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Before agreement, fur flies in South Pasadena

Commissioners vote to allow ballot measures on a night of testy exchanges. For one thing, a thorn in Mayor Fred Held's side steps up his criticism.

By AMY WIMMER

© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 1, 2001


SOUTH PASADENA -- Voters will get a chance in March to decide whether elected officials should have an automatic annual raise and be allowed to run for four terms instead of three.

But Tuesday night, when commissioners voted 3-2 to place those changes and others on the ballot in March, was not a dry exchange of ideas.

Lou Ippolito accused Mayor Fred Held of stacking the Charter Review Committee with his supporters.

Committee members struck back, offended that anyone would consider them "lackeys" for the mayor.

Then Dan Calabria, a frequent and vocal critic of the mayor, chastised Commissioner Dick Holmes for recommending that the charter changes be put on the ballot, even though Holmes doesn't agree with all of them.

Calabria also suggested that Held was recently fired from his post as executive director of the Suncoast League of Municipalities and questioned the integrity of the mayor's wife, Alma, who tripped at a Florida League of Cities convention in November and has been trying to get someone to pay her medical bills.

At one point, the mayor called for a sheriff's deputy to step into commission chambers after people in the audience applauded Calabria's statement. "Keep it up, and you will be removed," Held told them.

In its two most controversial recommendations, the Charter Review Committee suggested linking elected officials' salaries to the annual Social Security adjustment, and increasing term limits for city commissioners and the mayor.

On the regular salary increase, Arthur Jay, owner of Jay's Fabric Center, said commissioners should simply vote for a raise if they want or need one.

"A raise should not be automatic or mandatory," Jay said. "I find that kind of self-serving."

The debate over term limits was more complicated. Calabria and Ippolito said Held, who was the City Commission's representative on the Charter Review Committee, pulled political strings to get the committee to recommend increasing term limits.

"You didn't have a Charter Review Committee," Ippolito said. "You had a Fred Held Committee."

"The folks dedicated to Fred Held and his political longevity, and who made up the committee's voting majority, decided on a strategy to extend term limits to make him happy."

Harry Winning, who sat on the committee, insisted that its members were independent-minded and did not always follow what the mayor wanted.

"Labeling me as a lackey is an insult, and I resent it," Winning said.

Ippolito ran for mayor against Held in March. This year's mayoral race included heated debate over whether Held should be able to run for another term.

The charter limits the mayor to three terms, but Held was selected by the City Commission in 1994 to fill one year of a resigning mayor's term, then re-elected in 1995 and 1998, leaving some question over whether he could run again.

The city attorney and City Commission ultimately made the decision to allow Held to run.

Calabria, who was appointed by Holmes to be one of six citizen representatives on the committee but resigned after the panel made its term limits recommendation, accused Held of violating the Sunshine Law. The evening Calabria was nominated for the committee, he said, Held called him to say he felt the term limits issue was the most important one facing the Charter Review Committee.

Calabria, who has continually infuriated Held with letters to city officials ridiculing the mayor and accusing him of being a liar, took his accusations a step further Tuesday night.

First he said Held was fired from his office with the Suncoast League of Municipalities. Held maintains that the league decided to hire a company to take care of administrative duties that he was handling. Held also points to awards he received from the Suncoast League as an indication of his good performance.

Calabria also mentioned a fall that Alma Held took in November while attending a Florida League of Cities convention in Orlando. Mrs. Held tripped over a suitcase that belonged to a Tarpon Springs city commissioner and has undergone three surgeries to repair her injuries.

She is trying to get her medical costs reimbursed, either through the Tarpon Springs commissioner or the Orlando hotel. She has not filed a lawsuit.

Mrs. Held said she is furious that Calabria would attack the mayor by suggesting the mayor's wife was making a frivolous claim.

"This man is such a creep," Mrs. Held said. "He got down in the mud Tuesday night, and that's where he belongs."

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