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Zephyrhills council votes to end officials' feud

ZEPHYRHILLS — City Council member Manny Funes fired off a memo last week leveling charges of official misconduct against city manager Steve Spina.

But on Monday evening, the council voted down Funes' request for a formal investigation. In a second 4-1 vote, the council told Funes to "cease and desist" his pursuit of the matter.

Funes cast the lone dissenting vote.

"Is it in the best interest of the city to continue to beat this dead horse?" asked council president Lance Smith.

Funes' memo centers on Spina's investigation — and later dismissal — of an anonymous complaint against Zephyrhills Police Capt. Jeffrey McDougal. That complaint alleged that McDougal had failed to disclose on his job application that he had been involved in a case investigated by the Pasco County Sheriff's Office back in 1992, when a notary improperly notarized documents for McDougal.

In his memo to the council, Funes wrote that Spina broke the law by going against the advice of the city's attorney and handling the McDougal complaint himself, instead of allowing the police department to conduct its own investigation.

Funes suggested the city ask either the Sheriff's Office or the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to review Spina's actions.

But at Monday's meeting, city attorney Joseph Poblick addressed the legality of Spina handling the complaint against McDougal. He cited the Policeman's Bill of Rights, which in part allows an officer who is charged with a crime or under investigation to be handled by another officer rather than a civilian. But McDougal "clearly waived his rights" when he contacted Spina by e-mail and verbally discussed the complaint, Poblick said during the meeting.

The votes Monday evening capped off months of controversy at City Hall.

Last year, Funes proposed hiring trapper Tim Wilcox to provide animal control services for the city, instead of using the county's services. But Funes became so involved in pushing Wilcox's proposal that Poblick asked him to recuse himself from the January vote, in which the council opted to stay with Pasco Animal Services.

Two months later, the anonymous complaint against McDougal arrived at City Hall. McDougal had served on a committee that recommended against hiring Wilcox.

Funes, a former police officer and FDLE special agent, maintains that he was not involved with the anonymous complaint against McDougal.

In the meantime, McDougal submitted his own grievance letter to the council on Monday, saying that the entire ordeal is causing him stress, distracting him from his duties and ruining his reputation. McDougal asked that the council make a request that Funes cease and desist his "improper investigation" of him, according to the grievance.

According to Funes' memo, Spina threatened to report Funes to the Florida Commission on Ethics for his involvement in the animal control bid.

The memo alleges that Spina called Funes "a liar" whom he didn't trust.

Council member Jodi Wilkeson described both Spina and Funes as "men of honor." But Smith said the appearance of discord was hurting the city.

"If we want to continue to maintain good employees in the city, we need to quit this kind of thing," Smith said, as the crowd erupted into applause.

After the council meeting, Funes said he wasn't surprised by the decisions made that night. He said he's toying with the idea of talking to an outside attorney about the matter, although he did not elaborate on what kind of legal action he might take.

And as for the council's decision to silence Funes and others at council meetings from further discussing the controversy, Funes told a group of reporters after the meeting: "I've got rights. If somebody asks me a question, I'm going to answer it."

Ebony Windom can be reached at ebonywindom@yahoo.com.

Zephyrhills council votes to end officials' feud 05/11/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 11, 2010 8:31pm]
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