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Stanton optimistic about job after interviews, gathering

Sarasota commissioners are expected to name a top pick today.

By LORRI HELFAND
Published May 30, 2007


SARASOTA - For much of Tuesday it wasn't hard to find Susan Stanton.

Wherever she appeared, up to 10 television cameras and reporters swarmed.

But Tuesday evening, it was the public's turn, as Stanton and four other applicants for Sarasota city manager mingled with about 400 people at a posh social.

After more interviews today, city commissioners plan to choose a top pick and a runnerup. Commissioners wouldn't say if they had any favorites, but Stanton said she felt good after her first day of one-on-one interviews.

"I'm optimistic that I will be given a fair and equal opportunity to show what I can do as city manager," she said.

Stanton, 48, who served as Largo's city manager for 14 years, was fired a month after revealing plans to become a woman.

Before the interviews, Stanton said she felt she was prepared, maybe too prepared. Last week she met with about 15 community and neighborhood leaders to gauge the city's needs. From those talks she knew what commissioners wanted to hear, but she didn't want her answers to sound canned and predictable.

One of the top candidates, Sunrise City Manager Patrick Salerno, said the barrage of media didn't bother him.

"I don't think it affected the process at all," he said.

Stanton disagreed, saying it especially affected her.

"This is damaging the process," she said. "A good city manager sits in the shadows."

After lunch, candidates jumped in a city van and toured Sarasota's neighborhoods and downtown. The evening wrapped up with a meet-the-candidates social at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.

Over cocktails and heavy hors d'oeuvres, about 400 residents mingled with all five candidates, but Stanton always had someone waiting to be next.

"Of all the candidates we have, you know the one who should be selected: It's Susan," said Gwen E. Calloway, who sits on the city's board of adjustment. "She's smart, and she's not pretentious."

Calloway, who is African-American, said she could relate to the discrimination Stanton has faced.

Van Wezel Foundation co-chairwoman Dottie Baer Garner said she feels Stanton will be a boon to the arts.

But Michael Saunders, who runs a real estate company, said the selection process for the manager is rushed, with just two days of interviews.

"How can you, at a cocktail party, determine suitability," Saunders said.

Some asked Stanton tough questions, like the meaning of leadership or how she would help disaffected residents connect with City Hall.

Others just hugged and kissed her.

"People were fun. They were engaged. They were excited and sincere," she said. "To have people who will come up and embrace you as you are, it's an E-ticket (ride) at Disney World."