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A Times Editorial

Inquiry's end needed as candidate returns

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 16, 2001


Bob Leggiere's return to the public arena in the city of Port Richey means a renewed interest in the investigation surrounding city government.

Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe should expedite a conclusion. It would let Leggiere campaign for mayor without a cloud of suspicion overhead or allow city voters to know precisely what allegations the former acting mayor will face. The ambiguity is a disservice to all.

The speed of the investigation likely cooled with Leggiere's loss at the polls in September to Eloise Taylor and the decision by City Council members Joe Menicola and Pat Guttman not to talk to investigators sans subpoena.

It was a ridiculous scenario. Menicola and Guttman wanted the city to hire its own investigator to get to the bottom of the allegations; decided to exercise their right to due process when they discovered prosecutors' interest; and finally billed the city's taxpayers for legal costs accrued while not cooperating with authorities. They must share the blame for the extended investigation.

Leggiere continues to maintain he did nothing wrong, but acknowledges he became involved in the city building department's day-to-day activities and even brokered a compromise allowing a stalled project to move forward after two building officials failed to issue permits. The City Charter prohibits council members from interfering in the city government's daily operations.

Though Leggiere might not be able to identify the paradox, law enforcement officers did. Police Chief William Downs' investigation became public in July after a newly hired building official resigned two weeks into the job, charging Leggiere's interference had undermined his authority.

The prosecutor's office confirmed its investigation in September, asking the council to hold off on its own probe prompted by malfeasance allegations voiced by Leggiere in the aftermath of his election loss.

McCabe, in an interview with Times staff writer Matthew Waite, indicated he will decide a course of action quickly, saying, "I agree it needs to be resolved." Those words are welcome.

Leggiere was a three-year council member boastful of rolling up his shirt sleeves and getting things done. Over the next seven weeks, he will have to answer for his judgment on several public issues.

By the April 10 election, voters should be allowed to know if the mayoral candidate has even more pressing matters on which to answer.

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