ZEPHYRHILLS — Rather than rebut charges of ineffective leadership and safety violations, the city's suspended fire chief resigned before the City Council members could consider a recommendation to fire him Monday.
"I think it is fair to say that the baseless attacks of a vocal and aggressive minority of members of the department have made it impossible for me to continue to do my job," Verne Riggall wrote in his resignation letter. "I cannot do my job when their primary focus is on attacking me personally and misrepresenting my actions and mission."
Council members did not comment on Riggall's letter or on the results of an investigation interim City Manager Steve Spina began shortly after being hired last month. The council did approve Spina's recommendation to appoint assistant fire chief Dan Spillman as the interim chief.
Spina informed the council last week that he would seek approval at Monday's meeting to fire Riggall, based on his findings that the former chief violated city policies and procedures by not properly manning and equipping emergency vehicles and squads; not correcting safety violations with vehicles and equipment in a timely manner; failing to enforce his order of having fire personnel conduct weekly safety inspections of city businesses; and creating an erratic personal work schedule and not always being available during normal business hours.
Spina also said Riggall's lack of leadership and communication skills had created morale problems and a dysfunctional atmosphere in the department, which were negatively impacting daily operations.
Riggall said last week he would defend himself before the council. He attended Monday's meeting, but left before it was over without commenting. In his letter, Riggall said he believes he did his best to adhere to department policies while trying to improve and modernize it.
In other business, the council approved a $21,591 change order for the fire station refurbishing project — about $10,000 less than the requested amount. Council members expressed frustration over cost overruns with the project, but approved the order to keep the project on track while they await updated information on how far over budget the project stands.