Largo gets chance to rethink firing

Published March 23, 2007

Tonight, Largo City Manager Steve Stanton finally gets the chance to make his case directly to the people he served for so many years: his bosses on the City Commission and the residents of Largo.

A big, boisterous crowd is expected at Largo City Hall as Stanton appeals the City Commission's Feb. 27 vote to begin the process of firing him. Since the news broke that Stanton plans a sex-change operation, he has been at the center of a tug of war between those who support him and the rights of all transgender people, and those who believe what Stanton is doing is wrong.

They will all be there tonight in a meeting expected to stretch into the night: the local and national organizations that fight discrimination against gay and transgender people; the local religious conservatives convinced sin is present in this situation; the political enemies Stanton made, as all city managers make; and supporters who argue that he should be judged by his work performance, not his gender.

While they may dispute it, most commissioners who voted against him last month clearly did so because of his decision to seek gender reassignment. Last July, when commissioners wrote their annual evaluations of his performance, Stanton received marks of "satisfactory" or higher in nearly every category. Furthermore, commissioners praised him on their evaluation forms, noting that Stanton was a "fierce defender of our city," "extremely competent," and "devoted to the city." They admired his work ethic, interpersonal skills and the professionalism he demanded of all who work for him.

If Stanton had not decided to act on his lifelong desire to be a woman, he would still be in good standing with the commission. There can be no doubt of that.

Tonight, Largo's seven commissioners have a chance to open their hearts and minds to the possibility that they acted in haste when they voted to move toward firing him. Stanton deserves an opportunity to prove that he can lead the city administration as competently as a woman as he did for 14 years as a man.