LARGO -- Steve Stanton, Largo's city manager, is fighting ferociously to keep two commissioners who violated the City Charter's prohibition on election contributions from being removed from the commission.
In the latest move, he charged Alan Zimmet, the part time city attorney who is paid about $2,000 a week, to come up with an opinion on the constitutionality of a provision of the charter which forbids any elected or hired city employee from making a contribution to a commission candidate.
Zimmet, is, in effect, Stanton's personal lawyer, and is seen by some, R. Bruce McManus for one, as having his "independent judgment compromised."
McManus is a lawyer who has been active in Largo affairs for years and in the recent election was campaign manager for Mary Black's successful run for the commission.
Zimmet, who as the part time city attorney is also the conduit for his law firm to get city litigation business, reports only to Stanton and relies on Stanton for his contract (with raises) every year.
As expected, Zimmet has come up with an opinion that finds Section 9.02 of the charter unconstitutional. But his opinion does not mean much because only a court can make such a finding.
If the City Commission acts, as it should, under the provisions of Section 2.07 of the charter, there will be a motion to remove Harriet Crozer and Pat Gerard from the commission from making prohibited contributions in the March election.
The legal process then could find that action appealed to the Circuit Court where a finding could be made.
Stanton has been fighting hard to keep the two on the commission because he needs them to bolster and secure his position. He has total control over all city employees and operations and the extent of his power is being questioned by many.
When Bob Lewis of the State Attorney's Office investigated the violations by Crozier and Gerard he dismissed any prosecution on the basis that their actions were not "willful," giving his interpretation of willful a mens rea spin.
Stanton intruded into the Lewis investigation with opinions that mitigated the violations by the two commissioners. He indicated that, without submitting any proof of his contention, that it was common past practice for elected officials and city employees to contribute money to election candidates.
A quite opposite impression has come from other veteran city observers, including Mayor Bob Jackson, who say that such a practice was very uncommon.
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