its history and future.
"It's got growth potential, but it maintains that great hometown feel," he said.
Morris, 60, of Chatham, Va., worked for Pasco County from 1988 to 2002, when she left Florida for Virginia to care for her husband's ailing parents. She worked as an accountant and budget analyst before becoming the county's first community development manager. Before then, the county used consulting firms to deal with community development issues.
Morris now works as housing and development director for the city of Danville, Va., which includes administering the city's housing program as well as grant administration reporting and community development projects. Before that, she worked as the housing development administrator from 2002 to 2004 in the city of Roanoke, Va.
She did not return calls from the St. Petersburg Times.
Coleman, 59, of Lady Lake was most recently city and airport manager of Williston in Levy County before being fired after four years of service in April 2008. Since then, he has been job hunting, continuing to take professional development courses, advancing his certifications and volunteering at his church.
"This has been my character-building period," he said of unemployment. "I've become humble and patient."
He said he admires that Zephyrhills has kept its city administration intact for so long (Spina is in his 15th year). It will make for a smooth transition, he said.
Drumm, 48, of High Springs most recently served as city manager before the council voted to fire him in September 2010, for what he cites as "philosophical differences" after the city changed forms of government.
Before that, he had his own management/planning consultant business, and served as city manager in Lake Alfred, assistant city manager in Auburndale and worked as a management analyst for Hernando County and a personnel specialist for the Southwest Florida Water Management District in Brooksville.
He said he has a lot of experience in community redevelopment and growth management, which he considers an asset for the city of Zephyrhills, and he's skilled at bringing people together.
"One of my strong points is team building and working with staff," Drumm said.
Gleason 53, of Ocoee is interim city manager in Mascotte, a small city in Lake County. He stepped into that position on Feb. 14 after the city manager was fired.
He's been working on solving the city's overwhelming debt problems.
"They didn't just get a city manager who would keep the car on the road — I dove in," he said.
Before that, he served as city manager of Chamblee, Ga., northeast of Atlanta; city-county manager adviser for the U.S. State Department in Kirkuk, Iraq; and city manager of Woodstock, Ga.
It was in Ocoee where he took his first city manager job and experienced his first firing after less than three years on the job.
He said the reasons leading to his ouster were political and started about the time he covered with a personal check the cost of a $600 unauthorized credit card charge made by a commission member. He didn't want to make waves with the commissioner and had planned to simply take away his credit card, but the issue came to light.
"I knew it wasn't right, but I wasn't breaking the law," he said of the incident.
Smyth, 62, most recently worked as city manager of the city of Hawthorne for about a year before being fired in December when commissioners said he made an error with the budget and couldn't balance it. Smyth said he and commissioners had a misunderstanding and they canceled his three-year contract.
He previously served as deputy city manager of Leesburg and county administrator in Mathews County, Va.
He sees a thriving future for Zephyrhills.
"They have a good plan for development in their downtown. They have a good Community Redevelopment Area that seems to be working," he said. "The community itself seems willing to make things work."
Spina's last day is June 30. He is paid $94,420 annually.