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City manager's job could be at stake

A Largo commissioner says the manager put pressure on the commission last week after he interviewed for a job in Colorado.

By ERIC STIRGUS

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 10, 2001


LARGO -- As one Colorado city ponders offering a job to Largo City Manager Steven Stanton, one Largo commissioner wants to discuss firing him.

"In preparation for any discussion regarding the city manager's employment status, please draft the appropriate language, as required by the City Charter, to terminate the city manager," City Commissioner Marty Shelby wrote to City Attorney Alan Zimmet in a memo.

An angry Shelby accused Stanton of trying to put pressure on the commission by reiterating his desire for a three-year contract shortly after interviewing last week for the city manager's job in Westminster, Colo., a city of nearly 97,000 people between Denver and Boulder.

"The Colorado situation is being used as leverage," Shelby said Friday.

Shelby says if Stanton does not get the contract, he will continue to search for another job and will be distracted from his duties in Largo as the man in charge of the city's day-to-day operations. That, Shelby said, may force commissioners to remove Stanton from his job.

"I don't want to see him fired, but that is the risk he has created," Shelby said Friday. "The risk in Mr. Stanton forcing the issue is that his effectiveness as city manager will be irreparably damaged."

The debate over Stanton's future has cast a ominous cloud over city government. His job status will be debated at Tuesday's City Commission meeting, in which a three-year contract will be discussed at the request of Commissioner Pat Burke.

The word "terminate" sent shudders through some commissioners.

"I don't know what is going on," said Mayor Bob Jackson.

Stanton denied using the Westminster job opportunity as leverage to get a contract from Largo commissioners. Stanton, who has been city manager more than seven years, said the talk of firing him stung.

"Disappointed. Disappointed," he said. "Largo's been good to me."

Stanton is one of three finalists for the Westminster position.

During Stanton's tenure, Largo has built a cultural center, expanded Largo Central Park and annexed large chunks of land to add to the city's property tax rolls. This was done without raising property taxes.

But some commissioners recently have grumbled about Stanton's communication skills.

"Mr. Stanton has a history of being unresponsive to the community at times," Shelby said.

Amid complaints about the lack of stability in the police chief position, Stanton has said his job could be in jeopardy if recently hired Largo police Chief Lester Aradi has a short stay in Largo.

Stanton also has complained that his salary is below that of other city managers. A study conducted for Stanton by a private firm shows he is paid $15,000 less than city managers in comparable Florida cities.

Stanton said a research firm asked him to apply for the city's manager's job in Westminster. The job pays $137,800. Stanton earns $98,600 in Largo.

Stanton said he wants to stay in Largo.

Westminster is "an extremely good opportunity, but my heart is still in Largo," he said.

At about the same time Stanton was named one of six finalists for the position, he met individually with Largo commissioners to ask for a three-year contract. Jackson asked Stanton to withdraw the request.

Burke, however, thinks Stanton is worthy of such a contract and she plans to formally discuss the matter Tuesday. Most commissioners have said they do not favor giving Stanton a three-year contract. If the commissioners do not want to give Stanton the contract, Burke wants them to look into offering Stanton a one-year severance package if he leaves Largo.

"He won't have a contract, but at least he has the comfort of a year's severance," she said. "He has a family. He has a child. We owe that to him."

Stanton said he will accept any decision the commission makes on Tuesday.

"If Tuesday is my last night, it's been a good, professional relationship," he said. "I'll leave with a smile on my face."

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