Largo dispute sparks an inquiry

Published May 26, 2007

LARGO - There was a meeting, an ultimatum and a threat, says City Commissioner Rodney Woods.

And now there's a criminal investigation.

The Largo Police Department launched a criminal investigation Tuesday into whether Woods was urged to resign and threatened during a one-on-one meeting with civic activist Curtis Holmes more than six weeks ago.

Woods said Holmes told him, "I got stuff on you and we will expose you if you don't resign."

Contacted Wednesday, Holmes said the meeting never took place and he did not threaten Woods.

"I have not talked to Mr. Woods in months, plural, " said Holmes, 57, who shows up at virtually all City Commission meetings and is an outspoken critic of Mayor Pat Gerard.

Largo police spokesman Mac McMullen said police launched an investigation Tuesday after Woods spoke with Deputy Chief John Carroll.

"We are treating this as a criminal complaint and going through the investigative process, " McMullen said.

Woods met with Holmes at a City Hall office on March 27, according to records kept by the commission's secretary.

At that meeting, Woods said, Holmes told him he was a "messenger for the powers that be" and they did not like how Woods had been voting, specifically regarding former City Manager Steve Stanton.

Woods, who three days earlier had voted against firing Stanton, said the meeting ended with an ultimatum to tender his resignation in a week's time. If he didn't resign, Woods said, Holmes said he would bring out information that would hurt Woods politically.

During the meeting, Woods said Holmes brought up the support that Woods tried to muster for victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

"He said he had been tracking me for the past year or so, specifically when I took some goods for Katrina victims, " Woods said. "I guess I gave some money to my family."

In September 2005, about a week after Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and about six months before he was elected to the City Commission, Woods went before the commission and said he planned to take goods to hurricane victims in Louisiana.

Woods, who grew up in St. Charles Parish, La., said at the meeting that people could bring items to his home and monetary donations could be made to the Chamber of Commerce, according to minutes of the commission meeting.

Woods said Wednesday he went to Louisiana and handed out water and paper products to a number of people, including strangers and his family.

Woods said he did nothing wrong on the Katrina relief trip and has no plans to resign.

"I will not be intimidated and I will continue honorably and nobly to represent every citizen of Largo, " Woods said.

On Wednesday, Holmes said he had not heard that the police were investigating Woods' allegations. Holmes said he had not spoken to Woods since February, though in a March 1 e-mail he called Woods an "a--."

Holmes started a Web site, www.largofuture.com, which features comments from former Mayor Bob Jackson and former Commissioner Charlie Harper.

That Web site also includes a petition, recently submitted to city commissioners, that has set the stage for another possible investigation of city officials.

The petition calls for an investigation of whether city officials who knew about Stanton's plans for a sex change and didn't tell commissioners violated the city charter.

Holmes turned in that petition to the city this month.

Last week, the commission voted 5-1 to ask the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office to investigate the allegation. Gerard voted against seeking the investigation. Woods was absent from that meeting.

The Sheriff's Office received the city's request Monday. As of Wednesday afternoon, the Sheriff's Office was still reviewing the complaint to see if it will open an investigation.

Times staff writer Lorri Helfand contributed to this report.