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On his first day on the job, Largo's new police chief quickly finds out the priorities of the city manager.
By ERIC STIRGUS
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 23, 2001
LARGO -- On Tuesday, Lester Aradi was sworn in as the city's police chief. The same day, City Manager Steven Stanton gave him an eight-page list of issues he would like to see addressed.
Stanton admits he is perceived as a micromanager by critics and by some police officers. They may argue, Stanton said, that he should give Aradi more time to acclimate himself.
But Stanton thinks these matters must be addressed quickly for a department scarred by last year's investigation in which officers admitted to improper conduct with Explorers.
"I can't abdicate my duties as city manager," said Stanton.
The list of 15 items ranges from how to fill the 24 vacancies in the department to community policing to what Stanton phrased in his memo as the "very cold institutional building" that is police headquarters and what can be done to make it look friendlier to visitors.
"This is going to be his blueprint for action," said Stanton.
City Commissioner Marty Shelby said he does not find fault with Stanton's approach.
"Whether or not (Stanton) micromanages," he said, "those items need to be addressed to the satisfaction of the (City) Commission and the community."
But he noted that the many items on the memo may be a bit much to put on Aradi's plate so early in his tenure.
"It's quite a laundry list to be given on the first day of the job," the commissioner confessed.
Mayor Bob Jackson said many residents think there has not been enough oversight of the Police Department by Stanton.
"I get criticism from the community that he doesn't exert enough control over some of the departments," he said.
Aradi said he and Stanton had discussed many of the items on the list before Aradi was hired last month. He plans to have some answers for Stanton within 90 days.
The new chief thinks he will have the latitude he needs to run the Police Department the way he sees fit. He does not think Stanton is micromanaging.
"He's assured me that I will be running the day-to-day operations," he said.
Stanton has asked Aradi to examine whether the Police Department should seek the help of an outside agency when investigating alleged officer misconduct. Largo police have traditionally been reluctant to do so. The department sent findings of its internal investigation of the Explorer case to the State Attorney's Office. A former officer admitted to having sex with a 17-year-old female Explorer and two other officers were disciplined for improper conduct with the youths.
Aradi also will review whether Largo should create a civilian oversight board or have a resident on the department's discipline review board. Another concern mentioned by Stanton is making sure officers are more aware of city code violations.
"It does not fit into traditional policing, but it is a quality of life issue," Stanton said. "It is community policing. You cannot separate the two."
Stanton also wants Aradi to review the department's college degree requirement for officers. Some city leaders think the requirement has discouraged some officers from coming to Largo.
Aradi hinted that Largo may have to relax the rule in order to fill some of the vacant police officer positions.
"It's a nice bar to set, but . . . we have to reassess the criteria we are going to set," he said.