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Committee's choice wise in charter review

A committee updating the Zephyrhills City Charter wisely steered clear of trying to make it easier to fire the city manager.

A Times Editorial
Published August 22, 2005

Though a City Council majority could decide to put the question to voters in an April referendum, such a move is unlikely. It also would be counterproductive.

The issue surfaced recently when two members of the group reviewing the charter advocated reducing the number of votes needed to fire the city manager from four to three. The group's members didn't spare the rhetoric, either.

"We should not continue with this shady scheme of bending our city's charter into something that will surely come back in the future to haunt us, maybe in the form of a tyrannical city manager who might decide that he is a king and not a public servant," committee member Art Reynolds wrote to his colleagues.

Frequent City Hall critic Rj Morgan, who ran unsuccessfully for City Council in 2004, shared Reynolds' sentiments. A majority of the committee members correctly voted them down. Similarly, the committee majority rejected Morgan's push to have the police chief, fire chief and city clerk answerable to the council instead of the city manager.

There are understandable arguments to each side of the city manager debate. Requiring four of five council members to vote to fire the manager ensures greater stability. City Manager Steve Spina has been in office nine years, the same as his predecessor, Nick Nichols.

But, the charter provision also can give a two-person minority the undue authority to retain a city manager of questionable value. That was the case in Port Richey where Vince Lupo held onto his job longer than he was entitled to until a four-person majority fired him following the April 2004 election.

More likely, a Zephyrhills charter referendum on the city manager's employment status would undermine the committee's other work. In 1994, a cantankerous council minority wanted to fire Nichols and tried to reduce the number of votes it needed to do so. Heavy turnout killed that proposed charter change, but it also wiped out a separate ballot initiative to modernize the charter and eliminate duplications. City officials blamed voter confusion for the defeat of the second, noncontroversial referendum.

Eleven years later, other portions of the charter remain worthy of change. Allowing those issues to be overshadowed on what would turn in to a referendum of Spina's job performance would be imprudent.

The position of Morgan and Reynolds also lacks local historical perspective. The Zephyrhills City Charter requires a supermajority to fire the city manager because of an unsettling episode 29 years ago when a newly elected council majority fired the city manager, police chief, assistant chief and city clerk. Within months, a recall election forced out the new majority and the ousted employees were offered their jobs back. All but the city manager returned.

The committee majority was smart to avoid an invitation for a repeat.

[Last modified August 22, 2005, 01:07:12]

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