Commissioner, manager again at odds
By ERIC STIRGUS
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 16, 2001
LARGO -- For the second time since March, City Commissioner Marty Shelby has asked the city attorney to draft a resolution firing City Manager Steven Stanton.
"The reason for the removal is insubordination," the resolution says.
Here's what irked Shelby: Last month, he and his colleagues approved a plan that outlines for a developer how to redevelop downtown. After the vote, commissioners asked city staff members to slightly change the plan.
A new plan was submitted two weeks later. Shelby said he read it and didn't see any problems. But that changed May 9 when a resident pointed out to Shelby that the revised plan did not emphasize enough the city's commitment to preserving Ulmer Park.
Shelby said the conversation embarrassed him. He was so disturbed that he telephoned City Hall to demand a new revision. But staff members did not immediately heed his request -- they waited a few hours that day -- because their boss, Stanton, was out of town on business.
Outraged by what he felt was a slow response, Shelby telephoned City Attorney Alan Zimmet and requested termination papers.
"I view failure to follow commission directive insubordination," Shelby said.
In an interview Tuesday, Shelby stressed that he does not want Stanton fired right now. He merely wants to have a resolution handy in case "circumstances were brought to bear" toward Stanton's dismissal.
Shelby denied he ordered the resolution so he could hold it over Stanton's head. Stanton did not return telephone calls for comment.
The flare-up underscores the deteriorating working relationship between the men. They have been cordial but there have been a few testy exchanges at city meetings.
In a memo sent to commissioners Tuesday, Stanton said he has tried work out his differences with Shelby. Shelby said he and Stanton plan to have lunch Friday in an effort to resolve their problems.
"I'm hoping to reestablish clear channels of communication," Shelby said. "I'm not about to stand for a situation where the city manager and I can't work with each other. We can't let this escalate to the detriment of the city."
Problems between Shelby and Stanton became public in March when Stanton became a finalist for the city manager's position in Westminster, Colo. Stanton told commissioners about the potential job shortly after he asked them for a three-year contract. Stanton does not have a long-term contract and was concerned about job security.
Shelby accused Stanton of competing for the Colorado job, which would have paid more money, to pressure commissioners in awarding the long-term contract. The commissioners refused, and Shelby asked Zimmet for a resolution calling for Stanton's firing.
Shelby never presented it to commissioners, however. Stanton withdrew his name from consideration for the Westminster job.
Besides the Ulmer Park omission, Shelby said he also was angry that Stanton's staff unveiled in public meetings sketches that showed how downtown could be redeveloped without first showing the sketches to commissioners.
Shelby said when he called Stanton on Tuesday to air his concerns, Stanton was surprised. "It was news to him . . .," Shelby said. "His explanation to me was he was totally immersed in the budget" process.
The commissioner said he thought he and Stanton had moved forward since the March quarrel over the city manager's job search.
"I thought things were going pretty well," he said.
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