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Stanton doesn't get job

The former Largo city manager finishes third in Sarasota's search.

By LORRI HELFAND
Published May 31, 2007


SARASOTA - Susan Stanton drew the spotlight, but didn't get the job.

Sarasota city commissioners Wednesday passed over the former Largo city manager in their search for a chief executive for their city.

Instead, they named former Jupiter Town Manager Robert Bartolotta as their top choice. Their alternate is Marsha Segal-George, deputy chief administrative officer of Orlando.

Stanton, 48, was ranked third by the commission, which praised her as a candidate.

Stanton was "very committed, very attuned to the community" and "very qualified in regard to budget issues," Mayor Lou Ann Palmer said.

Stanton said she plans to move to Sarasota even though she didn't get the job. To prepare for this week's interviews, she spent eight days there and said she made many friends in the community.

"I'm a little disappointed, but this was such a great experience," she said. "Sarasota is going to be part of my future no matter what."

A career change also might be in her future. Stanton said she's not sure what her next step will be, but her recent experiences have led her to think about going into educational administration or maybe even running for Congress.

"I actually enjoy getting out meeting folks and connecting with people in ways I never thought I would," she said.

That hit home Tuesday night at a city manager-candidates social, where she chatted with a constant stream of residents who flocked to meet her.

"I didn't want the night to end," she said.

'Wasn't going to happen'

But toward the end of Wednesday's interviews, Stanton said she got the impression that "it wasn't going to happen."

"It was too soon for a transgender city manager," said Stanton, who was fired in Largo a month after disclosing her plans to become a woman and change her name from Steve to Susan.

Sarasota commissioners considered her fairly, Stanton said, but the media frenzy made it difficult to convey her passion for the job.

Asked whether she thought the other candidates were more qualified, she said it was not so much a matter of qualifications as of fit, and the top two finalists were a better fit for the city.

City leaders and residents agreed, praising Bartolotta's skills and temperament.

Commissioner Ken Shelin said he didn't think Stanton's transgenderism was an issue because she made it into the top three.

"To tell you the truth, it did not play a role with me," Commissioner Richard Clapp said.

Stanton was a solid manager but, Clapp said, seemed to concentrate more on staff and the internal management of the city than on the big picture.

Susan Chapman, president of the Hudson Bayou neighborhood association in Sarasota, said she was concerned about Stanton's references, which suggested she was harsh on staff members. She expressed that concern with city commissioners, she said.

Largo Mayor Pat Gerard said she was pleased Sarasota commissioners gave Stanton a fair chance.

Life will go on

Stanton will continue with her life and will be just as successful as she was before, Gerard said, "and she won't have all of the cameras in her face."

Wednesday morning, Stanton was interviewed by the city staff, a citizen advisory group and commissioners.

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

They did not bring up Stanton's transgender status, but she did.

Stanton, 48, 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.

Two weeks for surgery

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.

After commissioners made their decision, Stanton joined a close friend, former Largo City Commissioner Pat Burke, for grouper and margaritas. Then she went to the Church of the Redeemer in Sarasota to pray.

She plans to fly out to Chicago today, where she's the keynote speaker at the Be-All transgender convention on Saturday.

After she returns, Stanton likely is looking at moving out of the Largo home she shares with her wife and son. That move had been planned to take place once she began living as Susan full time.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or 727 445-4155.