Monday, June 25, 2018
Public safety

Zephyrhills city manager urges council to fire the fire chief

ZEPHYRHILLS — Barely a year after City Council members unanimously hired Verne Riggall as the new fire chief — a move cheered by a row of firefighters attending the April 2013 meeting — City Manager Steve Spina is asking the council to fire him.

Spina began looking into complaints about Riggall's management of the 24-member fire department shortly after being hired as interim city manager, following the council's April firing of then-City Manager Jim Drumm.

In a memorandum Monday to City Council members, Spina outlined several offenses he believes violate city policies and procedures — including improperly manning and equipping emergency vehicles and squads, failing to correct 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.

Additionally, Spina said Riggall lacks critical leadership and communication skills.

"There is a clear sense of dysfunction and morale issues that impacts the day-to-day operations and I believe hampers the ability to provide top notch fire/rescue services," Spina said.

Riggall, 60, is on paid administrative leave; his employment status will be addressed at Monday's City Council meeting. In the meantime, assistant fire chief Dan Spillman will be the interim chief, Spina said.

"It's not a done deal," said Riggall, when contacted Tuesday. "I've got plenty to say and I intend to rebut each and every point."

But he declined to elaborate Tuesday.

Spina acknowledged Riggall enjoyed the support of firefighters and others when first hired.

"My understanding was there was a honeymoon period," Spina said. "But things changed. I don't know when."

Before he was fired, former City Manager Drumm intended to have an outside source from the county's fire system investigate the complaints against Riggall. Spina said he decided to do it himself since he did not have a prior relationship with Riggall and could therefore be impartial.

Riggall was the fire chief of High Springs when Drumm was city manager of the North Florida city, before being hired by Zephyrhills in May 2011. Riggall left High Springs in September 2011 when city officials eliminated his position to save money. When former fire Chief Keith Williams resigned in September 2012, Drumm hired Riggall as interim fire chief. A selection committee of local business and fire officials recommended Riggall be hired permanently; he was brought on at an annual salary of $66,000.

Council president Charlie Proctor declined to comment on Riggall's suspension, saying he is still reviewing Spina's memorandum and other documents.

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