EXCERPTS FROM CHAPTER 10, 1977 – 1980 RETIREMENT, MOVING SOUTH TO FLORIDA, PT. 3
HE WROTE IT, THEY DID IT, HE SAVED IT; TRANSFORMING AMERICA!!
“JOE SEFEKAR’S INSPIRING STORY OF AN IMMIGRANT’S CONTRIBUTION TO THE HEALTH, WELFARE AND ARTS OF UNITED STATES.”
This is the beginning of an ephemeral work experience with the City of Tarpon Springs. I was hired as Assistant City Manager for Tarpon Springs, Florida, the next town over from Palm Harbor where we lived. A long time employee of Tarpon Springs City Hall became the new city manager. He ran the office like a GD Colonel (which he was). And I’m really being careful in choosing these words because in almost 40 years of previous relations with people in management and government positions, I tried to deal with individuals fairly and openly whatever their rank or position. A good deal of my work experience was in military or quasi-military assignments, so this was a bitter pill to swallow to try to work out a troublesome situation. He threatened to cut any person’s throat who spoke to the local newspapers without his permission. There was a lot of salt water under the dock, so to speak, before it came to ahead later on in this chapter.
In October of 1978, I wrote to Mike Goyer indicating my interest in obtaining a position with him, and listing my experience as budget officer (thus putting into operation my previous plans of retiring and finding a suitable job). I was called for an interview, and we hit it off pretty well. He had no regular personnel vacancy but he said he could put me on the rolls under the CETA (Civilian Employee Training Act) Program, which was a joint program where the City and the Federal Government shared the salary cost of $ 10,000 per annum. It was exciting – I worked on the FY 1978-79 City of Tarpon Springs budget, supervised by the Finance Director, and had direct contact with the City Manager. My duties included coordinating meetings with the various city directors (i.e. Personnel, Supply, and General Services) and attending weekly Commission meetings. My relations with all the personnel and the Commissioners were pleasant and congenial, until the serpent reared its ugly head.
Working closely with Mike and the Finance Director, we completed the budget. Charley Barnes, the perennial old-timer, who had been with the City for over 20 years supervising construction of streets and sewers in the City, worked on the finances with us. His knowledge of all the nooks and crannies was invaluable in preparing the budget.
Then the lid blew off — the Commissioners were unhappy with Mike (something about his not keeping them, abreast of every detail of his activities), which led to his dismissal. Then the Finance Officer resigned for a better job, but probably in support of the City Manager. I found myself in charge of the City Budget and I was appointed Acting General Services Director, at $ 15,000 a year. I worked with Charley Barnes’, who was now appointed Acting City Manager. I supervised the Personnel Division; the Supply Department and the Streets and Sewers Division. About that time, a sunny day in March 1979, I was standing near an open window about 11 a.m., looking out at a bright spring day, a soft breeze blowing, and I said to myself, “What am I doing here, when I should be out there”? But this feeling of remorse didn’t last long. The sense of challenge and accomplishment replaced any misgivings I may have had, about going back to work.
There were also a number of bonuses, though not in the financial sense. Tarpon Springs is a beautiful city on the Gulf of Mexico and world-renowned because of its famous Greek sponge industry that dates back to the late 18 and early 1900’s. Every once in a while, I would occasionally do a flashback thinking about my father, Jack, growing up on the Island of Salonika, Greece. One of his early trades was also as a fisherman before they left the Greek Isle to settle in the “New World.” But back too real-time, Thelma would meet me regularly for lunch or maybe a dinner at the sponge docks – beautiful atmosphere, delicious foods and a nice way to soak up the sights and sounds of this “Greek fishing village. (Her last birthday would be spent having lunch there.)
They were also noted for their art festivals on the Bayou that attracted thousands of art fanciers and tourists yearly; Thelma would love to drag me along.
Figures #10.42 and #10.43 Tarpon Springs, Down on the Bayou
Figures #10.44 and Figure #10.45 The Tarpon Springs Sponge Dock where we would have lunch.
So I was budget officer for the Tarpon Springs Government; which was exciting, even though it was only for short time. The city manager I mentioned was ousted by the city board. The finance officer assigned to assist the newly appointed acting city manager was made; hold the phone. The new city manager was a young man, who had a similar job in Arizona, and just made the switch. His name was Mike Goyer. The City Manager became the target of the high and mighty Commissioners – usually there were 5 Commissioners, and the climate was very politically charged. Pinellas County was the most densely populated Congressional District in Florida. The Commissioners vented their spleens on the City Managers. It took only 3 Commissioners to displace any Manager they didn’t like. In October 1978, there appeared to be a personal vendetta by the Commissioners of the various small towns in my County against the hapless City Managers. The Manager of the City of Dunedin (Gehringer) was such a victim. The Manager of the City of Clearwater was also replaced. The Manager of Tarpon Springs could not escape this spate of firings – it was open season.
The City of Tarpon Springs announced that the position of General Services Director at $18,000 was being opened to applicants. The Mayor, Bill Lane, suggested I apply for it. Charley Barnes and I had been running the City with his know-how of the daily operations and my knowledge of the financial activities. I must admit that I enjoyed the relationship because things worked so smoothly. One of the Commissioners said, “I don’t think we should put Joe in the position of General Services Director until a new city manager is appointed. The Manager should have a say in selecting the General Services Director”. Not being interested in having any more responsibility, I didn’t push for immediate action, but agreed to await the arrival of the new city manager, right? No, wrong!! The new city manager, a veteran Colonel of the Vietnam War, took hold with vim and vigor.
The new City Manager took hold of his responsibilities. Assuming he would take some time to familiarize himself with the way of the Government operations, they were all laid-back with anticipation, and waited for him to reveal whether he was going to be a benign force or martinet.
We didn’t have long to wait for the answer, which had an unexpected effect on my future. One of the staff (whose identity was never divulged) innocently gave some information to a reporter of a local town paper. The story was unimportant but the city manager took it as a breach of confidence. He called staff together, which was our first meeting, and he warned us, “If I hear of anyone talking to the newspapers, I’ll cut your head off at the neck!” I realized it was all innocent rhetoric, from a soldier just back from the Vietnam battlefront, but the newspapers never got an inside story again. But it did give us an idea of what kind of supervisor we had. I became a victim of this bombastic individual. Our relationship was strictly business – we worked on a budget together. We followed the usual practice of adding and subtracting from budgetary requests submitted by the different division managers.
There were several changes which required retyping of the budget. Our first disagreement was my objection to redoing the whole budget over a minimal variation of some of the figures. He asked, “What authority do you have over this budget?” I said “I’m the budget officer.” He replied, “You’re not the budget officer – I am.” On that shaky basis, I continued my review of the budget under his supervision. At the next Commission meeting, we presented the budget to the City Commissioners. In replying to a question by one of the commissioners, I gave my justification for some of the figures. The City Manager claimed that he was not aware of the data that was submitted and I declared, “I told you about it.” All hell broke loose, and the city manager threatened to quit. The Commissioners would not “look good” if a man they had just hired for the top administrative spot, resigned.
This is the kind of situations I referred to when I listed the advantages of being in “retirement” position. Despite the fact that I knew that there was nothing to be done in the face of a “Little Caesar” temperament, I immediately sat down and wrote a letter of explanation to each of the Commissioners and Mayor, Bill Lane. The only result of the letter was to assuage my “hurt” feelings, but I left on good terms with the staff and the Commissioners. My record of countless career entries for service recognition remained intact. The City manager threatened to “quit” several times after that incident. It was less than a year later that he tried it for the last time; that maneuver again. Like the boy who “cried wolf”, he tried it once too often. The city commissioners said goodbye to the “Lt. Col. who would be City Manager.”
Activities with The Temple, adapting to Being a Floridian:
One day in the latter part of 1978, I got a call from a temple member friend, and he told me of a volunteer group that was working on an idea of performing arts Center in New Port Richey, a town adjoining Palm Harbor. This group had received a bequest of 50 acres on a piece of land in Pasco County. The chairman of the working committee, had organized a group of interested citizens and put their organizational talents together. They were successful in obtaining a planning document from the Frank Lloyd Corporation, which laid out the pertinent facts and figures involving construction of a Performing Arts Center. In view of my experience with the Hirshhorn Museum, it seemed to be a good prospect for me. The building committee’s mission was to raise the funds for initial operations. Inasmuch as they didn’t want to rely on government funding, it looked like a long haul. We set up some of our basic needs. Office space was set up in the Barnett Bank building, which required no layout of funds by PHPAC (Palm Harbor Performing Arts Center), except for office supplies. We were making some progress, but we were concerned with the proviso accompanying the request, “commence building in two years.” We had a small staff: director and the clerk, and myself as finance officer. Being unpaid jobs, it was no surprise when the director resigned. To get a replacement, the committee had to consider putting a paid employee in the slot. Unfortunately, the person they hired wasn’t sufficiently qualified, and was fired. Despite my efforts, we could not get a viable organization going. The failure to accept local government assistance, would be detrimental to the success of this venture. I would learn from this undertaking as the project would never acquire the public support necessary and was destined to fail from the beginning. The expansion of the plans from a performing arts center to a huge complex, including the resort hotel and residential housing, was quite a tall bill to pay. C’est la vie.
As a footnote, this preliminary experience in the world of “Performing Arts Centers” was invaluable in the next phase of my life that begun shortly thereafter.
Luckily, I could always fall back on my retirement activities: golf, swimming, gardening, and social functions. On days that I didn’t golf, I would ride my bicycle to our community pool, swim a few laps and then home for lunch. Thelma and I had routines and we kept ourselves busy on a regular basis I would help her with her rose bushes which she took on in a determined demeanor with awards from the Rose Society to show for it. Here she is at one of her rose shows and here we are tip toeing through the roses.
Figures #10.46 and #10.47 Tiptoeing through the roses Figure #10.48 Now this is a rose garden
My children were very conscientious in keeping open the lines of communication with dozens of letters filling up my cabinets and of course it was very satisfying responding in-kind also. And almost as satisfying were the updates on how the Hirshhorn Museum was progressing. I was always receiving publications, my regular monthly subscription to the “Torch” through August 1983, when Billy decided to move down here and join us. It would now be up to Bonnie and Lee to keep the lifeline open.
Figures #10.49 and #10.50 A little togetherness never hurts.
Figure # 10.51 Bonnie, Diana and Lee Chillin’ in Florida Figure # 10.52 Proud Grandparents with Diana Jill, Figure # 10.53 “Joe Baby” and Baby Diana Jill
We managed to keep in close contact whenever possible, especially at family gatherings which has been a trademark for both Thelma and my families. Getting them to come down to sunny Florida during the winter and cooler months up north was not a problem.
So concludes the third and final excerpt from Chapter 10 Retirement, Moving South to Florida 1977 1980.
The Chapter 11 embarks on another of my major challenges and achievements, Ruth Eckerd Hall; the wonderful world of the performing arts; and lots and lots of family togetherness.
Copyright © 2016 William Sefekar
** Material will appear in book.
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