Thursday, April 26, 2018
Opinion

Bowen: Spina's return no joking matter at city hall

Let's get the punch lines out of the way. Steve Spina has more comebacks than Brett Favre. His new nickname is Boomerang. His swan song has more choruses than 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.

Rim shot.

The list of jokes could be lengthy. Except the interim city manager for Zephyrhills has an even longer list. Just check the office whiteboard. Spina, 60, who assumed his former position May 1 after three years of teaching at the University of South Florida, recites the tasks that have his attention:

• Figuring out what to do with the former Hercules Aquatic Center and if the abandoned swimming pool at the park can be rescued.

• Dealing with the cost overruns at the fire station refurbishing.

• Catching up on the 300 lots annexed into the city over the past few years. None have been zoned properly.

• Advancing the planned facade improvements to beautify the U.S. 301 corridor.

• Planning upgrades to the recently acquired Captain Jeffries House, which sits on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and on Fifth Avenue in the city's downtown historic district.

There is an expanded library under construction, a rebuilt and improved skate park planned at Krusen Field, and oh, yeah, work on the next city budget is behind schedule and the fire chief could be fired after an internal investigation of firefighter union complaints he wasn't following city policies.

Look at that to-do list and you realize the real joke is that Spina signed a contract for just six months. It might take a little longer.

Spina served as city manager for 15 years. He announced his planned departure in 2008 then reconsidered. He stayed three more years before trading administration for academia and putting his doctorate degree to use by teaching at USF. That first year out of City Hall, his focus was on the classroom exclusively. He left his Silver Oaks neighborhood each day, turned south and commuted to Tampa.

He eventually wandered to a Main Street Zephyrhills event and "it almost was like I never left.'' A one-time newspaper reporter, Spina also never abandoned his public watchdog role and penned a guest column for this newspaper in 2012 questioning some of the city's proposed spending and calling for greater transparency at City Hall.

By early 2014, he decided to return to government work because "I was missing some of the action.'' He told USF he wouldn't return when the semester ended and applied for a job within Pasco County, only to lose out to a guy who only lasted four days on the job.

"Glad I wasn't number two,'' Spina laughed.

By then, Spina's successor as city manager, Jim Drumm, had fallen out of favor with the council majority and negotiated a separation agreement. Council members turned to Spina who agreed to act as an interim, but nobody should be really surprised if he stays longer. He said he'll decide this summer if he'll seek the job permanently.

In the meantime, the workload is plentiful and the relationship building already is under way. He's been to the Rotary Club, the Chamber of Commerce, Main Street Zephyrhills and the Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church. He just met with representatives from the YMCA to get their assessment of the Hercules pool. He visited city departments to try to meet the 160 employees on the payroll, down from 180 in 2011. That's not the only change since his departure. There are new directors in public works, utilities, administrative services and the fire department. Voters elected a new mayor and a new council member in April, and Spina only worked for council members Charlie Proctor and Ken Burgess for a few weeks after they assumed office three years ago.

When he gets a chance to exhale, Spina has more to put on the work board. He wants to encourage redevelopment and in-fill development, improve code enforcement, tackle the vacant houses around town and put the aggressive pursuit of annexations on hiatus.

There also is a new budget system to learn, but one that won't be replaced just because of its unfamiliarity. It symbolizes a guiding philosophy.

"You have to be careful not to come in and try to go back and redo everything,'' said Spina, "You want to just go forward.''

Indeed. No punch line there.

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