Largo's top official, Steven Stanton, has expressed concerns about his job safety.
By ERIC STIRGUS
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 2, 2001
LARGO -- City Manager Steven Stanton, who has led aggressive annexation efforts and held the line on taxes in more than seven years as the city's top official, is one of six finalists for a similar post in Westminster, Colo., a suburb between Denver and Boulder.
Stanton flew to Westminster on Tuesday and was expected to attend a reception Thursday afternoon before formal interviews with city officials today and Saturday.
The interviews come less than a month after Stanton, who has expressed concerns about his job safety in Largo, asked city commissioners for a three-year contract.
Stanton told commissioners he got a telephone call from a firm asking him to apply for the position. Bill Christopher, Westminster's city manager, announced retirement plans in October after 23 years in the position. The search for a new city manager began in December.
Stanton was one of 89 applicants for the job. An Atlanta firm, the Mercer Group, reduced the list to 23 semifinalists. The Mercer Group and Westminster City Council members whittled the list to six candidates.
Westminster, a city that is drawing many high-tech companies, is looking for a city manager who has experience handling growth issues and empowering city employees.
"He meets that profile to a T, both in the area he works in and his management style," Matt Lutkus, Westminster's deputy city manager for administration, said of Stanton.
As Westminster's city manager, Stanton would be in charge of a larger budget and more employees. His annual salary would jump from $98,600 to $137,800, which does not include a $450 monthly car allowance.
Stanton could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Largo city commissioners had mixed feelings about Stanton interviewing for the job.
"I'm very upset about it," said Pat Gerard. "I don't want him to leave Largo. I think he's doing a great job. I understand why he's looking. It's a step up. However, he's been here (nearly) eight years and I work well with him."
"I guess if you get that opportunity, you should see what is out there," said Jean Halvorsen.
Commissioners credit Stanton with strengthening city departments without raising the property tax rate. He has also led Largo in an annexation push eastward, bringing major businesses into city limits, such as the ICOT Center and the Crossroads Mall, formerly known as the Bay Area Outlet Mall.
But Stanton's marks on his performance review dropped last year. Some commissioners have complained recently about his communication style.
"I think he's weak in that area," said Mary Laurance. "I want someone who can tell all of the commissioners the same thing and it won't change."
Stanton has been aware of such concerns. He has said his job could be in jeopardy if recently hired Largo police Chief Lester Aradi has a short tenure in Largo. Aradi is Largo's third police chief since 1997, and commissioners have said they want more stability in that position.
Commissioner Marty Shelby said job security was not a factor in Stanton's decision to apply for the Westminster position.
"I believe he has complete confidence in Chief Aradi," Shelby said. "I think the timing is unrelated."
Last month, Stanton met individually with commissioners to ask for a three-year contract.
Some commissioners supported Stanton's request, citing his accomplishments in Largo.
"He has done an outstanding job, and if he does not qualify for a long-term contract, I don't know who would," said Pat Burke.
Others were hesitant, worried about the cost of buying out Stanton's contract if commissioners decide they want to fire him. Mayor Bob Jackson persuaded Stanton to withdraw his contract request.
"I'd hate to tie future commissioners' hands," Jackson said.
Grew up in the Catskill Mountains in New York.
Hired by Largo: Aug. 13, 1990
Appointed city manager: Sept. 7, 1993
Professional background: Stanton has been city administrator of Berea, Ky., and has served as assistant to the city manager in Champaign, Ill., and Newburgh, N.Y. Stanton was administrative assistant to the borough manager of the Ketchikan Gateway Borough in Alaska.
Education: bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Florida
Personal: wife, Donna, and son, Travis, 7.