Talks on new manager to begin

City commissioners must decide how to replace the city manager they recently fired.

Published May 8, 2007

LARGO - Largo city commissioners tonight are scheduled to begin discussing how to replace the city manager they fired this spring.

And one of their first decisions will be whether to hire a private search firm to recruit and help screen candidates to replace Steve Stanton, who was fired March 24.

For at least some commissioners, that's not a hard question. Yes, they say, hire the firm.

"This is not a game for amateurs, " Commissioner Gay Gentry said Monday.

Tonight's meeting is a work session, meaning commissioners will not vote on any decisions. But it could frame the discussion for when they do.

Gentry anticipated she would urge colleagues to be cautious about their choice because of the uncertainty the Legislature has created over the future of property taxes in Florida. If the state forces local officials to roll back their tax rates, running a city like Largo could become a lot harder.

The question is, how much?

"I thought we would have had it settled by now, " Gentry said. But it isn't, which means the city's next manager needs to have a sound understanding of the potential financial problems Largo could face.

Commissioner Andy Guyette said he would anticipate looking at each applicant's vision, "which is, to me, a very critical piece of city planning."

"Another one, I think, is employee relations, " Guyette said. "Those are two I think I would concentrate on."

Largo's new city manager will oversee a staff of about 1, 000 full- and part-time employees and a budget of $130-million annually.

Hiring a search firm could cost $20, 000 to $24, 000 - not including the cost of bringing any out-of-town finalists to Largo for interviews or of sending Largo commissioners to the finalists' current cities on fact-finding trips.

That, according to a staff analysis, is consistent with what Dunedin and Safety Harbor recently paid to conduct city manager searches. It's also close to what Clearwater paid in 2001 to conduct a national search to determine whether interim city manager Bill Horne was as qualified as any outside candidates the city could find. He was, Clearwater officials concluded.

Coincidentally, the city could end up using the Mercer Group of Winter Haven for the search. That's the firm handling the city manager search in Sarasota, where Stanton is a finalist.

Stanton, 48, has applied in Sarasota as Susan Stanton, the name he plans to take as he makes the transition from man to woman. Sarasota commissioners interview their finalists late this month.

Largo commissioners voted 5-2, with Mayor Pat Gerard and Commissioner Rodney Woods in dissent, to dismiss Stanton.

The final decision came about a month after Stanton, who made $140, 234 annually in Largo, disclosed that he was undergoing hormone therapy in preparation for gender-reassignment surgery.

That news led to two highly charged City Commission meetings about his future. In voting to let him go, commissioners said they had lost their trust in Stanton and the leadership standards he set for employees.

Since then, commissioners have appointed assistant city manager Norton "Mac" Craig as Largo's acting city manager.

Asked whether he thought the way Stanton was fired might affect the search for his replacement, Guyette said it could, but it shouldn't.

Some candidates might hesitate, he said, but if they do their homework "I don't think a good city manager would have a problem applying."

Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@sptimes.com or 445-4152.

City manager pay

* Includes budgeted 2007 pay increases.

Fast Facts:

If you go

Commissioners are scheduled to discuss recruiting a new city manager in a work session at 6 tonight in the community room of Largo City Hall, 201 Highland Ave.


City Annual salary *

Clearwater $154, 063

Dunedin $129, 000

Pinellas Park $110, 688

Safety Harbor $120, 000

* Includes budgeted 2007 pay increases.


Largo city commissioners are scheduled to discuss the process of recruiting a new city manager and other matters during a work session at 6 tonight in the community room of Largo City Hall, 201 Highland Ave.


Annual salary*
Clearwater $154, 063
Dunedin $129, 000
Pinellas Park $110, 688
Safety Harbor $120, 000
St. Petersburg $157, 500