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Largo's leaders need to get back to business

By Times editorial
Published June 3, 2007


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With hurricane season under way, the city budget in flux and property tax and insurance crises aplenty, one would expect the Largo City Commission to have a laser-like focus on those priorities.

But commissioners are preoccupied with throwing stones or dodging them, launching inquiries and responding to the demands of a small group of activists and ex-city officials that seems to smell blood in the water.

The result: The works of city government are all gummed up. The good citizens of Largo, who hopefully are watching the commission meetings on TV Channel 15 or on the Web at www.largo.com, should demand that it stop. It is embarrassing and counterproductive.

The number of allegations, investigations or calls for investigations seems to grow by the week.

It began after the firing of City Manager Steve Stanton on March 24, days after he revealed that he plans to become a woman. A day or so later, a disgruntled former firefighter said that Jeff Bullock, promoted by Stanton to fire chief, should be investigated for unseemly behavior on the job. Despite much effort by the city to confirm the allegations, no proof was found.

Also after Stanton's firing, some individuals demanded that the City Commission investigate whether several city officials had violated the city charter by not revealing that they knew that Stanton was a transsexual and was working on a plan to come out to the public.

The group implied that the officials' secrecy was a conspiracy to keep other commissioners in the dark and hide alleged misconduct by Stanton. They claimed the officials violated City Charter Section 2.06(b): "The mayor or a city commissioner shall report to the city commission all violations or neglect of duty or any misfeasance, malfeasance or nonfeasance in office, or improper conduct on the part of any elected or appointed official. ... "

This group submitted a petition with the names of 28 people scribbled on it (without addresses and phone numbers, by the way) and demanded an investigation. Recognizable names on the petition include those of former Mayor Bob Jackson and his wife, Lucille, and former Commissioner Charlie Harper.

The City Commission responded by asking the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office whether it would investigate. Sheriff Jim Coats wisely declined, saying the petition's allegations "are not supported in fact and appear to be political in nature."

The sheriff also added in a letter to the city, "The issues surrounding former City Manager Stanton's conduct concern personal values and social and moral judgments that make it impossible to objectively establish the alleged 'wrongfulness' of the former city manager's conduct."

Next, Commissioner Rodney Woods went to Largo police and reported that a longtime Largo government critic, Curtis Holmes, had met with him at City Hall and threatened him. According to Woods, Holmes said he was a "messenger for the powers that be, " who didn't like the way Woods had been voting. Woods was one of two commissioners who voted against firing Stanton.

According to Woods, Holmes gave him one week to resign from the commission or information would be made public that Holmes claimed would hurt Woods politically. Woods refused.

Holmes told the St. Petersburg Times that he hadn't met with the commissioner in months, but he later told police that the meeting did occur. Police closed the investigation without filing any charges because there was no witness to confirm what Holmes said to Woods.

But the critics wouldn't let it go. On Friday, former Mayor Jackson and resident Chester Rowe filed a complaint at City Hall seeking an investigation into whether Woods violated the city charter by going directly to police about Holmes' alleged threat. The city charter states that except for "inquiries and investigations, " city commissioners have to deal with city employees through the city manager.

How ridiculous for Jackson and Rowe to argue that a commissioner cannot go directly to police if he believes he is the victim of a crime!

But they didn't stop there. They said that Woods should be removed from office by the City Commission for his charter "violation" and that if commissioners don't remove him, they also will be violating the charter and subject to removal.

Meanwhile, Holmes has started a Web site that he, Jackson, Harper and a few others are using to promote themselves and showcase their complaints and allegations. Some scurrilous claims are posted anonymously.

There is no question that Stanton's firing convinced some factions that they have new influence in City Hall. Also, the departure of Stanton after 14 years as manager left a power vacuum that some who were in the political minority are hungry to fill.

It is not love for the city that motivates such activity. It is political one-upmanship. And it will not end until the Largo City Commission, empowered for the job by all the voters of Largo, turns away such demands and insists on the opportunity to do its job free of harassment and intimidation.

[Last modified June 2, 2007, 19:01:54]


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