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    Timeout called in Stanton debate

    By ERIC STIRGUS

    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 15, 2001


    LARGO -- It had the makings of a championship fight.

    Harsh words. Hurt feelings. A room filled with spectators ready to watch it all go down.

    But before an anticipated showdown Tuesday night over City Manager Steven Stanton's future, Mayor Bob Jackson stopped the impending bloodletting by persuading commissioners to postpone such talk.

    For now.

    Despite the relief commissioners expressed in avoiding the debate, the firestorm over his request for a three-year contract and a higher salary has revealed some displeasure in his performance among some commissioners. It also exposed criticism of how Stanton handled his requests, which came at the same time he became a finalist for the city manager's job in Westminster, Colo.

    Stanton acknowledged he must find a way to deal with the commission's concerns.

    On Monday, Stanton withdrew his name from consideration for the Westminster position. Commissioner Marty Shelby, convinced that Stanton had not taken responsibility for his role in the controversy, urged fellow commissioners Tuesday morning to remove Stanton as city manager.

    Many community leaders, including some from the Greater Largo Chamber of Commerce, told commissioners they were aghast at newspaper headlines portraying the dispute.

    "My disappointment is that the issue progressed as far as it did," Shelby said Wednesday.

    Tuesday night, Jackson suggested Stanton meet privately with commissioners to talk about their differences and determine whether the problems are irreparable.

    "If they can't work it out, then he can look for work elsewhere," the mayor said.

    Commissioner Mary Laurance said she is reluctant to take part in one-on-one sessions with Stanton, renewing her complaint that Stanton has pushed his own agenda in individual meetings with commissioners instead of the commission's wishes.

    "I feel his agenda can be better one-on-one than one-on-seven," she said. "I see his talents, but I also see concerns."

    Stanton said Wednesday that he would talk to Jackson about the best way to reconcile with commissioners. One idea mentioned by Commissioner Jean Halvorsen was to discuss the matter at a work session.

    "There are some advantages to doing it as a group and (some to) doing it individually," Stanton said.

    Stanton, 42, who has an open-ended contract, has been worried about his long-term security. Stanton said he interviewed for the Westminster position because he was concerned that commissioners did not want to make a long-term commitment to him. The city manager admitted Wednesday that he did not do a good job in expressing his concerns about his future.

    "I didn't communicate real well why I was doing it," he said.

    Stanton said he had no further plans to bring up his contract request.

    "I'm kind of burned out on the topic," he said.

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