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Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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Tom Jackson Columns

Spina’s title restores order to universe

What the Zephyrhills City Council did the other day — removing “interim” from the title worn by Steve Spina since his return to City Hall in May — was not simply the smartest and most cost-effective avenue to take. It was the only one available.

I mean, really. We’d grown so accustomed to saying “City Manager Steve Spina,” he could have petitioned to change his name and nobody would have noticed the difference. Maybe out of persistence it happened already, the way routine crossing of private property creates an easement.

“Steve Spina” and “city manager” belong together like Astaire and Rogers, Jeter and the Yankees, hot fudge and vanilla ice cream. His return to the big chair is destiny fulfilled, order restored.

Yeah, he had a rocky start way back when. He could be prickly and abrupt and incommunicative and condescending and insubordinate — all faults laid, by the way, at the doorstep of the ousted Jim Drumm — and sometimes his job dangled by a single council member’s vote.

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But Spina had something going for him Drumm did not: No ready replacement. Spina’s predecessor and mentor, the agreeable Nick Nichols, died in office. Nichols didn’t retire and linger to mingle with the public at downtown festivals or bump into staff and council members at the YMCA. Nichols wasn’t there to lend a sympathetic ear, offer counsel or arch an I-wouldn’t-rule-it-out eyebrow if anyone said, “Suppose the new guy doesn’t work out. Would you consider, you know, maybe, coming back?”

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. You play the hand you’re dealt, and Drumm knew darn well the bunch across the table kept an ace up their collective sleeve: a wildly popular predecessor whose retirement at a youthful 57 was cheered by no one in City Hall except the retiree himself.

It’s not like Spina was doing nothing, exactly. But teaching government at the University of South Florida was a daily reminder that maybe he’d left too soon. Twice recently he’d missed out on jobs with Pasco County, so when the door cracked open to the best gig in his hometown, he planted his foot in the gap. Nevermind how they made it look like he’d just be keeping the seat warm for yet another new guy.

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Drumm knew what was up. So did voters, whose election in April of ex-Zephyrhills High football coach Alan Knight was equal parts an endorsement of Spina’s return as it was a repudiation of Drumm, who, it turns out, always was the real interim guy.

In a 4-1 vote Monday with Kent Compton — whose wife, Cathi, was elected to the council in 1999 on a stealth campaign against Spina — the only holdout, council members put a stake through the heart of the national-search charade. It’s just as well. No outsider worthy of an interview would have taken the job so long as Spina was within a two-hour drive of the 33542.

And, having regained his happy fit, Spina — make that City Manager Steve Spina — isn’t going anywhere.

Before I go: Friday’s column contained an unforced fumble: Ken Littlefield, Republican candidate for county commission District 2, correctly put the number of sessions in which he was a state representative at eight. He won a special election ahead of the 1999 session that did not count against him for purposes of Florida’s constitutional term-limit amendment. I regret my miscount.

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