A chance for Largo to show its progress

Published March 21, 2007

So, Largo City Commission, what now?

Only a month ago, if you can believe it, the likes of Time, Newsweek and People hadn't taken much interest in the doings of this board of regular folks - a retired teacher, an engineer and a lawn pest control manager among them.

Then the news broke that their longtime city manager, Steve Stanton, plans to ultimately live his life as Susan, and the world went a little nuts. How nuts? Today Stanton has his own entry in Wikipedia.

The bombshell disclosure brought out some of the fire-and-brimstone crowd to tell the commission what Jesus would have wanted (Jesus apparently not being the kindly soul we were led to believe.)

For some, discovering a transgender person in their midst - even the same guy who'd once broken his nose in a training exercise with the cops, who'd just recently gone rappelling at Tropicana Field - was like finding an alien under the face of someone you thought you knew.

Aware of the potential reaction, Stanton had been readying what sounded like a smart and detailed plan including schedule, media strategy and public education campaign for his transition at work.

As we all know by now, the commission voted 5-2 to begin the process of firing him. Given the fever pitch of things by the time that meeting happened, the board probably thought this was exactly what the people wanted. But a lot has happened since.

We've all gotten a peek at the issue and maybe learned something we didn't know before. People who probably never met someone like Stanton have talked about prejudice and tolerance. A Times survey showed a majority of adults in Largo and Pinellas thought firing him was wrong.

So why not give the man a chance to do the job he's already been doing?

"Even if I get excommunicated from Largo, the amount of support I've gotten has been humbling," Stanton said Tuesday. "I'm not alone. And I'm not the hated person I thought I was. I'm just a regular guy who's kind of weird."

A story by Times reporters Lane DeGregory and Lorri Helfand gave readers an intensely intimate glimpse into his life, his struggle with his second self and all that leads up to whatever happens Friday.

That's when Stanton will ask Largo commissioners to reconsider at a public hearing. He will bring experts to talk about what he is and isn't. He will make the case that he is the same city manager as before.

What will happen?

There are rumblings some commissioners might point to Stanton's tough management style as the reason for their stance. (He doesn't deny the label: "I ran a very tight organization," he said.)

But this would seem a tad disingenuous, given his 14 years on the job and the fact that commissioners gave him mostly good to excellent evaluations and a healthy raise last year.

Stanton says he considers those commissioners his friends. "No matter what they do, they're going to make a sizable portion of the community upset," he said. He hasn't spoken to them since the hearing, but says one commissioner approached his wife to say it was nothing personal and another called his teenage son to see how he was doing.

"I think there's a right answer," he said of Friday's decision. "But there's not an easy answer." So, Largo. What do you say?