ZEPHYRHILLS — Recent debate about City Manager Jim Drumm’s job status has put a twist on an upcoming city council race.
City Councilwoman Jodi Wilkeson could hold the swing vote on whether Drumm remains in his job. Wilkeson is being challenged by Alan Knight in the only contested council race on the April 8 ballot.
On Monday, council President Lance Smith and Councilman Ken Burgess surprised other council members by saying they did not intend to approve Drumm’s new contract. Rejecting the contract effectively would fire Drumm, though the move could be the subject of a lawsuit.
The question could be who decides the issue because Drumm’s current contract does not expire for about 10 weeks. Unless the matter is resolved before the election, Drumm’s professional fate could hinge on who is elected.
Smith and Burgess have said Drumm is not an effective communicator. They say complaints from citizens and employees — and, at least in Smith’s case, from personal experience — indicate that phone calls and emails are not answered in a timely manner and sometimes not at all.
Wilkeson said she was not surprised at the nature of the complaints. Going door-to-door on the campaign trail has brought her in contact with many people who have similar criticisms. But, she said, “I was surprised at the level of Mr. Smith’s and Mr. Burgess’ frustration.”
She also said she was surprised at City Attorney Joe Poblick’s interpretation of the city charter. Poblick has determined Drumm’s contract was a reappointment requiring at least four council votes and that lacking that majority he no longer would be city manager.
Wilkeson said she has asked for a second opinion on the matter.
“I want to be prudent and do the right thing,” Wilkeson said. “I have encouraged (Poblick) to get a second opinion from another attorney who specializes in these matters. I don’t want to waste the taxpayers’ money by being embroiled in another lawsuit.
Wilkeson was referring to Drumm’s statement Monday that he would have to get counsel if Poblick’s interpretation was accepted.
Knight said he was surprised at the issues raised at the council meeting Monday. But he said he is not ready to offer his view on Drumm’s status if he is elected.
“I will not make a decision until I’ve done what I could to make an appropriate decision,” he said. “If I was there, being brand new, I’d want to do some investigating of my own. I would like to do an in-depth thing.”
Knight said he has not had many dealings with Drumm except for his brief time as chairman of the city’s Parks and Recreation board.
“I would hope that since it’s such a sensitive issue, that they would table it until after the election,” he said.
He said that being retired he could investigate and be up to speed on the issue within a week.