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At last, commissioners remember their job

Published June 10, 2007


At least six of the seven Largo city commissioners now seem determined to stop marching to the beat of a small group of critics and concentrate on vital city business.

That's good to hear. Since former City Manager Steve Stanton was fired in March - and even as far back as the last city election, one resident noted at last week's City Commission meeting - commissioners have allowed themselves to be distracted and manipulated by the demands of small groups of naysayers.

Near the end of last week's commission meeting, all the commissioners except Mary Gray Black had something to say about the recent disruptions and the need to move on.

Commissioner Rodney Woods began by offering an apology to the public - an apology that was not necessary - for creating a stir by reporting to police that he was threatened by activist Curtis Holmes in a private meeting. He said he thought it was important for people to know what was going on.

According to Woods, Holmes told him that the "powers that be" in town didn't like the way Woods was voting on the commission, and if he didn't resign his post within a week, they would release politically embarrassing information about him.

Holmes said he did not threaten Woods. Police were not able to confirm Woods' claim because there was no witness to the conversation.

After Woods' apology at Tuesday's meeting, other commissioners weighed in, beginning with Commissioner Gigi Arntzen, who said, "The sideshows we've been experiencing now need to stop."

Perhaps commissioners were encouraged in that direction by several residents who spoke at the beginning of the meeting. They accused the group of critics of being motivated by "a grudge, " "hateful political vindictiveness" and "political vendettas, " and they urged the commission to stop responding to the demands of a few.

One resident, J.B. Butler, a regular at City Commission meetings, was particularly forceful in his comments. Butler said he believes Woods' claim against Holmes, even though police could not confirm it and Holmes was not charged.

"When a citizen in a democracy goes into the office of an office holder and threatens him ...that is an extremely serious event, " Butler said. "And I believe all the citizens of Largo and the commissioners ought to take that event into their thinking the next time and every time Mr. Holmes makes a statement to this group.

"Some things are beyond the pale, " Butler continued. "Threatening and extortion and demanding that a public official stand down from his elected office because the 'powers that be' have decided he's not voting right - not voting right? Who elected these 'powers that be' to establish how Mr. Woods should be voting? The 'powers that be' gallery is still out there. I want to see it stopped."

It is a precious right of every American to criticize the government. Holmes and his cohorts, including former Mayor Bob Jackson and former Commissioner Charlie Harper, have the right to criticize the city's elected and appointed officials and the job they are doing. It is the city's reaction to the critics that has been problematic. Government business has been disrupted for months.

Each member of the Largo City Commission was elected to bring intelligence, maturity, good judgment and common sense to the job, and to make decisions that are in the best interest of the entire Largo community.

There will always be government critics. Some of their claims will be valid and warrant investigation and response. Some critics will have destructive motives and deserve no consideration. Elected officials must be able to tell the difference, and regardless, keep the train of government on track.

Commissioner Gigi Arntzen: "Our obligation to serve 70, 000 people has been derailed by a few, possibly well-intentioned, but probably never satisfied, critics. I hope my fellow commissioners will take the opportunity tonight to turn a page and start a new chapter."

Commissioner Harriet Crozier: "I'm ready to move on."

Commissioner Gay Gentry: "There's too much positive in this community to get ourselves bogged down in name-calling and retribution and revenge and heartache and all of that."

Mayor Pat Gerard: "I would ditto that. It's time to move on. I think we have lots of important things to worry about."

Commissioner Andy Guyette: "Period. It's over with."

Commissioner Rodney Woods: "I just wanted the public to know what was going on and they would come to their own conclusions. I'm praying to God that no one else ever approaches me in such a manner."

[Last modified June 10, 2007, 07:16:06]

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