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Richard G. Simmons

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Richard G. Simmons, West Palm Beach's longtime city manager, died Tuesday from natural causes at 84.

Simmons served from 1969 to 1985 at a time when the city manager ran the city. West Palm Beach switched to a strong mayor system six years after he retired.

As manager he pushed for low taxes and improving the city's national financial rating, while deriding local governments for taking federal money.

"When you take federal money, it's like having a blood transfusion from your left arm to your right arm… and losing half the blood on the way from one arm to the other," he said in 1985.

"He felt like he didn't work for the city - he served the city," said his son-in-law, David Huggins. "He just wanted to provide for the city commissioners what they needed to do their job."

Jim Watt, a former state legislator who served as city attorney for West Palm Beach in the 1970s, said Simmons' time in West Palm Beach "was such a different culture and a different time."

Watt recalled sitting with Simmons and city commissioners before commission meetings to discuss the agenda and eliminate items before they went before the public, a practice eventually outlawed when Florida's Sunshine Laws were passed in the mid-1970s.

Watt said some of the biggest issues under Simmons included building a new city hall on 2nd Street, which has since been replaced, and replacing the city's sewage plant on 23rd Street with a regional plant next to the turnpike.

A week after Simmons retired from West Palm Beach in 1985, his assistant city manager, Anita Spearman, was killed in a murder-for-hire plot by two hit men. The men were hired through an ad in Soldier of Fortune magazine by Spearman's husband, Richard Spearman, who was convicted and killed himself in prison.

Other stops in Simmons' 30-year career included Davenport, Haines City, Winter Park, Melbourne and Kissimmee. A sixth-generation Floridian and University of Florida graduate, he retired to his hometown of Kissimmee in 1987.

He was a member of the International City Management Association for more than 50 years and the Florida City and County Management Association, which he served as president. In 2011 the Florida City and County Management Association honored Simmons, saying his impact "will continue to play a crucial role in many of Florida's local governments for generations to come."

Simmons is survived by his wife of 58 years, Kay Upson Simmons, along with a sister, two daughters, two granddaughters and a grandson.

Visitation will be Friday, at the Osceola Memory Gardens Funeral home in Kissimmee, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. A memorial service will be held at the 1st United Methodist Church of Kissimmee on Saturday at 11 a.m.
Published in The Palm Beach Post from Mar. 21 to Apr. 20, 2013
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