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Zephyrhills City Council seeks third opinion on city manager contract

ZEPHYRHILLS — Three City Council members are ready to vote against renewing City Manager Jim Drumm's employment contract but agreed Monday to seek a third legal opinion regarding the number of votes necessary to part ways.

Drumm's three-year contract ends in May. Council members Lance Smith and Ken Burgess said they believe the agreement was designed to allow either party to amicably move on at its end if a majority of council members decide against renewing it. Council member Charlie Proctor said he will side with Smith and Burgess.

Council member Kent Compton, however, cautioned that the city charter requires four votes to terminate the city manager's employment. City Attorney Joseph Poblick told the council at its last meeting, when the contract came up for discussion, that a majority vote against renewing the contract ends Drumm's tenure with the city; he added that an outside labor attorney the city contracts with agrees with his opinion.

Compton said he does not dispute the contract but believes it conflicts with the charter, which supersedes all else. Council member Jodi Wilkeson suggested the council get a third opinion from a law firm that has no ties to the city for extra assurance they are not setting the city up for a possible lawsuit.

Wilkeson noted that during negotiations with Drumm in 2011, the supermajority vote requirement was used to assure Drumm of some level of job security; she also pointed out that former City Manager Steve Spina worked for many years without a contract.

Drumm echoed Wilkeson's point about the charter, reading from a prepared letter in which he said he knows of several lawyers who agree with him, including Marilyn Crotty of the Florida Institute of Government at the University of Central Florida, who was hired by the city in the past to head up a charter review committee.

"She agreed the city manager must be removed by a (supermajority) vote regardless of a contract" when such a contract is not mentioned in the charter, Drumm said. He added that he does not want to get into a legal confrontation with the city.

Discussion of the charter and employment contract followed a failed vote to hold a workshop to discuss in-depth the problems some of the council members — Smith and Burgess, particularly — see with the job Drumm is doing.

Compton, who made the motion for the workshop, said he was completely caught off guard at the last council meeting by Smith's and Burgess' indications they would vote against renewing Drumm's contract.

"There was no warning shot," said Compton. "Sure, some evaluations were better than others, but there have never been any deficiency ratings. This can have a chilling effect on any potential new hires. … There has not been a threshold of sufficient communication on this issue."

Burgess and Smith countered that their evaluations of Drumm have been consistent in addressing their concerns, namely that he lacks communication skills by not always returning telephone calls, and that employee morale is low.

Both men added that while there are many good things Drumm has done, and is doing, for the city, his management style is not compatible with the direction they believe the city should be taking.

Proctor, who appeared to struggle to control his emotions at some points, said he has always believed Drumm has done a good job but that he must vote according to the wishes of the majority of his constituents.

Wilkeson said she, too, has fielded numerous comments from citizens and employees and that while many are against retaining Drumm, she said just as many are in favor of keeping him. She read from an email of one city department head, public works director Shane Le­Blanc, who supports Drumm, and echoed Compton's concerns about the message the council will be sending to any future city manager applicants if they do not give the contract issue due diligence.