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City needs leaders to work together

The city of Zephyrhills public therapy session last week produced at least one tangible result: City Council member Jim Bailey said he will withdraw a requested ethics complaint against City Manager Steve Spina.

It is an appropriate move by Bailey and demonstrates a departure from last month's vindictive atmosphere created by Bailey, council President Cathi Compton and council member Mike Bussell. It also is a logical step, considering the city attorney never asked the state Ethics Commission to investigate because he didn't know exactly what warranted investigating.

But abandoning an ill-fated push to embarrass Spina is a short-term solution. The trio critical of Spina also must recognize its role to set government policy and then get out of the way to allow the professional staff to administer it. That is best for the city's long-term advancement.

Hashing out the differences between Spina and some council members was the focus of a public workshop Thursday afternoon. Paradoxically, Compton began the session on improved communications by distributing a prepared statement. While her odd style hasn't changed, the statement's contents indicate her opinion of Spina has.

A month ago, Compton wanted Spina fired, accusing him of gross negligence and an insubordinate attitude. Last week, Compton complimented Spina because "he is capable of taking this city from point A to Point B. I would rather have someone like Mr. Spina who can make things happen than a city manager who sits idle. My compliments to Steve in that regard."

Her acknowledgment is welcome and overdue. Spina, too, noted his own shortcomings and said he would try to avoid the defensiveness that has marked exchanges between him and Compton.

Some of what transpired is due to public opinion. Compton needed four votes to fire Spina and came up severely short during a meeting packed with hundreds of the city manager's supporters. Some residents suggested a recall election.

Mending fences behooves Compton politically. But, a better working relationship between the council and its top employee also behooves the public.

The workshop, ironically, was run by former Clearwater City Manager Mike Roberto. Just last month, Compton urged the council to follow Clearwater's lead in seeking a new city manager because the vacancy created by Roberto's departure drew 66 applicants.

Roberto correctly told the council and Spina that a trust factor is mandatory. Failure does not mean simply sending out resumes or losing at the polls. Failure, Roberto told them, means failing the community.

If the council majority is sincere in seeking improvements, it will heed that advice.

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