tampabay.com

Next step: life after Stanton

The acting city manager says "we're moving on" past the uncertainty and controversy.

By LORRI HELFAND
Published March 27, 2007


LARGO - No demonstrators were in the front courtyard on Monday. No news trucks parked outside.

And the City Commission secretary fielded just a handful of calls.

"It's just another day at City Hall," said Norton "Mac" Craig, assistant city manager, who was appointed acting city manager a month ago.

Two days after City Manager Steve Stanton was fired, Craig spent the day trying to get the city's focus back on work and off the controversy that unfolded after Stanton's disclosure last month that he intends to become a woman.

Craig met with half the staff Monday - hundreds of employees - and plans to meet with the rest by the end of the week.

"Nobody likes turmoil and we've gone through a brief period of not knowing what was going to happen. Now we do know and we're moving on," Craig said.

Craig, 70, will be Largo's chief administrator for now. But it was clear Monday that the seven city commissioners are just now starting to think about how to permanently replace Stanton. And when.

Vice Mayor Harriet Crozier has suggested city leaders hold off discussions until July.

But other commissioners want to move sooner.

"I don't want to wait too long," said Commissioner Andy Guyette. He suggested they talk about it at an upcoming retreat in April.

Mayor Pat Gerard wants to get started soon because it could take months to hire someone.

But Commissioner Gay Gentry said she is not in a rush because the city is in good hands, with Craig and Henry Schubert, assistant city manager.

Both men said they plan to pursue the city's top job.

"I love the city. I like the people that work here and I get along very well with them. It's a great job," said Craig, who came to the city in 2000 as environmental services director.

Craig said he'd like to foster more affordable housing and support the city's long-term redevelopment goals.

Schubert, 53, said he wants to help keep the city on track, too.

"In the time I've worked for the city, I've seen the city make strides forward. There have been significant accomplishments and I think I could continue that forward progress," said Schubert, who has worked for the city for 26 years.

Commissioner Rodney Woods said he'd like to promote a candidate from within.

Gerard said she supports considering internal candidates but also would want a national search.

"We were on the brink of doing some major things and we need somebody who's kind of savvy about that stuff," she said.

Stanton's untraditional exit may have little impact on the hiring of a new city manager, according to Colin Baenziger, whose firm Colin Baenziger & Associates of Wellington specializes in Florida municipal candidates.

On the plus side, candidates are going to see a solidly run city with a previous manager who served 14 years, longer than the usual five- or six-year tenure of most managers, he said.

"Obviously, Largo's been through a trying time and people will draw their own conclusions. But the bottom line with most managers is that they're eternal optimists. They think they can fix any problem or situation," he said.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at 445-4155 or lorri@sptimes.com.

Fast Facts:

 

Norton "Mac" Craig

Assistant city manager since February 2004.

 

Craig came to the city in 2000 as environmental services director.

 

Prior job: Deputy district director for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's Tampa office.

Retired Army lieutenant colonel, command chemical officer and Vietnam veteran with 29 years of service.