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Stanton's former secretary is fired

Brenda Francisco worked for the former city manager for 14 years.

By LORRI HELFAND
Published July 24, 2007


LARGO - The new city manager has decided he doesn't want Steve Stanton's secretary as his own.

On Monday, Norton "Mac" Craig fired Brenda Francisco, a 33-year city employee who had worked as former City Manager Stanton's secretary for 14 years.

Francisco questioned whether her termination was in retaliation for her support of Stanton, who was fired in March after revealing plans to become a woman.

Craig disputed Francisco's concern, saying his decision was based on his desire to have his own secretary, not because of issues with Stanton.

Francisco's "been with him a long time and she had loyalty to him and I wanted my own person," Craig said.

Francisco said she pledged her commitment to Craig before he was selected to lead the city.

Assistant City Manager Henry Schubert escorted Francisco, who was paid $49,200 annually, from the building Monday. She was not offered another city job, but was offered a settlement agreement that includes three months' severance pay. Francisco has three weeks to decide whether to sign the agreement, which precludes her from filing discrimination complaints or lawsuits against the city relating to her firing.

Francisco said she planned to contact an attorney to see what her rights were. She also has the option to appeal her firing to the city's personnel advisory board. But the board's decisions are advisory, not binding.

"I understand Craig has the prerogative just to cut me off completely and say there's nowhere else in the city for you. But being 60 years old and having to start all over again, it's scary," said Francisco, whose husband, Roger, works for Largo as a construction project manager.

Stanton said Francisco's departure is a loss for Largo.

"She's been such a superb employee," said Stanton, who has since legally changed his name to Susan. "Largo has lost an excellent administrative staff member today."

Mayor Pat Gerard said Craig had the right to choose a secretary he felt comfortable with.

"He has a big job and he needs somebody he can rely on and I guess he didn't feel that way about Brenda," Gerard said.

Francisco said she avoided talking about Stanton's firing at City Hall. But she was open about the fact that she kept in touch with Stanton, who now lives in Sarasota.

Both she and Craig were among a handful of employees who attended a going away party for Stanton in April.

Francisco's personnel file included glowing reviews from Stanton, who praised her writing, computer and organizational skills.

"During my entire time as city manager, she has learned to anticipate my needs, work independently to resolve problems and assert herself when she has determined that staff may be acting inconsistently with my direction or city policy," Stanton wrote in a September 2006 evaluation.

Francisco said she plans to seek work with other local governments.

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