Stanton says he won't sue city
By LORRI HELFAND
Published April 14, 2007
Saying "there's a time for healing," fired Largo City Manager Steve Stanton took the national stage Friday on Larry King Live and announced he would not sue the city over his dismissal.
"Suing the city would have been like suing my own mom," Stanton told King. "Largo's been good to me."
Instead, Stanton, 48, said he plans to try to teach others about transgender people.
"Litigation in this situation is not nearly as important as education," he said. And now, he said, he plans to take advantage of having a national stage from which to help teach others.
Stanton also said he plans to begin appearing as Susan Stanton in the next 30 to 60 days and expects to separate from his wife, Donna, in June. He also hopes one day to work as a city manager again.
The announcement of Stanton's plans not to challenge his dismissal in court came as a surprise to city officials, who had braced for a lawsuit.
"Would he have had a good case?" King asked Stanton's attorney, Karen Doering, senior counsel for the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
"Absolutely," she said.
"It's very clear that what the city of Largo did was illegal," she said. "You cannot fire someone just because they announced that they were going to transition from man to woman."
Earlier in the day, Largo City Attorney Alan Zimmet had said that he thought the city would ultimately be successful in any legal challenge.
With news of Don Imus' firing dominating CNN's programming, Stanton's appearance was taped Thursday in Los Angeles for broadcast Friday.
That allowed Stanton to fly home and watch his interview surrounded by friends and former colleagues at a party in downtown Safety Harbor.
Stanton's friends, led by former City Commissioner Pat Burke, threw him a "farewell and good luck party" in honor of his 17-year career with the city.
The party drew about 40 people, including Largo City Commissioner Rodney Woods, City Clerk Diane Bruner and Acting City Manager Norton "Mac" Craig.
But Largo Mayor Pat Gerard, who stood by Stanton and voted against his firing, was not there.
"I'm the mayor. I have to defend the city," Gerard said earlier in the day. "I won't be going to the party."
At the 801 Main banquet hall, guests nibbled on sliced beef tenderloin, Cajun shrimp, baked brie, hot crab dip, chocolate-dipped strawberries and miniature cream puffs.
Faces in the crowd included Pinellas County Administrator Steve Spratt, with whom Stanton had feuded over city-vs.-county issues, as well as Clearwater City Manager Bill Horne, Belleair Town Commissioner Tom Shelly and Belleair Town Manager Micah Maxwell.
The St. Petersburg Times reported on Feb. 21 that Stanton was undergoing hormone therapy treatment in preparation for surgery to become a woman.
Less than a week later, at a meeting that attracted nearly 500 people, many critical of Stanton, commissioners voted 5-2 to begin the process to fire him from his $140,234-per-year job.
On March 23, they made his termination official.
Most said they did so not because he's transgendered, but because he betrayed their trust, bullied employees and manipulated workers he confided in.
But both Stanton, who received nearly a 9 percent raise in September, and his attorney have said he was fired because he is transgendered.
Although Stanton doesn't plan to sue the city, he has already gone to court in connection with his transition. Earlier this week, Stanton filed a petition in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court to change his name from Steven Bruce Stanton to Susan Ashley Stanton.
Coincidentally, one of Stanton's bigger critics, former Largo Mayor Bob Jackson, also was honored Friday night for his community contributions.
And next week, both men are scheduled to appear on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Stanton hasn't made his transition yet, but for the show Jackson agreed to explore his feminine side by trying to walk in a pair of 4-inch black pumps.
"I watch these shows and say 'Who would put themselves in that position? They know they would be ridiculed," said Jackson, who turns 74 Tuesday." And I did it."
Lorri Helfand can be reached at 445-4155 or firstname.lastname@example.org.