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Candidates sought for Zephyrhills city manager post

Tribune correspondent
Published: July 18, 2014
Tribune file photo
Interim City Manager Steve Spina previously served in that post before retiring from the city to teach at USF.

ZEPHYRHILLS — City council members will seek candidates for the city manager position, though most of them acknowledge interim City Manager Steve Spina likely will be selected.

The council asked Director of Administrative Services Larry Strickland to prepare a job description and other details for the board to advertise between Aug. 1 and Sept. 30.

Strickland also lined up Mayor Gene Whitfield, former Mayor Cliff McDuffie and former Councilman Clyde Bracknell to serve as a screening committee to vet applicants and send a short list of top candidates to the city council.

Council members praised Spina’s performance as interim city manager, but some said the city needs to go through the process of advertising the position and allowing other candidates to apply.

The matter arose this week as Strickland asked the council for guidance on coordinating a city manager search.

During a council discussion in June, Councilman Lance Smith asked Spina if he would be interested in applying for the job. Spina confirmed he would.

Council President Charlie Proctor also asked City Attorney Joe Poblick what the city’s charter says about the process of selecting a city manager.

“All it says is that council shall hire or fire a city manager,” Poblick said. “It’s however you guys want to do it. It’s wide open.”

Smith began the discussion at Monday’s council meeting by saying he favored hiring Spina without a search. He referred to the process of finding a city manager, saying, “I don’t know why we’d want go through that again.” He noted former city manager Nick Nichols was appointed without a search. So was Spina, previously, Smith said.

Councilman Alan Knight reiterated his position from the June meeting — that the council should go through a search process. “The way I think about it is we have to be careful about the precedents that we make,” he said.

Whitfield said he leaned toward Smith’s viewpoint, adding that Spina is experienced, competent and knows the city well because it is his home.

“I recognize Dr. Spina is very qualified, obviously,” said Councilman Kent Compton. “I’m not sure if I see anyone that can … displace Dr. Spina. Likewise, there have been one or two emails very interested in applying for the city manger job. I’m kind of torn between procedure for the professional government entity that we are and then I’m torn with the inevitable. I believe Dr. Spina is going to get the job.”

Councilman Ken Burgess said he is happy with the way things are going and favors waiting to search for a city manager.

Proctor said he, too, has had people contact him about applying, but he also has had people urge him to hire Spina. He supported advertising for the position.

“It’s going to have to be someone really spectacular if they’re going to knock Steve out of the position,” he said, “because he does have an excellent resume and in my opinion he’s been doing a great job.”

Spina came to the city as planner in 1987 after serving as editor of the Zephyrhills News.

He moved up to city manager after serving as interim for three months when Nick Nichols died in January of 1996. Spina was appointed with no search for other candidates.

He retired from the city in 2011 after more than 23 years with the local government, taking a teaching position with the University of South Florida. Spina recently applied for the position of assistant county administrator for Pasco County but was not selected for the job.

He accepted the position of interim city manager April 30 and began on May 1. Spina replaced Jim Drumm, who resigned amid criticism that he was a poor communicator and personnel manager.