ZEPHYRHILLS — City Manager Jim Drumm’s contract will expire in about two months and the approval of four council members will be required for Drumm to continue as a city employee, according to an opinion by a labor lawyer.
Labor attorney Brian Koji agreed with City Attorney Joe Poblick’s initial opinion on Drumm’s contract status. The council had requested a second opinion on Poblick’s interpretation of the city charter regarding Drumm’s job.
Councilwoman Jodi Wilkeson, who requested the second opinion, said she will ask at Monday’s council meeting that the city get a third legal opinion on the issue.
At the March 10 council meeting, Council President Lance Smith and Councilman Ken Burgess said they will not vote to approve a new contract for Drumm. Both Smith and Burgess said that Drumm was not a good communicator and did not feel that Drumm held the confidence of city employees or Zephyrhills citizens.
Koji is a Tampa attorney with Allen, Norton and Blue, the law firm used by the city for recent labor disputes with terminated firefighters. The city lost in those disputes.
Poblick said that Koji’s second opinion reflects his interpretation of the city charter that he provided to council members during the March 10 meeting,
“I’m very concerned that we’re using someone who is too close to the city,” Wilkeson said. “The city has had a long relationship [with this firm] and we have had a mixed outcome with cases. … I’m going to ask for another opinion. I’m concerned that the taxpayers would be very upset with us if we lost another lawsuit that cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
During the March 10 meeting, Smith asked Poblick for clarification of the city charter’s requirements, specifically whether Drumm’s current contract was ending and required a super majority of council votes to be reappointed.
“It would be the reappointment of the city manager,” Poblick said. “My reading of the charter is that this is a contract for a term and that term expires whenever it expires.”
“I disagree, Mr. Poblick,” Drumm responded. “I think I’ll have to get counsel.”
Drumm explained that he did not believe his contract ended but that he was city manger until he was terminated which, by city charter, requires a vote of four of the five council members.
“I think the council would have to take action” [to terminate],” Drumm said. “I’m not a vendor. I was appointed as an official employee of the city.”
Wilkeson, who is up for re-election in April, said that she was not surprised at the nature of the complaints by Smith and Burgess. She said going door-to-door on the campaign trail has brought her in contact with a significant number of people who have the same criticism, but she added: “I was surprised at the level of Mr. Smith’s and Mr. Burgess’ frustration.”
She also said she was surprised by Poblick’s interpretation of the city charter. She thought he came to his opinion too quickly and that is why she asked for a second opinion on the matter.
Koji wrote in his opinion on the issue: “The contract, which was entered into on May 16, 2011 is a contract of specific duration.
He said the contract is for a three-year term and “also contemplates that the city manager may resign voluntarily at any time during the term or that the city council may terminate his employment at any time during the term.”
“Notably the contract does not contain any automatic renewal or rollover provisions. Rather the contract’s only reference to the end of its term is a provision requiring the parties to make known their intent prior to the contract’s expiration,” he said.
“Based on these facts,” Koji wrote, “it is our opinion that the city manger’s contract by its own terms, expires on May 18, 2014.
If the contract expires without any further action by the city council, the city manager will cease to be an employee of the city at that time.”
Koji did say that the firm could conceive of an argument that said that the city charter’s requirement of a super majority council vote for contract approval only applied to the initial contract, but they do not believe the courts would agree to that interpretation.
Wilkeson said she is concerned at that possibility, adding there is enough room for doubt to ask for a third opinion from another law firm.
“If they both say the same thing, then I feel we’ve done everything in our power to make a good judgment,” she said.