Zephyrhills mayor Steve Van Gorden has no plans to resign, despite conduct as high school principal

ZEPHYRHILLS, Fla. - Zephyrhills City Manager, Jim Drumm, played city publicist Wednesday, fielding phone calls from citizens concerned about the behavior of Mayor Steve Van Gorden.

"I do understand that, and there are a lot of people with that opinion," Drumm told one caller. "Don't feel unusual you called.  We got a few."

Drumm returned from a department-head meeting Wednesday morning to find several messages on his desk.

"How could the city allow it to happen?  Please call in reference to the mayor," he read. "Left a message, the mayor should resign."

Van Gorden recently resigned his position as principal of Zephyrhills High School, amid allegations he sexually harassed female employees.

"I made some inappropriate comments, inappropriate text messages.  I made some inappropriate statements to female staff," Van Gorden said. "Besides my divorce, this was probably the most challenging thing I've ever had to deal with, and the most darkest time of my life."

According to statements from several teachers at the high school, Van Gorden often referenced their body parts at work, sent text messages offering career boosts in exchange for sex, even threatened those teachers if they refused.

"I crossed that line on more than one occasion with more than one person," said Van Gorden.  "But the bottom line is I'm truly sorry for what occurred and it's not going to happen again."

Because no one has filed any criminal charges, Van Gorden's job as mayor is safe. Van Gorden has a year-and-a-half left on his term, and the only way that can be cut short is if the community, divided over his behavior, unites for a recall election.

"We've received a few calls of support and we've received calls that say the mayor should resign. So, I think there's a really divided community on the issue," Drumm said. "He's very well known in the community, otherwise he would have never become the mayor."

Van Gorden has no plans to resign. He claims there is much more to the story than the 300-plus page report details, like a prior intimate relationship with one of the complainants. He points to dinners and vacations he says the women agreed to, without any coercion. Plus, he says, he's already paid the price for his mistakes.

"Now I'm not working for the district I love, and the school I want to be at," he said. "It was devastating. I loved that school and I love the kids."

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