LARGO -- If those who were at the Largo City Commission meeting January 18 or saw its re-broadcast on television got the impression that there was some sniping going on, they were right.
In fact, open warfare is going on at the Largo City Hall, but the lid is still more or less on and the citizens and taxpayers are not fully apprised of what is happening.
Basic to the whole structure of the Largo city government is that the city manager has control of all city operations. Unlike many other cities, the Largo city manager supervises and has dominion over every city employee.
In many cities, the city clerk and city attorney are not under the jurisdiction of the city manager. In Largo they are.
Therefore, if a city manager, as has been the case in Largo, can gain a solid majority on the City Commission, he then gains a free hand to pursue an administrative and legislative program of his choosing, or can push the agendas of those members of the commission on whom he is counting for support.
This is what has happened in Largo. And though Largo's city manager, Steve Stanton, can point to many years of accomplishment and advances in the city, and though he is competent and effective, having extraordinary power can lead, ineluctably, to hubris.
In Largo's city government system, members of the City Commission have no power. That is, they have no effect on the day to day operation of the city, no power over personnel, no influence among department heads.
Their role solely is to vote yes or no on what the manager brings to them. When was the last time any commissioner initiated legislation? It doesn't happen.
The operation of the Largo government is staff driven and the staff is manager (i.e., Stanton) driven.
If Mayor Bob Jackson feels that his legs have been cut from beneath him, no wonder. He is one of seven in terms of the commission and in voting very often is on the losing side. He is a well liked figurehead in the city but has no power. If he resents that, no wonder.
And the resentment is expressed most often in little ways in Jackson's public comments. He refers again and again to commission wishes being put on the back burner while "staff ideas" (i.e. Stanton ideas) are front and center and often rushed through.
At the January 18 meeting, Jackson pointed out that in the unfolding of the current whatever-it-is involving Commissioner Charlie Harper that he, Jackson, was left without legal counsel when he felt he needed it.
Go to Alan Zimmet, the city attorney? Nope. Zimmet works for Stanton, not the commission, and for the mayor or any commissioner to get any service from Zimmett, who is paid about $105,000 a year (Largo is just one of several clients in this pay range), they would have to go through Stanton
This was all in the TV recorded program. Then a funny or strange thing happened. The TV re-broadcast never occurred as scheduled on Wednesday. On the Thursday evening schedule the broadcast was abruptly terminated 20 minutes into the program. Those who connect dots came to the obvious conclusion.
Too much power in one set of hands, many say. No checks and balances, others point out.
As long as Stanton can keep the votes of Commissioners Pat Burke, Pat Gerard, Gay Gentry and Harriet Crozier in his pocket, he has unlimited sway over events. Crozier used to question many staff actions. This attention to detail by her seems to have diminished.
And this alignment is why so many observers consider the March election crucial. If, for example, Gigi Arntzen, a clone of Burke, is elected to fill the seat Burke is vacating, the situation will remain the same, with Stanton exercising supreme power.
If Mary Black, who has previous commission experience and was a city clerk in another city and who is opposed to the homosexual rights agenda being pushed, is elected, the alignment changes radically and Stanton must, perforce, act more cautiously.
That assumes that incumbent Charlie Harper will be elected. Then the commission has a more balanced alignment with one apparent swing vote -- Commissioner Jean Halvorsen, a veteran member who does not always get the special attention from Stanton given to others.
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