ZEPHYRHILLS — City Councilwoman Jodi Wilkeson says she lost her seat on the city council because of her vote to approve a cost overrun of about $500,000 for a new library.
Political newcomer Alan Knight defeated Wilkeson for Seat 2 on the council in Tuesday’s election by garnering 56.9 percent of the vote, according to unofficial election returns. Knight will be sworn in Monday as the new city council member.
Wilkeson had served on the council since 2008 when she got 50 percent of the vote against three other candidates vying for the seat left vacant by Celia Graham. Turnout for Tuesday’s election was the highest since the 2004 election, when Gina King Granger beat Lance Smith over fallout from the naming of Sixth Avenue to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.
Wilkeson had campaigned strongly, going door-to-door and making “at least 275 personal telephone calls soliciting votes,” she said.
She said her visits with voters gave her insight into why she may have lost the election.
“I supported an over-budget library,” Wilkeson said. “I think it may have been a deciding factor.”
Wilkeson was not alone in approving a cost overrun from $1.7 to $2.2 million for architects Harvard Jolly and contractor A.D. Morgan a few weeks ago. The council decision was unanimous, and both candidates and other council members said they have found that the decision was not a popular one with Zephyrhills citizens.
Wilkeson said she believes any candidate may have lost votes if they had been running in this election.
Wilkeson said she does not believe the controversy over renewing Zephyrhills City Manager Jim Drumm’s contract had a large impact.
Drumm’s contract with the city is up for renewal next month, but three out of five council members have said they will not vote to extend the contract, citing issues of how Drumm communicates with the public and city employees.
Wilkeson had not joined with other council members in refusing to renew Drumm’s contract.
“I may have lost a few votes because of my position on Mr. Drumm,” she said.
Wilkeson has asked for two separate legal opinions on whether the city charter will allow three council members to block the renewal, or whether it takes four votes. Wilkeson asked for the additional legal opinions after City Attorney Joe Poblick said the council needs four votes to renew the contract.
The latest legal opinion, released late Friday with the council’s agenda documents, also agreed with Poblick on the votes needed for renewal.
Wilkeson, who has been a longtime supporter of Drumm and helped draw up his contract, said she asked for the additional legal opinions to protect the city from a potential lawsuit by Drumm.
“It’s not that I was bent in keeping him after I realized there was so much animosity,” she said “I was concerned about the reputation of the city. I would not have done anything different, and I hope they don’t do anything different. I do not know what Mr. Knight will do.”
Wilkeson said she does believe that Knight is a good man and that he will do a good job, and she believes he will treat Drumm fairly and thoughtfully.
She said Knight’s name recognition played a major part in the election. Knight is well-known in the community as a former Zephyrhills High School football head coach and administrator, as well as a community volunteer.
“He said he touched more than 75 percent through community involvement,” Wilkeson said. “He has impacted not only kids, but their kids and their grandchildren. That name recognition was a huge boon for him.”
She attributes the large voter turnout to Knight bringing people out to vote who normally do not vote. She said she got about same number of votes as she received in past elections.
Knight received 481 votes to Wilkeson’s 362 to win the seat.