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City official seeks to oust city manager

For the City Council president, push has come to shove. She wants to discuss the city manager's future at the next meeting.

By BRADY DENNIS

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 7, 2001


ZEPHYRHILLS -- Steve Spina knew this day would come.

As a summer thunderstorm descended Wednesday on Zephyrhills, City Council President Cathi Compton dropped off a memo adding an agenda item to Monday's council meeting.

She will request that the city manager be fired.

"I believe Mr. Spina has given the city a black eye," Compton wrote. "We are obligated to protect the city's good name. We are obligated to eliminate this sad chapter in the city's history in a swift and conclusive manner."

In the memo, Compton accuses Spina of conducting himself in an "unprofessional and insubordinate manner."

She also says he "has failed to perform his job in a satisfactory manner" and that he "has committed multiple infractions of the City of Zephyrhills Employee Policy and Procedure Manual."

Compton did not return multiple phone calls and voice messages left at her home Wednesday.

It will take a 4-1 vote to fire Spina, who has been a polarizing figure since he was promoted to city manager in 1996.

During his tenure, Spina has been chastised for everything from angering the firefighters union to ordering brick paving downtown without the council's permission.

Meanwhile, Spina's backers have praised him for running the city smoothly, bringing in loads of grant money and attracting new businesses.

Still, Spina has faced few critics harsher than Compton. They have tangled almost since the day she took office in April 1999.

And while Compton says in the memo that Spina deserves either dismissal or discipline because of mishandling bidding procedures, she leaves unmentioned the often-personal battles that have defined their relationship.

Spina drew criticism from Compton when he did not put part of a computer upgrade project out for bid. The existing consultant had left to start his own company, but Spina chose to let the consultant continue.

However, Spina thinks Compton's grudge is the real reason behind her proposal.

"I think a lot of it is personal," he said Wednesday. "It's been that way since day one. I'm not surprised. I think this has been a long time coming."

The question now is whether Compton can garner enough votes to oust Spina. It's almost certain that she and Jim Bailey, a longtime Spina critic, will vote against him.

Elizabeth Geiger, a staunch Spina supporter, no doubt will vote to keep him. Council member Michael Bussell has been seen as an ally of Bailey and Compton, but he said Wednesday that he hadn't considered which way he might vote.

"I don't know; I'm going to have to take a look and see what (Compton) presents to the council," he said. "I have no feeling right now either way, no idea."

Council member Clyde Bracknell is the enigma in the group. He generally has backed Spina but tends to vote with the majority on issues. Bracknell could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Geiger on Wednesday admonished Compton for acting on what she labeled a personal vendetta.

"I think it's a pretty brazen move," she said. "When she ran, she said that wasn't her agenda. But I suspected it was her agenda. I can't imagine how she thinks she can find somebody better."

Geiger also said Compton does not have a mandate to get rid of the city manager. She pointed out that while Compton ran unopposed in April's election, she won by a mere nine votes in 1999, when turnout was poor.

"As far as I'm concerned, the city is doing better than it ever has," Geiger said. "There's a silent majority out there that doesn't see anything wrong and therefore doesn't get involved. I think Steve has a lot of support in the community.

"My hand will vote against this. If I can raise both hands, I'll raise both hands."

Zephyrhills Mayor Roy Burnside even chimed in on Spina's behalf.

"All he needs is our support," said Burnside, who doesn't get a vote but has called for a workshop to discuss the recent bickering at council meetings.

"If we want a new city manager, fine," he said. "Let's get behind the one we've got and encourage him, and we'll have one. Every time he turns around, we're criticizing him. That doesn't allow him to give 100 percent."

Local history shows that just because city officials try to fire a manager, it doesn't always work.

In May, Dade City Commissioner Bill Dennis unexpectedly tried to fire City Manager Doug Drymon.

Three fellow commissioners and the mayor didn't follow Dennis' lead, but they did have a workshop to review Drymon's performance.

Still, Dade City is not Zephyrhills. And the laid-back Drymon is a far cry from the love-or-hate image that Spina has created.

Monday's 6 p.m. meeting at Zephyrhills City Hall promises to provide a small-town showdown in this otherwise quaint, quiet corner of Pasco County.

Spina knew this day would come. But he swears he isn't losing a wink of sleep.

"I feel strangely calm," he said. "Maybe it's just better to face it and go on from there than just to be in limbo all the time."

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