tampabay.com

Stanton picked as finalist for Sarasota job

By LORRI HELFAND
Published May 3, 2007


SARASOTA - In a professional victory for the woman Steve Stanton hopes to become, the Sarasota City Commission on Wednesday unanimously selected "Susan Stanton" as one of 11 job finalists for city manager.

Stanton, who applied for the job under the name he plans to assume later this month, was one of only three finalists selected by all five commissioners.

That unanimity is expected to help Stanton become one of four to six finalists commissioners will interview privately and publicly May 29 and 30.

Stanton, who served as Largo's city manager for 14 years, was fired from that job in March, a month after revealing his plans to become a woman. He commended Sarasota's leaders for keeping his application in the running and not using the excuse of national media attention to weed it out.

"It certainly shows they're sincerely interested in evaluating my credentials and my experience, " said Stanton, 48.

Largo commissioners, some of whom voted to fire him, said they were pleased Sarasota looked past the gender issue to consider Stanton.

"That means that they're open, and that's a good thing, " said Largo Commissioner Andy Guyette, who was among the five commissioners who voted to fire Stanton. Guyette said he would have voted to keep Stanton, but he felt Stanton gave preferential treatment to subordinates whom he told about his plans to become a woman.

Largo Mayor Pat Gerard, who opposed Stanton's firing, said it was obvious that Sarasota commissioners focused on Stanton's qualifications.

"He's got a lot of talent, and I hope he shares it with some other community, " she said.

During Wednesday's meeting in Sarasota, city commissioners and the city's headhunter largely sidestepped the issue of Stanton's upcoming transition, instead focusing on Stanton's experience.

Sarasota City Commissioner Ken Shelin said there were three things that he found attractive about Stanton: his long career as a city manager of Largo, his expertise in developing a strategic plan and his budget experience.

Sarasota Mayor Lou Ann Palmer noted that Stanton applied for the same job about 5 1/2 years ago and "was very good on paper" but that he eventually withdrew his name at the request of Largo commissioners.

Stanton is still living as a man, but he is undergoing hormone therapy and electrolysis to remove facial and body hair and has filed court papers to legally change his name to Susan Ashley Stanton.

His sandy hair has grown long and is starting to curl, and his body and mannerisms look more feminine.

He will start living as a woman later this month and interview for the Sarasota job as Susan. Eventually he plans to have gender reassignment surgery.

Tom Freijo, senior vice president for Mercer Group, the firm that conducted the job search, told commissioners he had done consulting work for Largo and had an opportunity to see Stanton interact with staff. He described Stanton as someone with "outstanding city manager skills." He also mentioned the national publicity Stanton had received.

Freijo said he plans to do in-depth background checks on all finalists and trim the list to four to six candidates for the late May interviews. Commissioners plan to pick a new manager May 30.

Sarasota, which has a population of about 55, 000, is a wealthier community than mostly working class Largo, with 76, 000 residents.

Sarasota boasts cultural amenities like the John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art and the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. The city has 780 full-time employees and a budget of $187-million.

In Largo, Stanton oversaw about 1, 000 full- and part-time employees and a budget of about $130-million. Stanton, who made $140, 234 annually in Largo, indicated he would expect a Sarasota salary of $150, 000 to $160, 000.

Stanton's competition includes two other candidates approved by all commissioners:

Robert Bartolotta resigned his job as town manager of Jupiter in 2004 to care for his terminally ill wife, who has passed away. Jupiter, a town of 45, 000, had 400 town employees.

Patrick Salerno serves as city manager of Sunrise, which has a population of 90, 000. He oversees about 1, 300 employees and a budget of $380-million.

Other finalists include city managers, an assistant city manager and a deputy chief administrative officer.

Stanton lost his job March 24. But last month, after it was discovered Stanton had removed some files from his city laptop before turning it over, officials asked him to turn in the devices used to store the files to make sure no public records were removed. He did so last week. Preliminary inspection suggests the majority of removed files were personal in nature.