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Stanton makes her case for Sarasota job

By LORRI HELFAND
Published May 30, 2007


Susan Stanton (right) visits with Sarasota City Commissioner Ken Shelin during a lunch break Tuesday while interviewing for the Sarasota City Manager job. Sarasota Vice Mayor Kelly Kirschner (far left) talks with candidate Terry Zerkle.
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[Times photo: Douglas R. Clifford]
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SARASOTA - After three months of intense scrutiny of her decision to become a woman, Susan Stanton Wednesday pulled the spotlight back on her career as a city manager.

In a wide-ranging interview with Sarasota's five city commissioners, Stanton said she should be hired as Sarasota's city manager because of her expertise with budgets, knowledge of policy and commitment to get to know the city and her employees.

"I think it's extremely important to make yourself available, " Stanton told commissioners. "I think it's extremely important to be a part of the community."

During a nearly hourlong interview, Sarasota commissioners asked Stanton about growth management, neighborhood relations, budgeting, risk-taking and leadership.

They did not bring up Stanton's transgender status, but Stanton did herself at the end of the interview.

The former Largo city manager said she wanted to put the issue on the table because she had heard questions about how long she might need for gender reassignment surgery, whether hiring her would create a lasting media circus and whether she would advocate for transgender issues while city manager.

Stanton said the surgery would require a downtime of up to two weeks, not several months as she had heard. She also predicted that the media sideshow would soon dissipate.

"Within two to three weeks after I am hired in this position, the media will realize that it won't matter what kind of necklace I'm wearing or the color of my shoes, " she said. "The sensationality will go away."

While she has been interviewed and invited to speak to various groups since being fired in Largo, she said she would be a fully engaged, committed city manager, not someone pursuing publicity for a cause.

The best thing she could do for people like her, Stanton said, would be to land the job and succeed at it.

Asked what she would do to build trust and unity among employees at City Hall, Stanton said it's essential to come in to the job with an open mind.

"The first thing I would do is called look, learn and listen, " Stanton said. "It's important not to bring in our own biases."

And when it comes to building trust among employees, Stanton said the most important thing she could do as city manager is to understand their jobs.

For Stanton, who routinely trained alongside firefighters and police officers and worked with public works crews in Largo, that means finding out what employees do, taking time to work beside them, even wear their uniforms.

Beyond that, Stanton said it would be essential to work closely with individual commissioners so that she knew what their goals and aspirations were.

She also discussed the importance of making sure the public knows what's going on at City Hall. In Largo, for example, Stanton wrote a weekly city manager's report that updated commissioners, staff and residents on the status of a variety of projects and efforts around town.

And once you do that, she said, it's vital that the public knows that the city will do what it says it will do - something she said has not happened in the Sarasota neighborhood of Newtown.

On budget issues, Stanton advocated moving to a 24-month budget cycle, as Largo uses, instead of using a 12-month budget cycle that forces the city to begin the time-consuming budget-planning process only four months after it concludes the last cycle.

Going to the two-year budget planning cycle freed Largo "up to issues of substance as opposed to bureaucratic nonsense and budget politics, " Stanton said.

Asked about a time when she faced a managerial problem in Largo, Stanton described a scandal in the 1990s when it became known that some police employees had inappropriate relationships with teenaged Explorers.

"I got personally involved with that, worked with our police chief, (and) had a very detailed investigation as to what took place, " she said. "When it was done, we made those findings public, we held people accountable and admitted mistakes were made. ... Quite often the walls of denial go up and that creates an even worse situation."

Sarasota commissioners are concluding their interviews with the five finalists for the city manager's job and are expected to name a top pick and an alternate Wednesday afternoon.

The city then intends to spend some time doing some research in the No. 1 candidate's home town before negotiating an employment contract.

Stanton said before her interview Wednesday morning that she had not applied for any other jobs, had fallen in love with Sarasota and very much wants the job.

But if she doesn't get the job, she said, "life goes on."

"I gave it my best, " Stanton said. "I'll congratulate the next city manager."

[Last modified May 30, 2007, 12:31:42]


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